Taking the Scenic Route

17IMG_8494 (4)IMG_8467 (3)3My husband and I had never been to Yellowstone National Park, so when we started thinking about a road trip, Yellowstone was at the top of our list. During the planning stage, we learned my sister and her husband would be in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho visiting my nephew for the Fourth of July, so we added Idaho to the agenda… and since we would be so far north anyway, why not include Glacier National Park as well! We filled in the rest of the itinerary with things we wanted to see and do along the way! We live near Kansas City, so here is the route we took:

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Packing for this trip was unlike any packing we had ever done! We crammed an entire laundry basket full of cleaning supplies: Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, disinfecting spray, extra tissues, and paper towels. We also took a digital thermometer and plenty of disposable face-masks. To minimize our exposure at stops for snacks, we took another basket full of food and a cooler with bottled water and tea. For hiking in the northern national parks, we took bear spray, mosquito nets, bug spray, binoculars, hiking boots and raincoats. Then, of course, were all the normal items we would need, including clothes for both warm and cold weather – and cameras! Needless to say, the car was full!

We promised ourselves we would stop often to lessen long periods of time in the car – and simply because we could. So, three and a half hours after we left Kansas City, we made our first stop in Lincoln, Nebraska to see the Sunken Gardens – one of the 300 best gardens in the country, according to National Geographic. The gardens were constructed during the winter of 1930-31 as an opportunity for unemployed men to earn money during the Depression.

My husband likes beer – craft beer, in particular – so when we travel we are always on the lookout for local breweries. Whether you like beer or not, a local brewery tends to possess a certain charm and they are often spotlessly clean. We felt safer inside a sparsely crowded brewery for lunch than a fast-food restaurant, so we ate in one nearly every day! That explains our choice of the Kinkaider Brewing Company after our stroll through the garden. A “Kinkaider” is what a settler was called in Nebraska after the Kincaid Act of 1904, which provided each settler 640 acres upon payment of a $14 filing fee. The brewery had a historic hand-carved bar, original framed prints adorning the walls, and a unique and varied menu!

Three more hours down the road we found an original Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska. The station was donated to the City of Gothenburg in 1931. It was the perfect place for a brief afternoon break.

We made it to Scotts Bluff, Nebraska – our goal for the first night. Having seen pictures online of Scotts Bluff National Monument at sunset, we wanted to witness it for ourselves. We didn’t have much time for the hiking trails, but we did manage to find a perfect spot to watch the sun sink below the horizon… and it was glorious! We got our pictures, drove through the rest of the park, then headed to our hotel and called it a day.

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For those of you curious about accommodations during this virus, I was extremely impressed with the efforts made by hotels to keep us safe. Most had contactless check-in procedures, rooms which had been cleaned and vacant for at least 72 hours, and constantly “covid-cleaned” common areas. Everywhere we stayed appeared to be immaculate, but I still wiped down the frequently touched surfaces and generously sprayed each room with disinfectant. I doubt we have ever had cleaner accommodations!

The next two posts will contain less commentary and more photos highlighting the best parts of our trip: one post on The Grand Tetons & Yellowstone, and another on Glacier National Park and the route home.

As always, if you receive this post by email, please click on my site for proper formatting.

Foto Friday #81

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“Chaos”

The world is drenched in panic and fear

like a ship on a stormy sea

desperately trying to stay afloat

amid wave after wave of debris

Tread with care through the turbulent ocean

Drown not in the depths of despair

The sun will shine on calmer waters

Smooth sailing soon will prevail

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For Lens Artists Photo Challenge: Chaos

Wishing you good health during the pandemic… and always!

Photos: Sunset on the Baltic Sea, Strong winds off the Isle of Capri, Sailing on Lake Malaren in Stockholm, Sweden

Foto Friday #54

Silhouettes in the Arizona desert:

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Silhouettes against a blue Italian sky:

Silhouettes in the Venetian Lagoon:

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Silhouettes in photography are achieved by having more light coming from the background than the foreground. It’s best to keep the silhouette shapes simple and recognizable. It is a great way to portray a distinctive setting, a certain amount of drama or a touch of mystery!

For Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouettes / Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #62.

Photos taken near Phoenix, Arizona and in Italy

Beauty on the Rhine Day Five – Strasbourg

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I’d never been to France before our Rhine River cruise, and if Strasbourg is any indication, I believe I’ll need to go again!

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It was an early morning aboard the Viking Lofn. By 8:30, our shore excursion for the day was underway. In the heart of the Alsace region is Strasbourg, the largest port on the Upper Rhine. Because it sits on the border between Germany and France, Strasbourg is a cultural mix – a pleasant blend of old and new, beer and wine, cheese and chocolate. The border is in the middle of the river so in the photo below, the ship where I’m standing is in Germany and the other is in France.

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Our bus tour included a drive through the German Imperial District and the European Quarter, but what I found most interesting was the hundreds of stork nests we saw in the trees on our way to the historic district. Storks migrate here in the spring from as far away as Africa. Storks are said to bring good luck, fertility… and babies! Symbols of them are prevalent throughout the city.

The bus dropped us off in the enchanting neighborhood of Petite France, my favorite part of Strasbourg. Charming on a beautiful day were the scenic canals displaying the reflection of colorful, timber-framed houses and flower-boxed windows. In the Middle Ages this area was home to the tanners, millers and fishermen.

Over cobblestone streets and pretty little bridges, we crossed the Ill River which surrounds the old town and forms an island. The entire “island” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes the Strasbourg Cathedral of Notre Dame, Rohan Palace and Museums, courtyards, squares, shopping and the popular Christmas market.

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Strasbourg’s soaring cathedral is the sixth-tallest church in the world and the highest surviving structure built entirely in the Middle Ages. It sits on the sight of an old Roman basilica destroyed by fire 100 years after it was built in 1176. Construction of the current cathedral began at the end of the 12th century.

The stunning pink sandstone makes it one of the most magnificent examples of Gothic architecture in the world, featuring a remarkable Rosette and stained-glass windows. The interior includes a suspended pipe organ, intricate carvings and an original astronomical clock built in 1842.

We went back to the ship after the walking tour and stayed for lunch (because lunch on the ship was ALWAYS so good). Viking provided shuttle bus services all afternoon long, so of course we went back to see more of amazing Strasbourg on our own.

We were treated to a “Taste of Germany” that evening… a hearty German buffet and rousing music; and as always, a nice assortment of wine and beer from the region. And for dessert – on this night, anyway – a rainbow!

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During and after dinner, the Viking Lofn navigated through the Grand Canal d’Alsace, a system of locks necessary to ensure ship safety on the river. There is a total of 12 locks on the Rhine upstream from Basel. We went through most of them at night, but not this one. I found it an interesting process to watch. Because river cruise ships utilize as much square footage as possible, there is about a one foot gap between the width of the lock and most ships. I could reach out and touch the cold, damp lock walls from the balcony of our room.

Watching the progression of the sunset was fascinating as well! I had worried that sunsets on a river cruise would not compare in beauty to those on an ocean cruise. Fortunately, I was wrong!

Coming up, the final post! Beauty on the Rhine Conclusion – Breisach, Colmar, and the Black Forest.

Beauty on the Rhine – Day One

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The Viking Lofn cast-off at 11:30 PM, leaving Amsterdam for our first port in Kinderdijk, home to 19 remarkable windmills built around 1738. We arrived in Kinderdijk at 10:00 AM and set out to explore these technological marvels which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

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The windmills were originally erected here to drain the wetlands which sit below sea level and have been prone to flooding since the 13th century. A great flood in 1421 is the source of the fairy tale “The Cat and the Cradle”. Legend has it that a wooden cradle washed ashore here containing a cat sitting on top of a baby to keep them both from falling out. The name Kinderdijk means “children’s dike” in Dutch.

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Today, pumping stations run by diesel fuel are used for pumping water in low-lying areas, but the windmills are kept in working order for backup and for tourism. The windmills at Kinderdijk were completely operational during World War II when fuel was too scarce to be used in the stations.

Our tour took us through the windmill workshop where a guide explained the details of their operation and maintenance. We also went inside a working windmill – all the way to the top – to see up close not only the mechanics, but the living quarters of the family who keeps it running. A stop at the windmill museum concluded our tour and we hiked back across the dike and returned to the ship.

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We left Kinderdijk at 12:30 PM through a network of canals which eventually led us to the Rhine River. The afternoon was spent meeting our 188 fellow passengers and familiarizing ourselves with the ship, including a required safety drill, lunch, an excursion briefing and a chance to visit the First Officer in the wheelhouse of this lovely Viking Longship. With numerous ocean cruises on mega ships under our belt, we found the simple elegance and quieter atmosphere here an invitation to kick back and relax, and the scenery made that easy to do!

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Our reward at the end of day one? An unforgettable sunset!

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Next up:  Beauty on the Rhine – Day Two – Cologne, Germany

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