Travel: Calaveras Big Trees State Park, California

We recently spent a weekend with Jeff and Wendy, long time friends of ours. They invited us to their mountain home near the small town of Arnold, near Angels Camp at the 5,000 foot level of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

It’s a bucolic setting with endless rivers, streams, hiking and magnificent forests and scenery.

A high point of our visit was an afternoon strolling the Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to one of the largest stands of giant sequoia redwood trees, many dating as old as 2,000 years.

Some of these trees are over 325 feet tall and some have trunks 33 feet in diameter. The Park is popular in good weather. It’s visitor friendly, children friendly and there are ADA facilities throughout.

The Sequoiadendron giganteum forest
Jeff, John and Rueben
Alpine lake
Taking a break.
Wendy, a great host, and awesome chef.
Afternoon in a peaceful setting.
Cocktails and snacks Sierra Style!
One of the grandest old Sequoias may be 20 centuries old.

Travel: Northern California Coast, Part 3

It was another glorious day of sunshine on the coast.  Generally clear skies and near perfect weather conditions.

Our only wish would be to replicate this weather for all our friends and family in the areas where the weather has been so frightfully cold.

Until then, we hope a few more pictures will be welcomed by all.  Mendocino felt surprisingly quiet, uncrowded and we had a leisurely day visiting the shops, headlands and an afternoon hike to the Cabrillo Light Station.

Here are our favorite photos from day 3.

First we were greeted by this perfect reflection of a local museum.

A favorite store selling locally grown and made mustards, jams, jellies and more.

One of the locally famous water towers still in use from another era.

The MacCullum House B&B is open to the public for beakfast and dinner.

The historic Masonic Temple now shares space with a local Community Bank.

A hole in the rock, right in town.

Looking up the coast.

Big River meets the Pacific Ocean.

John’s footsteps in the sand.

Bridge at Russian Gulch State Park.

A fellow hiker at Russian Gulch State Park.

Cabrillo Point Light Station.

Goodbye Mendocino! Thanks!!

Travel: Fort Bragg, California Coast Part 2

Good morning!

It’s another beautiful morning with clear skies and expected temps in the 60s.  We’ll be hiking and exploring Mendocino today.

In the meantime here are some more pictures of Fort Bragg and the surrounding areas.  Our afternoon walk through the local Botanical Gardens and more of the coastline.

Enjoy, J&J

Our morning walk through our favorite, MacKerricher State Park!

Surf, 10 to 20 foot waves!

Good morning to all of you from John & Jim.

Good morning from a little friend.

A morning chat…

A morning snack!

A beautiful morning for a walk.

Another perfect morning and the coast.

A perfect wave on a perfect black sand beach.

We filled the afternoon with a relaxing stroll through Fort Bragg’s Botanical Gardens.

Tulip tree blossom just about to open.

Rhododendrons in January!


The Cahalilys are in bloom.

One more beautiful wave.

Have a great day!

Travel: Mendocino, California Coast

Greetings to all!

We decided a midweek trip to California’s North Coast town of Mendocino was in order to disrupt the pattern of cold weather elsewhere.

So far, so good.  It was supposed to rain yesterday.  It did not.  It was supposed to rain today and it did not.  Tomorrow’s forecast is sunny, we will take it along with temps in the high 50s to low 60s.

Here are some photos of our hiking and touring.  We hope you enjoy.

We send love and best wishes to you all!  J&J

We join the coastal highway at the mouth of the Russian River.

This rock reminds us of a sea monster, check out the eyes !?

The California coast north of San Francisco is a spectacular drive on Highway 1.

Sharp curves and skilled driving are rewarded with spectacular views.

Fort Ross was a Russian settlement before California became a State.

Hawk on top of Russian cross.

With no additional explanation.

Rough waters at high tide.

Surfs up!

Travel: J&J’s Italy Travel Tips

Hi everyone,

Some family friends of ours asked us for travel tips for an Italy trip this Spring.  John drafted the following document drawing on our recent six week trip to Italy.

We thought we would share this information with all of you in the event you, friends or family have any interest in similar travels any time soon.


Italy will be lovely in April.  As soon as you know your dates for both Rome and Florence it is best to buy Museum tickets online.  It is not too early.  The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are a must.  It’s best to visit first thing in the morning or late afternoon.  Buying tickets online allows you to skip the very long lines and walk right in.  In Florence you should buy tickets online for the Uffizi and Accademia museums.  Lines for both are very long.  You do not need guided tours in any museum.  Best to just wander.

We have not used Airbnb but have friends who do and they recommend them.  One thing we recommend while looking for an apartment is not to rent near the train station.  We find in Rome, Venice and Florence the train station areas are crowded, touristy, lack good restaurants and have plenty of pick pockets.

If you do want a hotel we can highly recommend in Rome the Hotel Due Torri.  And in Florence the Hotel Pendini.  Both are family friendly and very centrally located for walking to major sites.

If you are traveling by train between cities we recommend buying tickets online to avoid large crowds at the train stations.  We like or  Train stations also have ticket kiosks so you can avoid lines at ticket counters. For longer distances buy first class tickets.  Short rides second class is fine.  Train tickets in Italy are very reasonable.


We like to take the red Hop On, Hop Off bus.  We get a two or three day ticket.  Ride once to see the sites then use it as a taxi to go back to places and neighborhoods that appeal to you.  The subway in Rome is safe and easy to use.  If you use a taxi make sure he turns the meter on.

A specialty in Rome is the fried artichoke.  It is a great appetizer.  On the menu it will say carciofi alla giudia.  Jewish fried artichoke.  la Campana is very good for dinner.  Two blocks away is Ristorante Lagana.  Both are near the Hotel Due Torri which is near Piazza Navona.  For great pizza and mozzarella and tomato salad we like Obica.  Gelato in Rome is wonderful.

If you are flying into Rome, a taxi from the airport to any hotel and area in central Rome is a flat 49 euro.


Florence is very compact and great for walking.  Must sees are Santa Croce and the Duomo.  If you get an apartment the Central Mercato is great for groceries and other items.  South of the Arno, over the Ponte Vecchio, the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens are nice places to visit.

Food in Florence is the best in Italy.  As is the gelato.  For dinner we like Trattoria al Trebbio .  Nearby is Ristorante La Spada.  They have a nice outdoor area in front to eat outside or inside.  Great linguine and clams.  Good pasta and pizzas at Giglio Rosso.  And if you are tired of Italian food a very local and good Turkish place is Istanbul Doner Kabap.  A block south of Santa Croce.  Via de’ Benci, 18r.

Almost any little side street in Florence will have small shops where they make paper, leather and very nice small items.  Handicrafts are still a tradition there.


This is a great city to wander and get lost.  It is small so you won’t be lost for long.  Do not stay in Venice Mestre.  That is the industrial mainland city where most Venetians live.  You want to be in Venice.

Saint Marks Cathedral is wonderful.  Gold everywhere.  The farther you get from Saint Mark’s Square the less touristy.  Two restaurants we love.  Rosa Rossa.  In October we were in Venice four nights and ate there three times for dinner.  Reservations recommended.  Great food at very decent prices.  Everything on the menu is great.  Just typing this makes us want to go back.  A very nice lunch is Al Ponte Storto.  On a small canal off the Campo S. Aponal.  Great linguine and clams and chocolate desserts.  Very local.

If you are flying into or out of Venice, best way to/from the airport is the Alilaguna water bus.  Water taxis are very expensive.


We really don’t know Naples well.  We were there in October for one day.  They have a fantastic Archaeological museum.  The best in Italy.  If you don’t go to Pompeii (we did not) this Museum is actually considered better for artifacts.

A word of caution in Naples.  Pick pockets are everywhere.  We learned that first hand riding their modern subway from the port to the museum.  Someone tried getting into my backpack as I was standing in the crowded car.  Fortunately Jim saw him and yelled at him.  They travel in pairs and pretend to be musicians wanting money on the subways and other crowded areas.  Best to keep your pockets empty and any purse or backpack wear on your front.  Naples is known for pizza and limoncello.

That’s about it.  We hope this is helpful.  If anyone is planning an Italy trip, please feel free to contact us if you need information or have additional questions.  Happy to help.

John and Jim

Travel: Camden Town, London

Today is our last day in London.  It’s always a bit sad especially when we’ve had such a nice time.  London is ever changing and yet the same.

Yesterday we visited the neighborhood of Camden, its excellent Jewish Museum, its famed market along with a peek at its old but functional canal system.


Entrance to Kazimerz, the Jewish District of Krakow, 1935-1938.

Mizrach tablet indicating the direction of Jerusalem, 1841 under license by Queen Victoria.

Marc Chagall, New York, 1941

Jewish children from Kazimierz, Krakow, 1935.

Ornate Synagogue Ark, Venice, 17th-18th century.

Table set for a sacred dinner.

Labor Union banner for Bakers.

A lengthy and complex canal system once primarily used to move goods, still functions today for both commercial and private use.

Our latest dinning discovery was Gino D’Campo, 29/33 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AJ, London. T: 0207267 2678.

Travel: Windsor Castle, United Kingdom

Windsor Castle is considered the primary residence by Queen Elizabeth II.  She spends most weekends there.

The last time we visited the Castle was shortly after the reopening from the first reconstruction of the 1992 fire.

We are glad to report the Castle is more magnificent now than ever.  Now the bad news.  It is more popular now than ever before.  Hoards of visitors arrive daily.

We arrived by a fast train from Paddington Station first thing in the morning only to discover lengthy lines with airport like security.

Fortunately, is was a nice sunny.  Unfortunately, the Castle does not allow ANY interior photos, with or without flash.   Additionally, we did not find any publications, post cards or any articles with interior images available in any of the gift shops (on or off the Castle grounds).

All that said, it was an enjoyable visit.  The St. George’s Chapel (larger than many cathedrals) houses hundreds of years of history and numerous Royal tombs, including the Queen Mother and her husband King Edward VI, Princess Anne, King Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, King Charles I and many more.

Hundreds of water spouts along the walls.

Looking up the Palace walls from the town below.

Approaching the main gates of the palace.

St. George’s Chapel and the supporting buildings beyond.

Travel: A Selection of Odds and Ends, Italy and a bit more.

Look closely, one part creepy, one part bizarre. Found on the Presidential Palace, Malta.

Sweets offered with coffee.

Sister City to Verona!

The moment Jim discovered cocktails on the ship were free!

From Malta neighborhood.

How now white cow?!

It’s a real 1 person car in a real parking space in Tirano, Italy.

Fish drying from a morning catch on Lago Iseo will be sold to local restaurants and made into fishstews for the dinner menu.

Actual menu posted in a cafe window.

Poster from a shop in Verona where people reply to letters from around the world for love advice ala Romeo and Juliet.

A piece of art sent to the Juliet Club.

This speaks for itself.

Another goofy selfie!

Gnomes we like!

Making new friends!

Giant gnomes are creepy!

There is a reason this audience is keeping its distance! CREEPY!

Hello! That is 16% Grade downhill for miles!

The ultimate door knocker! Gargoyle spits up two, lions, a turtle and a horned devil!

Jim finds a new sweat shirt!

That’s all folks!

Travel: Day 3, Venice Tidal Floods and Farewell

We were warned about potential flooding and we were able to circumnavigate the flood areas yesterday.

This morning was quite another matter.  After breakfast we decided to take a walk to Saint Mark’s Square.  The first surprise was the waterfront was hosting a marathon.  It was quite the scene.  The morning light was ideal.  The wind and waves were spirited.  The marathon was well attended with an enthusiastic audience.

What most observers did not see was San Marco square was slowly flooding from tidal waters.  We soon realized so was much of Venice.

In an attempt to route ourselves around the flooding waters we realized we were slowly but surely running out of high ground.

Add day trippers and thousands of tour groups from newly arrived cruise ships and you can imagine the crowds, confusion and growing angst.

All that said, we managed to find our way back to our hotel, the courtyard also flooded.  In the spirit of ‘when the going gets tough, the tough go to lunch’ and so we did.  Two Aperol Spritz and a large Greek salad, please!

And now we are back at the hotel, planning our departure from Venice and the end of our incredible Italy adventure.

A big thanks to all our friends, old and new, and family for all the comments and good wishes.

Here are a few final pictures.  If time permits we may also send a post with a few “goofy” shots we found funny!

Love to all,


Humm…no gondolas in service this morning!

A surprise discovery, the famous and hard to find Scala Contarini del Bovolo.

The magnificent St. Marks Square…note the water raising from the drains soon floods the square and beyond.

A beautiful morning with the San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance.

You cannot visit Venice without a view of the Bridge of Sighs.

The canal gates of the Greek Orthodox Church as the flood waters rise.

The courtyard in front of out hotel as the water rises. Note: the yellow building is La Fenice Opera House.


Travel: Venice, Italy Day 2

Today was a great day of exploration and quiet discoveries.  Incredible art and sculptures on display for only a few Euros while other venues are sold out at outrageous prices.

On the down side, we experienced our first human gridlock.  Hordes of visitors and tour groups overwhelmed many passages and narrow corridors along with smaller Compos, small squares.

On the upside…the food has been delicious, everywhere.  Today’s lunch was a nice mixed salad and an off-the-charts spaghetti with baby clams in a light butter and olive oil with garlic and chopped chives.  A chocolate tart and a tiramisu helped finish off the last hunger pangs…along with a 1/2 liter of white wine!

We won’t overwhelm you with pictures but here are some we liked from today along with a surprise.

Tomorrow is our last full day before we make our way to an airport hotel for our early flight home Tuesday and back to reality!

Love to all!


Light traffic on the Grand Canal.

Waiting for customers near the Academia Bridge.

We liked this view.

By mid day, many of the canals had no sidewalks that were not flooded. Foot traffic was “rerouted” causing crowding in many areas.

Frari Church (Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari) filled most of our afternoon.  It is a massive church filled with artwork by artists like Donatello, Bellini, Titian and dozens more.  It is like visiting several museums all at once.

Here are just a few of our favorites.

The Assumption 1516-1518, by Tiziano Vecellio.

Madonna with Child, 1339 by Paolo Veneziano.

Thirteen century Crucifix.

Madonna with Child and Saints by Giovanni Bellini, 1488

14th century choir stalls.