Laid back paradise

Again I’m on a porch to catch the feeble signal from a router in an office. Last time I was freezing off a certain body part, this time I’m wiping the sweat off my brow.

We’ve left the lovely Capitan Suizo and moved less than a 100 km. south. Mind you, the journey took five hours… It’s much greener here, because they get more rain, but still the roads are so dusty that people wear dust masks when they ride their bikes, motorbikes and dirt-bikes on the roads – or what passes for roads around here.

This hotel – or lodge really – is very different from the Capitan, but also very nice. It consists of a number of small cabins or huts with little porches in front. Each cabin has a nice large room with a half partition, so the beds are separated. Centrally on the property is the open air restaurant (almost all restaurants here are open air – a steep roof on pillars and a kitchen in the back) and the swimming pool. We don’t use the pool as much here as in the other place, because this one is very deep and not as big. Besides, the sea is 25 meters from our cabin.

The Pacific is even wilder here than in Tamarindo. At high tide the waves are awesome! Which is why we only let Dane surf at low tide. The waves are still pretty wild then, but more manageable.

This is another surfer’s paradise, but these surfers are a lot different from the bums at Tamarindo. These guys – and some girls – live for surfing. Their lives revolve around that board. They are mostly young, but there are also quite a few in their thirties and maybe even older. They have lean, muscular bodies with tans worth dying for, big and generally very beautiful tattoos, long sun-bleached hair, wear long shorts and washed out t-shirts. It seems that the only things they spend money on is surf-gear and sunglasses. Very fashionable sunglasses they all have! They surf from the early morning just at sunrise, which is around 6:30 till they have to go to work. The good(looking) ones teach surfing school, the less fortunate tend bars and work in surf shops. The girls are almost all very, very pretty and the predominant fashion is tiny mini-shorts that almost cover their buttocks and skimpy little tank tops. They are also tattooed. The surfers come from all over the world to surf these fantastic waves.

Life is very laid back here. Apart from the surfers, there aren’t many tourists. And some of them are clearly parents, who’ve come to visit their straying offspring. You only have to walk a few steps along the beach to have it more or less to yourself. Only time you see crowds are the obligatory sunset half-hour. At 5:30 everybody is at his or her favoured spot on the beach (not too far down, because the tide comes in with surprising speed at this time) with drink in hand to watch the sun set over the Pacific. And what a sight it is!

More tropical pictures here, if you can bear to see them…

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The Quetzal and Costa Rican hospitality

We had heard and read about the rare resplendent Quetzal before we took our tour of the cloud forest. And as they estimate that only 50 pairs are breeding in Monte Verde’s cloud forest, we hadn’t imagined seing more than a fleeting glimpse of this incredibly beautiful bird. But again we were so lucky – our guide spotted a beautiful male perched on a branch no more than 20 meters away, maybe less (I’m no good at estimating weight and lenght and that sort of thing). Anyway, we could see it clearly with the naked eye and close up with our binoculars and with the guide’s telescope, through which the above photograph was taken.

On the three hour trip we also saw a number of different colourful hummingbirds (very noisy birds! I’d never have imagined), a rather large tarantula (asleep in its hole, luckily) and a number of other birds and dozens of different orchids and other exotic greenery.

In the afternoon it was time for our visit with the Monte Verde fair trade spokesperson Guillermo and his family. His beautiful, charming 14-year old oldest daughter Maria showed us the way – in 100% perfect English, since Guillermo and his wife Ana have their children in the Quaker school, where they are taught a number of classes in English. We share many values with the Quakers, catholic Guillermo and Ana told us. Well, we do too!

Ana is a gifted artist, who paints, does ceramics and mosaics and has left no part of their intriguingly beautiful home untouched by her magic. There are no pictures – you must imagine it. We were treated to home baked bread and – of course – coffee. We had a lovely time and probably overstayed our welcome…

The next day we followed the bumpy road down to the Guanacaste peninsula towards our next destination: Tamarindo. The town of Tamarindo, sitting on the most beautiful stretch of beach, a surfer’s dream, is on the brink of over-development. It’s brimming with American tourists and surfer bums and on every street corner, somebody is trying to sell you a time share apartment.

The hotel our travel agent had provided turned out to be quite awful, which was a surprise, since the other two hotels had been so nice and we hadn’t been warned that this one was below standard. Not only was it practically ON the extremely dusty and noisy road, the rooms were tiny, had no space for clothes, let alone empty suitcases. There were around 10 worn-out plastic chairs scattered around the minuscule swimming pool and the so-called children’s pool was the size of a large bathtub. But that was the least of it – the room was filthy and it was full of very large ants. They were everywhere, litterally. So we checked out. And are now at the lovely Capitan Suizo where we were lucky to get their smallest room (considerably larger than the other one, though) at a very good price. And that includes impeccable service, a beautiful garden full of exotic animals, a huge swimming pool and breakfast. And very, very friendly and competent staff.

As Tamarindo isn’t really our kind of place, we spend the most of our time by the pool or walking along the beach in the surf. Which isn’t at all bad… Both Dane and we enjoy the fantastic wildlife in the hotel’s garden.

A howler monkey. A flock of them are always around the hotel and have the kindness to wake up the guests around 6:30 in the morning with their unmistakable howling. But they are such fun to watch.

The iguanas are all over the garden and after a day or two you stop getting near heart attacks every time one of them comes hobbling down the path. They climb the trees but aren’t that good at it, so regularly you hear a big thump and it’s one of the iguanas, which has fallen out of a tree! A couple of raccoons can be seen every evening and they are practically tame, as are many of the birds here. It really is heaven for children!

A couple of howler monkeys silhouetted against the evening sky.

More pictures here – as usual.

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With our heads in the clouds

Monte Verde is so high up and so inaccessible that it’s a miracle anybody ever thought of bringing tourists up there. But luckily somebody did.

On the way there, we stopped at a tiny restaurant perched high up on a hill. The menu consisted of fried trout with yucca fries, pinto (the local mixture of beans and rice) and sugar cane juice. The owner had the trout in a dam behind the house and went out and caught a couple for our lunch. His wife cooked them and peeled and cut the fries while we watched. We also got to make our own sugar cane juice on his machine, which he’d inherited from his dad and granddad; he proudly announced (via dictionary) that it was more than a hundred years old. The restaurant is called Florida (Flo’rida) and we warmly recommend it, if you ever take the trip from Arenal to Monte Verde.

Monte Verde is famous world wide for its cloud forest. A cloud forest is a rainforest high up in the mountains, which is almost constantly covered by clouds. Because of its very special climate it is the place on the earth with the biggest bio-diversity. You’ll never have seen so many ornithologists (elderly men in safari outfits with huge binoculars, cameras and heavy bird books).

The road up there is beyond description. We’ve tried to document it, but you can’t really. Try to imagine the worst gravel road you’ve ever travelled. Then imagine that it’s filled with rocks of all sizes. Finally imagine 2-3 hours of driving like that…

Getting there, we were most pleasantly surprised by our hotel, which was quite lovely and where exotic birds and animals let themselves be seen and photographed in the garden.

On our first day we went on a so-called coffee tour. Dane and David weren’t overly exited, but most of you know what I’m like when it’s something with coffee, organic, fair trade… So I insisted. Our guide was a soft-spoken, quiet man with a mission. Guillermo is the spokes-person for the Monte Verde coffee Coop and has travelled as fair trade ambassador to UK, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. So obviously his English was excellent.

It was just us and Guillermo and we began by driving to an overlook, where we could see the entire area and all the way to the Nicoya peninsula (jutting out into the Pacific). Up here Guillermo told us about the history of Monte Verde, which was “colonised” in the 50ties by a couple of handfuls of American Quakers, fleeing the Korean war. Read the interesting story about the opening of this remote nature’s wonderland to people from outside here.

Then we drove to Juan’s organic coffee plantation. It was quite small and didn’t provide much of a livelihood for Juan, his Quaker wife and their two daughters, but with the eco-tourism on top, he could make a decent living. As you can see, Dane was an avid coffee picker. However, he was stunned to hear that a coffee picker only gets around 2$ per bushel coffee beans. It’s a bushel you see in the picture.

Everybody in Monte Verde has a “kitchen garden” with some banana palms, Papaya trees, pineapple, avocado, guava, watermelon etc. and we got to admire Juan’s. By the way, did you know that a banana palm, which can grow to around 4 meters, only lives one year? It shoots out of the earth, spouts around 100 bananas and then drops dead, within one year. My jaw dropped, hearing this while standing among Juan’s banana palms. After the tour Juan treated us to a cup of coffee and a home baked cake on his porch.

Then we drove on and saw the place where the coffee “cherries” as they are called, are transformed into lovely-smelling coffee beans. And finally we drove down to the co-op café and tasted the coffee, light roast, dark roast and natural.

1) Dane is turning the beans over. They dry for ten days in the sun and must be turned over 4-6 times a day. 2) The coffee cherries are poured in here with water from the river. 3) this machine sorts the beans in sizes. 4) Here’s where the coffee is roasted.

More pictures here.

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Living under the volcano

Everything revolves around the volcano Arenal in the entire area. Which really isn’t strange, since it

1) looks like a volcano from a child’s drawing.
2) is covered by clouds 75% of the time and makes you say “WAUW” when it occasionally makes an appearance from behind the clouds.
3) Rumbles frequently (several times a day) so it can be heard over most of the area.
4) Spews lava that is white and smoking by day and orange-red by night. We didn’t see it at night though.

Check the facts about the volcano and it’s outburst in 1968 here.

On our first day we went on the previously mentioned Canopy tour. It was SO MUCH FUN! We’d definitely do it again if it weren’t so relatively costly. Dane is going on about it every day – how he flew over the tree tops, about the howler monkey and it’s little baby and about crossing a river 30 meters above ground.


On the following day we went on a three hour tour of the so-called hanging bridges. Hanging bridges are widely used in rainforests here to be able to show off the fantastic nature to us tourists without totally ruining the eco-system in the forest. So a good deal of the time, you’re walking among the treetops. As 40% of all plants in the rainforest are epiphytes (plants that live on and off other plants), there really is a lot to see up there.

In between our adventures we spent time in the lovely hot springs at the hotel, heated by the volcano. David and I agree that a so-called wet bar really is the height of decadence!

More and larger pictures here.

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Las Vegas, Grand Canyon and off to Costa Rica

We didn’t really like it much in Las Vegas. My brother liked it more, but then he had friends there. Our last night together was really nice though, with a lovely meal at Mesa’s grill in Caesar’s Palace and two views of the great fountain show at the Bellagio.

The following morning we got up early and drove east towards Grand Canyon. It was a long drive past the Hoover Dam and through the Mojave Desert. All the northern slopes were covered in snow and the closer we got to the canyon, the more snow and the more the temperature dropped. We had quite a scare on the way, because we discovered that we’d forgotten – or really didn’t know or thought about – the time difference between Nevada and Arizona. The GPS claimed that there was a two hour difference, which would have meant that we’d miss our paid-for helicopter ride over the Canyon. Luckily the GPS was wrong (something with daylight saving preferences) and the difference was only one hour.

We only had a few hours there, because the drive is almost 5 hours each way. We made the most of those hours, taking a short peak at the Canyon from the rim and then driving to the helipad. The ride was half an hour, which was quite enough for Dane and me, who both got a touch of motion sickness. Also Dane was squeezed in between David and another grown man, and contrary to what we’d expected, it was very hot in there.

As you can imagine it was a spectacular sight. We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

After the helicopter ride we went back to the rim and drove along it to catch the sunset. Just after sunset we met a flock of elk cows who really loved having their photographs taken.

We were exhausted when we got back to Vegas and the next morning we were off to Costa Rica. We arrived there in the evening and caught a shuttle bus to the completely non-descript hotel Best Western Irazu. The rooms were clean and everything was fine, but the hotel restaurant was a Denny’s, a very bad American fast food chain that we had successfully avoided in four months in the US. The local restaurants in the area were all closed and we were terribly hungry, so we really didn’t have a choice. And David had what was probably the worst steak in the whole of the world. It neither tasted nor had the consistency of meat. It looked a little bit like meat though…

The next morning we got our rental car, a tired old 4×4. But it works. We drove 5 or 6 hours to our first destination, the lovely hotel Arenal Paraiso (if you have Explorer, you can see the hotel’s own homepage here) where every room has a view of the very active volcano Arenal. Just spectacular!!

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So much to tell and so little time

– but I’ll catch up, don’t worry! Right now I’m at a computer café, so don’t have the time to  make a real post. But, briefly, we’re now at Tamarindo beach, where we don’t really fit in, it’s a place full of surfers and beach bums of all ages. Anyway, we’re at a nice hotel – after first rejecting the hotel the travel agent had booked for us, and we’ll go swimming in the Pacific  soon.

We were first at the Arenal Volcano, where the pictures are from and later up in the mountains at Monte Verde, where we took a hike in the Cloud Forest. It’s the most inaccessible place in Costa Rica and you will NOT believe the condition of the  “roads”there.

Hope to be able to do some proper posts soon with some of the fantastic pictures we’ve taken. Until then, please have a look at these pictures from our Canopy tour. Some of you probably wouldn’t believe that I’d dare or that Dane would. But there goes…

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No Wifi – no blog

We´re in Costa Rica now and have experienced so much in the meantime, but have no opportunity to write about it, since there´s no WiFi at the hotel we´re at and only one shared computer between all the guests. So pictures – and there are some GOOD ones – must wait.

We´re doing just wonderfully and enjoying the lovely climate and fantastic nature here. The volcano Arenal is watching over our every move these days.

More as soon as I´m online again.

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A madhouse

Today we’ve walked up the Strip. And down the Strip. There is nothing you can say or write that can quite capture Las Vegas. It really is the oddest of places! Here are ALL kinds of people. Maybe even more so this week, when there’s the electronics fair and there are thousands of nerds and geeks, you know, bald and with black-rimmed glasses and black t-shirts with “secret messages”? And what I guess is “the usual crowd” of tourists in awe, local hustlers, Mexicans peddling “Girls delivered to your room in twenty minutes“, girls and women with very little clothes on and fat, sweaty guys at the slot machines.

New York, New York by night. Dane’s in complete awe of the Statue of Liberty and cannot believe that’s she’s even bigger in the real New York City!

Excalibur at night. It’s just so ugly it’s makes your eyes water!

New York, New York in bright daylight!

Inside The Venetian. It’s just larger than life. The sky is blue 24/7, for it’s not the sky, it’s the ceiling… You’ll believe me when I say that the gondoliers sing to their customers, won’t you?

Something new is under way. Apparently the money never runs out in this place.

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On the road again…

We’ve left San Francisco. It was a bit sad, we’d come to love the city, the area, the house. But we’re now en route to Las Vegas to meet my brother, who accidentally won a ticket to Vegas in some competition that he’d entered without thinking too much about it. Together we’ll drive out and see Grand Canyon, the last great sight on our American journey.

On our last day, we had lunch in San Francisco. I’d been complaining that we’d been a whole month in SF and hadn’t had Chinese food. We went to the Far East Café on Grant Street and had a traditional family lunch there together with hordes of Chinese. Nice finishing touch!

Dane’s fortune cookie said: Life to you is a dashing and bold adventure. For those of you who know him, this probably rings a bell :-) Mine said: Investigate new possibilities with friends. Now is the time! Anyone up?

Last night we spent at a La Quinta hotel in Bakersfield, CA. And this afternoon we’ll join my brother at the not-so-new-and-shiny Tropicana hotel on the Strip in Vegas. Will be interesting! Talked to him yesterday and asked: What’s Vegas like? And he kept saying: Different, different…

Remember to check out pictures here.

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Real life drama

Today we witnessed a puzzling drama as it unfolded under our windows, out on the bay. It is an extremely stormy day, the metereologists say it’s the worst storm in the Bay area in many years, so we wondered what a relatively large fishing boat was doing, anchored right off the coast in this part of the bay, where we haven’t hitherto seen any larger boats.

Through the binoculars we saw that two men were working on the ropes that held their dingy. After a while the dingy got away and we looked on in astonishment as one of the men dived into the sea and tried to swim after it. But it was already far gone, and he swam back and was pulled back on board by his mate.

But then they went up to the upper deck and got a canoe, which they launched into the water and the guy got into it and started paddling after the dingy (which was by now out of sight) with one big, long oar. The winds were up to 70 mph. After a few hundred yards he capsized and we could just see him clinging to the bottom of the canoe. David rang 911, but luckily they had already got a call and were on the way.

David and Dane got in the car and drove down to the bottom of the bay where they witnessed the rescue. At first nobody could see him, but then Dane and another by-stander spotted him and the two rescue vessels went to the rescue. On the last photograph you can see him being pulled to shore.

It was such a weird thing to witness first-hand and the weather was so crazy, that David’s glasses flew off. So now he’s wearing sun-glasses… They were both soaked to the skin, when they got back, in spite of all their rain gear.

Quite a few sailing boats are drifting around in the bay and have been blown onto the shore after having lost their anchors, I guess. The garden furniture was skating around on the porch and we were a bit worried about the trees. But they were the bending kind!

We’re pretending it’s Emils birthday today (it’s really in two weeks’ time), so he could decide where we’re going to eat. He chose a sushi restaurant in Mill Valley, but when we got there, the whole valley was without power. We saw many fallen trees along the way. So now we’re back in Tiburon, where there’s also a sushi restaurant and where there’s power. We were lucky not loose electricity at the house, we understand, because many thousands of houses in the bay area are without power since the storm, which has now almost died down.

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Added at 10 pm:

This evening the above story appeared on the local paper’s website. Clearly the other guy had chosen to modify what happened in his explanation to the police. Of course, had he admitted that the guy first jumped and then sailed out in a canoe without vest or wet-suit in 70 mph winds, he might be facing charges!?!

Added January 6th:

I just read that the man died. He went into cardiac arrest when he was brought to shore, and in spite of a massive effort to bring him back to life, he was taken off life support yesterday. That is very, very sad. And particularly when his death was so utterly unnecessary. My thoughts go to his family and friends.

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A thriller

These last days we’ve (me mostly, and David) been watching CNN all day and night long to follow the so-called Iowa caucuses. That’s the pre-elections if you will, among the presidential candidates from both parties. First state is Iowa and that is of course why it’s so important.

The republican candidate who won tonight was Mike Huckabee. I had not even heard of him, when we arrived in the US and I’m pretty sure many Americans hadn’t either. And the democrat candidate who won was the black outsider Barack Hussein Obama. And Iowa is really a very white, a very religious and a very republican state. Those two candidates have very little in common. But they do have one thing: They both speak warmly about a UNITED America – united across the dividing line that has defined American politics for many, many years, a line that started widening badly during the Clinton administration because so many republicans hate him and hate Hillary so much, and which has grown so, so much deeper during the Bush administration, because of the Iraq war.

Even if Huckabee is VERY Christian and is against abortion and speaks about no sex before marriage and all sorts of things that I so not agree with, he said something very beautiful in his thank you speech in Iowa. He quoted someone, I didn’t catch who, but said: “War is not about hating the people in front of you, but about loving the people behind you.” And he drew on that line to talk about how he wanted to unite America across the divide.

Obama’s thank you speech was marvelous – I’m sure you can catch it on one of the networks’ websites or on Youtube very soon. Obama also speaks constantly about healing America and it’s self-confidence. He said: “It’s not about a group of blue states and a group of red states – it’s about the United States of America.” (Quoted from memory).

I’ve just read an article in Atlantic Monthly which elaborates on why Obama can unite America. You should read it… I like Hillary, I always did. But she looks old and worn – not as an old woman, but as an old hand –  and she repeats herself in her speeches.

And why is this so interesting to us Europeans. Well, surely that’s obvious. The president of the United States is half president of the world. What he (or she) does, the signals he (or she) sends, influence us all. If America’s economy doesn’t start to fare better very soon, that is going to affect us all. And if America doesn’t soon start working on healing the wounds in the Middle East rather than deepening them, we’ll all be in trouble. You can continue the litany yourself…

And a bit about us. We’ve been somewhat under the weather with both Emil and me suffering from relatively bad colds. Emil being hit the hardest, lying all of New Year’s day with a high fever. He’s better now, luckily.

Due to the above our New Year was quiet. We had nice food, watched a good film on the computer and toasted in tiny glasses of sparkly to a more peaceful world. It was certainly very peaceful outside our windows, no fireworks whatsoever. Pretty strange – don’t think I’ve ever experienced a New Year without fireworks before! But we watched one million people celebrate in Times Square in New York. They certainly had lots of fireworks!

Today we drove in to San Francisco and parked in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s parking garage. I can recommend that. It’s not exactly cheap, but neither is the ferry. And it’s very central and probably fairly safe. We went and saw an exhibition with Olafur Eliasson, which felt very close to home. David and I liked it a lot, Emil and Ida weren’t so impressed. We also saw an exhibition with an American artist I’ve never heard of before. Joseph Cornell. Very refreshing, very inspiring (particularly to Dane, who’s produced four boxes since we got home…) and very thought provoking. So all in all a very nice day at a very nice – but surprisingly small – museum.

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A family Christmas

The day before Emil and Ida’s arrival, we drove up to the Point Reyes National Seashore. It was a wonderful day with a good deal of hiking (to allow for the food and goodies over Christmas) and fantastic sights. We started out at the visitor’s centre, from where we took the short earth quake hike and the slightly longer hike to a remake of an Indian village. I’m afraid I’d let Dane to believe that there would be a big hole in the ground at the epicentre of the 1906 earthquake. Well, there wasn’t. It had been filled years ago. But there had been a fence, which had been split by the earthquake. This fence had been maintained ever since, so we could see how far it had moved. On the picture you can see me showing Dane the distance between the posts and explaining that I’m standing right on the San Andreas faultline, where the ground split open.

The Indian village even had a herb garden with good explanations of what the Indians used the various plants for. There were teepees for sleeping, food storage etc. Their staple food items were acorns and whatever could be salvaged from the Pacific. The acorns were ground into meal, which was then made into a variety of food stuffs.

Then we took the long, but very scenic drive to the Point Reyes lighthouse. It was 18 miles of up, up, up till we reached the very tip of the peninsula. Then we parked the car and went up again, this time on foot. Only to reach the top, from where the lighthouse is 302 steps down. Going back up corresponds to walking to the 30th floor of a highrise. But it was great fun and good excercise.

After that we drove to another vista point, the Chimney Rock, to watch the sun set over the Pacific. Before the sun set, we saw elephant seals down on the beach. What a peculiar creature!

We’d spent several days of serious Christmas shopping, so we were well prepared, when we could finally drive to the airport and pick up Emil and Ida in the early evening of the 24th. It was great seeing them and we had a really nice Christmas together. They had had a real Danish Christmas dinner with Ida’s mother on the 23rd, so we settled on a leg of lamb with all the trimmings. I love the Danish duck with red cabbage, sugarcoated potatoes and everything, but David and Dane don’t fancy it much, so there really wasn’t much point. The weather was great, so we walked down to the town and along the waterfront before dinner.

The following days we went to the top of Mount Tam (again) and took the boat to San Francisco. Today the four of them have gone fishing, while I’m in the local library writing this and researching for the next leg of our trip.

More pictures here.

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Happy Holidays

That’s what they say over here, so as not to offend anybody with the Christ-word.

We’re doing the last bits of frantic Christmas-shopping just like almost everybody else and enjoying it. We’re looking so much forward to receiving Emil and girlfriend Ida here tomorrow and are trying to guess what they’d REALLY like to eat and drink…

Dane is producing Christmas decorations as if his life depended on it.

The little Christmas tree stands gleaming with decorations and glittering lights in the living room; will post photo later.

We hope you all have lovely and peaceful holidays!

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Yosemite

Based upon the weather forecast we decided that the weekend would be the right time to visit Yosemite. It is very cold there (compared to here, that is), but the forecast promised two days of sunshine, so we got up early Saturday morning and drove east. The drive was four hours, mostly through rather dull country with vast suburbs and industrial complexes. But approx. an hour before reaching the park, the climb begins and the countryside is transformed. The mountains in Yosemite are up to 12.000 ft (4.000 m.), so what rises in front of you is indeed impressive! What surprised us was the snow – the park was covered, except the valley, which apparently almost never sees snow due to the very special meteorological conditions there.

We had booked a room at the famous Wawona hotel (as the even more famous Ahwahnee was fully booked and too expensive anyway) and checked in at 1 pm. We dressed for the weather – cold but beautiful – and drove into the Yosemite Valley. Even though prepared for some astounding sights, nothing can prepare you for the vastness of it all. Many of the roads are closed during winter, so two days were sufficient to see the sights of the valley, the museum, the Ansel Adams gallery and the visitors’ centre with a fine and child-friendly exhibition about the evolutionary history of Yosemite.

We have come to appreciate the park rangers very much. They are always very forthcoming, very polite and very well informed. So we usually make a point of talking to some of them, when we visit a state park. The handsome ranger (check his crisp uniform) on this picture surprised us by saying: “Oh, Denmark, that’s where Hans Christian Andersen, Carl Nielsen and Karen Blixen are from!” Wauw! Most people know about H.C. Andersen, but not a lot of Americans know of Carl Nielsen. The ranger played the clarinet it turned out, and Carl Nielsen’s 5th symphony was his favourite…

We stepped out of the car to take photo shots and make short hikes every ten minutes or so, caught the sunset and then headed back to the Wawona. Staying at that hotel was a mixed experience. The bar and lounge next to the dining room were beautifully decorated for Christmas, a log fire was burning and there were lots of people in festive spirits, even though everybody was dressed for hiking. There was a pianist playing WW II songs (Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, etc) and chatting with the guests and we had cocktails before dinner – all very much in sync with the spirit of the place. The dining room was also pretty and the waiters nice and attentive. The food was not memorable, but the draft was! I think you could fly a kite with the gusts that came from under the veranda door!

Dane was very tired, so we quickly went to our room. Quite a nice room with a double and a single bed and a nice bathroom. And it was sweltering in there (we’re guessing 85 degrees F (28 C)), which felt nice coming from the icy dining room and the freeze outside, but felt uncomfortable as we discovered that the heating couldn’t be turned down. OK, we opened a window and let a bit of freezing air in. But then there was the constant loud hissing of air escaping from the vent and the irregular clanging. Have any of you ever been to a place with a pre-war, cast-iron radiator central heating system? Then you’ve experienced the clanging, when the system overheats. We really tried to sleep, but it was impossible. After much swearing and cussing David got dressed and went over to the reception (you have to cross a large courtyard) to ask for another room. So in the middle of the night, we transferred – with sleeping Dane – to another room across the yard. Oh, what a difference that made! Normal temperature and absolutely no noise!

The breakfast was included and very nice. Dane had waffles with honey and hot chocolate and was MMMMM’ing a lot. Then we went ahead and saw more stunningly beautiful views and went for more lovely walks through the impressive woods. I won’t bore you with inept descriptions, but have a look at more pictures here, to get an impression.


By eight o’clock we were back home, very happy that we’d taken the trip.

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My birthday

Together with a phone call from my Mom & Dad and a sweet e-mail from Emil, Dane and David made my birthday into a lovely day of indulgence, Néné style.

It was a beautiful sunny day – don’t usually have many of those back in Denmark! – and I had yummy brunch with cards and presents. From Dane the necklace he’d made out of beads we’d bought earlier in San Francisco and a pair of Merino wool extra warm and soft socks. They came in very handy when we went to Yosemite. More about that later. And from David a book that could change my life – or maybe at least make my blog posts more pleasurable to read: Read like a writer.

We went into Mill Valley so I could indulge in one of my favourite pastimes – drinking coffee and doing stuff online. In the Depot Bookstore and café you can do both – and the bookshop, though relatively modest in size, is very well stocked. Restrained myself and bought only Vanity Fair and Atlantic Monthly

Then we drove up to Sonoma County to try out some wine tasting. The previous afternoon, in the above-mentioned café, I’d talked to a young man who’d recommended a couple of smaller places for wine tasting and a restaurant. So we went along according to his instructions and found the Family Wineries where we tasted a variety of whites, reds and dessert wines. We found most of the wines a little bit “young” tasting, but loved a red dessert wine and bought a bottle for our Christmas dinner. It will go well with the Danish Christmas dessert with the French name: Ris (rice) a l’amande.

Then we drove on and saw several other alluring places to taste wine, but even if we didn’t drink all the wine, we’d really had enough. Maybe not alcohol-wise, but certainly taste-wise. Then we went in search of the restaurant, which proved as easy to find as everything else the young man had directed us to. Thanks to this young man for his great advice! The restaurant was in a little quaint looking town called Graton. Underwood turned out to be one of the best restaurants we’ve been to on our trip. Only the restaurant in New Orleans equaled it. It was a nice and cosy place full of people. The service was excellent, the menu varied and the food lovely.

A great finishing touch to my birthday.

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