France Odyssey: Seine River, Reims, & Paris Day 10

This morning we left our hotel in Reims for the Champagne region. On our way there was a scenic overlook of the grapevines and the small town of Hautvillers.

Our first stop was the historic village of Hautvillers that was surrounded by vineyards. It had a population of around 700. As we walked through the town it was raining and this made it difficult to really enjoy its charm. The streets were fairly empty.

Hautvillers was also the home of the famous monk Dom Pérignon. He didn’t create champagne but he was very involved in the winemaking process. He was buried in the Abbey at Hautvillers.

The narrow streets were lined with winegrowers’ houses and champagne tasting.

During medieval times each shop in the town had its sign with a picture that depicted its business to let the townspeople know because many were illiterate. The mayor of the town relaunched this idea of the signs in the 1960s. Residents had to submit an application to the town hall if they wanted to add a wrought iron sign. Because of the rain it was difficult to look up and see all of the various signs. Below were just some of the signs that we walked past

You had to look up as you walked to see the signs.

Epernay was our next stop. It was home to some of the most famous Champagne houses and the town was nicknamed the “Capital of Champagne”!

We had a tour and tasting at Mercier Champagne House that was established in 1858.

Eugène Mercier was 20 years old when he founded his own house. He was one of the first to add electricity to his cellars and to advertise! He presented a giant vat at the 1889 World’s Fair. His giant vat held an equivalent of 200,000 bottles of wine and weighed over 20 tons! It was a hit at the fair and was only outshined by the Eiffel Tower.

An immersive descent in the elevator took us down 98 feet to the cellars that were dug out in 1871 by hand. Down in the cellars we boarded a train for a tour. We was bas-relief carvings by sculptor Gustave Navlet as we road the train.

When we finished our cellar tour we had a tasting session with Mercier’s sommelier. Their champagne was delicious!

We had a toast with the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce President. She does such a fantastic job promoting these trips and always added so much when she traveled with the Chamber groups!

After we finished at Mercier we had free time in town and the rain had stopped!

The Avenue de Champagne was lined with Champagne houses and some of the most famous! It also was an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Avenue de Champagne

We had a lunch at Le Progrès.

Le Progrès

After lunch we wanted to try another champagne so we visited the Brasserie de la Banque. It was once a bank.

We sat at the bar and shared a bottle of Champagne that was recommended by the bartender. It was Autréau from the village of Champillon which was about 3 miles from Epernay.


The Le Parc de l’Hôtel de Ville d’Epernay was a park that was created in the mid 1800’s to enhance the town house of the Moët & Chandon family. This park opened to the public in 1920. This garden surrounded the city park hall.

After our time in Epernay we headed back to Reims and our hotel. We sat outside our hotel and enjoyed some more of the Mercier champagne with chocolate and Cider before we walked into the town of Reims to explore the city before dinner.

We walked around the town of Reims and visited some shops.

The hotel recommended Le Tablier restaurant for dinner. Nine of us met there for our last dinner in Reims.

Le Tablier

Below was the Subé Fountain from 1906. The bronze winged victory at the top was taken by the Germans in 1941 and was replaced identically in 1989!

Subé Fountain

Tomorrow we head back to Paris!

The Magnificent Mekong Day 15

This morning we visited Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat translated from the Khmer language (Cambodia’s official language) as City Temple. This was a temple complex that was the largest religious structure in the world.

It was designed as a Hindu temple to serve King Suryavarman II. By the end of the 12th century it was considered a Buddhist site. It also was an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The five central towers symbolized the peaks of Mt. Meru which according to Hindu mythology was the dwelling place of gods.

The “mountain” was said to be surrounded by an ocean and the moat suggested the oceans were at the edge of the world according to Hindu mytholodgy.

A 617 foot bridge allows access to the site.

Angkor Wat covered 400 acres. It marked the high point of Khmer architecture. You would even find Angkor War on the Cambodian flag.

Our clothing was soaked due to the temperature and humidity.

Angkor Wat was surrounded by heavy forests.

Our guide, Reth, grew up here and he told us stories about Angkor Wat being his playground during the period of unrest in Cambodia before it became a World Heritage Site in 1992.


After spending the morning at Angkor Wat, we went back to the hotel to clean up and have some lunch. Our lunch consisted of walking from our hotel to the 7-Eleven nearby and picked up a couple of snacks to eat in our room!

This afternoon we went to the market in town. Our guide told us pepper was very popular and of high quality. We bought some Cambodian peppercorns to bring home. We also found our Cambodian Christmas ornament for our International tree.

A portion of the local market

We had some extra time so we walked to the Red Piano where they had a drink called “Tomb Raider” named after Angelina Jolie. When she was here filming part of Tomb Raider she would come to the Red Piano and this was her cocktail.

After the market we had time to freshen up before going out to a lovely restaurant for dinner, Sokkhak River Restaurant. The staff was extremely helpful and careful with our food, especially those of us with dietary restrictions.

Our local restaurant

This afternoon we drove by Pub Street which was lined with restaurants and bars and was known as being the Nightlife spot. Below was a picture taken in the afternoon and another taken after dinner on our way to the hotel.

Tomorrow was a visit to Angkor Thom and a visit to a local school.

Club Italy Vacation 2023 Day 8

Friday, June 9, 2023

This was another very early morning and we were on the road before breakfast was served at the villa because we were driving to La Spezia to catch a train. We parked the van in the train station garage. We purchased our tickets for the Cinque Terre train. It was an all day pass and it allowed us to hop on and off.

Cinque Terre was comprised of 5 old fishing seaside villages that sit high on the Italian Riviera. You can hike between the villages and see the scenic coastline and countryside but we opted for the train! Our time was limited and we didn’t have the gear for hiking.

In 1997 Cinque Terre was listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site and in 1999 it became a national park.

The first village we visited was the largest and the farthest village, Monterosso. It had a long sandy beach. The water was so clear!

Make sure to see at the end of the beach the large sculpture of Neptune, the Sea God, or as the locals call it II Gigante, carved into the stone. It was built by a Jewish Italian sculptor, Arrigo Minerbi in 1910. It was made from concrete and steel. Monterosso was bombed during WWII and II Gigante lost his arms, trident and a giant seashell. It also suffered additional damage from rough seas and strong winds. Even with its wear and tear, it still stood tall!

II Gigante or Statue of Neptune

You also could see the Aurora Tower here. It was a 16th century fortress built by the Genovese against pirate attacks.

Aurora Tower

We went back to the train station for our next stop which was Vernazza. This small fishing village had a small port that was surrounded by typical colorful houses for the coastal Italian riviera.

The Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia was built in the 14th century. It was said that it was constructed here after the bones of St. Margaret washed up on a beach nearby.

The Belforte Castle and tower was built to protect the village from pirates in the mid-1500′ attacks. The remains from the fortress were converted into a restaurant.

Belforte Tower and Castle

A few more photos from Vernazza and its port.

We walked back to the train station for our train ride to the next village of Corniglia. This village sat on a promontory that overlooked the sea and was the smallest. It also was the least visited because of the difficult accessibility.

As you can see in the 2 photos below, it was a minimum 30 minute hike up to the village and filled with switchbacks.

Due to only having a day to spend here, we opted to skip this village. I guess we’ll need to return some day.

We went back to the train to stop in Manarola.

Train station

This village also had a small harbor with colorful boats. It had a tiny piazza and multicolored houses that faced the sea. We found it very crowded in all of the villages. It definitely was a popular destination for tourists.

We were told to try Sciacchetrá, a sweet wine made from the grapes in Manarola. Unfortunately we didn’t try it. Another reason to make a return trip!

The footpath Via dell’Amore – the Path of Love was closed due to a landslide and won’t open until 2024. This was listed as the easiest of the hikes between villages. It connected Manarola and Riomaggiore and was also a little over a mile long. It would have been one we could have walked. It gave us yet another reason to return!

Our selfie in Manarola

The last village to explore was Riomaggiore which was the most southern of the Cinque Terre villages. It was known for its harbor with its colorful boats and the houses looked like they were stacked one on top of the other.

Riomaggiore- stacked houses and harbor

Before we left Cinque Terre we stopped in a place in Riomaggioree for either a glass of wine or wine tastings. It was a great way to end our day here.

On our way back to our villa, we made a stop in Pisa around 8:00 PM. It was nice because the majority of the crowds were gone.

The Arno river flows near Pisa. The Piazza del Duomo was near the northwestern end of the medieval walled city. In the piazza was the cathedral, the baptistery, the campanile or Leaning Tower of Pisa and a cemetery. Of course, the most famous was the Leaning Tower of Pisa which was tilting when it was completed in 1372 because the foundation was unstable.

We arrived back to the villa at 12:45 AM. It didn’t take long to wind down and get some rest for another day of exploring Tuscany.

Club Italy Vacation 2023 Day 7

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Since we were up so early yesterday, we relaxed at our villa where breakfast was included in our stay and it was quite a spread each morning.

Chris and Dave were busy planning out our adventures. Chris did a lot of research on the medieval towns around the area.

Chris and Dave busy planning.

Late morning we left for San Gimignano which was the town we could see from our villa. The city was named after the bishop of Modena, San Gimignano who they believed saved the city from Attila the Hun.

There are 14 remaining of the 72 towers that originally existed. These were tower houses that symbolized wealth and power of the owners.

It originally was an Etruscan village and it’s location along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route allowed it to grow. The Via Francigena was an ancient road/route from Canterbury in England, through France, Switzerland, and through Italy to Rome and on to Apulia which had ports for embarkation to the Holy Land.

San Gimignano’s historic center is a UNESCO world heritage site.

We visited the Collegiata, a Roman Cathedral.


The frescoes in the cathedral date from the 14th century.

After our visit of the church, six of us climbed the Torre Grossa’s 214 steps, the tallest tower in San Gimignano. It was 177 feet tall. Its walls are a little over 6 feet thick. It was worth the climb to experience the panoramic views of the city.

San Bartolo church was anciently dedicated to St. Matthew. This church went under complete reconstruction in 1173. It was devoted to St. Bartolo who was a local saint who died in 1299.

St. Bartolo Church

It was always worth stopping in to wine shops to have a wine tasting or just to enjoy a glass!

San Gimignano was known for its Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine which was made from white wine grapes. In fact, I read that is was so famous that it was even mentioned in Dante’s Inferno.

Below were some pictures from our exploration of the town.

After a fun time spent in San Gimignano, we had purchased some wine, cheese, and salami to enjoy at the villa in the evening because we had a late lunch in the town.

It was another great day!

A Taste of Peru: Discover Lima, Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu Day 7

Tuesday, October 11th, 2022

This morning began with a walking tour of Cusco with our local guide, Vladmir. But before we began our walk there was a demonstration. Many local citizens and children were marching down the road holding signs and chanting. Vladmir explained the parents were upset because a school for the children had started five years ago and still wasn’t finished. This was due to problems in the government.

Cusco, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once the heart of the Inca Empire and is known for the Inca remains. It was located in the Peruvian Andes and was under the Inca ruler Pachacutec. Francisco Pizarro thoroughly looted Cusco in 1533. Pizarro was best known for conquering the Inca Empire. What Inca foundations remained were used to construct a new city.

Our first stop was the Convent and Church of Santo Domingo built in 1538. It was located on the foundations of the Coricancha temple from the Inca empire. It was the Temple of the sun. The church and convent suffered damage from the strongest earthquakes in 1650 and 1950. The Inca walls and buildings of the Coricancha were unharmed. This was due to the resistance of its stones and the perfection of how they were built. The engineering and stonework was quite impressive! It was like building legos. It’s impossible to put a needle in the grooves. The Inca walls also have a slight inclination to better resist earthquakes.

The lawn area around the Church of Santo Domingo.

The photo below was taken in 1936 and showed the area with the church and former temple in the background.

The niche below showed the trapezoid shape of the stones and it was believed that these niches held offerings.

From the church we had a great view of Cusco and the mountains.

We toured the Museum de Arte Precolombino which opened in 2003. The artifacts in the museum were created by the people who lived in Cusco and its surrounding area for 3,000 years. It was a privately owned museum and it had examples of pre-Columbian art from the Nazca, Mochica, Chimu, and Inca cultures. This museum building was originally an Inca ceremonial courthouse. The pieces date from 1250 BC to 1532 AD and were contained in the museum’s ten galleries. Some of the artifacts from the museum are included below.

As we walked around Cusco, the streets were very narrow. Many times we stood up against buildings to be out of the way of traffic.

Narrow streets, many were one way but some weren’t!

We walked through the main square in Cusco, Plaza de Armas.

Our next visit was to the Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman or Saqsaywaman. The Incas left no written record of their empire. The experts don’t know if the Inca’s destroyed any records so the Spanish wouldn’t have access or if the Spanish destroyed the Incas records. Because of this at the ruins we visited, it was conjecture.

Entrance to Saqsaywaman

Some believe Saqsaywaman (is a Quechua word that means to satisfy and hawk and together means a place where the hawk is satisfied) was an important military base of the Incas. Before the Spanish invasion it was also considered to be a fortress as well as a ceremonial center but no one knows for sure. Another thought was that it was believed that Cusco was laid out like the shape of a puma and if so Saqsaywaman was the head.

These huge stones with many weighing over 100 tons and more than 13 feet high! The Inca people did incredible stonework. The Spanish dismantled part of it and the remainder was covered in earth until it was discovered in 1934.

Another Inca ruin that we visited was Tambomachay. Of course its actual use is unknown but it is thought to be an Inca spa and a military outpost. It was located on a hill about 4 miles north of Cusco. Its elevation was 12,150 feet above sea level.

Tambomachay was built into a natural spring. Waterfalls were built into the terraces. They thought maybe it was a spa for the Inca ruler and/or the Incan nobility. Another possibility was that it had a ceremonial function and offerings were places in the niches. Or it was for a military use and the last thought was that it was both a ceremonial center and a military outpost!

The last Inca ruin that we visited today was Q’Enqo or Kenko. It was believed it was built as a holy site where rituals took place. It was a megalith which was a large stone used to construct the site.

Inside the labyrinth was the table where children and others were believed to be sacrificed!

It was a busy day learning about the Incas and their empire around Cusco.

The Galápagos Islands Day 2

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Our group met this morning at 8:30 AM for an introduction of each other and Patricia gave us an overview of our day! There are 13 of us from around the U.S. and Gonzalo with Holbrook Travel will be with us also!

We left the hotel around 9:15 AM and our driver dropped us off in the old town of Quito which is an UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site. Quito is the capital city of Ecuador. It is located between mountain peaks and is at an elevation of over 9,000 feet so it was important to drink plenty of water and take it easy as we walked the city so we didn’t suffer from altitude sickness.

Our first visit was to the museum Casa Del Alabado.

The museum held a collection of over 5,000 objects that were created from various materials and gave a vast information about the cultures that lived in Ecuador from 7,000 BC and 1530 AD. Also, the museum’s collection best represents archaeological possessions of Ecuador.

Below are a few of the items in the museum.

It was fun to see a couple of school groups touring the museum. We also saw them creating their own artifacts made from clay.

As we walked to our next stop, we saw stores selling spices and the San Francisco Plaza.

We visited the Capilla de Cantuna. This chapel was one of the first built after the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

The Church and Convent of St. Frances was our next visit. This complex was part of Quito’s UNESCO area. It encompassed 13 cloisters, 3 churches, a plaza, over 3,500 works of religious art, and a library with thousands of books and historic documents. We walked through the main courtyard at the Basilica of San Francisco which was built between 1573-1581.

We then climbed up to the second level of the courtyard and then up to the choir stalls of the church. From this location we could look out below to the interior of the church and its altar.

The front facade of the Basilica of San Francisco.

There were over 20 churches just in the historic area of Quito. As we were walking we saw five churches within several blocks! We went in the Jesuit church, Church of the Society of Jesus or to the locals it was the Church of La Compañía. Photos were not allowed but this church was filled with gold leaf and was with ornate details of the Baroque style. It took over 150 years to build this church and it was completed in 1765. It was beautiful.

The Virgin of El Panecillo or the Virgin of Quito can be seen on top of El Panecillo, a hill in the center of Quito. The statue of a winged Virgin Mary was made of aluminum by a Spanish sculptor, Agustin de la Herrán Matorras. It was placed on top of its base in 1975 with a total height of 135 feet.

As we continued our walk in the historic center we passed by the Carondelet Palace (built in the 1500s) which was the seat of the government for the Republic of Ecuador and on its 3rd floor was the residential area for the President of Ecuador.

The Palace was located on the Plaza Grande.

We had a delicious lunch at a restaurant not far from the Carondelet Palace. Our dessert was served by a penitent who was dressed in a purple robe and purple-pointed hood. In Quito you would see a parade of penitents for a Good Friday procession. We had our very own at lunch!