Another step forward

So it happened – Swiss Air dropped the price of the flights we were looking at by $1,300.  Seeing that, in my mind, it was a no brainer to book our flights.

 

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While some may say that it is too early to book the flights, I say – nay, nay.  We got the flights that we wanted at a price that I think is fair.  I suppose there is a chance that the price will drop a little bit more, but I’m content with the price we paid, especially getting the flights at times that we like too!  In picking out our seats, we weren’t the first ones booking either.

The next step in the process is to look at the various day trips that we are interested in.  I want to make sure that we will be doing more than just going up to mountain tops.  Rest assured, we have plenty of other things that we are looking at doing.

Switzerland seems to be a dream as far as getting around.  There are regularly scheduled trains that seem to go everywhere.  As I mentioned previously, by buying a Swiss Travel Pass we’ll be able to literally hop on any train we want without having to pay anything extra.  For our various day trips, that will make life so much easier.  We can arrive and depart without having to pre-buy tickets to lock us in to a specific time.

I read an article online and two of the hotels we are staying in were mentioned as being top hotels chosen by travelers to stay in.  That gives me a little more confidence, since I’m not always convinced that the booking sites are always honest with their reviews.

It will take a little bit of research and planning, but hopefully by the next update I’ll know some of the places we’ll be visiting.

If anyone has visited and has any ideas, feel free to suggest them in the comments.

 

 

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Time to start planning for 2019

So September has rolled around and it’s time to start planning our next adventure.  A quick spin of the travel wheel and our next destination is going to be Switzerland.

We’ve been watching lots of You Tube videos, searching websites and plowing through Pinterest pins to determine what locations to visit.  Switzerland is not a huge country, so we think that we can see more than just the highlights.  Beautiful cities and towns, awe inspiring mountains and mountain views, clear glacier fed rivers and lakes and chocolate – lots and lots of chocolate!

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Pay no attention to the numbers on the map, that was a prior iteration of the plan.  However, many of the locations did make it to the final cut.

Here’s the route:

  • Zurich
  • Lucerne
  • Interlaken
  • Lauterbrunnen
  • Lausanne
  • Zermatt
  • St Moritz
  • Lugano
  • Milan

The plan is to go at an easy pace with day trips to round out the itinerary.  There are  quite a number of beautiful locations around Switzerland and with the places we’ve chosen to base ourselves, we will be able to enjoy many of them.

Switzerland has one of the world’s best railway systems, allowing you to travel just about anywhere without having to rent a car.  Where the trains don’t go, they have buses to supplement the routes.  They also have something called a “Swiss Travel Pass” that once you buy it, you don’t have to pay for transportation anywhere in the country.  It covers trains, boats, trams and buses, plus it gives you free entry to over 400 museums throughout the country.  The only exception for transportation costs will be the cable cars and private cog wheel trains that take you to the top of the mountains.

I have the hotels booked and have actually saved a few dollars by booking “far in advance”.  That said, the hotel reservation people have been great to work with on booking what we want.  Many of the websites didn’t allow booking this far ahead, but a quick email with maybe just a touch of “sweet talk” about how we really wanted to stay with them worked its magic – and even brought in a couple discounts and free breakfasts.

The search is now on for flights.  I have my eye on a Swiss Air flight from JFK to Zurich and then on the way back, from Milan to Zurich and then to JFK.  The times are exactly what we want – the price isn’t.  I’m just waiting for the price to drop a bit and then we’ll pounce on it.

So for now, we wait.  Lots of reading and creating the detailed plans for the day trips and excursions to the mountains.

Time for some relaxing cowbell music and maybe an Alphorn or two to set the mood until we go.

 

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Quick trip to the Big Apple

Just a little three day jaunt to NYC for a little fun.  We’re going to take in two Yankees games – Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon – against the Baltimore Orioles.  In addition, Sue and our friend Donna are going to the Downton Abbey exhibition. I’ll join the festivities afterwards and get a chance to visit with Donna during lunch.

Just so happens that it is Restaurant Week in NYC.  They must use a different calendar here as their “week” goes from July 23 – Aug 6.  The deal is $26 lunch specials and $42 dinner specials – too bad ‘Per Se’ doesn’t participate!

We flew on JetBlue to JFK.  I love when we can catch one of their fare specials; it makes flying to NYC much more cost efficient.  The flight was just an hour – I swear we travel farther taxiing around the airport than up in the air.  JFK was busy, but not over the top.  We were able to catch a cab without a wait and were on our way to the hotel.  The fare to  Manhattan is a flat rate of $52 plus tolls and tip, so figure about $70.

We are staying at the Hotel Belleclaire on W 77th St.  It’s a nice hotel located just two blocks from the W 79th St. subway station (see, I can still do math).  That will make it easy to get to the exhibition and to Yankee Stadium.  It was built in 1903 and even with numerous updates, has retained many of the old design features.

We had dinner at a restaurant called “Tessa” that is located just a short walk from the hotel on Amsterdam Ave.  Good thing it was close, as it started to rain just as we were arriving.  Their cuisine is considered modern mediterranean and I must say that our meals were delicious.  On top of great food, the prices were reasonable, especially in NYC.  Our one little complaint was that it was on the noisy side.  The wood and brick interior looked nice, but bounced the sound around.

The rain stopped by the time we were finished, so we were able to stroll back to the hotel with full tummies.

With thoughts of the fun day ahead, we headed to bed for a good night’s sleep.  The bed was comfortable, lots of pillows and just enough ambient light from Broadway to act as a night light.  It would have been perfect except for that one firetruck that decided to blast the siren as it was going by.  It startled us both awake, but we did fall back asleep.

We had a fun-filled first day planned.  Our first stop today would be the Downton Abbey Exhibit.  We caught the subway and headed down to Columbus Circle.  From there, it was just a short walk to 57th St, where we would meet up with our friend Donna.  Yes, she and Sue would be attending the exhibit while I took a little walk and relaxed in a nice shady courtyard.  They spent two hours wandering through “Highclere Castle”.

Meanwhile, I answered the age old question: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”.

The answer, of course, is – right on Broadway, left on 57th St. – who needs practice?

We met back up and the girls were thrilled with their visit to “Highclere”.  If you’re a fan and it comes near you, they recommend it.

We stopped at a little diner for lunch and lots of chatting.  It’s always fun getting together with friends who otherwise become just a voice on the phone.  After a while it was hugs and kisses and then off we went.  Part two of the day was the Yankees game.

We changed into our baseball game clothes and then off we went to the stadium.  The subway was packed with other fans and the ride went by fairly quickly.  “161st Street / Yankee Stadium” came across the intercom and the mass exodus from the subway began.    I would guess it is similar to what a lemming feels like when running with all its friends. Luckily, there was no cliff – just the stadium gates.

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So, as a birthday treat for Sue, we have tickets in Section 121B.  They are between home plate and the visitors’ dugout and 11 rows from the field.  Truth be told, they were awesome seats!  The tickets include entry into the MVP lounge, so we were able to get free snacks and non-adult beverages to enjoy during the game.

It was a beautiful night for baseball and we got to see Tanaka pitch and Chapman come in for relief.  Unfortunately, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are out injured, but it was still a fun time and the Yankees won 6 – 3.

Back to the subway and then back to the hotel.  We cleaned up and watched the highlights on Sportscenter before hitting the sack.

Another good night’s rest ushered in day two.  Today we had our afternoon game.  We grabbed a quick breakfast and then headed off to the game.  While yesterday we got to see Donna, today we would get to catch up with George at the game.

The omens were all about and we just overlooked them.  First of all, it was hot and humid -the kind of day where you begin to sweat when you’re just standing still.  We arrived at the train station and my pass didn’t open the gate the first time, so a second swipe was needed to get in.  Then the train was halted before reaching our station, so we had to get a ticket from the counter and walk down to the next station.

We were directed to a train, but instead of being the local, it was the express that took us all the way down to Times Square.  So we had to switch and take another train back up to Columbus Circle and then switch to the Yankee stadium train.  When we finally arrived, already drenched in sweat, the clouds were looking ominous.

Once the game did start, Sonny Gray was also having an off day.  The fans were brutally letting him know they were not pleased with his pitching performance.  By the time the rains came pouring down, the Yanks were already losing 7 – 1.

And it didn’t rain, it poured – buckets.  The one bright light is we had the same tickets as yesterday, so we were able to head into the lounge and keep dry, well hydrated and well fed until the rain stopped.  I think everybody was hoping the rain wouldn’t stop so the nasty score would be washed away too!

When the rain did stop, the game did resume with the sun shining.  Though the Yankees held the Orioles scoreless the remainder of the game, they couldn’t catch up and lost the  game 7 – 5.  On the plus side, the trek back to the hotel was a little easier since so many people left the game early.

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Oh those clouds..

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Back to the game

We exited the subway at the Museum of Natural History on 81st St and Central Park West and walked back to the hotel from there.  It was a nice walk with beautiful houses and a small park / playground and not much traffic noise.

We couldn’t wait to get back to take a refreshing shower and relax a little before dinner.  We had to pass up a dinner invitation from George to the iconic F and J Pine Restaurant as we already had dinner reservations.  But we’re calling in a raincheck for next time!

We lazily got ourselves ready for dinner.  We had reservations at ‘Cesca on Amsterdam Ave.  Unfortunately, the hot sun and humidity from the day had left us both drained, so the highlight of the evening was getting back to the hotel and relaxing before falling asleep.  This “getting old” stuff is rough!

We both woke up feeling refreshed and ready to head back home.  The hotel arranged for a driver and for an all-inclusive $75 we had a nice relaxing ride to the airport.  Our driver was really awesome.  Besides being an excellent driver, he was very personable and also pointed out sights and provided background info on the neighborhoods and areas we passed through.

Now here is the fun part: we arrived at JFK feeling good after that very pleasant ride.  We walked in and it was fairly crowded. However, we had checked-in online, so we could go right to security and to the gate.  We noticed that the side for TSA pre-check was nearly empty, so we walked over expecting to be re-routed to the other line.

We stopped at the empty JetBlue kiosk and printed off boarding passes just to make things easier and then walked into the empty maze right up to the waiting TSA agent.  He reviewed our paperwork and pointed us to the empty security gate.  It took me longer to get the wallet and phone out of my pocket than it did to get through security.

Incredible!  We assumed we would need extra time since it was JFK and instead, we were in and through to our gate in less than fifteen minutes.

We were able to get a good sandwich for lunch and still had time to read before boarding time.  We were delayed by a few minutes before take-off due to the menacing weather moving in, but we were back home in Buffalo only ten minutes later than scheduled.  All in all, it was an easy travel home.

 

 

 

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From Amsterdam to Buffalo

“They say all good things must come to an end.  Whoever ‘they’ are should mind their own business.” – Tom Herkey

Woke up early to get ready and finish packing.  Our ride to the airport is arriving at 7:00 am, so no dilly-dallying this morning.

The canal looks beautiful, not a ripple to be seen.

Once we’re finished, we head down to the lobby.  This has been another wonderful hotel. We have been so impressed with the staff here.  Seriously, every single person has gone out of their way to be friendly and help you get the most out of your time at the hotel and Amsterdam.

Our taxi to the airport arrives a couple minutes early, but we’re ready.  We went with the electric option, so our taxi is a Tesla.

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Since they try to promote environmentally clean vehicles, the cost was the same as taking a regular taxi.  Great car – comfortable, great pick-up and a smooth ride.

We get to Schipol Airport and check-in couldn’t be easier.  Since we’re business class, they have a separate area to check-in and a separate security line.  Same rules, just a shorter line.

So we do the TSA dance – electronics out, bags open, step into the scanner and out you go.   Something showed up so I had to have the pat down. Arms up – coochie coo!  Open belt – comfy travel pants and voila – pants slide down.  I was pantsed!  Quick tug back up – and we’re done!  An international incident to add to my repertoire!

The wait wasn’t too long.  We could have used the Delta lounge, but logistically it would have been a long walk and long walks were not what I needed.

Boarding was easy and in no time, we were ready to go.  Our seats fold down flat, so after they filled us up with “delicious airline food” (yes, I really said that!) we were able to get comfortable and snooze for a little while.

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Arriving at JFK, the fun part starts: passport control and customs.  It took us 25 minutes to get in, get our luggage and re-check our luggage.  We have been in line for over an hour just to get our passports stamped in the past.

So here’s the secret:  If you intend to travel internationally, pay the $100 and get Global Entry.  In fact, your credit card might even cover it for you – check your card perks.  You scan in your passport, place your hand on the screen to match your fingerprints and they snap a quick picture.  You get a printed receipt and hand it to the agent – that’s all.  Then you look at the long lines and smile as you get your luggage.

Went up to the Delta lounge and had a couple beverages while watching the planes takeoff and land.  Saw online that there was bad weather moving towards the airport, so we crossed our fingers.

We boarded just about 10 minutes late, pulled back from the gate, started to taxi and then ATC put on a hold.  Darn – so close.  We sat on the tarmac for about an hour before we were cleared for takeoff.  Funny part is it never rained at the airport, but as we were ascending you could see the clouds.

Kudos to our flight crew for avoiding the weather and keeping the turbulence to a minimum.  An hour later we were landing in Buffalo.

We grabbed a taxi and twenty minutes later – Home Sweet Home!

 

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Last day in Amsterdam

So yesterday’s postscript became today’s reality.  I did something that caused my back to go out and it hurts like all heck.

I gingerly got out of bed and cleaned up before we went down for breakfast.  Instead of “see you tomorrow”, today was “thank you for everything”.  Our waitress was so nice, we both got big hugs before heading out.

We sat in one of the hotel lounges with a nice table and comfortable chair until they finished cleaning our room.  I was able to check-in for our flights and everything looks good so far.

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Hotel Ambassade – Library Lounge

Unfortunately, we decided that today’s explorations would have to be cancelled – I just can’t do it.

So we will take advantage of our nice room overlooking the canal today.  You’ve maybe heard the term Plane-spotting?  We invented Canal boat-spotting! There were more than thirty different boat companies that operate boats in our canal.  With names like Stromma, Lovers, Blue Boat, Boaty Rent A Boat and Amsterdam Canal Cruises; we had fun changing the names and laughing.

We also had a chance to just relax and talk about some of the wonderful things we saw and did on the trip. I know there were things that others probably would have sloughed off, but when planning, I look for cool things like the mechanical insects and the elephant in Nantes.

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The Medieval Festival in Pontorson was also fun.  Seeing how the townsfolk from the five towns embraced it, by dressing up in the vintage costumes and participated was pretty awesome.  I hope the younger folks continue the tradition as time marches on.

Mont Sainte-Michel was both interesting and awe-inspiring.  I wish we could have seen it at the highest tides to see it completely surrounded by the water before the tides empty the bay.  Mother Nature sure works her magic.

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Paris is Paris.  I can’t think of anything that we didn’t like there aside from the crowds at the Louvre.  But we just moved on as there are so many other great sites and things to do.

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Bruges lived up to all the pre-trip hype.  It truly was beautiful and like a fairy-tale city.  We knew it was going to be good when our first encounter with the taxi driver was like getting a ride from the Mayor.  So friendly and proud of his city – and the beer they produce – he couldn’t have welcomed us any better.

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And Amsterdam: it was vibrant, hectic, artsy, beautiful and smelled of marijuana just about everywhere.  Our last boat skipper summed it up best – “if we don’t like the rules, we just legalize whatever it is.”

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That’s the kind of conversations we have when our afternoon alcohol break is not available!

We made early dinner reservations, so we spruced up a little bit and headed downstairs –  first to print our boarding passes and then on to the restaurant.  I found myself apologizing to a woman who got on the elevator with us when we were only going one floor:  “We’re not lazy, I just hurt”.

Dinner was fun.  Since we’d been there before, you would have thought we were all best friends when we walked in.  Smiles, waves, handshakes – quite the scene.

We had our last Kir Royal of the trip and toasted to a wonderful time.  Today’s little setback doesn’t change anything.  Dinner was roasted artichokes, wolffish, and crepes for me; and a quinoa salad, sea bass and crepes for Sue.  We had a nice bottle of white burgundy and enjoyed the evening.

Afterwards, it was back upstairs.  We made it an early night since we have to get up early in the morning.

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Sunday – Sunshine and good wine

Woke up, ate our breakfast and then set off to the train station.  Our destination today is the town of Zaanse Schans.  It’s a historical town with windmills, cobblers, bakery exhibits, cheese and much, much more.

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Amsterdam Central Train Station

We arrive at the train station, go to a ticket machine, enter our destination info, and then pay by credit card.  Hmm, credit card is rejected.  Cancel the transaction and voila – credit card not returned.  As the panic sets in, Sue finds two workers who try to help.  After a few minutes, the woman is able to retrieve my card.  Dank u wel,  dank u wel, dank u wel……

So, next stop is the ticket desk.  In just a few minutes, we have our tickets and head over to the train.  We check the schedule board and don’t see a train for almost an hour and a half, though they are supposed to run every half hour.  Since it was now almost 1:30, we decide to eat the cost of the train tickets and take the bus.

We saw that there was a bus coming in 11 minutes, so we hurried to the gate.  Just a few people waiting, so no problem getting on, except for the fact that the buses are on strike and running erratically.  A young man at the gate explained the strike scheduling problems and also knew that the trains were not running on time because of track work. Now they tell us!

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In true Herkey fashion, we said “screw it – boat ride!”

The boat docks are just across from the train station, so we follow the crowd.  You see some interesting sights on a weekend in Amsterdam.

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Not sure if he lost a bet or is looking for work in the redlight district.

We went back to the same Open Boat Company as yesterday.  This time, under ‘Skipper Bart’, we took a different route and enjoyed the mostly serene ride.  Mostly serene because there was a lot of traffic on the main canals today.

Skipper Bart was knowledgeable and hilarious.  He explained some history, related some anecdotes and wasn’t afraid to talk in adult terms about issues. The best was when he explained about the drunk guys in the Redlight district who often relieve themselves in the canals and wet all over the top of the canal walls.  He told us this as a warning about sitting on the walls or eating lunch there.  He then proceeded to wave, smile and laugh at all the people who were sitting there.

We took the tram back towards our hotel and then found a cafe wth table in the shade – rosé wine and gin & tonics came next.  Once our thirsts were quenched, we stopped by a small bakery for a nut cookie and an almond cookie.  Both were delicious.

Dinner is at 8:30 tonight.  We thought we would be away for a good part of the day, but alas, that didn’t quite work out.  So we rested up before getting cleaned up.

Our dinner is here at Brasserie Ambassade.  When we arrived, they ushered us over to a prime table overlooking the canal.  It was really romantic with the lights glistening on the water and the sun easing down below the roofs of the buildings.

Our previous server and wine expert from the other evening, Reink, had kept the table for us and was pleased that we were excited to be back.  He couldn’t wait to help us with the wines.  Tonight’s server is from France and grew up in Avignon.  Sue ordered and he responded “merci”. Seizing the opportunity, I ordered in French and he was blown away.  I had a new friend.

We saw Reink peruse our order and then came over with the wine list.  I had two choices in mind and one of them was also his recommendation.  We went with a Barolo, but a lighter one that would perfectly pair with our meals.  Sue selected artichokes as a starter, braised beef cheeks as her main and the crepes al’orange for dessert.  I had a warm goat cheese and fig salad, followed by a flat iron steak with frites and a Creme brûlée for dessert.

Everything was delicious and sensibly portioned – we’re still walking off our Italian dinner.  A few handshakes and hugs and we were on our way back to the room.

Post script… ouch!

 

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Canal cruising on a sunny day.

Woke up to another beautiful day.  After cleaning up, we went down for breakfast and my daily Dutch lesson.  We have basically been eating a good breakfast each day and then dinner.  No lunch, just an occasional snack and adult beverages.

We’ve been watching the boats cruising by our hotel, so today we are going to enjoy navigating the open seas.  Ok, the seas are a canal, but we’ll still be watching for pirates!

We started out looking for a boat that would suit us.  We didn’t want one of the big covered boats with a hundred people, we wanted one of the smaller open boats.  We walked in every direction and had a great tour in our quest to find an open boat.  Below are some pictures from our trek.

When we walked down near the train station, we spotted them – Open Boat Tour Company.  Hooray!!

For €21, we took a 75 minute tour in a boat with just twelve people.  Our skipper Saskia, took us on a tour that was a little off the beaten path where there would be less boat traffic.  It was really pleasant and informational.  We learned a few things about Amsterdam and its history while cruising down little side canals that the big boats can’t navigate.

After our ride, we walked back to the hotel where we introduced ourselves to the bartender.   Just a little something to cool down after the walk back.  Like everyone else in the hotel, he was friendly and we chatted about just about everything under the sun.

We made an early dinner reservation for this evening at Casa di David.  We’ve been enjoying all of our meals and thought we would try Italian.  The restaurant is family owned and authentic Italian.  We totally enjoyed our meals – insalata, a shared plate of pasta carbonara.  For our mains, Sue had scallops and ravioli, while I had a veal chop with mushrooms and tomatoes.  We started with a glass of prosecco and then on to a bottle of Avighonesi Nobile di Montelpuciano.  Though I had my eye on it, there was no room for tiramisu.

A nice stroll back and then relaxed in the room.  Early plans for tomorrow.

 

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