Saturday, 29 September 2018

Bath, England (30 Cheltenham Street) 

After a quick breakfast we packed our suitcases and got ready for our trip to Cardiff, Wales. We were able to quickly secure a taxi for a ride to the train station and we were on our way soon after arriving at the station, though we try to leave time for one or both of us to order a cup of coffee for the journey.

We hadn’t originally planned to stay overnight in Cardiff. Somehow we had forgotten to book a stay for this night, but it actually worked out okay. To include a visit to Cardiff Castle, it would have made for a very long day for us if we were to stop off at Cardiff and then proceed to northern Wales. Now, we could stay in Cardiff and enjoy a longer stay. I made reservations at the local Hilton in Cardiff and used accumulated points to cover the cost of two rooms.

Because we arrived early, we learned both rooms were not available so I put my suitcase in Corrine’s room (which was ready) and we waited in the executive lounge to have a quick snack in hopes that my room would be ready as well. We decided to go ahead and leave rather than spend any more time in the hotel.

Our first stop was to find a replacement USB cord for Corrine’s phone. We found the cord and then walked over to nearby Cardiff Castle (a late 11th century Norman castle built on an earlier 3rd Century Roman fort) for an afternoon visit. The Castle was across the street from our hotel so it was an easy walk. We purchased our tickets and picked up audio guides for each of us. This location has a lot of history associated with in and we tried to piece together all of the changes to the castle over the years.

From Wikipedia:

The castle, or what remains, are comprised mainly of the earthen walls, the “keep”, the “black tower” where prisoners where held, and the mansion. Some of the Roman walls still remained and were incorporated into the present day walls that surround the castle.

After listening to a few recordings from the audio guides we walked over to the restored north gate then to the “keep” remains. Corrie climbed up the keep tower and I took a picture of her from the ground floor of the keep. We tried to imagine what it was like when the keep still retained the wooden structure within the keep. Now, only the walls remain. Still, even in its present state, the keep is still impressive and seemingly impenetrable with its thick walls.

On the way over to the mansion, as I was taking a picture of the clock tower, I dropped my phone on the paved sidewalk. It still worked but the screen had some cracks in it. Regardless, we toured the mansion. Along the way we learned the mansion has changed over the years as successive owners added to the original medieval building. It is now an impressive Gothic revival mansion that the last owners remodeled into what we see today. In 1947 they donated the mansion to the City of Cardiff. Surprisingly, after the last remodel in the early 20th century, the owners only stayed there a few weeks out of each year.

Each of the primary rooms of the castle were remodeled into a specific theme. In the Victorian style, the themes were exaggerated and the results were a little over the top by our standards. I guess if you have the money to invest, why not? Some of the rooms were furnished, but when the castle was in use by the last owners, I’m sure these rooms were filled with period furniture.

After we took a few more pictures and returned the audio guides we walked back to the hotel. Rather than rest before dinner I decided to look for a replacement phone. Both of us were hungry and the lounge had a few more items by this time for guest to enjoy. After taking my suitcase to my room I decided to walk over to a Samsung store to see if I could find a replacement for my phone. I guess I could have had the phone’s screen repaired, but first wanted to see what was available as a replacement.

The Samsung store was a 10 minute walk away. I immediately found a new version of my phone for a reasonable cost. The sales associate was able to transfer my data to the new phone and I was on my way back to the hotel in less than 20 minutes.

I had planned to meet up with Corrine for dinner after a short nap, but I slept through my alarm. Corrine patiently waited for me in the lobby while I pulled myself together.

Corrine suggested a nearby Italian restaurant and I was immediately on board with her suggestion. Who could say no to Italian food?

The restaurant turned out to be perfect. And not just because we were hungry. The food was delicious and the staff was very friendly and helpful. Corrine selected a carbonara as a main course and I ordered ravioli. We left enough room to share a tartufo. After dinner we walked around the neighborhood before returning to the hotel. Many people were also enjoying the evening and were out on the streets or in nearby restaurants and bars.

I returned to my room to continue setting up my new phone and to write my daily travel blog. While I enjoy having new “toys” to set up, I would have liked to have more free time to do it right. But, I’ll make do with the time available and will finish up any lagging details for later.

Tomorrow we leave for Conwy (there is no “a” in the name) and we expect this to take most of the day. There isn’t a direct route by train to Conway so we are planning to switch trains twice on this journey. We will definitely see a lot of Wales’ countryside along the way.

To see pictures: 

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Friday, 28 September 2018

Hungerford, England (Littlecote House)

After breakfast, Corrine and I walked around the grounds until it was time for us to leave for Bath. We decided to take a taxi to Swindon then take the train the rest of the way to Bath. Otherwise, we would need to take the train back towards London, get off in Reading, then catch another train that would take us further west to Bath.

When we arrived in Bath, we were fortunate that we were able to drop off our luggage at the Airbnb flat ahead of when it was to be available. This gave us more time to explore Bath. Which we did.

I had been to Bath but hadn’t really explored the city. We enjoyed walking around just to see the people and shops. I suggested to Corrine that she might like to tour the Roman Baths, which is a big draw for tourists coming to Bath. (I toured it last year.) The Roman Baths are remarkably intact considering how long ago they were built. In this case, almost 2,000 years ago.

While Corrine toured the Roman Baths and I sat and played Hearts on my phone. Also walked around some. When Corrine was finished with her Roman Bath visit we had a quick bite to eat and walked up to the Royal Crescent and the nearby Circus that form a circle of uniform row houses. Both are excellent examples of Georgian architecture and built during the 18th century. Corrine enjoyed visiting some of the shops in the area.

We really did a lot of walking today. I saw that we had walked over 15,000 steps and were a little tired when we returned to the flat. Later we picked up a pizza for dinner and cereal for breakfast.

Tomorrow we leave for Cardiff, Wales. We will see our first of several castles that are scattered around Wales. The following day we travel north via train to see more of Wales and visit more castles.

To see pictures: 

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Thursday, 27 September 2018

Hungerford, England (Littlecote House)

I had a fairly restful night’s sleep last night. The room is very quiet and I was able to sleep in until 7:00. Today I had planned to be ready for Corrine’s arrival and make sure a taxi is waiting for her at the Hungerford train station. But first, I had some breakfast in the main dining room.

I pretty much had the same breakfast if I was staying in a Hilton so I was satisfactorily filled when I walked away from the table. Now, to wait for Corrine’s text saying that she had landed in Heathrow. I’m thinking I should hear from her by 11:30. In the meantime I took a walk around the grounds to get more familiar with this location.

I walked mainly around the back side of the house where the formal gardens are located and walked through some of the interior rooms. Since Corrine is missing out on a day, at least I can help get her get situated once she arrives.

As it turned out I received a text from Corrine at 11:31 (one minute off from my estimate). Good to know she was in London and on her way to Littlecote. Now to find out which train she will come in on, then I can arrange the taxi. Eventually we got a taxi coordinated with her arrival and she arrived just before 3:00.

I took her up to her room then gave her a quick tour of the grounds. She looked like she was holding up pretty well considering she had just landed after a 12 hour flight. We had a quick bite in the lounge then went to our rooms to rest before dinner.

Was nice to have someone to talk with at dinner. We both ordered a turkey dinner and dessert. The meal was fairly good, considering the number of people that are feed each evening. Even better, the meal was included in the room cost.

We went back to Corrine’s room to discuss the next few days and have a glass or two of her complementary wine. While there we discovered that we hadn’t accounted for one day. Looks like we will spend a night in Cardiff before travelling north to Conwy, Wales. We planned to sort this out tomorrow. Time for sleep.

Tomorrow we’ll get up early, have breakfast, walk around the grounds some more and take pictures. We plan to leave by noon for our visit to Bath, which is about an hour away by train.

To see pictures: 

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Wednesday, 26 September 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton)

This morning I had a quick breakfast and then was back up to my room to pack for my short journey to Littlecote House Hotel, just outside of Hungerford, England.

Follow this link to learn more about Littlecote House:

My train was due to leave at 11:06 a.m. so I decided to be out of the room by 10:00 to be sure I had time to checkout, travel to Paddington, and retrieve my ticket at the station.

I ordered Uber again and my driver said he was originally from Afghanistan and has been in the U.K. for 24 years. We talked mainly about Afghanistan and global leadership. It was one of the best Uber conversations yet. He was so articulate and seemed to be well-read on a number of subjects. It was an honor to be his passenger this morning.

He dropped me off at a good location to get into the station and I was on my way to pick up my ticket. Had a little difficulty retrieving my ticket because the first machine I went to wouldn’t recognize my Visa card, but the next one did and I had my ticket. Now to wait for the departure platform to be announced.

Fairly uneventful from London to Hungerford. I could see the countryside as we passed through the small towns along the way. The largest was Reading. When I got off the train at Hungerford I requested an Uber for pickup, but none were available. I then called a couple of taxi services and either didn’t get an answer or was told it would be over an hour before someone could pick me up. Walking to Littlecote House was not an option.

I asked a local resident about getting a taxi and she suggested going to the nearby Tesco and asking the customer service desk, which I did. It worked! The taxi service they recommended said he would be around to pick me up in five minutes.

I should have taken a picture as we drove into the Littlecotte House location. It was like a movie of an English estate. Check-in was a little slow, but I wasn’t in a rush. Got to the location with plenty of time to spare. Had to laugh when the person assigned to show me my room couldn’t find the room. (She said she has worked at Littlecote for a year and a half.)

After I had a quick rest in my room I ventured out and explored the building and the surrounding area, just to get my bearings. I had a small lunch as well.

I was still a little tired and when I woke I realized that I only had 30 minutes to get to dinner. The dining hall seems to be set up like a cruise ship where everyone has an assigned table. I just ordered something easy (pork chops), ate it, and returned to my room.

Tomorrow Corrine arrives in the early afternoon. By then I’ll have walked the grounda a bit more and can give her a tour if she is up to it. She is going to love her room!

To see pictures: 

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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton)

When I woke this morning I was thinking about picking up the Chromebook that I ordered yesterday. I was out the door once I ate my Hilton breakfast. I ordered an Uber, just because I didn’t want to figure out how to get there. (Sometimes I’m lazy.) The Uber driver was from Sri Lanka and we had a great conversation about religion and politics as we drove to the Curry PC World store.

The staff at the Curry’s PC World couldn’t have been more helpful. I was in and out in 15 minutes, which included selecting a Bluetooth mouse, since that was also in the lost bag. I was looking forward to getting the new Chromebook set up, so I ordered an Uber for the return trip. This time the driver was from Asia (unknown country) and we talked about travel, politics, and the global economy. When I order an Uber I ask to sit up front, which leads to the conversations. I’ve had the best luck with Uber drivers.

The Chromebook started up as expected. Since starting it up, I’ve been tweaking it. This device is an Acer product rather than the Samsung that I had before, so there are some differences. But all in all, like I wrote yesterday, was up and running very quickly. I’m very happy.

After I was satisfied with the Chromebook I took the underground to Canada Water where Prean and Viktor have their duck confit booth set up this week. I visited with them for about an hour then returned back to the hotel. I confirmed that Corrine and I will be at Prean’s “disco” birthday party on the 6th and I’ll join them for Christmas this year in Basingstoke. We don’t know if Pavel (Viktor’s Russian friend) will join us again this year. He might be in Spain meeting with some wealthy Russian expatriates on the project they are having him work on. He is a design architect. Of course I want to know more. I’m looking forward to meeting up with Pavel again when I visit Russia next year.

I still had my laundry to do. Fortunately, there was a nearby self-service laundry nearby, so I was in and out the door again after returning from visiting with Prean and Viktor. I was confused, and a little amused, that the person who was managing the shop acted like she couldn’t speak good English when she was talking with me, but when her manager came in her English improved dramatically. Perhaps she doesn’t like answer questions from customers? Anyway, I was able to get my one load of clothes washed dried and was out the door in an hour.

When I returned to the hotel, I decided to have a quick meal in the executive lounge. The meal consisted of a good quantity (10?) of spring rolls and a gin and tonic to wash it down. Think I also grabbed a dinner roll to eat as well. It was just finger food at this lounge. Some lounges, like the one in Helsinki, have a fairly full buffet. Eating in the executive lounges sure saves on travel expenses, since food and drink are complementary.

I realized I had a big task to condense almost two weeks of travel into one posting, but I did it. I took nearly two hours of writing, then another 30 minutes of editing. I still need to update my pictures (see link below), but I got the written part published.

ITV (the independent network in the U.K.) had a special two-part program on the Queen, titled “Queen of the World”. I’ll have to see the second part next week, but if I miss it I can watch online using the ITV Player. The BBC has a BBC Player to which you can subscribe. Once you download the players, you can view an extraordinary amount of programs that are available in the U.K. But only in the U.K.

Tomorrow I leave for Littlecote, which is located outside of Hungerford and is about an hour away by train from London. I purchased the train ticket online and will get it printed from the ticket machine after I arrive at the station.

Wish Corrine would be with me, but I’ll see her the following day and then we can start our two-week adventure.

To see pictures: 

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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton)

Nice to compose my blog updates again with a laptop. Today I bought an Acer 14″ Chromebook and was up and running within 30 minutes after I returned to my room. All of my bookmarks were where they should be and I updated my Google password too, just in case. Now, I must learn a new keyboard layout. Not only are the key placements slightly different, but this is a UK keyboard, so there are differences from that regard as well. And very, very different from the manual typewriter that my dad had in his office where he taught me how to type: Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.


Now, how to provide an update for the past couple of weeks. I decided to provide a summary by location, as best as I can remember.

Hamburg, Germany (September 13)

On my last full day in Hamburg I walked up to the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg concert hall and enjoyed the beautiful sunny day and admired the sites along the way. I took a number of pictures before I arrived at the Elbphilharmonie. When I arrived, it really is something to stand before it and look up. A glass edifice, with a wavy top, placed on a muli-level parking garage. I walked around the viewing level of the building and took a number of pictures of the views from each direction. I asked about seeing the concert hall but was told I must buy a ticket to an event to do so. (Ah, very cleaver.)

My only other destination was St. Nicholas’ Church, a WW2 memorial that I remember seeing while watching documentaries of Hamburg. This Gothic revival church was kept pretty much intact (with a little 20th century technology) to support the remaining structure after one of the many bombing raids. I rode the elevator up through the steeple to a viewing platform. Again, I had the opportunity for more pictures of Hamburg from another terrific viewing location.

I left Hamburg with no regrets. I only had planned to stay a couple of days and what I saw gave me a good idea of what I could expect should I decide to return. I would have liked to ridden in the high-speed boat around the harbor, but I was okay with a walk through the old part of Hamburg.

Mainz, Germany (September 14 – 16)

I arrived in Mainz on Friday afternoon and got settled into the hotel quite well. Thought, it was funny trying to get into my room. (Though, not quite so funny at the time considering I had just lost my travel bag.) My room key didn’t work, so I needed to return to the hotel lobby and perhaps ask for a new key. The clerk who checked me in said that I had to put the key in the slot quickly, in and out, and then turn the door handle and then push to door open. I just looked at him, then said, “Isn’t this something you could have told me before I went up to the room?” He just looked at me.

Thankfully, the next day turned out very well. I ran a view errands before meeting up with Ori and Molly at 1:00 p.m. One errand was to visit the train station to ask questions about my lost luggage to see if there was an update. I spoke to someone who knew about these sort of things and let me know that once I have my case number (which I have, thanks to Ori), this will be used to track and respond back if anything is found. I also picked up a charging device for my phone. Fortunately the TV in my room had an USB port that I could use to charge my phone while I slept Monday night.

I met up with Ori and Molly at the hotel where we had coffee and tea in the lobby lounge while we caught up, and of course talked about the bag as well. Our plan today was to walk over to the Mainz Dom (Cathedral), then visit the Gutenberg Museum, and to top off the day, have dinner at a local restaurant.

The Mainz Cathedral or St. Martin’s Cathedral is located near the historical center and market square. It is 1,000 years old and is in very good condition. As we walked in the door we could hear an orchestra and choir rehearse and listened to the music reverberate off the interior walls. We could see several statues of former bishops who evidently were quite powerful in their day. Ori was great about explaining so much about this building. Was like having our private tour guide.

The Gutenberg Museum is one of the oldest museums of printing in the world. Included within the museum are two Gutenberg bibles, a demonstration how his press worked, and early printing examples from other cultures. After the museum we took time for another break and enjoyed visiting in a restaurant overlooking the square.

The dinner was in a restaurant just off one of the main streets. It offered a couple of set menus that we selected. All we did was eat, drink and talk for almost four hours. I thank Ori and Molly for hosting this dinner and appreciate their kindness during my short stay. This is our third year that we have met and discussed where we will meet next year.

Cairo (September 16 – September 23)

The flight from Frankfurt to Cairo went very well, but was about 45 minutes late due to a late departure from Frankfurt. I had arranged for a hotel driver to meet me at the airport and drive me to the hotel. The process of independently procuring a driver outside the airport is somewhat dicey, but in the past I’ve been able to get where I need to go with only a little negotiation. I felt that now that I had that experience, like my one and only time I skydived, I’d now take the easy route. Normally, when a driver meets you at the airport all they do is take your bag to the car and you drive off. Not in Cairo. There is a two-part process. A Hilton representative meets you at the gate, processes your passport and visa and gets you through the lines quickly. Then he hands you over to the driver outside the building. I didn’t ask too many questions, but it all worked out fine.

Hussein took the bus up from Luxor and met me 15 minutes after I arrived. (Good timing!) We were both tired and ordered room service, which is what we normally do for most of our meals. We both mostly like plain basic food and the hotel has enough variety for us. For the next seven days we took walks, slept, ate, sat and watched the traffic on the Nile, and watched a few movies. When we needed a taxi, he made the arrangements and sits up front with the driver. When we walk, he is a few paces ahead of me. Where the hotel is located, it is near many of the embassies so is very safe. On our last day we visited the Cairo Tower, which was at one time the tallest building in Africa.

We were awake by 4:00 a.m. last Sunday for our flights. Hussein’s flight was at 7:30 a.m. and mine was 9:10 a.m. and we left the hotel at 5:00 a.m. I knew it was going to be a long day.  And it was. The flight to London was delayed by 45 minutes, but we made up some of the time along the way. Passport Control took about 15 minutes, but waiting for the luggage took almost an hour. Then I tried the Heathrow Express to Paddington, thinking that it would be quicker than the underground train. What I’ve concluded is that it really isn’t. It takes almost 20 minutes to walk down where the train is located, then to wait for the train, then the train does actually take 15 minutes to Paddington Station. So much easier (and cheaper) to take the underground.

Csabi was patiently waiting for me at the hotel. I expected to arrive at 3:00 p.m. but actually didn’t get to the hotel until 4:30 p.m. We walked around the nearby Westfield Mall then had dinner at a Thai restaurant nearby. Was good to hear about Csabi’s job at a printing company in Milton Keynes, outside of London.

The remainder of the day, after I made a decision about which Chromebook to buy, I returned to the room for more sleep. Another friend, Mugiel, was meeting me for dinner at 7:30 a.m. Was good to catch up with him as well. He told me what it was like to grow up on a farm, outside of Granada, Spain. He and his brother still plan annual vacations with their parents even though both are in their 30’s.

I’m really enjoying meeting and getting to know people from different countries and being able to talk with them more than a few hours on a train or bus. In just three days I was with people who grew up in Egypt, Hungary, and Spain. Tomorrow, I meet up with Prean (South Africa) and Viktor (Russia).

Travels with Corrine Update

At around 3:00 a.m., after I went to bed, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking that Corrine was arriving on Wednesday, September 26th. Something just didn’t seem right, I guess. I checked her flight itinerary again and discovered she leaves on the 26th and arrives at Heathrow on the 27th. We have reservations to stay at Littlecotte on the 26th. I immediately sent her a text and she responded back that she can’t change her flight. Just a little hiccup. All a part of travelling…


Update 9 September 2018

London, England (Kensington Hilton)

After leaving my bag with laptop and iPad on the train to Mainz, the first person I called was Cousin Molly’s husband Ori. I told him that I was on the S train to Mainz when I realized that I was headed in the wrong direction. Without thinking I wheeled my suitcase to the train’s exit and walked out. Only when I saw the taillights of the train as they entered the tunnel for the next station that I realized my carry on bag was still on the train. Cousin Ori knew just what to do. I felt much better after speaking with him. I caught the train to Mainz and checked into my hotel. If the bag was to be found, it will be. Can’t worry about something afterwards. Cousin Ori has continued to follow up, and I was right, he with help from Cousin Molly, was more help than I could have expected. (Many thanks to Ori and Molly!)

Today I realized that I need to move forward and order a replacement for my laptop. I’m not going to worry about any personal information being lost. If it happens I’ll deal with it then. The main thing I’m looking forward to is writing my daily blog. Hopefully starting tomorrow or the next day.

I’m currently in London and visited with Csabi yesterday and today then will see Miguel tonight. Catching up with Prean and Viktor tomorrow. Corrine arrives on Wednesday and then we are off on our two-week adventure.

Many pictures to be posted in a few days.


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Hamburg, Germany (Hampton by Hilton City Center)

I slept in very late today. Think I’m making up for the lack of sleep the day before. No matter, because rained today in Hamburg and also received an email that my tour for tomorrow had been cancelled.  I used this day to rest and anticipate sunshine tomorrow.

My only outside activity was to walk to the train station to buy a ticket for my trip to Mainz on Friday. The ticket machine at the train station worked perfectly and I have a reserved seat on a late morning train. In Frankfurt I’ll transfer to a S-Bahn (#8) that will take me directly into Mainz. The fare for the train is about half what it would cost to fly, less the airport hassle. I’ll get to see the scenery along the way as well. Looking forward to Friday’s travel.

Amazing how I can keep busy without leaving my room. Seemed like I was on the phone or texting when I wasn’t sleeping. While at the train station I picked up a sandwich at Starbucks for dinner, but ended up eating only half. Which is fine because I probably eat too much anyway.

No TV last night because I wasn’t interested and wanted to catch up on my sleep so I can be ready for a one-day tour of Hamburg tomorrow. If one day is all I have then so be it.

To see pictures: 

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Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Vilnius, Lithuania
Šnipiškės District (Konstitucijos prospektas 9)

Was up earlier than planned. I could have tried to get more sleep but thought I could use the extra time to ensure I was ready for my 7:00 a.m. flight. It was 3:00 a.m. when this day started.

I did the usual things to get ready. I still needed to arrange for a car to the airport and find where to take the garbage. I put both out of my mind and focused on what I needed to do. The extra time gave me a moment to drink my coffee and have something to eat.

By 4:30 a.m. I was ready to leave the flat and go to the airport. I left with my suitcase and two bags of garbage. When I got outside the building I saw the garbage truck there and handed my two bags to them. That was easy! Almost like it was planned.

I walked around the corner to the main street and ordered an Uber. It showed up about 10 minutes later. The driver looked like he just got out of bed so I didn’t try to have a conversation with him. The trip to the airport took about 15 minutes and was able to get my suitcase checked in by a 5:00. Now, what to do for the next 90 minutes?

After going through security I found a coffee shop and ordered a coffee and two muffins. Then played a few games of pinochle and then more games of Hearts, which I recently started to play. An easy way to pass the time. Though I didn’t play too well because I was still very tired after having only a couple of hours of sleep.

Both flights to Hamburg went well. I had a layover in Stockholm and had another cup of coffee there. Then landed in Hamburg. I had a choice of a taxi or taking the S train into the city. The taxi seemed the best option because I didn’t want to haul my suitcase from the station to the hotel. It was difficult not to think about 9/11 and actually looked for different days to take this flight.

The hotel staff let me into a room before the stated check-in time. The room was actually bigger than the one I reserved. It was a win-win for sure. But I was hungry. I found a supermarket nearby and walked there to find something to eat and perhaps a snack to enjoy in my room later. I found what I would call a working man’s lunch counter. It was a place where they would carve a hunk of meat and put it into a bun, with mustard or ketchup. I ordered a chunk of ham with the mustard and ketchup. It was perfect!

I was really dragging my feet when I got back to the hotel. The nap, or I should say naps, lasted until 7:00 p.m. Then I was hungry again, but found a nearby pizza shop and ordered a Hawaiian. I might be tired but my appetite was still good.

It wasn’t too long after that I was in bed. Tomorrow I’d like to walk down towards the harbor. Rain is in the forecast.

To see pictures: 

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