Bahamas (Feb 2017)

009coast guardBefore I get to Switzerland and Germany, I want to do a couple of posts about our cruise.  No, that’s not our ship on the left. It’s the armed coast guard boat that escorted us out of the harbor.

Getting to our room was a bit claustrophobic with the baggage waiting in the corridor, but we had a porthole and when we woke up, this was our view, a perfect start to a day at Coco Cay.

port hole


little boy

Coco Cay is an island owned by the cruise line. There was shopping (of course) and food (absolutely). The sea was aqua/green/blue. Some enjoyed it on foot, some in a boat, many with drink in hand. banana boat



I was fascinated by a tree, an iguana, the clear water.

orange trunkiguanarope post1

I’ll close with a picture of the hot tub which I call Satyr and Mermaids. Next up, Nassau. Note: click on any of the pictures if you want to see it full size…

satyr nymphs

Montrieul-Bellay (France 2015)


On to Montrieul-Bellay. Parking gods were with us. First, some refreshments on a town plaza. Coffee Gourmand – espresso, and three little desserts: chocolate, cream, and lemon. Plus a pile of whipped cream. Mmmm good!
Next, we visited the castle, which consists of a large plaza surrounded by walls and buildings. Parts from the 13c (the walls) and 15c (the three dwellings) and 19c? (the main house where the current owners live.) Many centuries jumbled together. This model will give you an idea:montruiel

We got to climb the ramparts and look at the towers.  The spiral staircases inside have ropes for railings.

Down in the basement, a grape crusher which replaced foot stomping. (It’s at the end of the arches in the picture.) montruiel2

I only understood about 20% of the guide and 1/2 way through, I gave up from exhaustion. But it was a fascinating castle, more private than the ones we’ve been seeing.

As usual, I was fascinated by tiny details. A painted dragon. A monk perched on the side of a roof. A masked lover.




The view from the castle was wonderful; I envied those who lived there (in modern times – I’ve no desire to be a woman in Medieval France!)


Our trip back to the B&B was on tiny tiny roads because of a detour. In need of a salad after days of “fancy” food, we end up at a McDonalds – don’t tell. It was unlike those in the U.S. We ordered and paid on a big screen inside the store. Reminded me of self-serve gas. A girl brought a tray with our food.

And so back to Chinon, the river ending our day with romance.m-river

Fontevraud Abbey (France 2015)

a effigyI wanted to see this abbey in particular because some historical figures I have studied are buried there: Henry II (English king), Henri’s wife, Eleanor d’Acquitaine, their son Richard the Lionheart (at the back of the picture). Less well known, is Isabelle d’Angouleme (at the front), the wife of another son, John of Magna Carta fame. I wrote a novel about her and wanted to see where she died and her effigy.

a cookeryThe abbey is a whole compound, founded in the early 12th century. The kitchen’s many chimneys are fascinating. The church is huge, now completely. The whole place was overseen by a woman and contained both men and women, separated of course. In church, the women  sat in rows along the sides and sang call and response. Only men at the altar, bien sur.

abby 1The place was saved because it was a prison – for Napoleon then for the Germans. Floors were put in to use the space. Now restored. The prison part was made a big deal of; less so the abbey. Over half of the women were of royal blood.

There was a place for confession, the only talking allowed. What did they confess? A crush on cute priest? Covetousness? Anger? Wanting to talk? Hubby says they wanted to dice up the fathers who sent them there.

We had coffee on the plaza, overlooking the garden, tres heureuses.

a arched garden

a door

Loches Dungeon and Keep (France 2015)

Keep 1 Let’s start with the Keep, which was where the castle folk lived. It was built in the 10th century and was a prize passed back and forth between the English who at the time “owned” parts of France and the French. King John, of Magna Carta fame had and lost it twice. The final loss signaled the end of England on the continent.

The four stories were each single rooms. The bottom floor for storage, the 2nd for pomp and show, the third for living, and the fourth for safety, a place to withdraw if the castle was attacked. Each had a huge fireplace.Keep Stairs

You can climb up inside space, if you dare. The  hundreds of steps are narrow and inside the keep, you are standing on grills over space. Frightening. I had to edge along, heart pounding. (Remind me never to go to that glass floor over the Grand Canyon.) One set of twirly steps was so so narrow you could touch the walls with your elbows. But the view from the top was great.

We also went DOWN into the donjon (dungeon.) Those folks had great legs!  There were three parts. The early dungeon, down and down – writing on the wall by one high placed prisoner. “If you were going down these steps, you were sunk!” The carvings by prisoners. (audio giving height and shoe size?!) Dungeon Steps

Dungeon Painting




Dungeon carving



Outside these areas, but within the walls, were a couple of gardens – one recreated as medieval from texts, one around what appeared to be stairs down to the dungeon. BTW, we saw some privies in the dungeons. medieval garden



When we came out of the donjon and walked back down into the town, past a blue gate at a private home, the market was closed.Blue gate


We went on to Close Luc where Michaelango spent his last few years. Underwhelming and crowded, but as we came onto the street, a man with his little boy on the back bicycled past.

after market


We skipped Amboise Castle – we were castled out. Daniela, the owner of the B&B where we stayed said when she and her husband travel in Europe, “it’s much the same – another road, another castle.” 🙂boy on bicycle copy

Back to the B&B where we ate leftover pizza and the first tartes from a patisserie. Chocolate! Cream Puff! Lemon…too heavy.

Green Bank

Green Bank TelescopeGreen Bank is not an ATM, but a location in West Virginia with the largest moveable radio telescope in the world. It’s managed by the same consortium that runs Arecibo and the Arizona site (if you’re a fan of the movie Contact, you’ll know just what I mean). Also there’s a new site going up in Chile. All the instruments are listening to the universe.

I wasn’t keen on visiting, but wow! First, it’s huge, as to be expected. Second, it’s the heart of a National Quiet Zone. Never heard of that? Neither had we but then we began to wonder why we couldn’t get ANY transmissions at the cabin. No cell phone. No internet. Nada. Turns out we’re in the NQZ. But we’ve got it easy because the actual telescope is an hour away. Those who live within a 10 mile radius have it tougher. Congress passed some sort of act that, if strange blips appear on the telescope monitors, an official can knock on your door to see what you’re up to.

I asked if the locals objected to the restrictions and was told that the site supplied a lot of local jobs. Seeing as it’s in the middle of nowhere, I understand that might be a plus. In the summer, they hire local college students home on their break to paint. Must be much like cleaning windows on a skyscraper.

Note: We weren’t allowed to take pictures close up – too sensitive.
094The face of the telescope is made from panels the size of the king mattress. They are individually adjustable to focus the radio waves which are bounced up to the receiver on the top and sent to the lab where the scientists work. The dish can move vertically and sits on a circular track, mounted on big flatcar-like wheels that can rotate it. When it was under construction, the engineers realized that once mounted, it was there forever so the wheels are designed to last but the tracks are repairable. We got to see both motions as the scientists were evidently adjusting it for the best reception.

The tour began with a brief movie and a demo of freezing a balloon (I forget what it was for, but the kids in the group loved it when the balloon shattered.) They drove us out to the telescope in a van, passing many historical scopes scattered around the site. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth the visit.

There is a picture that I didn’t take and wish I had: a burly biker covered with little badges like a scout, each badge representing a Harley convention or get together. I always feel shy taking pictures of people (which see my endless scenery and ruins pictures from Italy on this blog…) The pictures below are of the wildflowers surrounding the site. I never could resist a flower…

Rome, Rather Vatican City

st peters roofBus to Rome, then off to Vatican City. The lines to Saint Peter’s Church were horrendous, so I took a picture of the roof – such workmanship and detail but so high you can’t see it with the naked eye!

Next we went to the Vatican museum.

Oh, no, not another museum…but did you know it has a huge a section on Egypt? I have to wonder why the popes had with such pagan stuff, but it’s fantastic. Now I hate mummies, which were once real people and shouldn’t be treated as objects, but I love Egyptian art. The mask on the lid of a sarcophagus. mask
A tiny man put in a grave to serve as a servant in the afterlife. closeup statuetteconcubinesAn array of concubines, ditto.



Their fascination with cats and ducks and how they turned animals into gods (my dogs would approve of that.) bird

People kept blowing by us with glances and disinterest. Where’s the Roman stuff? Their loss. Then we got to the Romans– of which we’d already seen a bunch, so WE blew by. Mostly.



Later on, halls of fantastic tapestries. My favorite was by Raphael, the slaying of the infants. Not the children dying, of course, but the sorrow captured in fabric. The blurry picture was caused by a bump from a visitor; the halls were crowded. But look closely. The image is beautiful, if sorrowful. I imagine how many eyes were ruined making them. Does that mean I’m allowed to appreciate them all the same?

tapestry angeltapestry sorrow
Toured Borgia’s apartments – didn’t know they had a pope, I think of them as evil. Filled with gold, art, decoration. The ongoing joke with my hubby: why doesn’t our house look like that? Nevermind, cleaning would be a nightmare. The ceilings throughout the museum were fabulous.

Finally the Sistine Chapel. Packed, no pix allowed. The guards kept yelling “No Pix” and “Silence” which rather ruined the mood. Michelangelo could only paint a ¼ of a panel a day because it had to be done before the plaster dried. The figures are of different sizes– when Michelangelo saw the first half from the floor, he thought them not strong enough, so he made the second set of scenes more heroic. The restorers left a couple of spots un-restored and they were totally black. I actually liked the bright colors.

Wobble home on stubs, exhausted. Had dinner across the street – the best pizza I’ve ever had — grilled eggplant — and the fabulous Italian beer. The place was empty when we entered at 7:30. When we left an hour later, it was packed with Italians. Not an English speaker to be heard. (Pix below: a lion who served as a leg under a sarcophagus. And a window well. Glorious details were everywhere. After a while your eye just goes numb.)

lion window seat