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Al-Ain

February 12, 2015 – Thursday – Liwa Oasis to Al-Ain

We leave early this morning for Al-Ain, so I gulp down some breakfast and coffee before boarding the bus. We drive down the main highway back to the outskirts of Abu Dhabi and then take a freeway to Al-Ain. It takes over three hours for the trip with one rest stop.

The highways and expressways in UAE are superb. They have all been built within the last twenty years, so they are in great shape, and support high posted speeds. The interchanges and ramps rival or exceed any found elsewhere in the developed world.

After arriving in Al Ain, we have some time at the Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum. This was the residence of the sheik who unified and created the United Arab Emirates. I find it fascinating to walk through the formerly private rooms, and ask myself “if these walls could talk”. In particular, the Private Majlis meeting room must have seen some pretty important discussions during the unification process.

We go for lunch to nearby Foodworld Restaurant, which was a very nice meal. They handle our group of twenty and our drivers very promptly. Our final stop for the day is the Al-Ain Zoo. I’m not a big fan of zoos at the best of times, although this one has large enclosures for the animals. It appears they have a mix of indigenous species to the Arabian Peninsula, and also have some exotic (mainly big African) animals.

Our hotel in Al Ain is the Al Ain Rotana. This is a five star hotel…very posh. This is obviously the place to stay in Al Ain, since I see a couple of cars with government plates on them (a crest and three digit number). Despite this, our tour leader Michele has some trouble to contend with before we are all settled in our rooms, however I won’t publish the details online. My room is quite luxurious…too bad we are only staying one night!

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Cinque Terre to Lauterbrunnen Valley

September 15, 2014 – Monday – Cinque Terre, Italy to Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

Sustenpass turnoff
Sustenpass turnoff

After departing Monterosso, Cinque Terre, we drive past Genoa and Milan and cross the border into Switzerland at Lugano. There are lots of winding roads, tunnels, and mountain passes along the way. We take the Gotthard Tunnel, the third longest tunnel in the world, and cross over the Sustenpass, where we have a quick rest stop. After descending a steep, winding road, we are finally in the valley at Interlaken where we make a short stop mainly so everyone can withdraw some Swiss Francs (CF) from the ATMs and banks. One Canadian Dollar equals 0.85 CF, or about CD$1.20 to buy a Swiss Franc.

We drive along the Lauterbrunnen Valley to the town of Stechelberg, and then further to the end of the road to our hotel, Hotel Stechelberg. I draw a single room with a sink in it. The toilet and shower are in the hall (one for men and one for women) and shared by 6 others. So this is the most basic accommodation on the tour. I would judge it to be equivalent to a hostel. There is a group dinner provided at the hotel for both nights, since the nearest restaurant is some distance away. Otto, the owner (and chef) of the hotel starts us off this evening with a demonstration of how to make authentic Swiss cheese fondue, and then we follow that up with dinner.

The above map doesn’t reflect our turnoff at Wassen to drive over the Sustenpass to Interlaken, so please refer below for a corrected version of that portion of our route.

Our route over the Sustenpass from Wassen to Interlaken
Our route over the Sustenpass from Wassen to Interlaken
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Massa Marittima

2014.09.13 – Saturday – Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

After leaving Rome on the Autostrada, our first rest stop is a small AutoGrill, where many of the group rave about the fresh-squeezed orange juice. I have a cappuccino for 1.40 Euro – no tables, just a stand-up bar, Italian style. The area we drive through up the west coast is much drier than the areas of Italy we have traveled through up to now. This is where olives and grapes are grown.

Our midday break is in a little town called Massa Marittima, where we go for a wine, cheese and olive tasting at Il Baccino. Everyone on the bus does the tasting (modest extra charge) and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. We spend almost two hours in this beautiful little town, so there is plenty of time to soak up the Tuscan sunshine while we explore. It is an absolutely perfect day – blue sky and warm, but not too hot.

Il Bacchini, Massa Marittima
Il Bacchini, Massa Marittima

I walk uphill to the ancient Siennese wall, which runs through the town half way up the hill. It is 3 Euros to go up the clock tower and along a portion of the adjacent wall. It is well worth it to take in the wonderful views of the town from above, and appreciate the vistas of the whole glorious valley (see banner image above). I stroll back down the hill along the back alleys to the town square, where there is a troubadour playing some lovely music that echoes off the buildings. I have a simple lunch of prosciutto in a fresh crusty role, and sit outside Il Baccino with others in my group, soaking up the ambience of this Tuscan town. It simply doesn’t get much better than this!

As we drive the Autostrada north along the coast, we pass some interesting sights. There are resort areas all along the coast featuring cottages and recreational vehicle parks, a massive power station, endless vineyards and farms, and sales yards featuring beautiful white massive blocks of Carrara marble. The mountains where this well-known marble is quarried is visible inland across the valley. Imagine Leonardo da Vinci making the journey to these same quarries to select the marble for his famous statues.

Eventually we turn off the Autostrada, and drive down a steep valley to the Vernazza train station, where the bus parks. We walk over to the train station, and after riding the train for four minutes we arrive in Monterosso. This pretty little town by the sea on the Cinque Terra (the Italian Riviera) is our home for the next two nights.

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Austrian Tyrol

September 5, 2014 – Friday – Rothenburg, Germany to Routte, Austria

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

We spend two nights in Routte, Austria at the Alpenhotel Ernberg hotel, but don’t see much of the country. Some of our group hike up to Ehrenberg Castle ruins, which are on top a hill near our hotel. We have our own dining room for the group dinner in the hotel each evening. Jennifer is a chef, and so is always on the lookout for regional food treats to share with the group. After one of our dinners, she serves Apple and Cheese Strudel for dessert.

We drive back into Germany on Saturday the 6th to see the Bavarian Castles.

September 7, 2014 – Sunday – Austria to Venice, Italy

We are listening to the Sound of Music on the bus audio system as we drive through the Austrian Tyrol on our way to Italy. The first hour reminds me of our mountain highways in British Columbia, Canada – winding, rocky, and steep hills. We descend into a long valley and take the Autobahn to the outskirts of Innsbruck.

We turn south and drive over the Brenner Pass, crossing the Alps into Italy. Border crossings in Europe are non-events, since all the countries except Switzerland and Sweden are in the European Union. Jennifer tells us we are following the original Roman road Via Claudia the whole way today. That road ends up in Rome, although our next stop is Venice.

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Cusco to Lima to Pisco

2011 Incan Empires Cruise

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 – Day 16 – Cusco to Lima, then to General San Martin/Pisco, Peru to embark Rotterdam

We are up at 6AM for a 7:20AM transfer to the airport for our 9AM flight to Lima. These early mornings will come to an end after today, once we return to the ship (thank goodness). Our LAN Peru flight arrives in Lima on time at about 10:30AM, but the checked bags take awhile to show up on the belt before we go to meet our driver in the Arrivals area. He only speaks Spanish and there appears to be an issue with something, so he calls the office so I can talk to them in English. They explain it is a 3.5 hour drive, and they want to ensure we arrive on time, so want to know if skipping the lunch stop along the way is OK with us. I readily agree and hand the cellphone back to our driver, so he can be told of our decision in Spanish.

JoeTourist: Lima to Pisco &emdash; Heading south on the freeway - Pan American Highway
Heading south on the freeway – Pan American Highway

We are out of the airport parking area by 11:00AM, which gives us plenty of time to drive south on the Pan American highway to the deep-water port of General San Martin, where Rotterdam is docked until a 6PM scheduled departure. All three of us are out of bottled water, so we know the Spanish word is “agua” and the driver understands we need to purchase some water before we go too far. Clearing the worse of the traffic snarls in Callao and then heading south through the coastal area of Lima takes the better part of an hour before we hit the toll road where our speed increases to 90 kmh.

After picking up some bottled water at a gas station convenience store, we are ready for the next 3 hours in the Hyundai minivan. The air conditioning is on, and we are all in good spirits as we head south down this toll road, which is a freeway most of the route we take down the Pan American Highway.

Just south of Lima is the high-class areas of Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos. Beautiful, mostly empty beaches dominate this area, with lots of beach facilities available. The changing scenery outside is amazing: huge mountains of sand I have not encountered since my trip to the Libyan Sahara. There is sand everywhere…dunes, beaches, hills and mountains, conglomerate ridges, and lots of beautiful colours. Further south along the coastline are numerous communities near the beaches, which are obviously vacation homes since they are within an easy commute from Lima. I see three vultures and one hawk sitting quite close together on a gravelly hill, which is odd to see these predators together.

Rotterdam visible across Paracas Bay
Rotterdam visible across Paracas Bay

Winding our way through the town of Pisco is tricky, since the main road along the shoreline is closed for repair. All the big trucks are all turning tight corners in city streets, which aren’t designed for heavy traffic. Once we leave that congestion behind, we drive along the coastal road south of Pisco, and soon spot Rotterdam in the distance across the bay! This area is called Paracas, and is very sandy and incredibly flat. A tsunami would do some serious damage, since the bay is shallow and the land is flat. Even with a warning, it would be virtually impossible for residents to escape a tsunami since there are no elevated areas for many kilometers inland. There are refineries on the inland side of the road, and there are also fish processing plants in this area. The stink takes awhile to clear out of our vehicle as we proceed around the bay, heading for the ship.

We arrive at the ship by 3:30PM, so we are early, since the ship departs from Terminal Portuario Gral. San Martín at 6PM. Our driver did a great job manoeuvring through all the traffic today…he must be exhausted. We are very glad to be back aboard the Rotterdam – our home away from home. We are looking forward to exploring new ports as she sails northward up the Pacific coast of South and Central America during the last half of our trip.

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Warkworth

Oct 26, 2010 – Tuesday – Kerikeri to Warkworth, New Zealand

We reluctantly leave our B&B in Kerikeri this morning, and drive down the highway to Warkworth. We leave late and arrive early. The Warkworth Country House B&B is ready for us, with the doors open to our rooms, and the beds are made, so we make ourselves at home. As it turns out, Perry Bathgate, the B&B operator is working in the garden, so he doesn’t see us until we have been there for an hour or so. We go to the Bridgehouse Lodge Pub for dinner this evening. It is located on Elizabeth Street, which is the main street in the little town of Warkworth. As it turns out, it is pretty well the only eating establishment that is open in Warkworth this Tuesday evening. The food is good, and the Montieths Original Ale tastes fine.

Small Magellanic Cloud & 47 Tucanae
Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy & 47 Tucanae star cluster

My friend and I take some photographs of the night sky from the front lawn of the B&B this evening, since the sky is relatively clear, and this is a dark rural site. I take photos of the Milky Way, which is a glorious overhead band, as well as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which are sister galaxies to the Milky Way. Despite not using my tracking mount, the photos turn out quite well due to the dark skies in this rural location.

Oct 27, 2010 – Wednesday – SheepWorld, Warkworth, Point Wells

Jan and Perry serve us a delicious full English breakfast this morning at the B&B. We decide to go to the farm at SheepWorld, which is only 4km north of Warkworth. We walk around the farm pens to see all the animals: sheep, lambs, pigs, rabbits, Alpaca, cattle and goats. Of course, the highlight is when the dogs herd the sheep from the pasture into the pens; as well as the sheep shearing demonstration, and the finale – we get to feed the lambs milk from bottles.

SheepWorld – sheep shearing & sheep dogs from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

In the late afternoon we drive over to nearby Point Wells to visit with my cousin Cindy and her family. They have a wonderful property located on the estuary, and the layout of their house takes full advantage of outdoor living and the beautiful view.. Before dinner, my Cindy’s husband Graeme takes us on a walking tour along the shoreline surrounding the little community of Point Wells. It is a beautiful area, with some fine views all the way to Omaha Beach.

The dinner Cindy and Graeme prepare for us is excellent: ceviche and fresh tomatoes, fresh caught fish grilled on the BBQ, lovely plump scallops off the boats at nearby Omaha, a nice salad, and oven roasted potatoes. We have a couple of white wines we brought along – a pinot gris and a chardonnay – which both work well with the meal. Yet more of that wonderful New Zealander hospitality!

The Road to Hana

Nov 27, 1995 – The Road to Hana, Maui, Hawaii

Road to Hana map

Road to Hana map

My friends and I drive our rental car north from Kihei, around the outskirts of Kahalui, and then southward on the northeast coast of Maui to the little town of Hana. This all-day drive is legendary, mainly because the paved two lane road twists and turns along the scenic coastline. This is also the wet side of the island of Maui, so be prepared if you decide to do this drive.

NOTE – If you plan to use the guide below, the intersection of Dairy Road and the Hana Highway is mile number zero. Each paragraph below displays the mileage number in bold at the start of the narrative. Watch for the highway markers along the way, since they are keyed to these same distances.

Before you leave for this driving tour (or preferably before you leave home), download an audio driving tour of the Road to Hana. Search for “Hana Highway audio tour” on your favourite media site. Many of these tour products are actually apps that run on your smartphone, and include more than just narration. Features such as: GPS location, maps, photos, and nice music are often included. All are modestly priced at $5-$10.


Workers in the fields cutting cane by hand in 1983

Workers in the fields cutting cane by hand in 1983

3.0 – Sugar cane fields have been a part of the Maui landscape since the 1860’s, when a market was found for sugar in the California Gold Rush. Maui currently has approximately 50,000 acres of sugar cane under cultivation. Sugar mills still operate here, in the midst of the swaying sugar cane fields. When the cane fields are ready to be harvested, they are set ablaze in order to get rid of most of the foliage, since the sugar is in the stalk. The sugar mill processes the cane into molasses, which is then trucked to Kahalui harbour, where it is shipped to the mainland for further processing.

5.0 – Paia is a plantation town, and is the first town encountered when heading west from Kahalui. Windsurfers are now becoming the main industry for this former sugar town, since the north shores of Maui in this area offers superb onshore winds. This is your last chance to fill up with gas. If the Paia gas stations are closed, return to Kahalui to gas up before proceed further. You have over 100 miles (return trip) of highway ahead of you!

8.0 – Hookipa Beach is a mecca for surfing and wind surfers. Surfing is said to have been invented by the ancient Hawaiians. Mama’s Fishouse is located near here, and serves some of the best seafood to be found on the islands. Expensive, but recommended.

9.4 – Waikamoi Ridge trail is a short walk through the lush forest.

9.8 – Waikamoi Ridge pool and bridge is a good place to have a swim in a tropical pool.

11.0 – Puohokamoa Falls waterfall and pool.

12.0 – Kaumahina State Wayside Park – restrooms and rubbish bins. Good view of coast, and Honomanu Bay. Pandanus grows here, and is used for baskets and mats, and was used for clothing by the ancient Hawaiians.

12.3 – Honomanu Bay “The Bay of Sharks” – there are 1,000 foot waterfalls above the bay. Not suitable for swimming. The road starts to narrow at this point. Please beware of large trucks. Wait until you are almost past the bay, where there are some good pulloffs for viewing.

15.7 – Keanae Arboretum – giant bamboo, and many other native flowers and trees are easy to see. You will spot gum trees, impatiens, and many more plants as you take this gentle walk through the grounds. A camera is a must. After seeing the arboretum, carry on down the highway a short distance, and take the road to the left leading down to the Keanae Peninsula. The Ihiihiolehowao na Kaua Church (built in 1860 of lava rock) is worth seeing, as is the rugged black lava rock shoreline and pounding turquoise water. Turn left back onto the highway, to continue your journey.

NOTE – at mile marker 16, the highway number changes from from 36 to 360, and the mile markers start over at zero.

18.2 – Turn left into the village of Wailua, where you will find 100 year old St. Gabriel’s Church. Drive down the road further until you see the “Dead End” sign, and turn right. Drive for a short distance on this private road to see the lush taro fields, cattle, and beautiful Waikani Falls in the background to the southwest. When coming out of this road, do not turn right (dead-end)! Turn left, back to the highway.

22.4 – Puaakaa State Park – beautiful tropical pools, trails, etc. The most rainfall occurs on this part of the Hana coast – up to 365 inches of rain per year. Have a look at the water viaduct, which were built near the turn of the century by Chinese labourers. These viaducts and irrigation ditches are managed by the East Maui Water Company, which supplies water from this “wet” side of Maui to the sugar cane and pineapple fields on the drier side of the island, in the valley where the city of Kahalui is found.

25.1 – Nahiku – there are many fruit and flower stands between here and Hana. Why not stop and sample?

32.0 – Waianapanapa State Park, just past Hana airport. Say awhile, and walk around this interesting park. The shoreline has some spectacular natural arches, blowholes, grottos, and of course, the vivid turquoise water. A beautiful black sand beach is an easy walk down the trail to the shore. Turn left back onto the Hana Highway – you are almost at Hana!

33.4 – Hana – “land of the low-lying sky”. Isolation ensures that Hana is mostly unchanged. Once you get to the Y intersection (where the police station is located), first take the lower road to Hana Bay. Snack Bar, pier, and Kauiki Hill – a site of many battles. Turn left after leaving the bay. The town of Hana has one hotel (the Hana Maui Hotel), several churches and two stores.

 

The road between Keanae and Hana was built of stone in 1927, and was paved in 1962. The Hana Highway has 56 bridges, and over 600 curves!

Unless you simply must see Oheo Gulch, I would recommend turning back after seeing Hana.

51.7 – Koki Beach and Hamoa Beach – Alau Island is just offshore, and is a very picturesque “tropical island”, as well as being a bird sanctuary. Hamoa Beach is one of the most beautiful in Hawaii. Double back, then turn left back onto the main road. NOTE – Mile markers start counting downward beyond this point. The road becomes even narrower now – less than one lane wide! Be prepared to pull off to allow oncoming traffic get past you, and proceed very slowly.

46.8 – Wailua Falls 95 feet high.

44.0 – Oheo Gulch (Seven Pools) – although there are not seven pools here, this is the common name for this lush tropical area.

43.0 – Kipahulu – Palapala Hoomau Church (built in 1857) and Charles Lindbergh’s grave.


Travel Tips

  • If you are driving the Hana Highway to the town of Hana, you should depart by no later than 9:00am. If you plan to travel past Hana to the Oheo Gulch (Seven Pools) area, give yourself an extra hour (minimum). If you are leaving from the Lahaina/Kaanapali area, leave no later than 8:30am…earlier if you are going past Hana.
  • Take food with you for a picnic lunch and snacks along the way. Take water and/or soft drinks as well. There are no food stores once you pass the town of Paia, until you get to Hana.
  • Gas up your car by the time you get to Paia. There are no gas stations until you get to Hana.
  • If at all possible, have two drivers available to share the driving duties. (You will have to arrange this ahead of time with your car rental agency.) There are many sights to see along the Hana Highway, and there are often no places to stop – therefore the driver will miss much of this beautiful drive. Also, driver fatigue and stress can easily set in along this road, due to the many sharp turns, narrow lane widths, poor surface, rainy weather, steep drop offs, and other road hazards.
  • If you are considering going past Hana to the Oheo Gulch (Seven Pools) area, double check your car rental agreement. Some forbid travel past Hana on this road.
  • Plan to encounter delays along the route. Delays are not uncommon, since the Hana Highway requires constant repairs by road crews.
Please don’t let these cautions deter you from travelling the Hana Highway. It is well worth the trip!