THE CATS OF THE SERENGETI

1339There is no fear like staring into the face of a lion to me but obviously it did not seem to bother this agama lizard. This was a fun photo with the rocks, the agama, the flowers and of course this dominant male lion. We know he was the big guy because he was mating.1316

We saw many lions, mostly female out on the hunt.

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The males were generally laid back enjoying life.1193We discovered a tree that was literally infested with lions. Our guide counted 18, we could only see 15 but he is a pro.1213This was one branch that held a bunch of lions with full bellies ready for a nap.1222

1289The whole pride was up there taking an after lunch snooze. A couple were awake, perhaps on guard, but most were sound asleep covered with flies. By the way, if you click on the photos, you can get full screen.12931294

1019We  never saw a “kill” but there was the fresh remains of a wildebeast amid these girls.  This was at pretty long range as our guide did not let us get too close to the dining room.

We were very fortunate to see 3 leopards many safaris see none. This guy put on quite a show as he moved around on a rock in search of prey. He seemed to be totally ignoring our presence.2503We watched him for at least ten minutes as he moved around on a clump of rocks but well hidden from impalas and gazelles that were nearby.884When he moved to the other side of the rocks, our guide backed up and we were able to watch him climb a tree on the other side and search in a different direction.906On another afternoon we found our second leopard asleep in a tree. Our guide spotted his legs hanging down over a limb. Leopards often carry their kill into the tree to avoid competition from hyena.

1271We were unable to get a picture of the third leopard but he gave us quite a thrill as he jumped from a tree not 25 feet from the roadway and dashed into the grasses. Glad he jumped right instead of left towards our truck. Most animals always run from the sight of man because of our bad reputation.

The big cat we missed was the cheetah. They are very rare as well but we looked every day. We thought we saw one in the grasses along side the road one day but it turned out to be a serval.catsThe serval is much smaller than the cheetah but he gave us a bit of excitement.

TANZANIA SAFARI

We cannot say that an African safari was a lifelong dream… but it should have been!mt K

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After this trip to Tanzania, we will never think about Africa in the same way. This was a mind changing experience for the whole family. There was some trepidation in all of us. Fear of the unknown, strange foods and of course..wildlife. We did not know the languages, nor the customs, nor the people; but we rolled the dice and went. We are so glad that we did!

Thomson Safari was our choice after extensive research and reading countless reviews on-line.  We obviously cannot compare to others as this is the only one we have done. It all boiled down to who would take care of us. This was crucial as we were traveling with Daughter Shelley, Son-in-Law Jeff and the two most wonderful Grandchildren in the world; Sam and Kate! We made a great choice.

Thomson does it all; no contractors, all dedicated employees  who make your trip simply marvelous. They really care about Tanzania and its people and that is simply special in a world that seems like it is all about the almighty dollar.

They start with a brand new Land Rover truck which they strip down from the engine compartment all the way to the rear bumper.

1164Then they build a passenger compartment with cushy seats, huge picture windows, and a pop top at the perfect height for wildlife and scenery viewing. Every morning our guide had the vehicle cleaned and spotless for  the days trip. Chama said there are two seasons in Africa, muddy and dusty. We saw a lot of both.

320This was Shelley and Jeff looking out the top. We did this constantly looking for the next animal; or even “ALT’s” which our guide Robert Chama explained were animal looking things.

One of the most wonderful parts of this whole experience was to be able to see it through the eyes of our family.

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Then they put you up in great accommodations ranging from fantastic lodges2527complete with a wood burning fireplace to warm your fanny while you shower, a patio to enjoy a cocktail..2531and snuggley beds to sleep in. 2524

 

 

 

Then we move to the Nyumbas, or tents as we say in the western world..1246Great inventions with most of the niceties of home.

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On top of all that; we add great food. Karen and I are on a somewhat kinky Paleo diet and at every venue, they had food prepared just for us. The food was gourmet literally in the wild. Everything “normal” and very delicious!2600

The Thomson staff were very careful with food handling to keep us safe. We were reminded to use bottled water which was always at hand. Supplies of water for our travels across the national parks and game preserves were stored on the top of our Land Rover covered with canvas and plastic wrap to protect from dust.

A ritual before every meal was hand washing.2566One of the staff would pour warm soapy water over our hands, wash them,  and then rinse.

We also traveled to where the animals were migrating so we could catch as many as possible. We saw almost all that we were looking for except a Cheetah including some very rare ones. Those pictures will follow in later additions.

The safari also introduced us to the people of Tanzania and their lifestyle.1458This group of women opened a market to make direct sales to tourists so more of the final sales price ended with them instead of middlemen. This was sponsored by the Thomson organization. They also took us to a school where we were amazed at the focus of the seventh graders we met.

A church group came to our Lodge at Gibbs Farm to entertain and it was quite a show, a brief video of that is below:

 

This was our crew along with a park ranger.

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Before you get to see the animals, we wanted to share what SAFARI is all about. The animals are next and we shot many of them with our Nikons!

698We vow to return to this magic country.

 

 

 

AMSTERDAM Venice of the north?

After bidding farewell to our Louisville friends after a wonderful six weeks with them in Portugal, Spain and Italy we traveled to Amsterdam where we would meet our daughter Shelley, her husband Jeff and our grand kids Sam and Kate for a flight to Tanzania. Karen and I had 4 days here prior to their arrival which we spent exploring Amsterdam and packing for the African Safari. We actually planned another day in Amsterdam after our return from Tanzania so rest up from the long flight and to pick up the excess baggage we left in our hotel. The internal flights in Tanzania would limit each of us to only 33 lbs so we packed what we needed in two duffle bags and stored the remainder until our return.

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Amsterdam certainly has canals! In the old town it is difficult to walk more than one block without crossing a canal.2208These canals follow tree lined streets as well major urban arteries.2210Much of the city of Amsterdam was created by the Dutch as they built levees and dams to reclaim land under the North Sea to expand the city. Hope they do not get a Hurricane Katrina…2211Trees are everywhere in  Amsterdam as are flowers. After the long and fairly dark winter they plant flowers everywhere there is an opportunity. Boat traffic is extensive and there are a number of cruise lines competing to drive tourists on canal tours.2231There are many cultural opportunities such as the Opera and Ballet situated right on the Amstel River which is the major canal. The Rijksmuseum and the Hermitage are two of the most famous museums, but there are many, many, ranging from torture to prostitution. We only visited the first two mentioned.2213

It is also a city of markets ranging from small vegetable markets that dot the streets , to huge markets that cover blocks.

221722202219These markets not only sell food 2222,

Also Legs

Male and Female. This is Amsterdam after all…

We spent many hours walking the streets, using trams and buses to explore.

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Amsterdam is certainly a city of canals, culture and markets but it is truly the city of bicycles. The average person in Amsterdam has at least two; one to ride from home to the train station and one to ride from the station to work. If you click on the video below you will see a few of the millions of bikes in this lovely city. The video may open in another box.

 

 

 

CINQUE TERRE , The five gems hugging the Ligurian coastline

The final leg of our adventure with our ex-neighbors was to hike the 8.5 mile mountain trail that is carved from mountainsides high along the coast. If you click on the picture below you can enlarge it to see the detail of the town and see the crystal clear water.

CIMG1507 The view of Vernazza from the hiking trail serves as a perfect description of Cinque Terre; these five villages that cling to the base of the mountains along the Ligurian coast line.

Montrosso al Mare is the largest of the villages and is at the northern trailhead.  Riomaggiore is the southern trailhead. All five villages are connected by the trail as well as railroad, highway and ferries. CIMG1529This view of Montrosso was taken from the trail just north of Vernassa.

CIMG1531The trail includes steep steps and rocky paths that wind along the mountain side.CIMG1526

There are beautiful villas in the villages and along the coast.

295296There were also some fasinating geological formations that could be seen from the ferries…300This one was obviously tilted millions of years ago from the clash of tectonic plates…

303This one left by the German Army in a different kind of tectonic clash. We saw several  of these.

The picture below is indicative of the side streets in the towns, this one in Vernassa was indeed a street that wound down from a restaurant four stories and 218 steps down to the main piazza.314The visit to this marvelous place was the end of our four part adventure with our friends so that is always a bit sad. We had a ball, remained friends after being together for more than a month and three countries. We will cherish the memories.

Now for a bit of confession…Eric and Karen did not do the hike, the pictures from the trail are from Chris and Tessa, the only ones brave enough to attempt the climb.

The rest of us used the trains and ferries. In our behalf I will argue that fighting the crowds to get on the train may have been more dangerous than climbing the trail. Best advice? Use the ferries so you can have wine at lunch.

LAKE COMO

IMG_1894Lake Como is a jewel that sits atop the Lombard region of Italy near the Swiss Border, snow covered alps can been seen to the north

We selected Menaggio located on the western shore of Como as the third leg of the adventure with our ex neighbors from Louisville. This beautiful town is located near the center of the lake and has excellent ferry service to the other fantastic towns that dot this marvelous lake.

IMG_1871Karen is sitting here with Chris and Tessa on the sea wall that protects the inner harbor of this hillside town. The agency from whom we rented advised us that the one we had rented was being taken off the market so they substituted another. We were delighted to find that the switch turned out to be quite an upgrade from the original. Villa Sophia was to be our home for the next week as we explored this area. We have found that most rental agencies are quite professional and stand behind their services.

Lake Como, shaped like an upside down “Y” is a magnet for the super rich and  famous and well as the super curious. We fall into the latter category. The curious usually pick Menaggio as it is easy to get there if you don’t mind 40 minutes of driving on very narrow winding roads along with a bunch of Italians avoiding scooters, motorcycles cars of all sizes and horsepower, and hundreds of bicycles. The central ferries span out from there to the more chic and elite towns of Bellagio located at the Y and Verenna located just across the lake.

Our upgraded villa had 8 bedrooms instead of the four we needed. That was fine as the extra four were quite small probably best for children.

We had a nice pool,IMG_1811

 IMG_1812A place in the shade for wine and resolution of all the world problems,

2205And a huge kitchen.

We used the ferries to travel between the towns and just to enjoy the beauty of this mountain lake fed from the melting snows of the Alps.IMG_1835The Villa del Balbianello pictured below was on a point juting out from the western shore is open for tours and we took advantage of the home and its gardens.

2163STUNNING PALACE

IMG_1891Fantastic gardens!

Beautiful views..IMG_1830

 

 

 

We hired a boat for a day and toured the lake on our own stopping offshore from the George Clooney villa:

2168Just to the left of our boat is George’s place. We noticed that the roof needed a bit of repair..maybe the wedding cost too much!

2171Saw a beautiful waterfall

A classic runaboutIMG_1832

The city of Varrenna has great places to eat and explore. We stole a peak at an afternoon wedding but did not crash the reception.

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We checked out the mechanism that rings the bells in a church

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Watched a Arab Sheik eat lunch over Karen’s shoulder,

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The City of Belliago exists for the sole purpose of extracting money from credit cards or very fat wallets. It is a beautiful place with hundreds of shops and boutiques.

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It also has great places to eat!

IMG_1865We had a wonderful week at Lake Como. Karen and I even got lost one day and drove into Switzerland. Border guard was polite did not even ask for a passport.

 

A Villa in Tuscany

The term “Villa in Tuscany” invokes imagination!

The river cruise in Portugal was part one of a four part vacation plan with our ex neighbors from Louisville. Part two was a villa in Tuscany near the walled city of Lucca.

The weather had been very cooperative so far so we were not too bummed when we saw that our flight from Porto to Milan was to arrive during rain.  We did not really see the rain at the airport until we had finished at the car hire place and were walking to the garage to pick up the cars.  It would be hard to imagine a harder rain than what was lashing the airport. That very hard rain gave way to a steady rain by the time we loaded up the cars and tried to exit the garage. We have pictures to prove that luggage from two American couples can overload the trunk of a European styled station wagon.2146

001 flooding at MXPAll of the exit roads from Malpensa Airport were flooded with about two feet of water. It appeared the “damsel in distress” had stalled out and was awaiting help. while we watched, the police and firemen who arrived seemed as helpless as the young lady did. The water started to quickly recede as the storm sewers caught up and we headed off for our 4 hour drive to Tuscany.

vHxU4FreuskXQne1TX1CWRFZOymRHPQkt19ISmJzBtcOur Tuscan Villa!

CIMG0759Patio for eating & wine

0HkRymuaNb6dT3t8LxgapzpOKo1zfAyCZuD2ESKTuFAFish market for exquisite in home dining…

ucewTdwSw_VBpjCOlLODVvM8E5m6uIrjj1TC5BpuOlQEven a drop by chef to make sure the dinning was exquisite!

CIMG0942Fantastic scenery

2114A marble quarry in Carrara to visit…

CIMG0919A chance to walk or bike around the walls of Lucca…

Great places to shop in Sienna and  Volterra. Karen found her Italian leather jacket (credit to Joe for finding it)…

But most of all…being with the best group of friends one can imagine.CIMG0940