Friday, January 8, 2016

The Best of 2015 – Activities

Cynthia and Dave on a rainy day in Hawaii
This is part two of the year-end round-up and has to do with the activities we thought were fun, exciting, interesting, and so forth. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews. If you'd like to see the blogs that describe these undertakings, just follow the links at the end of each short description.

What we did:
Four and one-half Carrots

Byodo-In Temple (47-200 Kahekili Hwy, Kaneohe, HI; 808-239-8811) is a wonderful place
Vince and Cynthia at Byodo-In Temple
to go for a peaceful, relaxing interlude. Inexpensive (See Old Time O’ahu)

Cities of Light tour with Viking Cruise kept us entertained and interested throughout the cruise. The local tour guides were knowledgeable, patient, and amusing. It was a truly amazing trip. (See Review of the Viking Cruise from Prague to Paris)

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (600 Museum Way, Bentonville, AR, 479-418-
Spring by Macdonald-Wright
at Crystal Bridges
5700) is a wonderful building in a beautiful setting. The floors of the museum are sycamore, ‘trash trees’ in the building footprint that Alice Walton couldn’t stand to see burned and asked that they be incorporated into the building. The artwork is excellent in its historical presentation, although I’m not a great fan of current art. (See Arkansas Art)

The Louvre (Rue de Rivoli, Paris, Île-de-France 750001) is, of course, a must see in Paris. We’ve been several times and still haven’t seen it all. This time we were focused on seeing the Etruscan exhibit; of course it was extensive and wonderful. There is also a new, at least to us, exhibit of giant statues that are absolutely wonderful. The docents all speak some level of English and are very helpful; they smilingly listened to my high school French and immediately switched to English.  Be sure to get to the museum at opening time. Even with a ‘fast pass’ you may have to stand in line to get into the pyramid. Once inside, if you have a ticket, you’ll immediately go to the one of the desks to get a map, then to any of the entrances. If you don’t have a ticket, you’ll stand in the regular line, but if you’re there early it won’t be too very long. Once inside go to the kiosk where you can pay by credit card, grab a ticket and head for a map and one of the entrances. If you want to see one of the ‘famous’ exhibits, schedule your viewing for either early in the day (right after opening) or just before closing. The Winged Victory is fairly easy to see since it’s on a pedestal at the top of some stairs, but the Mona Lisa will try your patience if you want to get up close. The Venus de Milo is also on a pedestal, but it’s not on stairs, so you have to be patient if you want to get close to it, as well. Restrooms are at a premium everywhere except by the restaurant, so be prepared to stand in line if you use one in other parts of the museum. Plan on eating at odd times if you want to stay in the museum; the restaurant can get rather crowded. (See Pausing in Paris)

Notre-Dame Cathedral (6 Parvis Notre-Dame, Place Jean-Paul II, Paris 75004) lives up to
its billing. This is an amazing place with wonderful stained glass windows, chapels, alters, markers and icons. Entrance to the Cathedral is free; the line to get in looks intimidating, but it moves very quickly. Your bags are scanned and that’s want slows down entrance. If you are lucky enough to be in the cathedral when there is singing, you’ll thoroughly enjoy how the acoustics affect the sound. There is a charge if you want to climb the tower; I did that years ago and it allows for wonderful views. The grounds out behind the cathedral have plantings of shade trees, roses and seasonal wildflowers. Evidently it is a popular place for wedding portraits since we saw several couples posing with the flying buttresses in the background. There is also an area for children to play and some benches from which folks were feeding pigeons. (See Pausing in Paris)

Punchbowl Crater and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (2177 Puowaina Dr, Honolulu; 808-532-3720) is another historic site that should not be missed. Free (See Honolulu Happenings)

Sainte-Chapelle (8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris) has the most amazing stained glass windows I have seen. There are literally walls and walls of windows. Since their restoration,
the colors are vibrant and the light coming in makes the alter area seems to glow. This is still an operating church with an active congregation, so visitors are asked to be very quiet. The Crown of Thorns relic is supposed to be presented with other relics to the believers for veneration on the first Friday of each month, every Friday during Lent at 3 pm, and on Good Friday from 10 am to 5 pm. However, the Crown of Thorns may not be among the relics at every presentation. There is a cost for entrance to the church; the ticket is bundled with the ticket for the Conciergerie. (See Pausing in Paris)

Timken Museum of Art (1500 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-239-5548) was established through the Putnam Foundation and is free. The audio guide is well worth its cost but is a bit verbose. Plan to spend several hours in this little jewel of a museum. There is paid parking in the area. (See Retreating in San Diego and Reviews)

USS Arizona Memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial (1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu; 808-422-3399), located at Pearl Harbor, is a must see stop. If you take time to read the information boards and watch the movie you get an in-depth understanding of the attack and its ramifications. Free (See Honolulu Happenings)

Waimea Valley (59-864 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa; 808-638-7766) is a wonderful garden with a lovely waterfall and swimming hole. There is an entry fee. (See The Vog and other Scenic Events)

Four Carrots
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum (1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu; 808-847-3511) is a
Silk Embroidery of a Carp at the Bishop Museum
complex of museums that will keep you entertained, while educating you, for most of the day. At the time we visited, there was not a place to get anything to eat so either bring your own food or plan to take a short trip to one of the nearby restaurants. Entry fee (See 
Honolulu Happenings)

Botanical Building and Lily Pond (1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-239-0512) is free to the public and a lovely place to spend half an hour to an hour. Depending on when you’re there, you may be treated to some amazing seasonal flower displays. There is paid parking in the area. (See Retreating in San Diego and Reviews)

Buffalo Bill Center of the West (720 Sheridan Ave, Cody, WY 82414, 307-587-4771) has
Pioneer Mother
really expanded. There are now five parts to it: Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum (old to modern plus sculptures), Cody Firearms Museum, and Draper Natural History Museum. It is very well done. The ticket is good for two days and if you take your time you’ll need that long. Really interesting displays plus well-spoken and knowledgeable docents are available in all of the areas; there are also regular free tours in each museum. An outside area is devoted to more sculptures, plants and special presentations such as the one they were currently doing about raptors with the actual birds there. You can also do an hour or half-hour horseback ride and tour. There are discounts for seniors and for veterans. (See Towns along the Road)

As we expected, Capulin Volcano National Monument (46 Volcano Rd, Capulin, NM 88414, 575-278-2201) was lovely. At the visitor’s center there is a nature walk with informational cards that tell about the plants and the rocks. There is also a small museum that is worth a visit. At the top of the volcano you can see the four lava flows and take a two mile hike around the top or a one mile round trip hike down into the crater. Generally, there is a ranger available to explain what visitors are seeing. (See On the Road to Yellowstone)

Ute Agency by Pietka
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80903, 719-634-5581) exhibits many styles of paintings and sculpture. There is no charge to enter the permanent exhibits. There is also a small restaurant. You may take pictures in the permanent exhibits and in some of the visiting ones. (See Back in the Springs)

Diamond Head hike (off Diamond Head Road; see map) is great fun if you take your time. The views from the top are wonderful. Free (See The Vog and other Scenic Events)

Hibiscus flower on the Dole Plantation
Dole Plantation (64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa; 808-621-8408) has gardens, a train, a maze and shops. Parking is free; entrance to the grounds is also free with fees charged for specific activities. (See The Vog and other Scenic Events)

Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés (3 Place Saint-Germain des Prés 75006 Paris) is one of the oldest churches in Paris. It also has great stained glass windows in a very small alter area. What I really like about the windows is the distinctively different, rather more primitive, art they show. Like Sainte-Chapelle, this is an active church so visitors must be mindful of services and members of the congregation who are worshiping. There is a small garden with some interesting sculptures around the side of the church; it also has some small flying buttresses. Entrance is free. (See Pausing in Paris)

Garden of the Gods Park (1805 N. 30th Street, Colorado Springs, CO, 80904, 719-634-
Balanced Rock in the Garden of the Gods
6666) is a great place for a nice walk. The popular features, such as Balanced Rock and the Overlook, attract a lot of tourists, so keep that in mind when planning your visit. You may get a chance to watch people practicing rock climbing or to see rabbits, mountain goats and deer. None of the critters seem too bothered by the tourists. (See Colorful Colorado)

Grand Teton National Park (John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, WY, 307-739-3300), along with the road up to Gros Ventre  and The Mormon Row are certainly worth  finding the roads to get to these sites. Depending on the time of year, there may be oodles of wildflowers and people stopped to take pictures of them. (See Cold Mountains, Sliding Trees and a Lot of Hot Water - Part 1)

Saint Ursula Triptych 
Groeninge Museum (Dijver 12, 8000 Brugge, Belgium, +32 50 44 87 11) is the place to go to see Flemish Primitives. In fact, there are representative pieces of art from very early Flemish painters to those who are still working today. The people working the desk are very nice and are happy to answer any questions, making it easy to find what you want most to see efficiently. (See Staying in the B&B: Brussels and Bruges)

The Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa (2005 Kalia Rd, Honolulu; 808-949-4321) is my favorite ‘knock around’ place. I can spend hours looking at the sculpture, enjoying the gardens and animals, poking in and out of shops, and snacking my way through the restaurants. Free unless you park; parking is expensive (See Old Time O’ahu)

Jardin des Plantes (rue Cuvier, rue Buffon, rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, place Valhubert, 75005 Paris; +33- 01-40-79-56-01) is a lovely botanical garden that has walking trails,
Snake Dancer Statue in Paris
shade trees, formal plantings, huge greenhouses, and a series of beds for specific plant species. The variety of plants in each of these beds shows the range of leaf shape and blooms a species can attain. Within this garden is the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes. While the Paris Zoo fits into the ‘modern’ zoo framework, the Menagerie is a much smaller offering. The animals kept here are small to medium in size and are not what you’d expect to see. We particularly enjoyed the Asian Furry Donkeys who seemed intent on checking out visitors for handouts. There was a well-appointed monkey house, exotic cat area, aviary, herpetarium, and pens with natural landscaping for llamas, and mountain goats. There is a fee for the menagerie, but not for the botanical garden. There are plenty of places to eat around the gardens and you can bring food into the parks. (See Pausing in Paris)

Koko Crater Botanical Garden (7491 Kokonani St, Honolulu; 808-522-7060) actually sits down inside the crater. There is nothing to eat or drink, so bring what you’d like to keep yourself hydrated.  Free (See The Vog and other Scenic Events)

Bird Walking Stick
Mingei Museum (1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-239-0003) is a small folk-art museum located in Balboa Park. While there is a fee to enter, it is well worth the cost. The artifacts are well-organized and well labeled. Touring this museum takes around an hour. There is paid parking in the area. (See Retreating in San Diego and Reviews)

Mokoliʻi (viewed from Kualoa State Park, 49-479 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe) is also known as Chinaman's Hat. The small park is quite nice with a large parking area and plenty of places to have picnics. Free (See The Vog and other Scenic Events)

Nuʻuanu Pali overlook (off the Pali highway; see map) is beautiful. The winds can blow so hard that you think that you’ll come off the top. There are a couple of hiking areas that are interesting if it’s not too damp. You must pay for parking, but it’s reasonable. (See The Vog and other Scenic Events)

Old Town Trolley Tours (4010 Twiggs St, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-298-8687) are a
Hawk on Weather Vane
in San Diego
great way to see San Diego. The best way to get tickets is to book online. If you’ve got the time, it’s well worth taking two days to enjoy this tour, getting off at most of the stops. The guides are all well-prepared, but some are much better than others; tipping is allowed. By the time you rent a car and pay for parking, the cost for this tour is more than reasonable. Depending on where you are staying, you may have to pay for parking near one of the Trolley stops. (See Retreating in San Diego and Reviews)

The Petite Palais (Avenue Winston Churchill, Paris 75008) has one of the most eclectic art collections in Paris. It was surprising to be walking along the hall looking at an old master, then to come face-to-face with a sculpture or a painting from the last five to ten years. Since this was built as a palace, the building has wide, sweeping staircases and long, wide halls. The building, itself, is a work of art. Its exhibits range from furniture to paintings to sculptures to jewelry. There is an inner garden that is quite pretty and a small restaurant. Evidently local Parisians like the area for lunch since we saw several groups with their sack lunches sitting in the garden. Entrance to the Petite Palais is free, except for the traveling exhibit that may be in residence when you visit. The Petite Palais is just off the Champs Elysees, so there are lots of green areas that are decorated with interesting statues very close. (See Pausing in Paris)

Pikes Peak Cog Railway (515 Ruxton Ave, Manitou Springs, CO 80829, 719-685-5401) is
Vince, Dave, and Cynthia on top of Pikes Peak
a lovely way to get to the top of Pikes Peak. As usual the announcer was silly but informative. It wasn’t nearly as cold on top as we thought it would be. The trip down was equally beautiful. It’s an expensive trip, but worth the cost. During tourist season, the ride is crowded, so it is wise to book early; at other times of the year it’s significantly less crowded and just as pretty. Make sure that you are there at least 30 minutes early to get a good parking place even if you have pre-paid for parking. Also be sure to take water on the train; altitude sickness (dizziness and nausea) is a possibility. There is less air at the top of the mountain, so you need to move slowly, very slowly. The donuts are good; the hot chocolate is passable. (See Colorful Colorado)

Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site (see map) is off Pupukea Homestead Road from Kamehameha Highway 835 on the North Shore. Not only are the views of Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley wonderful, but you also get a sense of the way the ancient Hawaiians lived and worshiped. It is well worth the drive to enter a much less ‘touristy’ area. Free (See Old Time O’ahu)

Quarry Exhibit Hall - Dinosaur National Monument (Jensen, UT 84035, 435-781-7700) has been improved since I was there in the 1990s. There is a gift shop with some
Wall of dino bones
informational displays and a movie that has been dummied down from what it was years ago. The exhibit, itself, is still well maintained with some nice informational panels and several rangers to answer questions. There is a place that you can touch the actual bones. You have an option of riding the cart up or walking; your choice will be dependent on the temperature. While this is the high desert, it gets very hot very quickly and the sun is blistering. (See Diggin’ Dinos)

Rijksmuseum (Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, The Netherlands, +31 (0) 20 6747 000) is a huge place and it’s very easy to get lost ending up completely outside the museum. The guards are nice enough to let you back in if you show your ticket and ask for directions to where you thought you were going when you got lost. The big artists to see here are Rembrandt and Vermeer. Of course, since this is a world class museum there are examples of works from all of the big names. There is a place in the museum to eat, but it is pricy. (See Around Amsterdam)

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (Rue de la Régence / Regentschapsstraat 3,
Strange Masks by Enson
1000 Brussels, Belgium, +32 (0)2 508 32 11) is an amazing set of museums. It’s got more twists and turns than the Louvre but not as confusing to navigate as the Groeninge. Plan on spending an entire day to see the whole museum; there is a place to eat. My two favorites were the Magritte Museum and the Old Masters. (See Staying in the B&B: Brussels and Bruges)

San Diego Museum of Man (1350 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101, 619-239-2001) is an interesting museum with many attractions for kids. There are all sorts of artifacts to see and examine. There is paid parking in the area. (See Retreating in San Diego and Reviews)

Jenny Lake Boating (Jenny Lake, WY, 307-734-9227) provides an hour long scenic cruise that is informative and fun. Our guide was very knowledgeable and had a good
Jenny Lake
sense of humor. He did his best to make sure that everyone got to see what they wanted and to take all of the pictures they wanted. It was a warm day and the views were spectacular. The boat was well set up so that everyone was comfortable, including those with limited mobility, and could see what was being talked about. We were allowed to stand when the boat wasn’t in motion, but unless you’re in the front of the boat, this isn’t necessary. (See Cold Mountains, Sliding Trees and a Lot of Hot Water - Part 1)

While the Spice House (400 N Water St, Milwaukee, WI 53202; 414-431-0835) is a place to buy spices, it’s also a great place just to look around. The owners have lots of information about the spices they sell and are happy to answer any question you may have. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at all of their wares and talking about where they came from; I also brought a few spices that we can’t get in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. (See Meditating in Milwaukee)

Talimena Scenic Drive (Arkansas Highway 88 intersects U.S. Highway 59/71 in the town of
Mena; U.S. Highway 271 Intersect Oklahoma Highway 1.) is a lovely drive no matter what time of year you take the time. (See Arkansas Art)

Universal Orlando Resort (6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida, 32819, 407-363-8000) is a combination of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and City Walk – Orlando. There is plenty to do here if you like rides, shows, parades, places to eat, shopping, and inventive architecture. There are plenty of places to relax and simply watch people. While we didn’t experience the crowds on this visit, they can be a real trial during high season. Other negatives are noise levels – you are made to hear rather than asked to listen; on a couple of the rides I thought I had lost my hearing. For children this is a major concern, especially since the sound level isn’t tied to explosions, gun fire, and the like, but to the sheer volume of the music and dialog. It would actually be easier to understand what was being said if the volume was less or the sound effect were on a different (quieter) track from the dialog. Beyond the entrance fee, reasonable if you intend to participate in even half of the amusements available, the prices for souvenirs and for some of the food are quite high. (See Aliens and Spiders and Dinos …Oh My!)

Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat 7, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, +31 20-5705200) is an interesting place because it doesn’t just show Van Gogh’s work, but tells the
Rabbit Art near the
Van Gogh Museum
story of his life. Plan to get there early and do get the audio tour. There are information plaques by many of the pictures, but they don’t go into the depth the audio tour does. Seeing everything will take around four hours and you won’t be bored. (See Around Amsterdam)

Yellowstone National Park (John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, WY, 307-344-7381) is spectacular; from the mountains to the geysers, to the glacial features it’s lovely. The only two down sides are the numbers of tourists with their lack of manners, and the road construction. Things are different from what I remembered from the 1990s; some geyser features are gone due to the earthquake but some new ones have formed. The bison are around, and there are some herds of elk, but we didn’t see a moose or a bear. In any case, stop at every turn off and take all the hikes you can. The scenery is remarkable. Do not assume that just because there is a wheelchair sign that there are not steps or that the site is completely accessible; things are open to a point, then you just have to go with what is actually open. (See Cold Mountains, Sliding Trees and a Lot of Hot Water – Part 2)

Vince and David half way to the North Pole
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