figarofigaro1: (austria a&b)
We signed up for the bicycle trip with Freewheeling Adventures, our fifth trip with them. The trip was specifically this one. It was both a vacation and a (belated) celebration of my turning 50 (last November). We chose this trip, in part, because we have friends living in Budapest for three years. It was a great chance to visit them and to explore parts of Europe we've not seen before.

We'd originally signed up for a guided group tour. But as it turned out, nobody else signed up for the week we did. So we chose the self-guided option. We were initially apprehensive since neither of us speak German or Hungarian. However, all the apprehension was unnecessary. The self-guided option was grand! We had the freedom to do what we wanted on our own timetable and the benefits of pre-planned hotels, routes, and luggage transfers. We could pick our own departure times each day, skip lunches when we weren't hungry, and take detours when the urge struck.

As for the language issues, it wasn't a problem very often. Both Austrians and Hungarians are quite accommodating to English speakers. Western Hungary tends toward German for its non-Hungarian default. The closer we got to Budapest, the more English there was to be found. The only times the language was truly an issue was when we were lost, and that only happened a couple of times.

I'm going to blog each day with photos and text, dated for the actual days of the trip. But here's the overview:

September 4: This was supposed to be our travel departure day: Burlington to Washington Dulles to Vienna. Instead we spent it all in BTV due to mechanical issues with the airplane. We were rerouted, but the flight never left BTV. We ended up sleeping at home and trying again the next day. Not fun.

September 5: Departure day! Our new route was Burlington to Chicago to Frankfurt to Vienna. All the connections worked and were on time. But it was a long and grueling travel day. Being on United instead of Austrian meant no free alcohol and really bad food.
September 6: Arrival in Vienna. Jet lag. Naps. Sightseeing.
September 7 and 8: Fun times in Vienna.
September 9: Vienna to Hainburg (51.4 km/32 miles) - beautiful cycling along the Danube in a nature preserve
September 10: Hainburg to Bratislava to Mosonmagyaróvár (60.4 km/ 37.7 miles) - sightseeing in Bratislava, long afternoon of cycling
September 11: Mosonmagyaróvár to Györ (44.4 km/27.8 miles) - Györ was very charming once we found our hotel!
September 12: Györ to Tata (76.25 km/47.6 miles) - lakeside dining
September 13: Tata to Esztergom (57 km/35.5 miles) - hills and chills
September 14: Esztergom to Szentendre to Budapest (83 km/53 miles) - long day cycling in the cold, wind, and rain; ferry boondoggle; arrival in Budapest without getting lost!
September 15 - 17: Budapest sightseeing and evenings with friends. Stamp museum! Wine festival!
September 18: Train to Vienna.
September 19: Homeward bound: Vienna to Washington Dulles to Burlington.

We'd been to Vienna before, and it was as delightful as the other trip. It's a city full of richness and diversions that cannot be seen in just a few days. We always leave wanting more time there, which is better than leaving feeling bored already. (Incidentally, the user pic for this post is of us from the first Vienna trip back in 2006.)

Budapest was a delight. It has a very Parisian feel to it: Urban, high energy, youthful, lots of interesting things going on. At the same time, it is also a bit run down, disorganized, and poor-feeling. That mix, for us, meant that there were lots of things to see and do, and none of it very expensive. The wine scene there is vibrant, varied, and mostly unavailable in US markets. We ran out of time before we could fully explore the museum and shopping options. And, yes, we left wanting more time there. Again, a good thing!

If you want to see every picture we took (minus the really bad ones), they're all here without any descriptions; but they are all in chronological order.
figarofigaro1: (pool fun)
We had to be up at 4 AM. That's my idea of hell right there. I was awake at 3:15 and then just kind of dozed, worried about over-sleeping. I even had my mother call to make sure we were up. We made it to the airport for our 6 AM first flight. Our homeward trip was Palm Springs to San Francisco to Chicago to Burlington. We were in San Francisco by 7:30 and I honestly don't remember too much about that stop, being fuzzy-headed from the early morning.

It was a long day with lots of sitting, but all our flights were on time and relatively smooth. We had lunch in Chicago at the airport Chili's. Bleh.

Since we both had rolling suitcases, we just walked home from the airport. It was cloudy and chilly, upper 40's. We unpacked and caught up on things at home and managed not to adapt too much to the Eastern Time Zone. I ended up leaving my reading glasses (cheap ones) and glasses case (a good one) on the airplane.

All in all, it was a great trip! Vermont is much more spring-like compared to when we left, but it's still cold. Come on, spring!
figarofigaro1: (pool fun)
After breakfast, we went up for a hike in Tahquitz Canyon. It was our second time doing the hike. I took a lot of pictures. It's about a two-mile loop up into the desert to see a waterfall. A lot of the hike is around the stream that flows down from the mountain. There are trees and green vegetation and wildlife to see. There are always hummingbirds zipping around. This time we saw ducks!

We had fun! There are good views looking over the valley and the city of Palm Springs. It was a toasty 80º F, not too hot.



If you want to see all my pictures, they're here. It wasn't as pretty as the first time we hiked up there, but that year they'd had a "100-years rain" and the desert was blooming incredibly. (Which reminds me, that year we took a desert wildflower tour and we saw our guide from that outing hawking tours at the street fair. I guess he's still at it!)

After we got back to the hotel, we walked down to Fisherman's Market & Grill for oysters and fish tacos again (shrimp tacos for Bruce). We enjoyed some frozen yogurt before heading back for one more afternoon by the pool. Again I cowered in the shade and read (and napped a wee bit).

We showered for dinner and packed our bags to go home since our flight was so early the next morning.

Dinner was at Johannes Restaurant, Austrian cuisine. We'd eaten there a long time ago and were underwhelmed. We decided to give it another go. After we got settled at our table we looked over and saw two of the same gents from the group at Workshop Kitchen + Bar and Jake's! We had a good laugh together that we were all on the same schedule. They were going to be staying one more night and asked what they'd missed. We raved about Tinto and I hope they went and enjoyed it as much as we did.

Johannes was much as we remembered. The food was mixed, the service somewhat strange. I had all specials: Brussels sprouts salad with shrimp (excellent!) and roasted halibut (overcooked). Bruce had an endive salad and Wiener schnitzel (he said both were very good). The waitress poured our new wine into dirty glasses (not good). The apple strudel dessert was tasty but really small for the price.

We strolled back to the hotel, making our good-byes to the desert night.
figarofigaro1: (pool fun)
Today was truly a day in the sun!

We hung out at our hotel by the pool all morning. Bruce wanted to lounge, which is not his usual preference while on vacation. I enjoyed reading and watching the lizards that live in one of the trees on the property. There's a huge one and several smaller ones. And the birds! The mockingbirds are so busy fighting for the best singing spots and occasionally swooping in to eat a bug.

We had lunch at another favorite spot, Tyler's Burgers, which I think of as the quintessential SoCal burger spot. Very good, and very different from Woody's. We always get cheeseburgers, fries, and slaw. We enjoyed some hilarious people-watching here, including a table of four little old ladies who were VERY cheap. They were asking about the cost of everything and wanted separate checks (which Tyler's doesn't do). Their conversation was all about how the hot dog at Costco comes with a soda and the pizza doesn't. One woman emphatically exclaimed that she only made the mistake of ordering the pizza slice once. Now she would only get the hot dog because of the soda. "And it comes with one free refill!" I did so want to linger and watch them pay their check, but we were finished and there's always a queue.

We went back to our hotel to read and lounge. I cowered in the shade for much of the early afternoon and then basked in the pool.

Thursday nights they shut down a major chunk of Palm Canyon and have a street fair. It's every cliché about SoCal all rolled out into the street for everyone to see. It's great fun, but also very crowded.

After the fair, we went to another new-to-us spot, The Tropicale (note the website has awesome music, which might cause a party to break out at work, surf with caution!). How have we never been here before? The patio has gorgeous lighting, lush gardens, and a bustling crowd. The menu was crazy-huge and a total confusion of Cuban, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Polynesian, as well as American classics. Everything had a retro feel to it. It was "swanky" inside and out. Bruce had a crispy nori roll and then a Korean-style steak. I had shrimp and a shaved baby artichoke salad and then a Japanese miso-glazed salmon rice bowl. There was a huge amount of fish. For dessert, "mile high" chocolate cake. It was all very tasty and certainly worth another visit.

Today the resort had a large change-over of the guests and now the atmosphere is different. It's a younger, hipper crowd.
figarofigaro1: (pool fun)
We rose at a leisurely hour and had breakfast and lounged by the pool. Between journaling and writing postcards, I seem to attract a lot of attention by using an actual pen and paper here. Thank goodness I am reading on an ereader, otherwise I would seem a veritable dinosaur!

We had a fantastic lunch at one of our very favorite Palm Springs establishments, Fisherman's Market & Grill. It's an unusual spot to be in the desert; it looks more like something from Cape Cod or Northern California. Anyway, we almost always eat the same stuff here every time: raw oysters and fish tacos. It's an amusing set-up: You check in at a hostess desk and they tell you what table number you're assigned to. Then you go through a line and order, telling them your table number. Then you go on a quest to find your table in one of various rooms and breezeways. Today they were very generous with the wine!


The food is fresh and unpretentious and utterly delicious. And, of course, the best hot sauce for fish tacos is Cholula, or as I lovingly call it, Cthulhu Sauce.

We spent the early afternoon at a different gay resort that's out of town. It's traditional for us to do this on Wednesdays since that is their half-price day-pass day. I will not link to it since it's NSFW and I probably shouldn't admit to going there anyway. Heh. We spent the late afternoon back at our hotel lounging, swimming, reading, and chatting.

Dinner was at Tinto, a short walk away from town through well-groomed flower-laden neighborhoods. The walk to and from was fragrant! We had to laugh because we asked about walking there and everyone said, "No!" Bruce scoped it out on one of his morning runs and said it was totally walkable.

Tinto is a Basque style restaurant, again something of a surprise to find in the desert of SoCal. It was far and away the best dinner we had this vacation. I brought home a marked-up menu so I could tell all the things we ate. I wasn't very good at remembering to take pictures (I usually am not so good at that when dining out. A lot of the food pix on here I snagged from Bruce's phone and/or Facebook feed.)

To start, we had jamon serrano, idiazabal cheese, marcona almonds, and fried padron peppers. Here's the only photo, and a lot of it is already eaten!


Then we moved on to some pintxos (think "tapas"). We had a duck montadito that was duck confit "sausage" wrapped in serrano ham. We had tuna tartare bocadillo (big eye tuna, pickled guindilla, chorizo aioli). We had a plate of pulpo that was as good as any we had in Barcelona (Spanish octopus, harissa, grilled lemon, crispy garbanzo). The white asparagus with black truffle, poached egg, bacon, and Parmesan cream was delicious. Bruce picked out some tasty wines to go with everything. We dined slowly and ordered in waves and it was a lovely evening.

The end of the meal was buñuelos (donuts, date jam, spiced honey, date-olive oil ice cream) and after that we had some delicious dessert sherry.

I highly recommend a visit to Tinto if you're ever in Palm Springs.

Overnight I woke up once and didn't know where I was. I wasn't scared, just confused. I had been dreaming of things at home, so maybe I was getting ready for the inevitable "vacation is over" event.
figarofigaro1: (pool fun)
It was chilly overnight and we woke to temperatures around 60º F and wind; the forecast was right. We decided to stay close to town today to avoid the wind and blowing sand as much as we could. the mountain protects the city of Palm Springs from the valley winds.

We did some shopping while walking to lunch. We found Woody's Burgers on Indian Canyon and tried it for the first time ever. Wow! So good! We sat at the counter and had an awesome old-school SoCal burger experience. The fries were tasty, both regular and sweet potato and they had really good slaw. The crowd was an interesting mix of rough straight guys and gays.

It was very much not a day for the pool so we went up to the high desert to shop at the outlets. It was really gusty wind up there and thick cloud cover. The temperature when we left Palm Springs was up to 75º and at the outlets it was 59º. We were a bit chilly!

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was near 70º and getting much windier. We walked into town and had cocktails at The Falls, which has in years past been one of our favorite bar spots (and it's a good spot for dinner as well). There weren't too many people at the bar, but then again, there weren't very many people in town, so it's hard to tell if it's still popular.

Our dinner reservations were for Jake's which is uptown, near last night's dinner, and a bit of a walk. Well, the walk was miserable with the whipping gusty wind. They don't have much indoor seating, so we were in the courtyard. Everyone coped with the wind very well, diners and servers alike. It turned out our table was in a pretty sheltered spot compared to some of the tables. The awnings kept snapping and it was all rather dramatic! Bruce held it all together though! (His eyes do look a bit watery in this picture.)

It was a great dinner. Bruce had shrimp tempura and then crispy striped sea bass done in an Asian style. I went for comfort food: wedge salad, then meatloaf with a sirracha ketchup, macaroni and cheese, and asparagus. They make HUGE multiple-layer cakes and have several different kinds each day. We settled on sharing a delicious Meyer lemon cake.

The gents beside of us, it turns out, were some of the same crowd from dinner the night before. We chatted a bit about our dining experience and they shared our opinion of it. In fact, they had been quite concerned at how slow our service was. We said that since we had drinks, it wasn't as bad as if we'd been waiting without. They asked me to take a photo for them and I had a little bit of trouble with the camera. One of them said, "You've got to push harder."

I snappily replied, "I've heard that already on this trip!"

They all burst into laughter and I got some great pictures of them looking very happy.

We discussed taking a cab back to the hotel, but went walking to look for one. Even though the wind made the walk cold and miserable, every time we saw a cab, we were that much closer to the hotel, and we ended up walking the whole way back. There was virtually nobody outside at the hotel.

One of my favorite weather comments was certainly true of today: "The wind, it blows."
figarofigaro1: (pool fun)

This morning the gent who had been talking about the Coachella stuff overheard us mentioning that we were from Vermont. He came over and started chatting with us. (He was quite the talker.) It turned out that he went to college in Middlebury and then he set up a recording studio and lived in Vergennes in the 1970's. He had a lot of stories to tell. I found it fascinating to encounter this bit of Vermont history by the pool in Palm Springs.

We decided to walk down to the place we like that's south on Palm Canyon, El Mirasol. We just sat down when we read about the Boston Marathon bombings on our phones. So we followed the stories as best we could while we ate our guacamole and chicken mole. This is a good reliable spot and has a crowd of local regulars. They make good margaritas as well. But we were somber about the events in Boston.

We walked back up toward the hotel and walked through the dry riverbed and on a rec path back to the hotel. The flowers in people's yards were incredible. Beautiful roses! Cacti! We also saw lots of birds, including a roadrunner running on the road!

We turned on the news when we got back and caught ourselves up on the Boston events. Then we hung out by the pool, reading and chatting. There were some guys there from Boston who added more personal information from contacts at home. It was a little cooler and I got a bit chilly sitting in the shade.

We walked to dinner, which was pretty far up Palm Canyon Drive, at Workshop Kitchen + Bar. It was quite the "LA scene" there. It was crowded and obviously trendy. Even though we had a reservation, we had to wait quite a while. While waiting, we saw The Edge (from U2) come in and they made him wait too, so it wasn't like we were singled out. The bar staff seemed good at mixology, but were disorganized. Service seemed random and slow. We finally got seated at the long communal table in the middle, which was fine by us. The wait staff was also slow and disorganized and seemed to struggle with how to serve people seated at the communal table. The food was uneven. We had an octopus carpaccio that had been cooked sou vide; really good. The braised veal cheeks on white chocolate potatoes wasn't cooked long enough; it was too fatty and tough. The potatoes were tasty, but had a gummy texture and a "corn" taste. An asparagus medallion salad with lobster was extremely tasty. The final main plate of scallops on squid ink rice was mixed. The rice was good and flavorful - inky! The scallops were overcooked and too salty. We opted for no dessert since we were afraid it wouldn't be any good.

There was a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe in town while we were there.

The long walk back to the hotel made me sleepy!

figarofigaro1: (pool fun)
InnDulge serves a nice continental breakfast every morning. It's not fancy, but is a good start to the day: coffee, tea, pastries (from the nearby Ralph's grocery store), boiled eggs, toast and bagels, yogurt, and some cereal. It all comes with a heavy dose of gay, which can be hard to take first thing in the morning if one isn't used to it.

Bruce was highly motivated to run every morning. That gave me some time to wake up and prepare to face the breakfast repartee.


We spent the day walking through town, reacquainting ourselves with the lay of the land. A lot of things are exactly the same as our last visit in 2008. And a lot of the new things fit in perfectly. The big mall in the middle of town is deserted and apparently going to be remodeled; but it gives that stretch a "ghost-town" aspect.

We had a fantastic (giant) lunch at Rio Azul, making up right away for our cannot-get-good-Mexican-in-Vermont plight. This was definitely the best Mexican food we had on the trip. (Note to those using this blog as travel recommendations, this is Rio Azul on the south end of town by the parking garage, not Azul on the north end of town that is attached to the gay bar.) We had big margaritas, guacamole, salsa, and enchiladas. Of course this necessitated a siesta!

We spent the late afternoon by the pool, me mostly in the shade or in the water. This is the view from the pool:

Actually, if you look the other direction, you can see the mountains.

InnDulge also hosts an evening happy hour. That's a fun time to get to know the other guests and enjoy an adult beverage. The gay repartee is much easier to handle in the evening.

For dinner, we went to an old favorite, Wang's In The Desert, a consistently good pan-Asian restaurant. We had a dim sum plate, lettuce wraps, green beans, beef and asparagus. And of course, Wang's makes big cocktails, a necessity in the desert! We had a lovely evening out, and a pleasant walk back to the hotel.

We hung out in the hot tub for a while and listened to the guys telling stories about the events at the Coachella music festival over the weekend (it was the first of two weekends of the festival).

(A note on this userpic: It's us in the pool at a different resort in Palm Springs in 2006.)
figarofigaro1: (pool fun)
Today was a travel day. We did the drive-walk to the airport routine: Bruce drove us over to the airport, dropped me and the luggage off, then drove back home, parked the car, and walked back over to the airport. This is the one advantage to living close to the airport and sometimes even offsets the noise factor. Not always, but sometimes.

Our route was Burlington to Newark to Denver to Palm Springs. It look all day. I read a lot of Stephen King's Under The Dome. We didn't have much waiting-in-airports time and thus we didn't eat anything but the breakfast bars I'd packed. Our arrival in Palm Springs was to sunny clear skies and 91° F.

This trip we returned to our original Palm Springs resort, InnDulge, "where clothing is forever optional". (You may find that their website is slightly NSFW. There's nudity, but tastefully done.) We first stayed here way back in 2005. It's a great place; highly recommended. It's basically an old 1950's apartment complex redone. There's a large kidney-shaped pool in the center courtyard with all the rooms surrounding it. New owners have done some remodeling, but it's still very much the same as when we were there before.

It's also a great location. We're a bit odd in that we like to walk everywhere we can - very much NOT the SoCal way!

We walked into town and it felt familiar and comfortable. We decided to try a new spot for dinner, Lulu. It is big, open, bright, somewhat Disney-esque decor. The food was inexpensive and tasty, but not stellar. Obviously people go there for quantity and price. The 3-course prix fixe menu is $19.99 (+$4 if you want the fillet mignon). (In general, Palm Springs is very reasonably priced for both lodging and food. It's much cheaper than dining out in Burlington, Vermont.) Our drinks went right to our heads after not eating much all day. This was a nice choice for our first evening here. We were tired and hungry and it was an easy option.
figarofigaro1: (ohm)

Postcards from postcrossing and not. Some water lilies from Germany:

From northern Michigan, a picture of "Black Lake Golf Club, Hole 14" which from their website, looks like it's now Hole 5. That's a natural sand pit, according to the card and the website.

From someone local, a picture of some French macarons from Mirabelles. Coincidentally, when we picked up this card from the mailbox, we had a box of macarons from Mirabelles in the car. These are one of my favorite things!

And there was a letter from my father. He and I share an interest in snail mail and stamps. I like stamps, but just for postage and then for mail decoration/art. He's a collector. So he included a SASE with a stamp on it that he wanted to receive canceled for his collection.

figarofigaro1: (laughing)
Today was a very happy mailbox day! I got Easter cards from both my sisters. On this one, the dots and circles are glittery.

And this one is actually a card that I had made as a gift set for each family member. This is one of my photos that never reproduces very well. Those flowers at the bottom always come out that weird blurry purple. It's still a favorite picture of mine.

I mostly send e-cards for holidays these days. I have no idea why since I am into sending and receiving snail mail. What's up with that?

I also got a "funny" card that is really more a strange card in my opinion, from Florida. The fact that the visual joke doesn't quite work makes me like it even more. It's from a postcrosser in Florida.

And I got a lovely surprise thank-you note from my penpal in Seattle. Evidently I'm awesome. ;-) The artwork on it is somewhat metalic and reflective. The whole effect is much softer in real life.

figarofigaro1: (rainbow spiral)
Happy 76th birthday to my father! Today I got a "happy spring" card from my parents. Beautiful flowers:

And some colored egg stickers to seal the envelope!

figarofigaro1: (Default)
I got a dramatically beautiful card from Finland:

With a beautiful stamp on it:

I'm loving the reindeer postmark.

I've been enjoying these thematic months for blog posting. I am pondering a theme for April, but we have a vacation smack in the middle of the month, so trip blogging will be involved.

figarofigaro1: (buddha head)
Two postcrossing cards today. One from a sender in The Netherlands, but the card is from Turkey:

And the other one from Russia:

With some cool Russian stamps:


Back to the regular assortment of user pics.
figarofigaro1: (gay cowboys)
Today I got an awesome (surprise) letter from my friend, [ profile] lunacow. It was appropriately cow-themed. This is called "Nonfat Milk Cows at Night" - cute! But it makes me wonder, do they also float during the day?

And there was another night time cow sealing the envelope:

And a Happy Cow Day sentiment inside:



Using the gay COWboys user pic for today.
figarofigaro1: (vermont2)
I got my first-ever postcrossing card from France.

And it had a very cool stamp commemorating the 50e Salon International de L'Agriculture. That cow looks kind of angry, probably because of all the other animals standing on her back.


Today's user pic is the other Vermont postcard that I send a lot.
figarofigaro1: (vermont1)
Today I got a beautiful letter from a penpal, who is also one of the founders of the Letter Writers Alliance. Great colors, and a wonderful stamp choice.

The foil dragonfly is thematic. The stationery sheets inside each have a different foil bug on them. I love this! I also love that Mr. Zip is down there in the corner.

And I finally did make a couple of Vermont postcard user pics. I send this one out frequently for postcrossing.
figarofigaro1: (writing)
I got two cards/thank-yous/long letters from a BFF in Ohio.

The dragonfly is printed on vellum and is in a cut-out frame.

The other is a beautiful pressed flower collage that arrived in a translucent green vellum envelope.

Gorgeous cards and wonderful letters inside.


Yesterday was the last of my card imagery user pics. Today's is just a random quill pic that I borrowed from the www. I need to scan in a Vermonty card.
figarofigaro1: (wave)
We received a beautifully penned thank-you note using the ink and pen that were the gift! (So I know that that orange is Noodler's Apache Sunset written with a Lamy Joy 1.9 mm italic nib.) And it looks like I need to clean my scanner's glass.

Today's user pic is one of the Japanse wave drawings that I had from a greeting card set.
figarofigaro1: (stressed)
Today I got one of the best postcards ever. It's from the Netherlands. It deserves a big picture. I love stuff like this!


Today's user pic is an old photograph of an actress. I thought it was Sarah Bernhardt, but I can't find that picture on the web. Maybe it's somebody else. I've long since sent the postcard to someone who was having a bad day.
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