Saturday, April 18, 2020


The biggest collection of hot air balloons in the world congregates in Albuquerque, New Mexico! In October over 500 hot air balloons compete to be the best, the wildest and the most amusing shapes imaginable. It is a must see!

One of the best times I've had recently was attending the International Balloon Fiesta last October. My best friends and travel buddies, Kay and Tom, who live in Albuquerque, invited my family and I to stay with them for a few days during the festival. Now, I can't stress just how big of a deal this was! Hotel rooms for this event are booked months in advance as well as airline tickets etc., and the cost of going can get very prohibitive.  So, this was a dream experience for us especially for my daughter-in-law, Pam, a passionate balloon enthusiast, who thought she would never be able to afford to go. True angels, Kay and Tom provided not only first class accommodations (they have a lovely home) rides and meals, but the pleasure of their company so that we could enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.

The festival takes place in Balloon Fiesta Park, located in the north side of Albuquerque with hundreds of thousands of people attending so just getting everyone there is a logistical feat of huge proportions! But, the city of Albuquerque has it down to a science, with hundreds of volunteers working together like pros transporting people to and from the event. Every day Kay drove us to a central pickup area in a nearby shopping center. From there we caught one of the hundreds of buses continually going back and forth to Fiesta Park. We bought our tickets in advance on line, which was a huge time saver, but be prepared for the extra time it takes to get there.

The first evening, we walked for miles through hundreds of balloons watching the process of them being unfolded, to the burners slowly filling them with hot air and slowly rising to an upright position where they were kept tightly tethered. The wind was too high to release them that night.

The bees are three separate balloons linked together. They were my favorites!

The activities of the Fesitval include a fun event each day and/or evening and as you might imagine it is all a photographers dream! Pam took at least 1,000 pictures and I stopped counting mine. As night falls and the gas flames light them from within, it becomes magical!

As we walked through them, it felt like Christmas; the beauty and cleverness of each balloon was delightful. What a wonderful gift this was to have this experience!

The next morning, we were there to see them lift off!

The view from Kay and Tom's back yard!

The Balloon Museum is nearby and is well worth seeing!

On September 19, 1783 Pilarte De Rozier, a scientist, launched the first hot air balloon called "Aerostat Reveillon". The passengers were a sheep, a duck and a rooster. The balloon stayed in the air for a grand total of 15 minutes before crashing back to the ground.

Daughters Audrey and Pam
Thank you, Pam, for the use of many of your photos!

Sunday, April 5, 2020


If you read my past couple of postings, you'll know I didn't get to see much of Amsterdam, but what I did see was fabulous! It is a visually beautiful city with an impressive history and a very colorful present. On our second day there, we were able to see examples of both...


As most of you probably know, Anne Frank lived in Amsterdam, and during the German occupation of the city in World War II she and her family hid to avoid being sent to concentration camps.  On December 1, 1940, Anne's father, Otto Frank, moved his offices and spice factory to a central location on Prince's Canal. There was a 450 square foot secret annex on the property which was concealed from view and where the Franks and several others hid for two years. The factory remained active during the day time which provided perfect noise concealment for the families in hiding.
They remained hidden until they were raided by the Nazi authorities, arrested, and deported to their deaths in concentration camps. Of the hidden group, only Otto Frank survived. All of their belongings were seized except for Anne's papers and books that had been rescued by those who had concealed the families. Her writings became "The Diary of Anne Frank".

It is one thing to read about this terrible time in history and another to witness the reality of what Jewish families and many others had to endure just to stay alive. It felt like sacred space, standing  in the same rooms as these innocent people. I tried to imagine what it may have felt like to be in a self-imposed prison for 2 years, living with the constant fear of being discovered. Yet, Anne and her family and friends managed to live in love and dignity there. A lesson for us all.
Anne Frank 

Anne Frank was only 11 years old when she first moved into the Annex. She had always wanted to be a writer.

The Frank's factory, second from the left

Backside of the hidden Annex.

The entry to the annex hidden behind
a book case.

Anne Frank's room, recreated by her father, Otto Frank.
Like any teenager, she pinned pictures of famous movie stars.
(Photos courtesy of Google Images)


I didn't get to see the Van Gogh museum (darn!) but my friends and I did get to see where beer in gigantic vats is made! The Heineken Brewery is a fun place to visit and to sample their wares.

Kay, the Brewmeister! 

Tom and I sampling the wares--sort of!

Moving on, we sampled some delicious Holland cheese and Kay even tried on a wooden shoe...

But, probably the most jaw dropping for us was what we saw when on our way to visit Old Kirk (where I fell). Literally in the shadow of the church spire was the infamous red light district. And around the corner were shops to buy all manner of ingenious condoms, plus mind altering drugs. Goodness! I guess Amsterdam would rather regulate than prohibit. Apparently it works for them!

Down this narrow street we find....

Holy cow!

And, around the corner...

Condoms galore!

And, tasty treats!

The rest of the trip after this was a bit of a blur. My daughter, Audrey, flew in and joined us right after I fell in the church. I was determined not to ruin their trip, so I went on the Viking Cruise up the Rhine anyway. I waved goodbye to them everyday and they, thank heavens, enjoyed the trip.

I waved goodbye to them everyday as they saw the sights on land.

My darling daughter, Audrey! I will be forever grateful for her 
excellent care of me both on the trip and at home.

Double click on any picture for a slide show!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


What a great place! It is absolutely magical! If you love history and architecture and ambiance you will love Amsterdam!

Bloemgracht (Flower Canal)
(picture courtesy of Google images)

DID YOU KNOW…that Amsterdam is like Venice? The historic heart of Amsterdam is built on a series of canals that are used for commerce and transportation.

Booked on a Viking Cruise that started in Amsterdam, we allowed ourselves a few days to enjoy the city before departing for our tour of the Rhine River. Unfortunately, I only got to spend a day and a half of sightseeing before I fell and broke my pelvis in two places, but I am grateful I got to see as much as I did. (A complete blow by blow description of my Humpty Dumpty act is described in the previous post.😬)

We stayed in an airbnb right in the heart of the old city on a charming street aptly named, Bloemgracht, meaning Flower Canal. After checking in, we couldn’t wait to get out and start exploring and with practically everything in walking distance we laced up and started out. Pausing at the first cross street, we waited for a gap in what looked like a horde of bicyclists to pass by. Looking around, we saw that bicycles were everywhere, locked up on bridges, or ridden by people whizzing by at break neck speeds going somewhere fast. Beware! Bicycles have the right of way here not pedestrians. You could be road kill with no apologies! When we finally saw our chance to cross the street, it felt like dodge ball at recess. Any lollygagging would have meant tire marks crisscrossing our bodies.

Besides being dangerous on bicycles, the people are gorgeous! I don’t know what kind of water they’re drinking, but every single one of them are tall (at least 6 feet), thin and athletic—even the elderly; and every one rode their bike, trike or peddle cart like a bat out of you-know-what. (Google images)

DID YOU KNOW…? Amsterdam has the largest number of bridges in the world—2,500! (The entire Dutch coastline has been wrestled from the North Sea and is an extraordinary framework of canals, dams, dikes and windmills.)

Like Venice, Amsterdam uses its canals for transportation. Unlike Venice, however, it has streets although they were not meant for modern cars. Those who do have cars must have a dickens of a time finding a place to park them. We saw one resident pull into a garage the size of a small golf cart. The others are jammed packed along the tiny streets fronting the canals. It’s no wonder so much of their population rides bikes and looks like Greek gods. (Picture of my friend, Kay.)

That's a garage on the left!

The first thing on our agenda was to hop on a canal boat to tour the city. The main attraction is, of course, the Gentlemen (Herengracht) and Emperor (Keizergracht) Canals where the wealth of Amsterdam is proudly displayed in its houses. 

These gorgeous homes feature narrow facades that tower 4 or 5 stories tall, topped by bell shaped gables, and strangely enough, a hoist. The practical Dutch used their attics as storage space, and what better way to get their goods and groceries up there than by a pulley system. There they stayed dry and protected from the frequent floods.

DID YOU KNOW…?  The houses are slightly tilted outward so that whatever is being hoisted doesn’t hit their expensive windows!

Boulevards of wealth!

 The canals are lined with house boats.

Scenes along the canals.

NEXT TIME:  Amsterdam, Old and New

Thursday, June 22, 2017


The Ceiling in Old Church, Amsterdam

IT'S BEEN QUITE A YEAR since I fell flat on my back in an Amsterdam cathedral, breaking my pelvis in two places; a year that included recovery, selling my home, buying another and moving hundreds of miles away. It was time to move closer to family just in case I did something stupid again, like not watching what I'm doing!

Exactly one year ago, the four of us (my daughter Audrey, friends, Kay and Tom and I) arrived in Amsterdam for what we thought was going to be an unforgettable trip. How right we were, but not in the way we imagined! I'd so looked forward to the Viking cruise that would take us up one of the most beautiful stretches of river on earth--the palace and castle lined Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland. As it turned out, the adventure I had was NOT the adventure I planned! One and a half days into the trip I fell, fracturing my pelvis. Just what nightmares are made of, right? Here's the story:

HIGH ABOVE MY HEAD, the saints on the ceiling looked as if they had been painted on the hull of a viking ship. Burnished in gold and faded from age, I had to try to capture the wonderful luster and craftsmanship of both the ceiling and the paintings. Looking through my telephoto lens, however, the images seemed to dance and float somewhere off center. Lacking a tripod, I finally tried to steady the camera by taking a deep breath and holding it for several seconds until I had the perfect alignment. Then, the ceiling disappeared--followed by a surreal sensation of falling backwards, floating almost, like a feather released over the ancient gravestones that served as the church's floor. Silently, slowly as my body surrendered to gravity my only thought was, "Ahhhhh, s**t!"

The sound of my body crashing down like a lone tree in a forest echoed throughout the cathedral. My eyes tightly closed against the searing pain. I laid there like a dead person until I could assess the damage. Maybe it will be just a bad bruise, I thought. I hoped. I prayed.

"Are you OK? Can you get up?" I heard the anxiety in the voices around me. I sensed I had drawn a crowd and I could see in my mind's eye what I must have looked like-a KO'd boxer in the 12th round.

When I couldn't put it off any longer, the church docents hoisted me up and half carried me to a chair, each step an agony. As I sat on my throbbing bottom waiting for a taxi to take me to the hospital, all I could think of was how much this damn trip had cost and how, if possible, I could salvage it!

My friend, Kay, went back the next day to photograph the ceiling for me. 
She took it as I should have--lying down!

This is the picture of the ceiling I took!

A word about the marvelous health system in Amsterdam--after I had fallen, a taxi was called to take me to the hospital, which was just a short distance away. The driver was so sweet, lifting me gently as he could out of the car and staying to help me into the emergency waiting room. Thinking I had to wait for hours, as in an American hospital, I was thankfully taken right in--no waiting! Doctors confirmed what I strongly suspected, that I had broken my pelvis in two places, but did not require surgery. They prescribed pain meds and told me if I was up to it, I could still go on the cruise. I had the doctors' full attentions and was treated with concern and compassion. And, the nicest thing was, the ER bill was only about $150! I couldn't have fallen in a nicer place!! Thank you!!☺

NEXT TIME: Amsterdam before the fall!

Friday, January 20, 2017




Last year my close friends, Kay, Tom, my daughter, Audrey and I booked a Viking River cruise along the Rhine. This would be our trip of a lifetime. Viking Cruises are well known for being the best in river cruises and the length of the Rhine River has some of the most picturesque scenery of all. Expensive, yes, but we had no doubt it would be worth every penny.

We flew into Amsterdam early in order to spend four days exploring every nook and cranny of the picturesque city before boarding the brand new Viking ship, The Viking Alruna for our week long cruise. We didn’t waste any time after we landed before we hit the streets to see all we could see. On the second day, Kay and I took off by ourselves to explore some of the sights which included a beautiful old cathedral called Old Kirk. The ceiling mesmerized me, and in attempting to take a good picture of it, I lost my balance and fell backwards breaking my pelvis in two places. Now mind you, we had been in Amsterdam a day and a half!

Thankfully, as painful as it was, I didn’t need surgery. The hospital docs gave me a handful of pain meds with a note saying I could go on the cruise. Audrey and Tom bought me the Cadillac of walkers (about the size and weight of one too!), and I managed to walk with its help onto the ship two days later. The following is my heartfelt thanks to the wonderful Captain and crew who made the cruise both an enjoyable and memorable experience:


Thank you for turning what could have been a tragedy into a very pleasant memory for me. Your professionalism, genuine caring and attention to my every need are appreciated beyond words. I am especially grateful to two wonderful people, Captain Bartosz Balwierz, and Hotel Manager, Peter Burkhard, for upgrading my room from the bottom level, which required me to take the stairs, to a beautiful cabin with a balcony on the main floor, all without charge. Instead of watching the castles of Germany and France pass by at water level, you gave me the gift of enjoying the scenery from my bed and the ability to join the others at meal times in the dining room.

And a special thanks to Concierge Catalin Stancu, for handling all the complicated changes in our flights, arranging for wheel chairs and escorts and so much more. Your efforts made it possible for my daughter and I to relax knowing that you had smoothed our way through all the plane transfers, custom checks and dozens of other details. Getting home was the most grueling thing I have ever experienced, but you made it worry free and that is worth a million thanks!

To the rest of the crew, I will always remember you with great fondness. You never hesitated to serve us with smiles and to anticipate our every need. You not only made us feel special, we felt that we actually mattered to you. My family (and I from my bed) enjoyed every minute of our Viking experience and you can take the credit. And to you, Liliya, our lovely server who we were lucky enough to share our meals with every evening, a very special thank you. I considered you a friend at the end of the cruise.

The following story is just one example of just how kind and caring you all are: On the first day of the cruise we stopped in Holland for a tour of the iconic windmills. I, of course, stayed on board, but I’d asked my friend, Kay, to be on the lookout for a doll in Dutch costume to buy for my granddaughter. When Kay came back on board she said she saw some but didn’t know if they were what I had in mind. After she described them, I told her I wished she had bought one because there would not be another chance since we were leaving Holland. The crew had already begun to disengage the gang planks when Kay (bless her) rushed out and asked if it was too late to go buy one. One of your lovely crew took the 20 dollar bill clutched in her hand and sprinted down to the gift shop and ran back with it while the ship waited. Now, THAT is above and beyond superior customer service. That is genuine caring from all concerned. God bless you all.

With the sincerest of thanks,
Barbara Champlin