2+ Weeks in Alaska

Summer 2022 Itinerary and Trip Notes

Overview: Anchorage (1 day) > Kenai Peninsula (5 days) > Valdez (1 day) > Glacier View (1 day) > Denali Front Country (3 days) > Kantishna/Denali Backcountry (4 days) > Talkeetna (2 days)

Bottom Line: This was our first trip to Alaska, the 49th State, and we needed to keep the total duration under three weeks. The Kenai Peninsula and Denali were at the top of our list and did not disappoint. We also opted to “go big” with top shelf, remote wilderness lodges in both national parks, which came with significant scheduling constraints. After booking those, we had a week to kill in between the two, thus the circuitous road trip across the Prince William Sound to one night stops that gave us a different glimpse of off-the-beaten-track Alaska.

With our time constraints, this itinerary worked great — though another alternative (and likely saving some money on rental car, which are hard to find and very expensive) would be to fly in or out of Fairbanks on one end and Anchorage on the other and make the whole trip by train — the Alaskan Railroad has a great reputation.


DatesDestinationWhere We Stayed
Day 1AnchorageCopper Whale Inn

We took the 4-hour, nonstop afternoon flight from SFO to Anchorage and caught a taxi into downtown through light rain. Gray skies and rain are not unusual in July — I heard May and June tend to be drier. Anchorage is home to 40% of Alaskan residents and isn’t much to look at, a drab version of Reno minus the casinos, but this was just a place to hunker down for the evening before heading off on the real adventure. There are a few very large, casino-like brewpubs that attract a fair amount of visitors, with packed tables and factory-like service, but we skipped those and opted for what was surely the best dive bar in town, Darwin’s Theory, and a pretty nice (if not pricey) dinner at the Haute Quarter Grille.

Our innkeeper thanked us for patronizing a small, woman-owned boutique business instead of the big chain hotels. I’m glad we did.


Day 2Anchorage to SewardExit Glacier Lodge
On the road to the Kenai Peninsula from Girdwood

After a good night’s sleep, we got up, got our rental car (Enterprise via Expedia was the only thing I could find after a long search!), and got out of town. We headed south on Route 1, the Seward Highway, en route to the Kenai Peninsula. With the Chugach Mountains rising dramatically on our left and the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet appearing ahead to the right, the awesome natural beauty of Alaska began to reveal itself quickly as we left Anchorage behind.

We stopped for lunch at the Girdwood Brewery (excellent beer and decent Japanese food truck), near the popular Alyeska Resort, and a 2-mile, out and back hike on the Winner Creek Trail. Back on the road, we crossed over to Kenai and in 90 minutes of easy mountain highway driving we arrived in Seward, gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park. Highlights:

  • The Winner Creek Trail is an easily accessible and relatively easy, short hike, well-known to locals for its lush beauty. If you do this, be sure to access the trailhead from the Alyeska Resort, not the other end like we did. That way, you get to cross the footbridge over the roaring Glacier Creek gorge on the way to the famous hand tram. (Unfortunately, the hand tram was out of service when we arrived, so starting at the other end meant a shorter hike and no gorge.)
  • Exit Glacier is a must-see if you are in Seward, the only drive-to glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park. It has receded tremendously in the past 15 years and that trend is only going to continue. It’s about an hour round trip hike to the closest point to the glacier.
  • The Salmon Bake, right next door to our lodge, was an excellent dinner and drinks spot.
  • Exit Glacier Lodge was a funky, very rustic, but inexpensive place to stay and super convenient both to the harbor and Exit Glacier. There were nicer looking places just up Exit Glacier Road, but I didn’t check them out.
  • Local dive bars in Seward that we enjoyed included the Pit Bar, near Exit Glacier Road, and the Yukon Bar in town.

Days 3-6Kenai Fjords National ParkKenai Fjords Glacier Lodge
Pederson Glacier and Lagoon from the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge deck

Now we get to what we came for: Wild Alaska! At 9:15am, we met our boat in Seward (after grabbing coffee and breakfast to go from the Porthole) for the journey into the heart of the Kenai Fjords National Park, where we were treated to 4 days and 3 nights of huge and sublime, remote natural beauty, memorable and fun excursions on water and land, and stellar wildlife viewing. And that was with rain and overcast 3 out of 4 days! While the price tag ain’t cheap, if you can swing this it’s absolutely worth the price — bucket list for sure! Highlights:

  • The four hour boat trip from Seward through Resurrection Bay and into Aialik Bay was a marine wildlife extravaganza. We saw mountain goats, puffins, bald eagles, seals, sea lions and a humpback whale heading out; on the return trip, we saw three pods of humpbacks, including breeching and tail waving, and a pod of six orcas!
  • The Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, one of three wilderness lodges operated by Alaskan Wildland Adventures, consists of a main lodge and fewer than 20 private cabins nestled in the trees along the shore of Pederson Lagoon, tucked deep in Aialik Bay. Accessible only by boat, it’s the only wilderness lodge in the park. The staff and all amenities were outstanding. Highly recommend!
  • Guided canoe & hike trips from the lodge to nearby lakes and Pederson Glacier were fun and educational, and also produced more sightings of sea otters, black bear, salmon and numerous birds.
  • Self-guided, two mile nature walk around Pederson Point through forest, tundra and shoreline was peaceful and beautiful. Don’t forget the bear spray!
  • Our six hour, guided sea kayak trip up Aialik Bay to Aialik Glacier and back was a big highlight. We paddled to within a half mile of the glacier’s 400′ foot and watched a half dozen calving events with huge chunks of ice breaking off into the sea.

Days 7-12Kenai to Denali Road TripSee lodging details below
Matanuska Glacier viewed from the Glenn Highway near Glacier View

With a week to kill between Kenai and Denali, we did a little road tripping from Seward to Whitter, across the Prince William Sound (by car ferry) to Valdez, Glacier View, Talkeetna and finally two nights just outside Denali National Park. The ferry requires advance reservations and carefully timing your arrival to the one-way tunnel through the mountains at Portage Pass to Whittier. The less traveled interior is massive and beautiful, and we continue to be amazed by the sights and sounds we’ve encountered.

Another alternative to this itinerary would be cut the last four days of this journey to one day and substitute a few days in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest in the U.S. and directly on the route (more or less) between Valdez and Glacier View. While that almost-Grand Slam on national parks is romantically appealing, it would have meant some very long driving days, and with this route — which was perfectly enjoyable — we had no more than three hours driving between stops. Here’s a more detailed, chronological breakdown of each place we stayed and visited:

DurationWhere We StayedLodging
1 dayMoose Pass (Kenai)Summit Lake Lodge
1 dayValdezTotem Hotel & Suites
1 dayGlacier ViewSheep Mountain Lodge
1 dayTalkeetnaDenali Overlook Inn
2 daysDenali HighwayDenali Cabins

Highlights:

  • Summit Lake Lodge was a great overnight just an hour out of Seward, after returning by boat from the Kenai right around dinner time. While the bar was already closing when we finished dinner, they stayed open longer just for us.
  • While we had a mostly overcast and rainy day for our six-hour ferry ride across Prince William Sound, we still enjoyed incredible views of countless waterfalls seemingly plummeting straight from glaciers a thousand feet high or more straight into the sea, and the seiners (salmon fishing boats) working the Valdez Arm of the sound were a cool sight as well.
  • Valdez is a working fishing town and had an interesting waterfront scene but is mostly a place to enter or exit Prince William Sound on the way to… anywhere else. Arriving on Monday, most restaurants closed early — we couldn’t get into Valdez Brewing or the Fat Mermaid — so we settled for decent Thai food at Fu Kung (massive servings – two people can easily split one dish and still not finish) and drinks at the Boardroom, a classic dive bar popular with the locals.
  • Before leaving Valdez, we stopped at the Solomon Gulch fish hatchery across the inlet, where we watched sea lions feasting on some of the millions of salmon returning to spawn. That was quite a spectacle. Later in the evening, brown bears (Grizzlies) come down to feed.
  • Driving north from Valdez on the Richardson Highway takes you through Keystone Canyon, a steep, narrow and lush gorge with several impressive roadside waterfalls. Great hiking here, too. I’m told.
  • Sheep Mountain Lodge, in the middle of nowhere on the Glenn Highway, was the perfect stop between Valdez and Talkeetna. No real town there, just this wonderful collection of rustic but comfortable cabins with killer views, a good restaurant and bar, nice hiking trails, opportunities to see Dall sheep (we didn’t), and its own helicopter for glacier tours. Be sure to visit the moose in the greenhouse.
  • The entire Glenn Highway drive from Glenallen to Palmer was gorgeous — massive, unspoiled wilderness as far as the eye can see, popping with mountains, forests, and wildflowers. Never saw a moose though! (It has a rich history in Alaska as well that you can learn about in the fascinating Prince William Sound Museum in Whittier while waiting for the ferry.)
  • The Denali Overlook Inn was a fantastic layover just outside the town of Talkeetna. The innkeeper, Tim, was a terrific host and the views of Denali — when the sky is clear, as it was for us — are spectacular. Cocktails and s’mores at sunset (11:45pm) by the campfire overlooking the Alaska range were the perfect end to the day. Highly recommend this place. We spent our last two nights in Talkeetna at the end of this trip, so I’ll save highlights on the town for later.
  • Heading up the Parks Highway, about an hour north of Talkeetna, we stopped to hike the Curry Ridge Trail at the recommendation of our hosts at the Denali Overlook Inn. This was a fantastic hike – 1000′ of elevation gain (and descent) over 6.5 miles (long, moderate switchbacks, not very difficult) with the most spectacular views of Denali and the Alaska Range we had the entire trip.
  • Denali Cabins, just nine miles short of the Denali National Park entrance, was a very nice place to chill for a couple days after all the driving and one-night stops. On site restaurant and bar, a nice firepit, hot tubs and comfortable cabins were all good. Being next door to Denali Air’s airstrip — our eventual transportation into the park — was a bonus.
  • The Perch restaurant at mile 224 on the George Parks Highway, very close to our cabin, was nothing short of outstanding. Great deck for outdoor dining on a nice day (like ours). Get the salmon tartare hors d’oervres.
  • We spent a day driving into Denali NP to see what we would not during our extended stay coming up. That included the very worthwhile Vistor Center, a visit to the dog kennels to meet the famous mushing huskies that park rangers still use to this day to patrol the park in winter, and a drive to the end of the road for private vehicles (Mile 16 of 92), where we hiked the two mile, out-and-back Savage River loop trail. It was a great day. You can take the bus as far as Mile 43 for best opportunity to see wildlife, but plan on a six-hour roundtrip.

Days 13-16Kantishna / Denali BackcountryKantishna Roadhouse
Trudging across the tundra, mile after mile”… to McKinley Bar, with the Alaska Range in background

The home stretch of our 2+ week road trip across the 49th State included 4 days and 3 nights in the Denali National Park backcountry, accessible only by bush plane – which was a thrilling experience in itself – and two more nights in Talkeetna. Kantishna Roadhouse is one of three all-inclusive backcountry lodges in the entire park, all in this neighborhood, and we chose it for its unique history, riverside location, attractive pricing, and in-cabin plumbing (yes, that mattered).

While the wildlife sightings weren’t all we hoped for (no moose or caribou, one beaver) in Denali, we did get one, unforgettable alone-in-the-wilderness-with-on-very-large-Grizzly-bear experience — exhilarating for sure — and the views of The Great One and pristine, massive and unspoiled wilderness we experienced were off the charts. Making it extra special was the fact that, for whatever reason, we had the lodge and wilderness pretty much to ourselves, save two other couples and our five hosts/guides. This was a fairly pricey destination, but as a once in a lifetime bucket-list adventure, it was worth it! Highlights:

  • Our 5-seater, bush plane flights in and out of the backcountry — required because the lone park road is closed for repair — got us up close and personal with Denali and her surrounding peaks, passes and glaciers, including the Muldrow Glacier that began a massive surge in 2021. Incredible experience! (Even with the $500/pp price tag.)
  • Kantishna Roadhouse is a special place with very cool history. It was the center of activity during the 1905 gold rush and has some historic buildings on the property, including the cabin of Fannie Quigley, a noteworthy pioneer woman, gold miner, hunter and reputed barroom brawler.
  • With only six guests at our lodge that normally accommodates 60-80, most of the cabins were empty and the main lodge and dining room were closed… but that meant we had a more intimate “saloon” set up in the cozy “Musher’s Hall”, and we enjoyed intimate meals with, essentially, our own personal chef in a privately owned cabin next door.
  • The food was nothing short of outstanding, as Billy, our New Orleans trained, Alaska-transplant chef served up fresh baked salmon with homemade Hollandaise, eggs Florentine, pan-seared scallops in an amazing sauce, fresh halibut in another sauce, and incredible desserts. Billy was quite the storyteller as well, so every meal was truly amazing.
  • Our naturalist and guide, Kingsley, led us on great hikes to spectacular backcountry destinations. Blueberries (which we picked for pancakes) were everywhere, cranberries were emerging, and he had encyclopedic knowledge of the native flora and fauna. He also got us our up-close-and-personal grizzly encounter (and got us out alive!). No pictures of the Griz, unfortunately, we were too busy make noise and gathering our stuff.
  • Good fly fishing for grayling on Moose Creek, a mere 50 yards from our cabin. Michelle even got her first fly-casting lesson from Kingsley (no charge, it’s included) and next thing you know, she’s in the river fishing!
  • No TV, phone or internet for 4 days!!

Days 16-17TalkeetnaSusitna River Lodge

After flying back from Denali, we returned to Talkeetna, the halfway point between Denali and the Anchorage airport. for our last two nights in Alaska. We didn’t want to spend another night in Anchorage and we really enjoyed Talkeetna, so this worked perfectly. Denali Overlook Inn wasn’t available this time, so we stayed at the Susitna River Lodge and it was also top notch — much closer to town, in fact, and right on the beautiful Susitna River. Three days total is definitely more than one needs in Talkeetna, but breaking into two shorter stays and getting to know a couple spots made it fun for us. Highlights:

  • Talkeetna is “adventure central” for the Denali Park area, other than visiting the National Park itself. The town is awash in outfitters and services for flightseeing, climbing, rafting, and offroad ATV tours. We skipped these but enjoyed a nice self-guided, 3-mile hike around the Talkeetna Lakes.
  • Talkeetna Riverfront Park is a nice casual place to hang out for a bit, or have a picnic lunch like we did (Spinach Bread and a beer), with spectacular views of Denali (when she’s out) and the river.
  • Spinach Bread — Wherever we had traveled earlier, when people heard we were heading to Talkeetna, they invariably said we must go to Spinach Bread. They were right, it was delicious! We had it twice.
  • We had dinner at several spots — Denali Brewpub was had good BBQ, Kahiltna Bistro was decent but not great — but our favorite spot by far was Mighty High Pizza Pie. Really good pizza, greats beers, live local musicians on the outdoor stage, and a really cool, laidback vibe. We went at least three times. Highly recommend.
  • Fairview Inn is the “real” old school bar, where people go to drink. Walls covered in old newspaper stories, photos and old mining and climbing schlock. We enjoyed an outdoor show by Whey Jennings, Waylon’s grandson, along with the hardcore country music fans.
  • Sunsets across the Susitna River and Alaska Range from the lawn in front of our cabins were awesome. Just as good as the Denali Overlook Inn.

Random thoughts:

  • As noted earlier, this itinerary was dictated in large part because we had a car the entire trip. If we hadn’t gotten the car, a great alternate involving both of the major attractions — Kenai Fjords and Denali — would be to fly into Fairbanks and make it a train journey on the Alaska Railroad, with stops in Denali, Talkeetna, Girdwood/Whittier, and Kenai Fjords (Seward) before returning to Anchorage on the train.
  • Speaking of rental cars, that proved to be an time-consuming, difficult and expensive proposition. No rental locations outside Anchorage and Seward with our destination, and turning in a car in Seward and then renting another 4 days later was not possible. I did learn that Enterprise allows one way pickup and drops between Anchorage and Fairbanks, as long as winter hasn’t set in at the latter.
  • If you plan to hike anywhere in the wilderness, or even established trails off the main roads, carrying bear spray is essential. While a grizzly encounter may not be likely, you would not want that without that safeguard. Fortunately, the bigger lodges have plenty to loan you while hiking their locales. Otherwise, it’s easy to find in stores. Better to buy locally than have to check a bag at the airport to bring your own.
  • Alaska, of course, is huge. We considered adding some other destinations during this trip, but as the top destinations (at least ours) are quite expensive, we opted to save those for another trip. Top of the list of places we want to visit another time include:
Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

4 Weeks in France

Spring 2022 Itinerary & Trip Notes

Hotel de Ville in Paris

Overview: Paris (8 days) > Normandy (4 days) > Loire Valley (2 days) > Bordeaux (3 days) > Perigord/Languedoc (3 days) > Provence (7 days) + Switzerland (6 days), with all travel outside Paris and Switzerland by car.

Bottom Line: We had been to France twice before, first for five days in Paris over 30 years ago and then for three days in Strasbourg just before Christmas 2019. So my perspective of France was fairly limited and not altogether great. I had the stereotypical impression that the French didn’t like Americans and weren’t particularly welcoming or friendly. This trip completely changed all that, entirely for the better. France is truly “a moveable feast”, as Hemingway called it, filled with magnificent history, architecture, art, castles, natural wonders, culture, and yes, incredible food and wine — all of which are very different from one region to the next — and the French people were exceedingly warm, charming, and downright wonderful everywhere we went. We can’t wait to return!

Our itinerary was strongly influenced by my friend, Martin, an American expat living in France, who convinced me that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to Paris and Provence (my original plan) if we had 4 weeks and really hadn’t experienced more of France before. He was absolutely right. If you do have that much time, this was near perfect. With a week less, I’d cut out Bordeaux to start; then it gets hard. The next time we go, now that we’ve done the full tour, we’ll likely spend the entire time settled in Provence with a high speed train into Paris for a few days.


DatesDestinationWhere We Stayed
Day 1-8ParisLa Manufacture du Temple, Sainte-Avoye, Paris | Plum Guide
Tuileries Gardens outside the Louvre

We began our aventure française in Paris, arriving CDG airport from SFO at 10:00am on Friday morning. Took taxi to Paris just to avoid dealing with trains and bags at the outset; train would have been fine, especially with the traffic we encountered. Emily joined us the entire week, Alex the first two days. While we had originally considered spending two weeks here, we cut it back to one so we’d have more time elsewhere. That was a good call, as a week is plenty to do it all. Arriving in late March, we saw the weather go from sunny 70’s F to rainy 50’s to snowy 30’s (for a day) in that one week. Highlights:

  • Rick Steves Historic Paris walk around Ile de la Cite and Latin Quarter. Despite Notre Dame cathedral still closed for renovation and covered with scaffolding, it was a good way to get oriented and start our trip.
  • Biking everywhere around Paris. Get the Velib app and rent bikes for 5 Euros a day. It’s easy to bike left and right banks, across the bridges, along the Seine riverfront, all around town. Dodging traffic can be a bit nerve-wracking at first, but you get the hang of it quickly. Then it’s pure fun. Take the Metro up to Montmartre (unless you like hill climbing) and bike back down.
  • Museums: Louvre, Orsay, Orangerie and Rodin were all very worthwhile. We hit these, as well as St. Chappelle and Napolean’s Tomb at Les Invalides in two days using the two day Museum Pass. This was perfect, and all the museums we needed.
  • Pere Lachaise Cemetery: Free, guided walking tour of the graves of Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein & Alice Toklas, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Isadora Duncan, among others. A good mid-day stop en route to Montmartre.
  • Montmartre: Favorite neighborhood for bars, especially Probido Paris Bleue and Bar Basque (both local hangouts, not fancy but good beer, bartenders and music). Lots of good dinner options as well off the main drag and away from Moulin Rouge, which we did not visit. Sacre Coeur is worthwhile.
  • Catacombs self-guided tour was fun and historically fascinating. Audio guide a must. Do this early in the morning, then hit nearby Luxembourg Gardens for lunch and stroll.
  • Night walk/bike from Le Cler neighborhood to the Eiffel Tower and across the Pont d’lena bridge to the Trocadero to watch the tower lights do their magic at the top of the hour. Then head to the Arc de Triomphe and stroll the Champs Elysee at night.
  • The Marais was a great neighborhood to use as a base. Lively, culturally diverse, good shopping for Michelle. The open air market, Marche des Enfants Rouges, was great for food shopping and casual dining (in a crowd). Cafe Berry on Rue Chapon was our favorite, local morning cafe & breakfast place.
  • Places to hang out, relax and people watch any time of day: Tuileries Gardens (near Louvre), Luxembourg Gardens (left bank), Place des Vosges (Marais). 
  • The “secret” cocktail bar (too noisy to call a speakeasy) hidden behind La Candelaria taco shop in the Marais was fun. Similarly, “No Entry” bar hidden behind the downstairs meat locker at Pink Mamma restaurant in Montmartre.
  • Our daughter, Anna, told us about this great “record store and a bar” called Ruptered Records. We poked our heads in late and it turned out to be just a record store with a small, private party going on. We were welcomed nicely and given beers, so we bought the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet album for Emily. The best things are always unexpected!
  • Other restaurants we liked: Mary Celeste (Marais), Marcello and Le Mastino (both Montmartre Italian restaurants), Mon Square (between Latin Quarter and Le Cler), and any cafe along Rue Reaumer near the Square du Temple Elie Wiesel.

Day 9Giverny & RouenSt. Nicholas and the Carillon of the Cathedral

We caught the train from Paris’ Gare Nord to Giverny to visit Monet’s Gardens, a very nice 3 hour diversion. Then on to Rouen via train for a one night layover on the way to Normandy. Rouen is 1,000 years old, the original Norman capital, and where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy by the English at age 19, after inspiring the French people to fight back against English invaders. France, of course, won that war and Joan was credited, as the king had been weak and ready to be subjugated. This was an excellent stopover en route to Normandy. Highlights:

  • Walk the Rue du Gros Horloge from the Cathedral to Place du Vieux Marche and St. Joan of Arc Church. The market is terrific for every kind of fresh food imaginable, and the church, at the site of Joan’s death, is entirely unique — shaped like a Norman ship. La Couronne, the oldest auberge in France and site of Julia Child’s first French dinner (and very expensive!), is also right there.
  • The massive Cathedral in Rouen, as big as Notre Dame in Paris, was one of Monet’s favorite subjects. He painted it over 30 times from the same location but in different weather and times of day, letting the changing light and mist “hang from the structure” to lend different impressions. Thus, Impressionism.
  • Dinner at Bistro Nova was good, French country fare. Be careful ordering beef, as they deliver huge cuts (don’t be thinking NY strip steaks) and more rare than you’d get stateside. If you like medium rare, order it medium.

Side note: We also picked up rental car here, much better rate than Paris. Small cars are the best for small villages; our Mini Cooper was perfect for two people. We used Sixt, although EuropCar is a good company as well; we’ve had good luck with both.


Days 10-11Bayeux & NormandyManoir Sainte Victoire

We had been looking forward to touring the coast of Normandy’s D-Day sites for the first time, and Bayeux was perfectly situated as our home base and a great little town. It was also the first liberated by the Allies after D-Day. While every place we have visited so far has been beautiful, our guided tours of the D-Day sites, and hearing just a fraction of the heroic stories from those crucial days, will always be a highlight of this trip. Everyone should do it, given the chance. Two days was just the right amount of time. Highlights:

  • Highly recommend our lodging, and our host Frank Brunel was superb (TripAdvisor review here). His English is about the same as our French, but we both had a marvelous time trying our best.
  • Our first two truly outstanding dinners in France. La Rapiere, reputedly the best in the region, was incredible and our hostess (and proprietor) was super friendly and fun. Advance reservations required. Le Pommier was excellent as well and we were able to go spur of the moment.
  • The Bayeux Tapestry Museum is home to a 1000 year old, 70 meter long tapestry retelling the entire history of the Battle of Hastings, in which William the Bastard reclaims the throne from the usurper Harold in 1066, after which he is forever known as William the Conqueror. The tapestry is incredible! Audio guide essential.
  • Full day, guided tour of D-Day landing zones, including Sainte-Mere-Eglise (see photo below with replica of Pvt. John Steele hanging by his parachute from the church steeple), Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Pont-du-Hoc, and Longue-sur-Mer Gun Battery. We had booked Edward Robinson (https://www.battleofnormandytours.com/) at my sisters’ and BIL’s recommendation, but he got COVID the day before and referred us to another excellent guide, Bertrand. There are cheaper tours, but I thought it was very well worth the price (600 Euros). To fully prepare, watch the 1962 movie “The Longest Day” before visiting.
  • The American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer was very powerful, a must-visit. Free, one hour guided tour centered on visits to the graves of three particular fallen soldiers, where we heard their life stories told and the promises they’d made to their loved ones. Very special way of honoring those who might otherwise not be remembered. 

Day 12Mont-St-Michel / Saint MaloHotel Le Nautilus

We hit the road from Bayeux early to get to Mont-St-Michel by 9am, trying to time our arrival to coincide with optimal tide for best access and views of Mont-St-Michel (check the tide tables in advance). Wished we had walked the 35 minutes from the parking lot to the entrance instead of waiting for the bus. It was a great place to see and visit, but we were advised not to overnight there – it’s like Disneyland overrun by tourists. Instead, we drove 30 minutes and spent the night in the walled, oceanfront city of Saint Malo, setting for the book “All the Light We Cannot See” (great book, btw). This was a great call and I highly recommend both the town and our hotel – small, but inexpensive, very comfortable, and awesome owners Edward and Aurélie (TripAdvisor review here). Highlights:

  • Mont-Saint-Michel is well worth it, a hugely important religious pilgrimage destination and an astonishing monument. Take Rick Steves’ recommended back route to the top to avoid the crush of tourists.
  • Walk the ramparts of old town Saint-Malo’s city walls, preferably twice – once at low tide and once at high tide. The difference is mind-blowing (see photos below, abt six hours apart).
  • Le Fabrique was a cool bar just inside the walls, a great stop after a long walk. Try the Calvados!
  • Dinner at L’Entracte was amazing, both the food and service were outstanding. Highly recommend!

Day 13-14Amboise (Loire Valley)Le Manoir les Minimes
Chateau Azay-le-Rideau

We began our two days in the heart of the Loire Valley, famous for its huge chateaus and white wines, with a 3-hour drive from St. Malo to the spectacular Chateau Azay-le-Rideau (another Rick Steves recommendation that did not disappoint), just west of Tours. Then onward to our home base in Amboise, an excellent base for a day and a half of chateau-hopping and fine dining. Two days was just about right. Highlights:

  • Dinner at Chateau de Pray, a Michelin-star dining experience that could not be topped. Seriously, the food was amazing and we had no less than five specialists waiting on us, always on time – never intrusive, but our wine glasses never ran dry. 
  • Chateaus Chenonceau, Cheverny and Chambord in a day. They just have to be seen to be believed. The last was the biggest, but the first two were the best. Truly awesome.
  • Dinner at Les Arpents, a short walk from our manor house. Not nearly as decadent (and pricy) as Chateau de Pray, but another excellent Michelin restaurant nonetheless.
  • Our base at Manoir les Menimes was attractive, comfortable and ideally situated; a little stuffy for my liking, but some would just call it classy. Well stocked, but un-tended bar required you to ask the front desk for service. Location and parking were perfect.

More Photos


Day 15-17BordeauxKey to Bordeaux
Bordeaux’s Pont-de-Pierre from the Quai Louis XVIII riverfront

We drove south to Bordeaux for three days of better weather, more great food and wine country, including a day trip to Saint-Emilion. We had originally planned a day trip to Cap Ferret on the coast for oysters as well, but decided we needed a leisurely down day instead. Turns out the oysters in Bordeaux were perfectly excellent! While I did not have particularly high expectations for Bordeaux, we were pleasantly surprised by our lively neighborhood and excellent dining, drinking and people-watching scene. Highlights:

  • Dinner at Blisss. A complete unique, Michelin-starred dining experience with NO menu, just a 10-small-course, 3 hour dining experience where the chef prepares what inspires him based on fresh products in season. With riddles to guess the magic ingredients in each dish. Very good, very fun, but location is not particularly convenient to the center. 30 minute bus ride to get there and $50 taxi to get home.
  • Dinners at Brasserie Bordelaise (French regional, the penne with fois gras, morels and bacon was out of this world) and Le Petit Commerce (seafood) were also both excellent, especially the former. Better than Blisss for a big, sumptuous meal in the old city center.
  • Day trip to St. Emilion was well worth it. Easy to reach by train or car. Guided tour of the Monolithic Church (in French) booked with the TI was very interesting. Largest church carved out of a single rock in Europe. Walk the stone streets of town from there up to the King’s Keep for great views. We only stopped at one winery and a wine shop; I definitely recommend more, as this is why one comes to St. Emilion.
  • Late breakfast of oysters and chilled white wine at the Marché du Capucins (the “Belly of Bordeaux”) was a high point. The entire covered market is lively and full of great food. Combine with the outdoor market day and you’ve got a real winner.
  • Stroll the riverfront promenade along the Quai St. Louis if the sun is shining. Good view of the bridges and good people watching.
  • Our apartment location at Porte Caillou / Place du Palais was perfect. Porte Caillau is a beautiful landmark, easy to find, and good cafes and bars in the immediate vicinity.

Day 18-19Dordogne River / La Roque-GageacManoir de la Malartrie
La Roque-Gageac on the Dordogne River

We left Bordeaux early for our 3-hour drive to the Perigord Noir in the Dordogne River Valley, famous for riverside castles, truffles and fois gras. The small villages along the river proved to be one of the unexpected highlights of our trip, and our base just outside La Roque-Gageac was exquisite. The drive there was beautiful, too, as we passed through one of the most famous regions in the world for prehistoric cave art. The main town in the region is Sarlat-la-Canéda, which made a very nice day trip to explore, especially on market day. In warm weather, kayaking the river from Betrac to Beynac is the ideal way to spend half a day. Highlights:

  • Our base for two days was Manoir de la Malartrie and it was our favorite place on the entire trip. Just spectacular. Here’s my review on TripAdvisor. Easy walk into La Roque. Enjoy a bottle of local wine high on the garden terraces. Stay there, you will love it.
  • Fois gras. OK, this is controversial to some and we can’t even get it at home, but this is ground zero and it is soooooo good. Unbelievably good. I ate it every chance I got, and je ne regrette rien. (Truffles were out of season, so I didn’t see them.)
  • Explore the small villages of La Roque-Gageac, Beynac-et-Cezenac, and Domme. Le Belvédère is a nice lunch spot in Domme with a fabulous view overlooking the entire river valley. 
  • Chateau Beynac, a massive castle built high on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Dordogne River, was a very cool experience (audio guide very helpful). After defeating the French, Richard the Lionhearted lived here for 10 years. 
  • Dinner at La Belle Etoile in La Roque was outstanding, another Michelin star treat. La Petite Tonnelle in Beynac was also good, more of a local place for families and couples, with super friendly service and a dining room built into a rock cliff face.
  • Driving the country roads linking Sarlat-la-Canéda and the Dordogne River towns. It’s just a beautiful drive and the loop only takes an hour.
  • Given the chance, explore some of the prehistoric sites north of the river valley. Lascaux caves are most famous, but now you can only visit a replica. We hit Grotte Font-de-Gaume, with the best, multi-color cave paintings (25,000 years old), including bison, horses an reindeer, still open to the public. Admission is strictly limited, so you must get there very early during high season. Remarkably, we got in late with a near-private tour because COVID continues to keep travelers away. Also visited Le Roque-St-Christophe, a huge troglodyte cave “city” dating back to Neanderthal man (50,000 years). Both unique-in-the-world stops and well worth it.

More Photos


Day 20CarcassonneLa Maison d’Alix
Madam Carcas guards the gate to the City that she saved by throwing a pig over the wall at invading Romans

Another 3-hour drive south to Carcassonne, 13th century medieval citadel, a good halfway stop en route to Provence. We went principally for its famous Cassoulet at the recommendation of a friend who lives in the south of France. The walled city itself — a UNECSCO World Heritage site — has a fun history and was impressive, if not a little packed with tourists and souvenir shops. If you have time, it’s worth a day. If we had to cut anything out, it would be this. Highlights:

  • The library bar in the Hôtel de La Cité was very cool, if not pricey. Nice change of pace.
  • The gothic church, Basilisque Saint Nazaire, is very cool, with beautiful 13th century stained glass and a stone carved Pieta.
  • Dinner at Le Chaudron, according to some the best cassoulet in town. It was very good.
  • The apartment bills itself as “luxury”, and that’s a serious overstatement, but it was perfectly located, inexpensive, and came with free parking close to the city walls. So that’s something.

Day 21-27Provence – Luberon & Côtes du RhôneSee lodging details below
The Golden Hour overlooking the Luberon Valley from Menerbes

Finally off to Provence! For various reasons, we spent two nights each in St. Remy-de-Provence, Menerbes, and Aix-en-Provence, three very different towns, working our way from west (Carcassonne) to east (toward Nice airport), with a day in Gigondas along the way. We visited the Pont du Gard, a must-see, on the drive to St. Remy. Gigondas is north of the Luberon in the Côtes du Rhône wine country, and we planned to spend our anniversary there with a full day guided wine tour. It was a fantastic experience and well worth the diversion. 

This itinerary, while busy, actually worked out very well with this being our first visit to Provence. If I could change anything in hindsight, it would have been to skip Aix-en-Provence and spend two more days in the Luberon, possibly Lourmarin (which we loved during our lunch stop on the way to Aix) or more time in any of the first three stops. Menerbes, by the way, is the central hilltop village from Peter Mayle’s book “A Year in Provence” and movie “A Good Year”.

When we return, it will be at least a week in one spot in the Luberon, probably two, making day trips from a single base residence. Among those side trips we will be sure to hit some of the places we wanted to see but just didn’t have time, notably Avignon, Arles, and Uzes. Here’s a more detailed, chronological breakdown of each place we stayed and visited:

DurationWhere We StayedLodgingDay Trips To…
2 daysSt. Remy-de-ProvenceHotel du Soleil & SpaLes Baux, Bonnieux, Roussilon
1 dayGigondasHotel Les FloretsCôtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape
2 daysMenerbesA L’Ombre de la Citadel
2 daysAix-en-ProvenceHotel Le PigonnetLourmarin

Provence Highlights (I will break out Gigondas and the Côtes du Rhône region separately):

  • En route to St. Remy, we stopped at Pont du Gard, one of the world’s largest Roman aqueducts. Built in approximately 50 AD, the main arch is the largest surviving Roman arch in the world and the bridge is the second tallest Roman structure anywhere, just 6 feet shorter than the Colosseum. No mortar used in the construction at all! It was truly amazing and the riverbank below made a great picnic lunch spot. 
  • Dinner at Les Cocottes in Saint-Remy was a lovely find and our best dinner of our two nights here. Great food, wine and service, and a wonderful extended chat with a German couple at the table next to ours who had been coming there for years. Highly recommend.
  • Les Baux de Provence: Ruined 10th century, hilltop castle/fortress, a short, pretty drive from St. Remy. You can climb the highest towers for incredible views, just be careful!
  • A short walk below the castle at Les Baux, deep in an old stone quarry in the mountain, is an amazing art installation called Les Carrières de Lumières. Huge projections of multi-layer images, some in motion projecting remarkable depth, covered every surface. Accompanied by classical music, the show on the history of Venice, literally immersed in the dynamic art, was mind-blowing. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. We will hit this again for their latest installation when we return.
  • Our villa in Menerbes was the best Airbnb I’ve ever seen. Perched high on a bluff overlooking the Luberon valley, huge, beautifully appointed, built into a rock cliff face, hot tub in a private courtyard with high rock walls, and a short walk to the cafes in Menerbes. Short drive to all the other Luberon towns you’d want to see, including Bonnieux (nice lunch, beautiful town), Gordes (post-card view) and Roussillon.
  • The Ochre Cliffs trail walk in Roussillon. The town itself was very small, perched on a hill, but made a nice café stop after our hike.
  • Lunch at Le Comptoir in Lourmarin was a favorite stop, mostly because a) Peter Mayle raved about the carpaccio lunch in his book “My 25 Years in Provence” (he was right, it was great) and our chance meeting with an American expat who’d been living in Provence for the past 10 years with his artist wife who owns a gallery in town.
  • Our hotel in Aix, Le Pigonnet, was a lavish luxury to finish our trip. Not as nice as Manoir de la Malartie in the Perigord (and 3x the price), but it was still very plush, beautiful gardens, a spa/hamman (that I used quite happily), and an excellent restaurant.
  • The Cathedrale Sainte-Savoire in Aix was very impressive, and unique inside. Surrounding the large, full-immersion baptismal font are huge paintings depicting each of the seven sacraments.
  • While there are hundreds of restaurants, cafes and bars in Aix’s pedestrian-friendly city center to choose from, we enjoyed excellent casual dining at Di Micheli Trattoria (pizza) and Le Forum (pasta, burgers, etc.).

Côtes du Rhône Highlights:

The Dontelles looming over the hillside vines of Gigondas
  • Our guided/chauffeured Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine tour with Olivier Hickman’s Wine Uncovered was a terrific introduction to French wine, with an emphasis on terroir and the differences between the local subregions. Generous tastings of 4-5 wines at each stop. Hickman was extremely knowledgeable and very funny. A great day.
  • Hotel Les Florets, high in the hills above Gigondas, was a fantastic spot to spend a night and enjoy our anniversary dinner. The chef surprised us with a special candlelit dessert and lovely Beaumes-de-Venise Muscat to celebrate. Here is my TripAdvisor review. The easy hike from the hotel up into the Dontelles was spectacular as well.
  • Rick Steves’ Côtes du Rhône wine country drive. We did the loop from Gigondas > Vaison-la-Romain > Crestet > Suzette > Beaumes-de-Venise, with a stop for Easter Mass in the little town of Rasteau (100% locals, all French), before driving back to the Luberon. A beautiful one-hour drive and the mountain pass by Suzette was particularly stunning. Miles of vineyards and rugged mountains. 

Thus ended our incredible four week journey exploring the various regions of France. With another week or two, we would have loved to also visited Burgundy — especially the town of Beaune, which my sisters raved about — and the mountain region of Chamonix and Mount Blanc. Lastly, while the famous Côte d’Azur (French Riviera) has never been a big draw for me, especially the glitzy tourist meccas like Nice, Cannes and St. Tropez, I would like to spend a few days in the smaller seaside towns of Antibes and Villefranche-sur-Mer, which was our originally planned finale to this trip before we re-routed to…


Swiss Surprise Ending

Our original plan to spend our last two days/nights in Villefranche-sur-Mer on the Cote d’Azur before flying home from Nice was altered by daughter Emily’s and fiancé Alex’s surprise wedding announcement. Instead, we flew from Nice to Zurich, where we met up with the entire family, before heading on to Heiden for the wedding the following day, then took the train to Ticino for three days on Lake Maggiore with the girls and sons-in-law before flying home from Zurich. If France was a seven course meal, this was dessert — the the centerpiece being Emily and Alex’s wedding cake, of course!

DatesDestinationWhere We Stayed
Day 28Zurich Old TownHotel Rossli
Days 29-30HeidenZur Fernsicht
Days 31-33Locarno (Lake Maggiore)Villa Ginia

Highlights:

  • The WEDDING, of course!
  • Dining after the wedding at Zur Fernsicht, where the wedding was held and we all stayed, was also fantastic. Two Michelin stars.
  • Pre-wedding dinner at Oepfelchammer in Zurich Old Town, my favorite restaurant in town.
  • Long hikes in the hills around Heiden, with views across Switzerland, Germany and Austria.
  • Our apartment, Villa Ginia, in Locarno was spacious, comfortable, and perfectly located a short walk to the lakefront and the heart of Locarno.
  • Valle Verzasca. Took the bus up the valley and hiked down the beautiful riverside trail from the town of Brione to Lavertezzo. The valley is stunningly beautiful, deep and lush with a vibrant, bright green river. At the bottom of the valley sits the Verzasca Dam, famous as the site of James Bond’s bungee jump at the opening of “Goldeneye”. Lunch at Osteria Paradiso (“the Grotto”) in Lavertezzo was excellent.
  • Boat ride from Locarno to nearby Ascona (scenic waterfront cafes) by way of the tiny island Isole di Brissago and its botanical gardens was a very nice way to spend a day on the water.
  • Pizza in Locarno. All the pizza was great.

More Photos of Zurich/Heiden and Heiden/Locarno

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Weeks in Belize

January 2022 Itinerary & Trip Notes

Overview: Belize City (2 days) > Placencia (2 days) > Belize Barrier Reef Sailing (7 days) > Bermudian Landing (2 days) with our friends the Chiappettas and Hoffmans.

The Bottom Line: Belize is all about being on the water, where snorkeling and diving the world’s second largest barrier reef with its spectacular marine life is out of this world, and the wonderful Belizean people who are proud but extremely friendly, welcoming and eager to share their love of the sea. Skip Belize City, hire a local skipper, and spend at least a week on the water.


Day 1-2Belize CityHarbor View Boutique Hotel & Yoga Retreat

We flew into Belize City for two days, meeting up with the Chiappettas, thinking it would be an ideal place to start before heading south. While our lodging was fine, we learned there is very little to do or see here. Worse, poverty is quite bad, panhandling and offers of “$5 shoe shines and massages” is pretty aggressive, and roaming off the main drags is a risky proposition. I would not recommend visiting here.

More Photos


Day 3-4Day 3-4Rotunda Seafront VRBO House

We flew 50 minutes south to Placencia where we met up with our friends and sailing companions, Arthur and Jody Hoffman, at the house they had rented on the beach in Placencia. This place was sweeeeet! But aside from a couple nice dinners in the small, very laid-back beach town and waiting for our boat to be ready, the big highlight was two days of open water dives to complete my SCUBA certification! Highlights:

  • Our VRBO rental house was fantastic, large and comfortable, right on the beach, and super convenient to both the airport and town. Golf carts, which can be rented, are the best mode of transportation. Best yet, we sprang for a chef to prepare and serve an incredible dinner with the best local flavors (unfortunately, I don’t have his contact info). Bug spray is essential in the back yard, especially near the beach.
  • Getting my SCUBA certification with Seahorse Dive Shop. My instructor, Max, was terrific and our dives at Silk Cayes and Laughing Bird Caye were out of this world – swimming with nurse sharks, loggerhead turtles, moray eels, manta rays and tons of fish among the corals at 40-60 feet under. Unfortunately, no pics from those dives.
  • Great local beers and decent food at Hobbs Brewery, built on an old decommissioned barge.
  • Dinner at Rumfish y vino was pretty good, and the upstairs dining deck offers views of the street below. For a higher end splurge, we also enjoyed Mare at Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn, just down the road from our house.

More Photos


Days 5-11Belize Barrier Reef SailingSunsail

The centerpiece for this trip, and the reason we went, was this 7-day chartered sailing adventure along the incredible Belize Barrier Reef. Having our local skipper and seafaring soul, Dwayne Young, and cook, Miss Malou, made the journey extra special – and a licensed skipper is required to sail Belize. While we motored most places, given prevailing wind and prevalence of shallow reefs, we actually had good sailing a couple days. Overnight anchorages included King Lewey’s Caye, Glover’s Atoll, Tobacco Caye, Southwater Caye, Hideaway Caye, and Lark Caye. Highlights:

  • Our yacht, a Sunsail 454 catamaran, was perfect for our three couples plus skipper and cook. Plenty of room, air conditioned staterooms, large lounge areas fore, aft and up top, and all the amenities one could want. We never felt crowded. If you sail, a catamaran is essential for navigating the reef due to its much lower draft than a monohull.
  • Our skipper, Dwayne, was beyond incredible. A true man of the sea, he knew the waters like the back of his hand and took us places that we never would have thought of while steering us away from the overrated places. He was also a terrific fisherman, and we ate fresh amberjack and lobster that he caught daily.
  • Snorkeling virtually everywhere was fantastic, as the reef is alive with colorful corals, fish, turtles and lobsters in crystal clear, warm water. Far superior to the BVI or anywhere else I’ve seen.
  • King Lewey’s Island, our first night anchorage and only on-shore dinner, was kitchy but fun with its over-the-top pirate theme. Drinks and food were both great and it made for a great first night, before sailing on in the morning to…
  • 2 days and 3 nights spent inside Glover’s Reef Atoll, a two hour sail outside the barrier reef with a huge anchorage protected from the ocean swell. There is a local dive shop, but the dive master was gone so we had to settle for awesome snorkeling and lobster diving among the patch corals on the interior. Virtually no other boats to be seen, we had this marine sanctuary to ourselves. The beach bar at the Manta Island Resort was a nice diversion with a beautiful white sand beach, completely deserted.
  • Tobacco Caye was a great stopover, with a decent dive shop, a marine research center (I bought a shirt), and great beach bar tended by Kirk Westby, the Barefoot Bartender (I bought his book, which he signed).
  • Cocktails on the stern or upper decks watching mind-boggling sunsets every night to the strains of Jerry Jeff Walker, Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley. Never gets old. Here is my playlist.

More Photos


Days 12-13Bermudian Landing VillageHowler Monkey Resort

With a couple days to kill after sailing and not wanting to return to Belize City, we called an audible, flying back to Belize and heading into the jungle 30 minutes drive from the Belize airport. Billing itself as an eco-resort, this place was small, rustic, family owned and operated (with no other staff), and we were the only ones there. Our hosts were friendly, though the vibe was a bit weird. Food was okay and beers were self-serve on the honor system. No bar. And never saw or heard a howler monkey. I’d recommend looking for a different place. Highlights:

  • Boardwalk to the riverside cabins through semi-jungle and moderately kept gardens felt very authentic, and lots of pretty tropical flowers. 
  • Took a boat tour with our host and his son up the river looking for wildlife. While the boat was nothing to shout about, we did see dozens of iguanas in the bush, a couple monkeys, and decent exotic birdlife.  
  • It wasn’t Belize City.

Random Notes:

  • We chose Placencia as our base for sailing because that’s where Sunsail is based, and we like them as an outfitter from past experience in the BVI. Consequently, we did not get to experience San Pedro and Ambergris Caye, the most popular destination in Belize with reputedly the best nightlife and dining ashore. Because of that and its proximity to Caye Caulker and hundreds of small islands inside the reef, we will probably go there next time.
  • Plan on drinking lots of Belikin beer. It’s what you do.
  • The exchange rate for the Belizean dollar is almost exactly 2:1 to the U.S. dollar.
  • While we don’t have first hand knowledge, our friends the Hoffmans spent a couple days at an eco-lodge in the mountains called Gaia River Lodge, and they raved about it. “Face the waterfall” they say.
Posted in Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Croatia – Slovenia – Italy – Switzerland

September 2021 Itinerary & Trip Notes

Overview: Dubrovnik (4 days) > Split (1 day) > Adriatic Coast Sailing (7 days) > Plitvice Lakes National Park (2 days) > Ljubljana (3 days) > Lake Bled (2 days) > Soca River (2 days) > Italian/Swiss Alps (3 days) > Zurich/Berner Oberland (7 days)

Bottom Line: What started out as a weeklong family sailing vacation in Croatia, planned before COVID altered everyone’s plans in 2020, morphed into a monthlong adventure across Croatia and neighboring Slovenia built around that week of sailing, winding up in Emily’s adopted home of Switzerland by way of the Italian Alps. All of these regions are absolutely stunning. So… 4 countries, 5 islands, 11 towns for lodging, many others visited en route, 130 nautical miles sailing, 965 miles driving, and 100 miles or so of mountain hiking later, this may have been the best trip yet. Very little I would do differently. (Though if you are into sailing, you could cut out that week and, time permitting, spend more time in the Soca River Valley or possibly visit Zagrab — Croatia’s capital I’ve heard is great — or Zadar further up the coast.)


Day 1-4Dubrovnik“Niko’s Place” 
Overlooking the Old City and Lokrum Island from the top of Mount Srd, just before sunset.

Michelle and I began our long overdue, COVID delayed-long Eastern European holiday — in the historic city of Dubrovnik. For centuries, Dubrovnik rivaled Venice for maritime domination of the known world. It’s wall Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage site and more recently known as the locale for “King’s Landing” of Game of Thrones fame. It was the perfect place to start our exploration of Croatia. Highlights:

  • Great apartment at ground zero outside city walls, and our host Niko was fantastic, even picking us up at the airport.
  • Walk the old town city walls on your own, start early to beat crowds and sun. 
  • Guided historical tour of old town and surrounds with Game of Thrones accent was fun. Lots of tour guides available on Airbnb.
  • Boat to Lokrum Island made a great day trip in a beautiful setting, with a cool 600-year old monastery, a beautiful and easy hike around the island through unspoiled nature and occasional ancient ruins and terrific views back to Dubrovnik — and the topper, swimming in the crystal blue Adriatic Sea from a massive volcanic “beach” (water shoes are helpful) very popular with the locals.
  • Take the gondola to the top of Mount Srd for an amazing sunset overlooking the walled city. Dinner at the summit is possible but pricey. Have to get there early to get a table with a view. Or bring your own bottle of wine and sit on the cliff drinking it all in like the locals do.
  • Dinners at Lady Pi Pi, Kopun and Azul were all excellent, highly recommended.
  • Plavac Mali wine from the Peljesac peninsula. 
  • Buza Bar on the cliffs abutting the city wall – great place to relax with a drink or two in the late afternoon – and once again, diving into the sea and climbing back out for your drink is all the rage here.

More Photos


Day 5-6Makarska & SplitClock Tower Apartment

Departing Dubrovnik, we rented a car and drove to Split via the coastal road for maximum beauty and good lunch stop in the seaside town of Makarska (5 hour drive with stop). While a longer drive than the direct inland route, it was well worth the extra time to get the beautiful views and glimpse the small, seaside towns, much like California’s Highway 1 (but older).

Arriving in Split, we met up with our girls, Josh and Alex, nephew Dan, and Anna’s college roommate, Sarah. Our apartment atop Diocletian’s Palace, ground zero for Split, was good for a large group like ours, otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s pretty spartan and not particularly comfortable for Michelle’s taste. My least favorite place on the entire trip, but the palace is fascinating and it served well as a point to meet up ahead of our sailing trip. Highlights:

  • A guided historical tour is very worthwhile for uncovering the history and hidden niches of the Diocletian’s Palace, and our guide — a young woman who had actually worked on some of the restoration — was very funny and entertaining
  • Gin is popular in Split, so gin & tonics at KaKantun Specialty Coffee and Gin Bar was a big hit with the group.

Days 7-13Sailing TripNautilus Sailing
“If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there.” — Captain Ron

The centerpiece of our trip was a seven-day, bareboat cruising adventure along the Adriatic coast out of Marina Kastela, near Split, with a hired local skipper. Chartered our 45’ Lagoon 450 catamaran from Nautilus Sailing, who provided outstanding service as we booked, had to cancel during Covid, and then rebooked the next year. 

Overnighted at islands Šolta, Brač (once heading out and again coming back), Pakleni Otoci (across from Hvar), and Vis (one night each at Vis Town and Komiza). Two very special treats were lavish dinners high in the mountains at local ranches arranged by our skipper, Martin. Bucket list adventure for sure; one non-stop highlight, though in hindsight, I would consider a one way sailing trip from Dubrovnik to Split or the reverse in order to get to Korcula, Lastova and Mljet, too.

Highlights from each day, starting with our first — sailing from Marina Kastela to Masalinka, then another more picturesque, unnamed bay for our first night anchorage at Šolta…

…before heading out the next morning for a day of cruising and swimming along the east coast of Hvar. We docked for the night in Stari Grad (yet another UNESCO World Heritage site) and headed up high in the hills for cocktails, a little bocce ball, and the most incredible dinner at Konoba Rugonj — octopus baked peka style with seemingly endless local wine. Definitely a highlight that will be hard to beat!

Sunset dinner at Konoba Rugonj overlooking Hvar

Next morning, we made our way around the point for Pakleni Otoci, a chain of small islands directly across from Hvar Town, the crowded and glitzy tourist hot spot we opted to peek at before moving on. Lots of good anchorages, low key beach bars, and amazingly beautiful water.

Next stop — Two days on the island of Vis, once a military base when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia, both beautiful and off limits to tourists, including Yugoslav civilians. We got lucky with fair weather and mild swell from the southwest so we could anchor comfortably at Komiža for a night, with second night tucked in at Vis town harbor. Had fun exploring both towns by foot with some nice sailing (motoring), great swimming stops, including the cool hole-in-the-wall beach at Stiniva, and magical sunsets along the way.

Our penultimate sailing day took us back to the island of Brač, anchoring in Milna and heading back into the hills for another fantastic local gourmet experience, country style. The next morning, we finished up our Dalmatian coast cruising trip with a final day swimming and relaxing on Solta.


The Red Twin and her happy crew at anchor.

More Photos:   Split and Šolta   |   Šolta, Hvar, and Pakleni Otoci   |   Vis  |   Brač


Day 14-15Plitvice Lakes National ParkB&B Plitvicka Lodge

After returning to our yacht base, we said goodbye to most of our crew before Emily and Alex, Anna, and Michelle and I picked up a new rental car and drove three hours north along the coast and then inland to the mountain home of Plitvice Lakes National Park, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site (our 4th in Croatia) and one of the most striking natural wonders in all of Europe.

After an afternoon relaxing at our lodge, we spent a day exploring the 12 kilometers of boardwalks and stone staircases around 16 lakes and dozens of waterfalls and caves formed by natural travertine and tufa barriers created by calcium carbonate in the water and limestone rock interacting for eons.

I highly recommend staying at B&B Plitvica Lodge, a beautiful retreat where our host Karlo and his niece Martina served up authentic home cooking — Croatian goulash one night and peka style baked chicken and mushroom pasta the next, with good local wines — and kept the Rakija flowing!  Incredible hospitality. Read my review on TripAdvisor


Day 16-18Ljubljana, SloveniaAntiq Palace Hotel
The famous Triple Bridge leading to Prešeren Square

After two spectacular weeks in Croatia, we head north for three days in Ljubljana, the small and very charming capital of Slovenia. Light on “must see” tourist attractions, it’s just a great city to hang out in, explore the river walk and backstreets, and relax. The border crossing by car was interesting, as you must first go through a Croatian checkpoint and then, 30 yards ahead, a Slovenian checkpoint — with identical document handling requirements. Highlights:

  • Our hotel was a very nice, comfortable splurge, just a block off the riverwalk – though the price wasn’t terribly high. I recommend it, if it works for your budget.
  • The free walking tour (tips expected) from the TI office was very worthwhile. Emphasized both the architecture of local hero, as well as France Prešeren, Ljubljana’s favorite poet, and Yugoslav/Slovenian history, which was centered here, including revolution and the evolution from communism to democracy.
  • One hour boat tour on the Ljubljanska River that winds through the heart of the city, with a beautiful view of the castle framed by the river. Well worth the 10 Euro price.
  • Day hike through the large and leafy Tivoli Park was nice. The outdoor tavern in the shade at the top of the hill was a welcome break from the sun, too.
  • Evening mini-opera performed in a square under the floodlit castle, sitting on folding chairs with cocktails in hand, was a cool treat.
  • Kolibri Cocktail Bar, the best speakeasy in town and only 50 meters from our hotel.

More Photos


Day 19-20Lake BledPenzion Kaps
Emily and Alex at Lake Bled

Only four of our original 10 travelers remaining, we head to Lake Bled, barely an hour north of Ljubljana and a place everyone we’ve met and all I’ve read says is fairly magical. Definitely has the fairytale look, though it’s pretty commercial and finely tuned to take tourist $$ at every opportunity. That said, we packed a lot into two days and even got to take in the 2021 International Rowing Regatta up close and personal. Highlights:

  • 3 hour hike around the lake was beautiful and a great way to take it in from every angle. We took a detour up to Bled Castle on the cliff overlooking the lake with its terrific views, and stopped for a cocktail at the famous Vila Bled on the home stretch.
  • Take the famous Pletna boat to visit the tiny church on the lake’s picturesque island. If you like, you can pay 13 Euros to go inside the Church of the Assumption, make a wish, and ring the tower bell (picture the Hunchback of Notre Dame tugging that giant rope!)
  • Day trip hiking Vintgar Gorge was a highlight. The gorge and its river are stunning, and the vantage point from the boardwalks along the river can’t be beat.
  • Day trip to Lake Bohinj, at the base of the Julian Alps, is very worthwhile if you have a third day. Or, you can do as we did and hit it on the way to the Soca River valley.

More Photos


Day 21-22Soca River ValleyPristava Lepena
Welcome to Pristava Lepena

After leaving Bled, we made our way to the Soča River Valley in the Julian Alps, with a short visit to Lake Bohinj en route to our new home base at Pristava Lepena. The mountains and Soča River drainage are spectacular and left little doubt we’ve left “the city” behind. Great hiking and good food amidst stunning natural beauty make for a very good night’s sleep! Highlights:

  • Lake Bohinj is beautiful, tucked into the base of the Julian Alps in Triglav National Park. Great hiking around the lake and the small villages are charming. With more time, it would be good for a night or two, and it is well known as a starting point for extended hikes into the Alps.
  • Car train from Bohinjska Bistrica to Most Na Soči was unique and fun, including a ride through a tunnel in the mountains over 6 kilometers long.
  • Pristava Lepena is a rustic ranch style lodge with Lippizaner Stallions and great access to hikes in the Alps (including trails along the famous WWI Soča Front, site of brutal battles between Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies) and along the beautiful, green Soča River. Great fly fishing and easy rafting/kayaking optional.
  • While we did not get a chance to do this, the nearby Vršič Pass between Trenta and Kranjska Gora is supposed to be a spectacular, if not thrilling, drive.

More photos


Day 23-24Lago di Braies, ITHotel Pragser Wildsee
Lago di Braies (aka Pragser Wildsee) from our lodge window

Leaving Slovenia, we drove from Slovenia into Italy via a mountain pass near Učja, a spectacular drive that included a 15km, one way, white-knuckle cliffside road that that Emily called the most terrifying road she’s ever traveled, including the infamous Death Road in Bolivia! After the pass, lunch in any small mountain village will do just fine.

After 3 hours of driving the Tyrolean Alps, we made our destination of Lago di Braies — a very popular resort destination, we learned on arrival, even for local day trippers — in the middle of the Dolomites (yet another UNESCO World Heritage site). Also callled Pragser Wildsee, depending on whether you speak Italian or German, the region was originally Austrian but was given to Italy after WWI, thus it retains heritage from both. These two days of some of the most spectacular mountain scenery I’ve ever seen. If we had more time, I’d spend a week in the Dolomites. Highlights:

  • Staying at the Hotel Pragser Wildsee is a must, both because it’s wonderful and it’s really the only option other than rustic Airbnb’s. If you do, get the half-board, as the food is outstanding and you get a better deal on price.
  • Great, easy hike around the lake covers about 3 miles of spectacular geology and scenery tucked into a mountain bowl.
  • Take a romantic rowboat on the lake because, well, you just can’t come here and not do it.
  • There are many bigger day hikes all around the Dolomites; we did the hike to the summit of Monte Specie and back — a short drive from Lago di Braies — and it was great, both for the uniquely stunning beauty and the historical WWI sites along the route. Be sure to stop at the Strudelkopf alpine hut stop for lunch.

More Photos


Day 25-26Guarda, SwitzerlandBoutique Hotel Romatika

On leaving Lago di Braies, we took a gorgeous drive along the Alpine highway, ultimately climbing Stelvio Pass (another incredibly scenic but white-knuckle drive) into Switzerland’s Graubunden region, through CH’s only national park, to the small, charming Swiss mountain village of Guarda with no plan and no reservations. Romantika is affiliated with the Hotel Meisser, a very nice resort hotel overlooking the mountains and valley below. Great place for a day or two, and more endless hiking options. Highlights:

  • A general lack of foreign tourists and no big attractions: just a sleepy alpine town for beautiful views and relaxing strolls (or ambitious mountain hikes, had we more time).
  • Sunset cocktails from the spacious garden at Hotel Meisser.
  • Dinner at Restaurant Dalet, affiliated with the Meisser Lodge, was outstanding. Highly recommend.

After leaving Guarda, we had a lovely drive to Zurich for a one day layover, staying at Hotel Krone Unterstrasse, a comfortable but unremarkable business class hotel near Emily’s neighborhood. The Altstadt (old town) would be much better for first-timers exploring Zurich.


Day 27-30Lauterbrunen/Gimmelwald
Grindelwald
Pension Gimmelwald
Eiger Selfness Hotel & Spa 
The Big 3 — Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau from the Valley View trail

After a recharge day in Zurich, we reunited with Alex and headed off to the Berner Oberland, taking the train from Zurich to Lauterbrunnen, then gondola up to Grutschalp, followed by gorgeous 6km backpack across the Valley View trail to Murren, and finally a short gondola ride to the tiny village of Gimmelwald, perched high on the mountain overlooking the valley.

We spent two days in Gimmelwald and a third night and two days in Grindelwald. More spectacular mountain scenery dominated by the iconic Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks, mind blowing hikes up and down steep river canyons, and general lack of crowds – at least in Gimmelwald. Great way to finish our mountain adventures this trip. Highlights:

  • This region is what Switzerland and the Alps are all about. The absolute pinnacle, and the spectacular vistas, fresh air, and glorious mountain vibe just don’t stop.
  • The journey by train to Lauterbrunnen and gondola to Grutschalp (and down from Gimmelwald) were a highlight themselves. The gondola is quite a thrill.
  • Our lodge in Gimmelwald was fantastic – true Swiss mountain lodging, with drop-dead views, lovely people, good food, and their very own, delicious beer Schwarz Monch!
  • Fantastic day hikes to Chilchbalm (17km round trip from Gimmelwald) and Trachsellauenen (15km out and back from Stechelberg). The former led to a gorgeous canyon head with caves, waterfalls and wildflowers; the latter led to a rustic mountain hut serving hot lunch and schnapps.
  • Day hike to Bachalpsee from First (12km round trip, after a long, scenic gondola ride from Grindelwald), one of several hiking options in the region. Bachalpsee was a pretty, lakeside destination with great alpine views, and the “thrill walk” along the cliffs at First was truly thrilling.
  • Grindelwald is more crowded — a major tourist hub — and not quite as beautiful as Lauterbrunnen valley, but it is still pretty spectacular and easy access to Eiger and Kleine Scheiddig hiking. (We had hoped to hike the Eiger Trail from Alpiglen to Eigergletscher and then on to Kleine Scheidegg via the Jungfrau Eiger Trail but didn’t have time.)
  • Our hotel in Grindelwald was quite nice and had an excellent restaurant and the best hotel spa/hammam experience I’ve ever had. I recommend it.
  • The Avocado Bar in Grindelwald is the spot to get beers and relax on the back deck staring at the Eiger North Face.

More Photos


Day 31-32ZurichHotel Kindli

So after 4 countries, 5 islands, 11 towns for lodging, many others visited en route, 130 nautical miles sailing, 965 miles driving, and 100 miles or so of mountain hiking, we finally returned to the “big city” of Zurich for the last couple days of our trip. We splurged on very nice hotel in Zurich’s Old Town. Fun dinner at traditional Zeughauskeller and very nice dinner at Oepfelchammer restaurant.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas and New Years: London > York > Edinburgh

2019 Itinerary and Trip Notes

This is the first of what I hope will be many future posts on fun, exciting and educational trips we’ve taken that help answer the frequent questions that usually accompany returning home. Like: Where’d you go? Where’d you stay? What did you like? What would you do differently? And so forth. So here you go, let me know what you think. Meanwhile, back to planning the next adventure!

Cheers from the Porcupine

Overview: London (4 days) > York (2 days) > Edinburgh (3 days), following two days in Zurich and three days in Strasburg, France.

The Bottom Line: Christmas and New Years in the UK is a special time to visit, as nothing quite warms you up from the winter cold like a nice warm pub, especially all lit up for the holidays like the Churchill Arms, and Hogmany in Edinburgh is a world-renowned New Years Eve party, even if you choose to avoid ground zero and enjoy the festivities from a distance.


Dates and LocationWhere We Stayed
Day 1-4: LondonKensington Townhouses

We had a brilliant time in merry old London, arriving Christmas Eve with Emily & Alex, Anna, and nephew Chris. Though 4 days is really not enough to do London justice, we still managed our fair share of incredible culture, history, and historic pubs. Highlights:

  • Our 3BR Airbnb apartment in the neighborhood of Kensington was a perfect base. Right by Hyde Park, easy food shopping nearby, the Elephant & Castle pub literally outside our doorstep, and three other great pubs – Churchill Arms, Windsor Castle and Prince of Wales – a short walk away. 
  • If you go during Christmas, popping in to the Churchill Arms (just up the street from our place) for drinks is mandatory. They do Christmas decorations right!
  • Christmas dinner at the Park Terrace Restaurant at the Royal Garden Hotel, right on the edge of Hyde Park, was a very nice splurge. 
  • Exploring the neighborhoods of Soho, Whitechapel and Shoreditch, the latter two once downtrodden but now quite lively and a bit less touristy. Plenty of good restaurants and pubs, including the Duke of Argyll, with its small upstairs dining room and fireplace.
  • Daytime tours of the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast are both outstanding, especially the former. Buy an inexpensive Imperial War Museums annual membership and save a ton of time skipping to the front of the line.
  • The Borough Market, a huge open air market, was a big hit for the entire family.
  • Walking the city at night, especially when the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Tower Bridge are all lit up. Of course, frequent pub stops are a must as it’s very thirsty work.
  • Other favorite pubs we hit included the Old Bank, Lamb & Flag, the Tipperary (oldest Irish pub in London), Blackfriar’s, Cheshire Cheese, Round House, Porcupine, Crown & Shuttle, and the Toucan (best Guinness in town).

More Photos


Day 5-6: YorkDean Court Hotel

Took the train from London to York for our two-night stay. 48 hours was just about right. 1900-year old, small and completely walkable walled old town center with fascinating Roman, Viking and English history. Oh, and great food and pubs. Highlights:

  • York Minster is the largest gothic cathedral north of the Alps. Headless statues inside are called the “semaphore saints”, as they are signaling “Christ is here” as a response to Henry VIII who had decapitated Catholic statues so their haloes would not be seen.
  • Walking the city walls for great history and terrific views.
  • House of Trembling Madness was our favorite pub in town, both for the beers and the ambience. Walls are covered with animal heads and the old timbered ceiling is very cool.
  • In addition to being a hotel and restaurant, the Guy Fawkes Inn, named for one of the principals involved in the Gunpowder Conspiracy of 1605, which planned to blow up the House of Lords in London, also has a cool bar and, on some nights, live blues music. We caught a local duo doing a blistering set of American blues.
  • The traditional Sunday Roast with Yorkshire Pudding at the Ye Olde Starre Inne.

More Photos


Days 7-9: Edinburgh, ScotlandOld Town Chambers

Took the morning train to Edinburgh, arriving in time for lunch on New Year’s Eve. Our stay at Old Town Chambers, just off the Royal Mile, was recommended by our friends Paul and Deb and was perfect. Highlights:

  • Walking the Royal Mile end to end is a must, despite being ground zero for touristy Old Edinburgh. There’s a reason for it. Enjoyed our stop at the World’s End pub, but skipped Deacon Brodie’s, inspiration for the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • Edinburgh Castle, at the top of the Royal Mile, is massive, quite spectacular, and a very worthwhile visit. Tons of history and incredible sights.
  • Celebrate Hogmanay from the top of Calton Hill, overlooking the fireworks and the spectacle of all the revelers “down there’ in the town center.
  • Grassmarket neighborhood behind Edinburgh Castle is a good stroll, with lots of decent restaurants and bars away from all the crowds.
  • Day hike up to Arthur’s Seat, a very popular hike with spectacular views. Fairly chilly and the wind was howling, all the more the closer we got to the top. Afterward, hike down the back side for a hot lunch and beers (or the excellent blackberry and thistle cider) at the Sheep Heid Inn, one of two pubs we found claiming to be the oldest in Edinburgh.
  • Kay’s Bar, a tiny Victorian bar in a quiet residential neighborhood between the Old Town and New Town, was a real treat. 100% locals – who will quickly chat you up, recognizing you immediately as a stranger – with a tiny coal fireplace and excellent whisky selection.

More Photos



Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time for a Change

An old friend, former colleague and one-time boss of mine once said: “Change is good. The absence of change usually means your dead.” I appreciated the sentiment at the time and it always stuck with me, and in fact it’s something I’ve repeated to friends and colleagues many times in the intervening years, usually when they were fretting about some impending, you know, change.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most in my career has been fairly frequent change… in jobs, in employers, in systems and tech, and in the people I’ve gotten to work with (mostly meeting new people I’ve really enjoyed knowing). After spending almost 11 years with one very large, well established company early in my career, I changed course and began a journey seeking out smaller companies either in their early growth stages or in need of a major transformation. Eight of them, to be precise. Part of the draw was having a more consequential role in the business (i.e. bigger fish in a smaller pond) and part of it was the higher risk/reward equation. One of those businesses ran out of money and closed, most of the others were sold/acquired, one was a train wreck where seemingly nothing went well. Consequently, I have been temporarily out of work more than a couple times… and in each case, it turned out to the best possible outcome because it led directly to the next adventure. Change is good.

My last company, ShotSpotter, Inc., was by far the most successful enterprise and the one from which I derived the greatest overall satisfaction. But nothing lasts forever – nor should it – and after nine years doing pretty much the same job, albeit a great one, for a steadily growing company with more risk behind it than ahead, I decided in early 2021 it was time for the biggest change yet.

Here is what I said to my professional friends, customers, colleagues and associates on June 30, 2021.

Here’s how that translated to my smaller universe of friends and family on Facebook.

And so, a year after I made that move, I’m finally getting around to changing the purpose and focus of this little blog. Now when friends, family and other nice people I have the pleasure of meeting ask me what I’ve been up to, I have more funs things to share with them. When they ask me for details about where I’ve gone or stayed, I can just point them here.

Change is good!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ray Ozzie’s “Dawn of a New Day”

Today, Ray Ozzie published a memo he wrote to the staff at Microsoft, the company he has been with for five years and is now preparing to retire from. It’s bound to be a classic.

By now — even though the his Dawn of a New Day is only a few hours old — a great many people in the tech industry will already have read it. That in itself is a great testament, not only to Ozzie and the high regard in which he is held, but to the substantial truth of his message. Five years ago, even with ubiquitous email, RSS feeds, and online chat rooms everywhere, the wildfire spread of something like this — or the seemingly billions of other interesting and not-so-interesting essays and rants — just wouldn’t have been so fast. The now ubiquitous social web, in all its flavors, has changed all that. And to Ozzie’s point, this is just the beginning of the social-mobile thing. Huge, mind-boggling, revolutionary change will continue to come… it is inevitable.

This is great news for everyone except the most ardent Luddites, of course, but especially for those of us who get to participate in creating that change. It’s truly a wonder and a privilege. For those of us who have been around for a while — and yes, I do remember punch cards, compiling for hours overnight on timeshare computers as big as a car, email before domain names ( {ihnp4|decwrl|pyramid}!ptsfa!joh if you must know), and my first DOS and 5 1/4″ floppy disk powered PC at work — you can’t help but think back on your own personal experiences and how enormously and relentlessly technology has advanced and changed our everyday lives. But until the early 90’s or so, most of that was still confined to the workplace. Today, my youngest daughter, now in the 8th grade, can type faster than I could in college, creates multimedia science project presentations on her own computer, and buys and downloads music on her cloud-connected mobile device. Someday these will be her earliest memories of “stone age technology”. What amazing technological innovations will again, and again, completely and forever change the everyday world she knows?

And — back to the point of Ozzie’s call to action — how inspiring, exciting and fun it is to be directly involved in creating that world! A privilege, really. As a kid I dreamed of a Dick Tracy wristwatch… now I’m sure we’ll come up with something much cooler.

So, if you haven’t already, read Ray Ozzie’s memo. It’s written to Microsoft employees, but it’s really for all of us, and it’s a great read. Thanks, Ray.

Posted in Personal Musings | Leave a comment

Monitoring is not Management… in any realm

I read a good article today entitled “Monitoring is not Management” in a blog on a greentech company website (http://bit.ly/a9WIBd). The subject was data center systems; in particular, energy consumption in such systems. Check it out, if that’s your cup of tea.

What struck me, though — besides being a pretty good, comprehensive summary (if that’s not too oxymoronic) on the subject — was the same distinction can be made when it come to managing or leading people. Have you ever met a supervising manager, regardless of title or level in the hierarchy, who thought their principal role was to monitor their people’s performance and document it in a formal evaluation? Or a project manager whose main focus — can’t really call it a contribution — was to monitor project progress? To the extreme of watching that person, or that project, slowly but inexorably fail right in front of them? Observe and report. Wasn’t there a bad comic film called that recently? Monitoring is absolutely not enough!

In keeping with the erstwhile theme of this blog, I need a wilderness analogy. So here it is: Whitewater paddlers in rafts, kayaks and canoes all learn and practice the art of reading water. It’s a critical skill employed in getting downstream safely, especially when confronting big water or very technical runs. It involves scouting the river ahead of you, with a particular emphasis on seeing currents, eddys, holes, ledges, obstacles and other hazards that must be negotiated… and which failing to negotiate could seriously wreck your day. In a word, it’s monitoring river conditions. But what if, having gathered all this data about the river, you did nothing with it to select or alter your planned route, tactics, maneuvers for proceeding downstream? What if you didn’t use that data to put safety measures in place, even prepare for emergency rescue in the worst case? It would the height of foolishness; it would in fact be downright nuts!

The same is true for business, and it is a management imperative. The ability to translate metrics-driven data and keen observations of people at work into concrete actions that lead to better performance is one of the defining characteristics of what a manager should be. It is the hallmark of a leader. It’s what managers should be measured — and managed — on. Failing in this regard is the whitewater equivalent of running your boat and its crew straight into a deadly hydraulic that you could easily see and avoid. Don’t settle for any manager who only monitors. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Posted in On Tech Management | 2 Comments

Building Killer Teams: the Lifeboat Exercise, in reverse

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working on, and with, a lot of great teams in my career. Engineering teams, management teams, project teams, you name it. I’ve also been on some real doozies, where an extra incentive for accomplishing the mission at hand was just to be done with it! So, as I ponder my next business venture, and in particular, the first 30 days on that job, I’ve been thinking once again about what makes for a truly killer team; what really sets it apart from all the rest.

A useful analogy, I find, is the infamous “lifeboat exercise”, but done in reverse. Most management types have been through the lifeboat exercise at least once; this is where, when evaluating the performance or contributions of a large group of individuals or when preparing for some impending reduction in staff, you must determine who you would absolutely keep if you could only keep a certain number while all the others are cast adrift. Who gets put in the lifeboat? It’s a cruel sounding exercise, but it serves its purpose rather well.

So now, let’s flip that scenario on its ear. Rather than deciding who will “survive” whatever terrible fate awaits those not in the boat, we’re going to man this boat for a long and treacherous journey to a far off destination where fame and glory — or at least really important business achievements — await. There may be limited supplies, a sketchy map at best, and untold hazards that threaten to swamp and sink the enterprise. It will not be for the faint of heart!

A different dynamic has to be considered when you’ve manning the lifeboat in this case. That is, when you are commissioning a team to accomplish a difficult mission — or better yet, a number of such missions — it’s not just about who your best individual performers are. Yes, individual capabilities are absolutely part of the equation. But there are two other parts of equal importance, especially if you consider the goal to be completing many missions and not just one. Those parts are chemistry and longevity.

I know, I know, you’re already thinking “What does longevity have to do with a group of people completing one journey together?” The answer shouldn’t surprise you, but you’ll have to read my next post to find out. And here’s a hint: it’s less about why chemistry and longevity are so important than how you get or create them… and why it’s so hard.

Posted in On Tech Management | Leave a comment

Ideas for future posts…

Starter list for now; additional ideas, thoughts, wishes more than welcome:

  1. Life as a river
  2. “Point positive” — lead by doing, and negative reinforcement is just that
  3. The leader’s obligation to their people
  4. Service operations as the ultimate source of customer and product intelligence
  5. The triple constraints (time, money, how much fun you wanna have) — as important as ever, but not that easy
  6. Fly fishing lessons applied to high stakes projects under volatile conditions
  7. The Lifeboat Exercise, in reverse (mgmt concerns for a killer team: capability, chemistry, longevity)
  8. Execview’s “Business Lifecycle Excellence”… good concept, but is it easy enough?
  9. 8th grade campers and self-organizing teams
Posted in On Tech Management, Personal Musings | 2 Comments