UT, AZ and NV

It’s always exciting when people visit us here in New Mexico. It’s especially exciting when someone comes from almost 6,000 miles to see us! We met the Camargo (Rui, Wania, Gustavo and Ricardo) family on a cruise a few years ago out of Galveston. It’s been super enriching to have them in our lives. One of the first things Gustavo said to us when we were from Albuquerque was “Breaking Bad was filmed there!” When I retired we took a cruise from Spain to Brazil and paid a visit to the Camargos. And now it was time for Gustavo to visit us.

Since Gustavo is such a huge movie and TV buff I talked him into visiting some places here in Albuquerque and then hitting the road to Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.

Car Wash from Breaking Bad

In front of Walter White’s house
Gustavo Cooking Meth

After the whirlwind tour in Albuquerque, we hit the road. We drove up to the Four Corners (Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona meet here) and then on to Monument Valley.

Monument valley has been the backdrop for many movies, including the place where Forest Gump turned around.

 

Then on to Vegas! It’s interesting that there is NO gambling in Brazil. So this was totally a new experience for Gustavo. And he loved it. We taught him how to shoot craps and he rolled like a rookie on fire!!! People were clapping for him because he kept winning them money. It really was a great time. Thank you Gustavo.

Saying Goodbye to Gustavo

 

Cristo Redentor

Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

I started writing an article on Rio. After looking through the photos, I thought I’d break it down a bit. Too much to put in one article. And in Rio, Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) looms large. It’s an iconic masterpiece that you should put on your bucket list.

By Ulysses Rj – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40132118

Everyone told us to get there very early or you would be standing in some serious lines. So we got up early and Ubered to the base of Corcovado Mountain to the Corcovado Rack Railway Station. 

We got there a little before they opened. It was a very nice place. We rode the train up to the top and were amazed at what we saw. Not only is the statue magnificent. The view is one of the best views EVER. I’m going to stop typing now because nothing I say can match what the photos say.

P1010775P1010781

P1010796
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodrigo_de_Freitas_Lagoon

P1010797P1010803P1010805

P1010809
That huge monolith on the peninsula is called Sugarloaf Mountain

P1010810

P1010814
This is a favela. There were a few of these in Rio and can be very dangerous for tourists.

P1010816P1010817P1010832

P1010837
Sugarloaf Mountain

P1010861

 

 

São Paulo

We got off our cruise ship in the port of Santos. We had sailed from Barcelona and crossed the equator into summer. The heat and humidity weren’t too bad because in the Southern Hemisphere summer was a few weeks away. We took a tour of São Paulo and said some sad goodbyes to our shipmates that we had gotten really close to in the previous 17 days.

São Paulo is a ginormous city. There are more than 20 million people in their metropolitan area and it’s very vertical. If you feel cramped living in a neighborhood here in the United States, where your neighbors might be 50 to 100 feet away, then don’t move to São Paulo. There are people everywhere. I was surprised how much greenery there was for such a populated city.

IMG_3068

The image at the top of this page was taken from the top of our Airbnb. So many tall buildings that seem to go on forever. Our place was very nice and was colocated in a hotel. So it was a little strange to have an Airbnb property at a place that had a front desk. But it was very nice.

While there, we got to see our wonderful friends the Camargos. We met Gustavo, Wania and Rui while on a cruise out of Galveston. There is a slight language barrier but we use Gustavo as our interpreter. While in São Paulo, we ate at some wonderful restaurants. There is never a worry about going hungry there. I think our favorite food was pão de queijo, which is about the greatest tasting cheese bread I’ve ever had. Close runners-up were feijoada, which is an excellent meat dish, and brigadeiro, which is a chocolate dessert.

We started out being hosted at a country club where the food was amazing. It’s like those Brazilian places where you eat all you can possibly eat. Amazing atmosphere and friends. Such a great day!

IMG_3075
Reina, Gustavo, Wania and Rui.

IMG_3137

While there, Gustavo took us for sushi in what appeared to be a house, burgers at this hip cafe and then he took us to the Japanese part of town for Karaoke. Brazilians take their karaoke seriously. You actually have to pay a small price to the DJ to sing your song. IMG_3093

We also took a tour of SP via bicycle. Ibirapuera Park was much like Central Park in NYC. Except everyone was moving. Skateboarding, walking, running, or walking. It was a lot of fun.

IMG_3228 We stayed near Avenida Paulista, which is the main thoroughfare through downtown SP. We always felt safe and there was always something to do.

Something that was weird to us was having such high temperatures in December. And then we realized that, in Brazil, they celebrate Christmas four days after Summer officially begins. Ha. We talked to Gustavo about this and he said it’s just what he’s always known. We asked about his brother Ricardo, who moved to NYC. He said it would be different for him to be in the cold for Christmas.

IMG_3129
Avenida Paulista

During the last few days of our visit, we went to the Municipal Market of São Paulo. It was a sight to see. More food and all kinds of stuff to buy. And, once again, freaking people everywhere. Ha.

Bottom line, if you aren’t afraid of big cities, São Paulo is definitely a place to see. Lots to do and see.

Oh yeah, one more pic of Reina shopping for Havaianas.

IMG_3126

Brazil/Brasil!!!

I’m not sure why I didn’t finish up with the last part of Trip of a Lifetime 1.0. Laziness perhaps?

We went from 100-degree heat in the summer in Rio to 30 degrees in Albuquerque and it was a shock to the system. Christmas was right around the corner and we had to adjust. Fast.

Now I want to go back and recap the fabulous conclusion of our vacation. Brazil.

Where to even start?

We were still on the cruise from Barcelona when we stopped in Recife. By the way, don’t even try to pronounce most words in Brazil. The Rs are Hs. It’s not Rio. It’s Hio. That’s just one letter that is way, way different in Portuguese.

Recife was a nice coastal town that was like Cleveland on the coast. It’s a beautiful place but has had its share of crime and negligence but was trying to make a comeback. We were with our newfound friends Dan and Maru. Since Maru was from Argentina and had done some traveling to Brazil, she was the interpreter.

IMG_2773

After that, we got back on the ship and continued to Rio de Janeiro.

It was a little disappointing in Rio since we only had the one day there with Dan and Maru. It was cloudy. Reina and I would continue on the cruise to Sao Paulo but would fly back to Rio in a couple of weeks. We went up Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese) but couldn’t see due to cloud cover.

I thought I was going to write a long post about Brazil but I have to break it up. Just too much information with Sao Paulo and Rio. Next post soon.

Transatlantic cruise. Can you do it?

 

A 16 night transatlantic cruise.  At first, I’ll have to admit, I was a little worried that something similar to Jack Nicholson in The Shining may happen.  I was worried that we would run out of things to do at sea or we would grow bored.  Absolutely is not happening.  We reach Recife Brazil in about 36 hours and we had to take a “chill day” because we were honestly staying too busy.  Here’s the lineup for day 11 of the cruise.  We woke up and watched a movie in the room.  Reina then went to the gym for a treadmill workout.  I went to play leg 4 of 5 of the 5 day trivia challenge.  We call our trivia team AGUA because we have people from Argentina, Germany, the United States, and Australia.  We range in age from 20s (Maru from Argentina) to mid 60s (Steve from San Antonio Texas).  We are formidable.  Ha. 

We all ate lunch together because we’ve grown close.  On a 16 night cruise you have time to really get to know the fellow passengers and crew.  It’s been wonderful.  After lunch, Reina went for a spa visit and I’m typing this blog.  Tonight we are participating in the King Neptune toga party.  That’s a ceremony for all of us polywogs who are yet to cross the equator on a ship.  Supposed to be a big deal.  I’ll post pics once the ceremony has taken place.  We are supposed to cross over into the Southern Hemisphere early tomorrow morning at around 0100.
As we’ve sailed south, the temps have gotten much warmer.  The days have been very balmy, usually around 27 degrees (82 fahrenheit).  I’ve taken some pretty good naps around the pool.  Ha.  Here are a few things I’ve learned about the transatlantic cruises.
1.  If you want to truly test your addiction to the Internet, this is the place.  To subscribe two devices to the Wifi plan, it was something like $480 for the cruise.  Yeah right.  I’d rather go without.  It’s actually been nice.  I haven’t heard any news of a killing or a riot or anything else that is sad.  On the down side, I’ve not been able to post pics or words on Facebook.  I will catch up though.
2.  Being gone for a month makes you miss the local food in the United States.  I would kill for a decent green chile breakfast burrito right now. Ha.  They have had food from everywhere on the cruise but when they try to duplicate United States food, they get close but it’s different.
3.  No news.  That’s right.  We haven’t had a CNN or BBC news feed in a week.  No depressing murders.  No BS about the presidential nominees.  It’s been truly wonderful.  We’ve had the ability to truly decompress.  This is what I wanted post retirement and it has been great.  I have heard a few bits and pieces from my friends with the high dollar internet.
Recife is next.  The town of Olinda is supposed to be a former prison turned into an art colony.  I’ll report after that.

I hate selfie sticks.


 
I hate selfie sticks.  Yes I do.  I’ve had Japanese tourists, little kids, and just about everyone else invade my personal space with the damned things.  Ha.  Rant over.  On to the blog.
 
After touring around Europe the last few weeks, I’ve come to a few conclusions.  There are people out there just don’t have it as good as you and I do.  But it’s not for lack of effort.  I’m normally a skeptical person when it comes to someone getting something over on me.  But I have to admit, they got me once and almost twice.  Ha.  
 
You have to feel for people who, by birth, were not given even the simplest chance like we were in the United States.  I’m not trying to open up some huge immigration debate, although I can see both the isolationist view and the “give them the opportunity” view.  I’m talking about people working many hours a day to get you to transfer a few Euro, or dollars, or pounds, or whatever, from your pocket to theirs.  I’ve seen the truly needy.  I’ve seen a man walking down the street on nothing but stumps.  He honestly didn’t have legs and didn’t have a wheelchair or any prosthetics.  I’ve seen people in Europe who obviously had no clue what today was or where they were.  Those people needed help.  
 
And then there are the ones who aren’t begging for money.  These are the people who are honestly working, although illegally, to try and sell you something.  Think of the people who line the sidewalks in Las Vegas trying to convince you to take their cards advertising a woman to your room tonight.  These people are essentially the same.  And what are they hawking the most?  The damned selfie stick.  Something I’m not a big fan of to begin with.  It started in Paris and has continued to Rome.  At a “touristy” location such as the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum, men will walk up to you with the aforementioned device, fully extended, and poke the business end of it into your face.  If you make eye contact, that buys you an extra 30 seconds of sales technique.  If you speak to the person or show even a hint of interest, the gentleman will just about follow you for an hour.  I’m exaggerating but you get the point.  And it’s not just selfie sticks.  It has been scarves, beer/champagne, bracelets, wood carvings, “Coach” or Louis Vuitton” handbags, and little blue helicopters.  Reina has to throttle me like a little kid when those are around.  I turn instant juvenile when I see things fly.  If a jet or a helicopter or just about anything is flying, I’ll watch it.  The little blue helicopters are LED lit things that they fling about 500 feet into the air like a rocket and when they start to descend, they whirl, similar to a helicopter, and change to a different color.  Totally cool.  I have this defect that I have to look.  The “salesmen” are 100% perceptive and see my reaction.  And they are on us like white on rice.  Haha.  
 
Bottom line for these people.  They are trying to sell me a selfie stick for 3 Euro.  They probably have a Euro invested in each one.  You can tell these people need the money.  It’s cool that they are working but it truly is a bother to you after awhile.
 
One last category. There have been a couple of people who took advantage of us.  The first time I got took was when we were leaving Paris and were walking by the Notre Dame.  We had some young women who seemed legit.  They asked me to sign a petition for something involving civil rights.  Sign and they will leave me along.  Right?  Right after we both signed, they asked for the compulsory donation.  I felt bad that I signed and now I wasn’t going to follow through will my obligation.  Sucker.  So I gave them a Euro.  Then the young lady tells me it’s a 5 Euro MINIMUM.  Hahaha.  I raised my voice and said, “Give me my Euro back.”  She said “fuggedaboutit” and went on to the next sucker.  
 
The other near miss happened last night near our restaurant.  A young African man came up with a bunch of bracelets.  I told him we weren’t interested.  He started giving us free bracelets.  He even put one on Reina’s wrist.  I told him he needed to keep them and try selling them to other people.  He said, “For free” and insisted we take them.  I said okay and we walked off.  He followed us for a few and finally asked us for money.  Reina gave him his bracelet back and no harm no foul.
 
A funny thing happens when the police are nearby.  These people put everything away in a nanosecond the moment law enforcement rolls in.  The cops know they do it and turn a blind eye.  There are handles on the blankets where they keep there wares.  The moment the authorities are nearby, boom, it gets picked up and the salesmen are relocating.
I tell you this not to scare you.  I believe these people never mean harm.  They just want your money.
A man selling scarves in Rome.
Selling in Rome.

Rome

 

I write this blog while sitting in my Airbnb apartment in Rome.  The nicest and most quaint apartment I have ever stayed in.  It’s around 100 years old and it’s like traveling back in time.  If you could stay in Ricky and Lucy’s apartment, this would be very similar.  There are a few modern conveniences such as a flat panel TV and a wireless routher but other than that this place is a blast from the past.
A few things about Rome.  It is a beautiful city.  The people here seem passionate and everyone talks with such emphasis.  The ancient Roman structures are kind of hard to comprehend when we in the United States are so new in the game and something old to us would pale in comparison to just about anything here.  Some of these structures are around 2,000 years old.  That is amazing.
One of the better stories I’ve seen here happened by accident.  We were near one of the many piazzas in town and we thought we would head down a certain street and Reina said, “I don’t like when nobody else in walking on the sidewalk.  It seemed like an empty block.  We went forward.  We turned the corner and you could tell something was going on and it was profound.  There was a massive pile of flowers.  I immediately thought we had happened upon a funeral.  But something was different.  People weren’t dressed for a funeral.  Most were not talking.  Most were looking down.  Some looked like they were crying.  There were camera crews around interviewing people.  Paris.  We were right in front of the French Embassy in Rome.  The city was mourning for it’s European sister.  People were lighting candles and putting flowers as a show of respect for their fellow Europeans who were killed in a senseless terror attack just a few days ago.
Just thinking about it and I get a lump in my throat.
It makes me wonder what happened on 9/11/01.  I’m sure there was a similar display outside our embassy.  It touches me to think that cities are like people.  We’ve seen whole blocks where candles adorn the windows of every apartment.  This busy city has time to stop and pay respects for unknown people.  What a remarkable place.  Thank you Rome.  You help me continue my faith in mankind.

Water, the ADA, and dying of old age.

Water, the ADA, and dying of old age.  This is a hodgepodge of things that have happened in restaurants while we have been in Europe.  If you are traveling over here any time soon, you should definitely read this.
Water.  That wonderful ubiquitous liquid in the United States.  Over here, it’s like gold.  I have been over here before and knew this but I got conditioned on always having access to lots of water.  Here’s how it goes down.  In Paris, the way to save money is to say, “I would like a tap water.”  They bring out a bottle that looks like it’s been filled in the back and been chilled in a fridge.  The water was wonderful.  We had it made.  The funny thing is that they pour the water into something I would liken to a glass Dixie Cup.  So I drink the water like a shot, fill it back up, and repeat.  Amsterdam was similar.  We get to Berlin and I, the seasoned traveler that I am, order my precious tap water.  The waitress informs me this is not allowed.  I’m like, “What do you mean?”  She says it isn’t legal for her to give us tap water.  This is about five minutes after I’ve downed about a quart of water back at the loft.  Alarmed, I ask her, “Is Berlin water safe to drink from ze tap?”  She laughs at me and says “Of course.”  Good, I’m not gonna die from German tap water.  To me, it’s more of a money making thing than anything.  They are going to now sell me a bottle of water, “Vis gas or vis no gas.”  We prefer the water vis no gas.  Carbonated water repulses me unless there is Diet Coke (Coca Cola Light outside of the U.S.) in it.  Served in the same glass Dixie Cup though.  Haha.  A one liter bottle of still water costs almost exactly the same as a half liter of wine or beer.  What’s that telling you?  Ha.
The ADA.  The American with Disabilities Act has leveled the field for handicapped people.  Europe not so much.  Over the course of the last few weeks we have seen people carrying other people (babies, handicapped, etc) up stairs everywhere.  One of the deciding factors for a backpack was the fact that there are so many stairs.  If you are in a wheelchair or bring someone that does, getting to the subway, a train or just about anywhere will cause anxiety or could injure that person.  We are talking some of the ancient structures being around a thousand years.  They simply can’t install an elevator.  But it’s amazing that you don’t see the hover around scooters like you do in the U.S.  And most people are thin here.  They walk or take public transportation everywhere.
Dying of old age.  Back to the eating experience.  If you are used to grabbing a quick bite to eat, you have to change your paradigm if you want to sit down and eat over here.  They do have what’s called takeaway food which is quick but I’m talking you want to sit down and rest your feet and want something as simple as a cup of coffee, it may take a half hour or more.  Haha.  Here’s how it goes:
1.  Someone sits us at a table.  Space is a premium so we might be a few inches from someone else.  The host or hostess gives us menus.
2.  They disappear for awhile.  No drink order yet.
3.  They show back up 15 minutes later.  Drink order taken.
4.  They bring us back drinks.
5.  They disappear again.
6.  They come back at some random time and take our food order.
7.  They deliver our food.  So far not too bad.
8.  We finish our meal.  Typically very good.
9.  They are now gone.  And I mean gone gone.  What kind of gone?  Gone.  And even if they aren’t gone, they won’t make eye contact.  We see them waiting on other people but we are dead to them.
10.  We wait.  As much as half an hour later, I finally get some eye contact, make my highly trained sign language for “check please.”  Now we are rolling.  Just gotta pay and we are out of here.  We can see light at the end of the tunnel.
11.  They bring the check.  This is aweome.  Meal almost complete.
12.  We give them our credit card.  The end is near!
13.  See #9 above.  They are gone again.
14.  Sometimes this works to our benefit.  If we have been walking for hours, it gives us an additional foot rest time.  If we are in a hurry, it sucks.  Ha.
These are a few of the things you have to get used to in Europe.  Don’t be scared.  Book that trip.

Get Lost (and love it)

Get lost.  You’ll love it.  Believe it or not, Reina and I try to find some place that is way off the beaten path.  Away from the people trying to sell you selfie sticks or trinkets.  The place where the locals are shopping and eating.  We find that there’s a great experience waiting there.

Here’s what happened.  I was so fascinated by the Berlin Wall.  That symbol of oppression was so evident in my early military career.  In the mid 80s the enemy was “Ivan.”  We learned about Soviet weaponry, aircraft and tanks.  The wall was still up in 1987 when President Reagan made his famous speech for Gorbochev to “tear down this wall.”  Since it was such a turbulent time, and the Russians were the enemy, the wall has always stuck in my brain as something to see.  And I wanted to check out East Germany.  So Reina and I got on a bus facing into the former Democratic Deutchland Republic, also known as East Germany.  We got on the bus and rode it until we couldn’t ride in any more.  It just stopped and the bus driver came up to the second floor and told everyone it was the end of the line.  Hahaha.  We left the bus and went walking.  We found a nearby trolley and got on it and found a cafe zone in Berlin.  You could tell this was what we were looking for in a neighborhood.  People were going about their business.  Not a lot of tourists were around.  We ate at a Doner Kabab.  Wonderful restaurant.
Then we walked around a local flea market for awhile.  We were lost and loving it.

Hookers and pot.

imageHookers and pot?  Seriously?  We were in Amsterdam so it seemed appropriate.  Haha.

Current update.  On a train from Amsterdam to Berlin.  Here’s a little more of an assessment on Paris and one on Amsterdam.
Paris is a giant and beautiful city.  Everything is very nice.  It seems like every nook and cranny is a place that was created specifically for a couple.  So many different cafes along the river to sit and have a nice meal or just talk or people watch.  There was some hustle and bustle to it but it all seemed orderly.  To this plain American, everyone is dressed to the nines in Paris.  Leather shoes, skinny jeans, tailored jacket and an elegant scarf.  Reina commented that we should’ve bought me a European man bag to blend in.  I scoffed and started chanting “USA!, USA!, USA!”
Amsterdam is controlled chaos.  You always have to be alert with your surroundings.  Not that there is violence or muggers or any of that.  It’s the freaking traffic.  This place is heaven to a cyclist or someone that rides a scooter.  As a pedestrian, you have to watch out for those two things, PLUS trams, buses, and cars.  Not to mention all the other pedestrains, about 1 out of every 5 is partaking in that old AMsterdam tradition – Smoking weed.
Yes, that’s right.  Marijuana (weed, pot, Mary Jane, etc) is everywhere.  If the sign on front of the building says “Coffeeshop,” then they ain’t selling coffee.  They sell weed.  A gram of the good stuff goes for about 5-10 euro.  A weed brownie costs about 5 euro.  Very interesting comparison to the United States, where it’s illegal.  Marijuana is legal to smoke anywhere in the city where you can smoke cigarettes.  And that includes just walking around.  There were some people giggling and you could tell it was that kind of giggling.  Ha.  And in Amsterdam you can find the infamous Red Light District.  Women stand in front of glass doors and people walk up and basicaly “window shop.”  If you have interest in a woman, you allow her to open the door and negotiate services desired and the amount to be charged.  If you and the prostitute agree, you follow her into the back.  So different than anything we have ever seen.  The whole area is spread over a canal and lasts probably four blocks.  A bunch of drunk young men acting crazy.  Kind of that juvenile Vegas feel, but much more tawdry.
Amsterdam as a city was beautiful.  The canals were fabulous.  We took a hop on/hop off bus and boat tour.  The buildings around the canals are four or five stories.  Because of the instability of the ground below the buildings, most of them can’t exceed four stories.  In the middle of the city is the Anne Frank House.  An amazingly somber place about the little girl who kept a diary while hiding from the Nazis during World War II.  We were very lucky when we first arrived.  There was only a 30 minute wait to get in.  The next day the lines were over 2 hours long and wrapped around the block.
The food here was very good.  Cafes representing every corner of the world were here.  Turkish, Italian, Argentinean, Chinese, Greek, Mexican, and evern American food.  Haven’t had a hamburger yet but they are everywhere.  We’ve had no problem using our credit cards with the chip installed.  In fact, most of the places, the waiter will pop your credit card into a handheld device and charge your card right next to the table.  The little device prints out the receipt and you sign right there.  We did have a challenge figuring out how the gratuity system has worked.  The little device doesn’t add a tip and there’s no place to put in a tip.  You must leave it in cash.  In Amsterdam, the common practice is to “round up.”  For example, your bill comes to 27 Euro.  If you have 30 in cash, you just leave them the 3 Euro.
The public transportation in Europe is wonderful.  We’ve taken two trains now and both were very lean and ultra comfortable.  We rode the subways in Paris and Amsterdam extensively and were very impressed.  We did have a small issue when we were supposed to get off the subway and nobody else was exiting the car.  Evidently, the first person to exit must push this little green button to open the doors.  What happened to us was funny.  We stood there waiting for the doors to open and nothing happened.  Then the subway started moving.  Hahaha.  We had to ride the subway to the next stop and come back.
On the Airbnb rooms.  You couldn’t ask for a better local experience than both of our places.  The first place was on the small island of Saint-Louis in the Seine River.  Totally gorgeous but around 120 square feet.  The one bedroom apartment we had in Amsterdam was probably 400 square feet and was above a cheese shop.  Wonderful.
English was prevalent in Amsterdam and was widely spoken in Paris also.  Since we were in the sourist sections a lot, there always was someone to assist us.
Wonderful vacation.
Apologies for any typos in this post.  I’m retyping onto my iphone.  For some reason I can’t hook my ipad to the internet here.