2014 US Southwest — Las Vegas, NV

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It’s Vegas, Baby!

WHEN:  February 17 to February 20, 2014

It’s big!  It’s loud!  It’s over the top!   And what ever happens here, stays here in Las Vegas, NV!    But I will share with you anyway….

Although Las Vegas has the reputation of being “Sin City”, there really is not enough good things I can say about Las Vegas.   My first visit here was in the late 80’s when it was all about the gambling (free drinks as long as you were pulling the arm of a slot machine), you could get a breakfast buffet or a steak dinner for $6, the girly shows were plentiful and complementary (if you gambled enough), and a room off the strip for $26/night.   That Las Vegas is gone!  Now Las Vegas is a family vacation spot where the Broadway shows and amusement park-like attractions have squeezed out the girly shows (which are now rarely complementary), the slot machines are all digital (now you slam a button), and you have to pay for your drinks — always.  Rooms start at $80/night off the strip (in the low season), and the buffets are $25/person ($15 for a child).   Vegas was cheap entertainment for adults but now it is expensive family fun and kids are everywhere!   It could be debated whether or not this is progress. But when you are in the thick of Las Vegas — who cares?  Vegas is great!  During the day there is always something to see and do.  At night the city glows and vibrates with excitement and wonder.  Ya gotta go!  Ya just do!

For some people, the things that come to mind when you say “Las Vegas” are gambling, drinking, girly shows, gambling, and drinking.    Not for my DH and me.   We think architecture (a tour of Europe without the long plane ride), Broadway shows (without the rudeness of New York City), and great food (but I will have a cocktail or two, thank you very much).

Time for some facts —  Las Vegas is the most populous city in Nevada.  It is an internationally renowned major resort city known primarily for gambling, shopping, fine dining, and nightlife and is the leading financial and cultural center for Southern Nevada.  The city is famous for its consolidated casinohotels and associated entertainment and  is one of the top three leading destinations in the United States for conventions, business, and meetings.   FYI — my DH and I were married here in January 2003.  My DH-to-be and I wanted to be married somewhere warm and exciting to entice our families from Wisconsin and Massachusettes to attend the wedding.   Plus, I didn’t have the patience to plan a wedding, so I hired the Bellagio Hotel and Casino  to do it for me (all I had to do was bring my dress and the groom)!   The location was a hit for our family and friends and we were the attraction as our wedding party walked through the Bellagio casino on our wedding day!

Enough chatter — on to Las Vegaaaaaas!

Drive Time from Flagstaff, AZ to Las Vegas, NV:   262 miles (4 hours) via US-93 S and I-40 E.  Easy, easy drive with interesting rock formation along the way.   We opted not to go the Grand Canyon since we have both been there before and we figured that it had not changed much since.

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Driving to Las Vegas, NV from Flagstaff, AZ on a beautiful day!

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We had lunch at the Road Kill Cafe.

 Hotel:  New York New York Hotel and Casino (3790 Las Vegas Blvd, Las VegasNV 89109).   This is a fabulous hotel and we found a great deal on a room off the web!   It was super easy to find, just take the appropriate right exit off I-40 that dumps you right onto the Las Vegas Strip.  You can’t miss this hotel —  it looks like the New York City skyline with a rollercoaster wrapped around it!  There was a lot of construction going on during our visit so we had to do a u-turn a few blocks down Las Vegas Blvd, but once we were going in the right direction, parking in the hotel’s parking garage was a breeze!    So was check-in!   Our room was large and comfortable, but we really did not spend much time there.  No free breakfast here.   Actually, there is very little free about Las Vegas anymore <heavy sigh>…

Activities:   Once we checked into our room, we immediately left our room to check out the action along “The Strip”.   As I said, we were not interested in gambling — we invest in the stock market, is that not enough?  But, we did look for food and drink and for options to keep us entertained for the next three days.

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Our hotel, ain’t it cool?

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Across the street is the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. It is a pretty darn big piece of architecture, no?  We went to see the show “Ka” here — it was fantastic! Go, go, GO!

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To our left, the Excalibur, the Luxor, and the Monte Carlo hotels and casinos.

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Walking north, we found the Las Vegas City Center — it is almost brand new to the Las Vegas Strip. Here there are hundreds of condos for sale and an impressive fashion mall.

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The new Aria and Cosmopolitan Hotels and Casinos are right next to the Las Vegas City Center. They look like they are going to fall over, but they don’t!

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Like two copper cuff-links, the Encore and Wynn Hotels and Casinos are at the end of our northward trek down the Las Vegas Strip. The designer mall is filled with expensive store where there is nothing I can afford to buy — but window shopping is free!

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Moving south on the strip, we find the Venetian Hotel and Casino — just magnificent! Ah Venice, how I have missed you…

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Las Vegas transforms at night into a world of glowing lights and energetic activity. It is also quite a bit cooler at night in Nevada and everything is open!

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I don’t remember there being so many neon signs when we were last here in 2008.  Hmmm….

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More neon.

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The Aria and Cosmopolitan Hotels at night. Those towers still look like they might fall!  But they don’t!

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Our hotel, the New York New York at night.

Food Memories:

There are no lack of dining options in Las Vegas.   You can go cheap or you can go expensive — your choice!   We have a couple of simple rules when eating on vacation — (1) we check Yelp or Trip Advisor first for reviews, and (2) if we can’t go casual, we don’t go at all.

Road Kill Cafe (502 W Hwy 66, SeligmanAZ 86337) — American Traditional:   According to Yelp, a lot of people going to the Grand Canyon stop here for one of many road kill specialties like “Smear of Deer”, “Ground Round of Hound”, “No Luck Buck”, “Too-Slow Doe” and other varmint vittles.  The interiors were very rustic with lots of stuffed animal heads mounted on the wall.   When we arrived in the early afternoon, the place was pretty empty and it took longer than expected for me to get my breakfast burrito which I shared with my DH.   The food was good and the water was cold — what more could you ask for, really?

Julian Serrano (Aria Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV) — Tapas:   For our first dinner in Las Vegas, we went to Julian Serrano because we loved the hotel and the restaurant was hopping!   Also, the paella main course looked amazing!     I ordered a glass of the Red Sangria (Mmmmm!) and my DH and I shared the Valenciana Paella with chicken, rabbit, spanish pork chorizo, and vegetables all nestled in a very yellow saffron rice.   The food was very good although more meat and less rice would have been appreciated considering the price.  Still, the restaurant was beautiful — modern with dim lights, small tables, and lots and lots of people!

Il Forniao Bakery (New York New York Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV) – Italian Bakery:  Unlike ALL the other hotels we stayed at during our trip through the Southwest, our Las Vegas hotel did not offer a free breakfast.  So as my DH slept in, I set out to see what dining options my hotel offered.   There was the classic Las Vegas buffet (lots of food costing lots of money) and a couple of little bakeries on the rim of the casino floor.  Most bakeries offered baked goods (like raised donuts the size of NFL footballs).   However, I chose the Il Forniao Bakery because it was the one place that offered a fruit salad.   This bakery was busy and the line at the counter was long.   But I saw that many people were either taking their coffee and flaky pastry to their rooms or to the casino.  Once in line, I was served my coffee and fruit salad fairly quickly.    I actually ate my breakfast here every morning during our stay in Las Vegas because the food was good, the atmosphere was very pleasant, and I was able to get a table by the window — almost every morning!    As I waited for my DH to wake-up and join me, I sat and chatted with all sorts of people from all sorts of places — it was great!

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Breakfast at the Il Forniao Bakery at the New York New York Hotel and Casino. The coffee was excellent, the fruit salad was fresh, but what is the brown fat-bomb you ask?

America Donuts (New York New York Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV) – Fat and Sugar Bombs:  When my DH finally woke up and called me, I told him I was at Il Forniao Bakery, by the window.   I don’t know how he was able to pass me by and walk the additional 20 steps to buy a Cronut at America Donuts, but he did.   When he landed that thing on my breakfast table, the smug look on my face for having found the perfect healthful breakfast in Las Vegas was deliciously wiped from my face!   Cronuts are the new culinary rage and apparently our hotel is the only place in Las Vegas where you can buy one, or two, or more!  It is (or should I say, they are) freaking good — even without the side of Nutella!  One bite and I how could I be mad? 

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Behold the Cronut! We held (and ate) at least three of these during our stay in Las Vegas.

Grimaldi’s (Palazzo/Venetian Hotel  in Las Vegas) — New York Style Pizza:  Me, I need no reason to eat poorly.  But my DH is normally a pretty disciplined guy when it comes to his diet.   He has always had a weakness for pizza and I am pretty sure that all the sugar surging through his system from our breakfast Cronut weakened his resolved to the point that we could not pass up pizza at Grimald’s!   Our logic, we spent all morning wandering aimlessly through the Encore and Wynn Hotels — we logged miles, right?  We ordered a thin crust pizza with mushrooms and sausage.  It was really, really, really good!

America (New York New York Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV) — American traditional:   My DH and I were just leaving the late “Ka” show at the MGM Grand Hotel when the munchies hit.   We wanted Cronuts — God save us!   When we arrived at America Donuts, it was closed.   As we lamented our disappointment, we discussed the best ways to combat Cronut cravings.   I don’t know if we ever really figured out the true answer to that problem, but when my DH turned around and saw the banner for a Prime Rib Dinner (with potato and veggies) for $12.99 at the America right next door, we thought we had nothing to lose by trying animal protein cooked to a nice medium rare!  At midnight, the restaurant was empty and we saw only one waiter on duty.   We were seated quickly, we ordered quickly, and the food arrived quickly.  For $12.99, it was a very, very good steak!

Blossom (Aria Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas) — Chinese:   It would be our last lunch in Las Vegas and we were eager for something a little fancy, a little different.   My DH’s research turned up an interesting pre-fixe menu at Blossom at the hotel we seemed to return to often because it is just that cool!  The interiors was striking with teak wood panels that allowed for maximum privacy — even though we were the only customers in the restaurant for a late lunch.   I ordered a fruity cocktail and I started to tell jokes, my DH ordered water.   I ordered a refreshing cucumber salad, my DH ordered a noodle dish.   For the main course, we each ordered a meat dish (chicken and fish) in a spicy bean sauce and veggies.  For dessert, cool fruit sorbets.   The food was good, and atmosphere was dark and serene.  We stayed in that calm environment for a long time.  We had every hope that this meal would last us until our wonderful Wynn breakfast buffet the next day!

Holsteins (Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas) — Burgers and Boozy Milkshakes:  This restaurant intrigued us since we first saw it.   It has a bright and colorful interior with big chairs and low tables (at least in the bar area).  There was also that large plastic cow.   After our late show of the “Jersey Boys” at the Paris hotel, we decided to wander over to the Cosmopolitan to see all the beautiful people going into the exclusive night club next door to Holsteins.   Unfortunately, the people we saw going into the club were not exceptionally beautiful, but they were loud.    Much to our surprise, we were dying for a burger!     We sat at the bar and shared a Red Velvet Cake Shake (consisting of Zing Red Velvet Vodka, Red Velvet Cake, Cream Cheese Mousse, Mini Whoopee Pie) and a  Fun-Ghi Burger (Beef Patty, Truffle Marinated Portabella Mushroom, Carmelized Onion, Gruyere, Mayonnaise, & Frisee).   Aw-geez!  It was all exceptionally good!   When we left was were re-evaluating our breakfast buffet plans.

Idle Spurs Steakhouse (690 Old Hwy 58, BarstowCA 92311) — Steakhouse:  Needless to say, we did not go to an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet before we left Las Vegas.  We were stuff!  I really believe that is was that Mini Whoopee Pie at Holsteins that did us in.  Around 1pm during our drive home, we felt a slight pain of hunger.   Consulting Yelp, we found this steakhouse in the middle of no where (it was so “no where” that our GPS had problems finding it). Considering the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, Idle Spurs was a visual let-down.   But our waitress was warm and inviting and we warmed up to the place in a hurry!   We shared the Prime Rib sandwich and the waitress talked us into enjoying a slice of Lemon Meringue Pie.   Way to go, Barstow!

Departing Thoughts

What can I say about Las Vegas that I have not already said except “We need to come here more often!”

Our trip through the US Southwest was a wild success!    We met lots of nice people, saw lots of amazing scenery, and ate way too much!     Still, we can’t wait to see our precious dog, Zoey again and to resume our normal life back home.   At least until our next trip, that is!

 

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Cronuts to go!

 

 

 

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Europe 2012: Day 88, Freiburg

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Main square in Freiburg, Germany.

Sunday 9/2/12

Woke at 8am.  It is cloudy but no rain.   Today we will visit another town in the Black Forest region, Freiburg.  This city was highly recommended by Rick Steve’s so we must go, don’t you know!

At 9:30am, we hopped on the bus to go to the train station.   My DH purchased our tickets using one of the machines at the station.   We were on the train within 30 minutes – we are getting good at European train travel!

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Waiting for the train at the Baden-Baden train station.

We arrived in Freiburg around noon.   The sky was still cloudy, but so far there was no rain.  We took the easy 20 minute walk from the train station to the city center.  At the city center, we found the Tourist Office and got a map.  Because of its scenic beauty and easy access to the Black Forest, Freiburg is a hub for regional tourism.  The city is known for its unusual system of gutters  that run throughout its center (once used to provide water to fight fires and feed livestock).  It is also the sister city to Madison, Wisconsin (the university has a dining hall that looks like a Freiburg beer garden — I know, I’ve been there!).

We decided to take the Rick Steve’s walking tour to hit all the main sites in the city.   Frankly, there is not a lot to see in Freiburg but it is a charming Germany town nonetheless — here are some pictures I took while on our walk:

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Walking to the city center — just follow the gutter.

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The Freiburg City Center — lots of people and lots of pigeons.

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The Tourist Information Office in Freiburg, one of the prettiest we have seen!

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The University Office for visiting students. Freiburg is known for its universities.

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Crests of affiliate universities in front of the University office.

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University of Wisconsin – Madison is an affiliate school.

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Frieburg was a hub of commerce in the Middle Ages. Each store front had a stone in front of their door indicating the guild membership of the owner. In this case, the owner of this store belonged to the Knifemaker’s Guild. It is said that if the store owner moved, he would just pick up the stone and take it with him to the new store.

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Rick Steves says that this is one of the most romantic streets in Germany. It is covered in a canopy of vines. In the summer, the vines are filled with wisteria. Of course, we wouldn’t know it unless we read about it — it is cold and rainy today and there are no flowers to be seen.

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Here is our lunch stop, next to the canal. We ate traditional German food — potatoes and sausages. It was good and hot, perfect for a cold day!

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We thought this sign was amusing!

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Lucky us — we found a marching band playing Broadway tunes!  They were very good!

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One of the gates leading into the city of Freiburg. notice the McDonald’s…

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Frieburg’s Historical Merchants Hall — a really lovely red building with interesting shingles.

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A closer look at the statues on the Historical Merchants Hall.

One of the “must sees” in Freiburg is the Freiburg Minster Cathedral, and we saw it!  It is the only Gothic church in Germany that was completed in the Middle Ages (1330), and miraculously, has lasted until the present, surviving the bombing raids of November 1944, which destroyed all of the houses on the west and north side of the market (80% of the city was destroyed during WWII).  This Cathedral is known for its bell tower (which holds 16 bells that were used to warn the city of air raids) and nave windows which were donated by the the city’s guilds (the symbols of the guilds are featured within the glass).

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The Bell Tower of the Freiburg Minster Cathedral.

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The door of the Freiburg Minster Cathedral — it still retains its painted figures. The wires you see keep the birds from nesting on the statues of the saints and angels.

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The entry way to the cathedral. I could stare at these statues all day — they are wonderful!

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The cathedral’s organ sits high above the choir.

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The stained glass windows are magnificent! This one was donated by the Potter’s Guild (notice the images of pots on the bottom row of glass).

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This window as donated by the Baker’s Guild (notice the pretzels on the bottom row of glass).

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This is a fairly new window and very modern. Instead of stained glass, this glass is simply painted. I love the watercolor look and feel to this piece of art.

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The altar of the Freiburg Minster Cathedral

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The exterior of the Freiburg Minster Cathedral. This is Gothic architecture at its best!

We left Freiburg around 4:30pm and were back in Baden-Baden by 5:30pm.  Like Freiburg on a Sunday, Baden-Baden was also quiet with the majority of the stores closed and few restaurants open.   We stayed in our hotel room and ate cookies as we caught up on news, e-mails, and rest.    Tomorrow we travel to Strasbourg – yep, we are heading back into France!

Quote of the day:  “Is it Freiburg or Friedburg? I can’t keep it straight!”   — Anna.  FYI, it just so happens, there is a Friedburg, Germany right outside of Munich (best known for the Army base where Elvis Presley was stationed while in the Army), but we weren’t there.

Europe 2012: Day 85, Ruette

Main Square in Ruette, Austria.

Thursday, 8/30/12

Woke at 7am.  It is cloudy and rain is predicted.  But we will not let it hinder us – we are grabbing umbrellas from the hotel and catching a bus to Ruette!

Why Ruette?   Rick Steve’s says it is a good representative of an Austrian town.   Yes, we are heading back into Austria!   We love Austria!   Heck, it seems that we go to Germany just to go to Austria, does it not?

Another long walk to the bus station is required to catch the 9:05AM bus to Ruette.   The ride was lovely.   We passed through a  bunch of little villages (part of the bus’s daily route) and are able to enjoy the countryside a bit.   Here are a couple of pictures that turned out:

On the bus to Ruette, Austria.

We passed through a number of small towns on the way to Ruette, Austria.

We crossed this river a number of times before reaching Ruette, Austria.

We reached Ruette in 20 minutes.   The sun peaks out for a moment and than recedes again as we make our way through town.   Ruette is a small town indeed — we walked its length in less than 20 minutes.   Ruette’s big sights seem to be its painted buildings — here are some pictures:

Ruette’s main street.

It is all about the painted buildings here! This one is has a modern design.

This building is more traditional.

So is this one.

Oh — I love horses!

Around noon, we are hungry and we begin our search for food.   Ruette has a number of cute cafes and restaurants but none of them appealed to us.   We decided to catch the next bus back to Fussen where we knew there were some interesting restaurants.

We reached Fussen in 20 minutes.  The ride was lovely.   We passed through a  bunch of little villages (part of the bus’s daily route) and are able to enjoy the countryside a bit more.   During the trip, my DH and I discussed lunch and decided to have something other than sausages – like Chinese maybe?   On TripAdvisor, a Chinese restaurant with a memorable name was mentioned – the Wok-In.    Just our luck, the Wok-In was just across the street from the bus station in Fussen!  It was meant to be!!

The Wok-In is a casual place.   You walk in, order your dishes at the cashier, take a seat, and wait for your food to find you.    We were fortunate to have a couple of locals explain the process to us in English– apparently we looked as if we needed the help.  My DH ordered a tofu dish and I ordered noodles – both were really good!    Who would have thought that we would be able to find good Chinese food in a small, German town — but we did!

Lunch at the Wok-In in Fussen, Germany.

It was 2pm and the day was still young so we did the one thing we haven’t done yet in Fussen, see the Fussen Heritage Museum.    This museum had exhibits about the history of Fussen — its castles, its textile industry, and a special exhibit about violin making.   Much to our surprise, all the exhibit descriptions were in German, there was no English translation available.   Thus, I can’t honestly say I learned a lot about Fussen here.   But I believe that at one time Fussen was “the place” to make a lute or a violin.   We saw a couple of videos on violin making that were fascinating!    We looked at all we could look at and following are some pictures of the interesting bits.

The Anna Chapel in the Fussen Heritage Museum, (Fussen, Germany)

Opposite the altar in the Anna Chapel, is Bavaria’s oldest preserved Dance of Death cycle by Jakob Hiebeler  — it is a big deal!    Unfortunately, there was no English translation of this piece so we never really figured out what all the fuss was about during our visit.   After some research on the web, I found that there are numerous “Dance of Death” cycles and songs out there.  Each depicts the various way one could die — in childhood, in war, in sickness, etc.  They serve as a reminder of our mortality and that every day we dance with death.

The Library. The Fussen Heritage Museum used to be a monastery  This is the room where the monks kept all their important books.

We spent about an hour and a half at the Fussen Heritage Museum — one hour viewing the exhibits and the other thirty minutes waiting for the rain to stop.   Yes, it was raining.   Big wet drops of rain.

View from the Library — waiting for the rain to stop.

When the rain let up, we left the Museum.    We made our way back to the hotel in a slow drizzle under the safety of our umbrellas.  Along the way, we stopped at a fruit stand and got some fruit and water in the event the rain continued into the evening – no way would we be going out for this long walk again in the rain!

The rain continued all evening.   We ate our fruit and watched BBC and CNN on the TV  (the Republican National Convention and the Hurricane Isaac were the top stories — amazing how life just seems go to on without us).   It was a long day and tomorrow we leave for Baden-Baden on the 9:05am train.  We will be traveling on the train for at least 6 hours with three transfers.  Heck, we’re used to stuff like this now!

Quote of the day:   “It will let up soon.” – DH to Anna as we wait in the museum.