A Short Trip- But fruitful until the end, Disaster.


Our plans were on visiting our kids in Sacramento—an early Thanksgiving. We realized that the small town of San Juan Batista California would be more interesting. Small old town. This is an overview of the town and I have to admit it is a very beautiful one. What a surprise as we drove down the lovely valley and the hills. This city is basically a farming community.

In 1779 Saint John the Baptist established the Franciscan order and began the Indian conversion to Christianity and used their labor to farm the land for the Order.

Pasada Hotel: We had reserved a week earlier and loved its antiquity- and the inside was splendid.

We had to drag our luggage up to our second floor room but the hallways were wide and have live growing trees and the grand doorway entrances showed the buildings age, character and luxury…We even had an outdoor patio that was private and looked across the street at the Christmas decorations on a huge house nearby. Charming.

Still enough daylight to walk to the mission and see the statues in the gardens. It was a surprise to walk on wooden planked sidewalks in the streets throughout almost the entire town.

The mission was closed but soft singing came from behind the doors. There were two wonderful statues, one for Saint John the Baptist and one for an Indian.

Suddenly the large plaza came to life with the golden lights- apparently as a prelude to the coming Christmas season.

Back to town where we found a wonderful Basque restaurant. After we entered the chef waved to us to specify any table we wanted- and we sat by the door. Apparently that was good for business because shortly thereafter several small groups arrived and the chef smiled broadly.

Next morning we left for Sacramento and the early Thanksgiving family get- together. We had a wonderful reunion and after dinner at our favorite restaurant we left. All of us complained of the heavy fog. We didn’t find out until the next day the awful campfire had decimated that small town.

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Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark

Freefall at the Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark

Tivoli Freefall

We took a cab from the airport to our Copenhagen Plaza Hotel and checked in. Stepping out on our 4th floor balcony I was delighted to see the main train station on our right and directly across the street was the Tivioli, one of the most beautiful amusement parks in Europe. Timing was everything! Suddenly, what looked to be a giant umbrella arose from behind the park wall and opening gracefully began to climb. It slowly spiraled around swirling out the tethered chairs attached beneath. The sounds of scared laughter rose with it until the flying seats were parallel to the park ground 5 floors below. I was reentering our room when the shouting lessened and the  umbrella began to close, descending to earth.Copehagen train station

A train came noisily into the station and distracted me from this wild ride that both fascinated and terrified me.

The weather was bits and pieces of chill with a few drops of rain but we needed exercise after a very long flight from San Francisco. We headed out on the pedestrian zone to do a walkabout. Because the cobbled-stone streets can be slippery when wet, we crowded in with the others sharing the narrow sidewalks. We spotted a “Plank Steak House” serving spare ribs and caught a couple of seats next to the fireplace. Excellent meal. Back to the hotel and the balcony to watch the fascinating Freefall again.  The umbrella was rising and the vocal whoopla was beginning……but this time there was one voice that screamed in panic. As it crescendoed into piercing shrieks, the Freefall’s ascent  slowed and then stopped. Then it began to lower. When it reached the ground, it was quiet.

A few minutes later it rose again trailed by the normal yells of delight and fear.

Now I felt really comfortable with this wild and scary ride.

Tivoli Gardens

The next day we walked through the park entrance….and the area was so large that without the map we would have been lost. Rides, restaurants, gardens, shops, ponds…it was wonderful, and vital. We spent hours. This is a city and country that we plan to revisit.

Copehgane River


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Tomar, Portugal : A magnificent Old Town

When we arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, we had to walk the airport to unkink our legs. We have now accumulated enough Delta Miles to fly first–class, half money and half earned miles (But not in time for this trip). Reason: for 11 hours of flying, the couple ahead of us put their seats ALL the way back! (Except when the trays were put down for meals.) I didn’t want to do the bathroom shuffle so I said I wasn’t feeling well and if they moved their seats a bit forward, we wouldn’t disturb them. And they did.

Unkinked and rental ready, we drove the hour to Tomar just as the sun came out.

Town view of castle You can just see the top of the Knights Templar Castle over the bridge, above the buildings and guarding the village.

Knight Templar 1160 - Copy - CopyThis ancient structure was a combination of Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance architecture integral to Portuguese history. “Convento de Cristo”  was founded In 1160 by Gualdim Pais, Grand Master of the Templars. They defended Portugal from invaders. In the 14th century the order was banned in Europe…but they were supported by the Portuguese Royals and re-established as the new “Order of Christ” and continued as such.


Hotel Dos Templarios, Tomar

One of those rare but wonderful accidents….the hotel was hosting a conference and only a suite was left…which we got at the double rate. Unbelievable. Upstairs and down stairs, one bed room, bath and patio on each…and complimentary bottle of Port. Life is good!

After bathing and checking out the Port wine, we headed downtown for dinner.


A well kept pedestrian  street with the Castle hovering above.  We found a restaurantwith a riverside patio where we enjoyed watching the pedestrians crossing the bridge. The next morning we were switched to an even better room  on an upper floor, with our patio facing the Castle…. lit up at night!


The next morning off to see Portugal-Castle-de-Almoural.

Portugal-Castelo-de-AlmourolYou had to take a ferry to visit the ruins on a tiny island in the Tagus River. The Grand Master Gualdim Pais also built this Templar Castle in 1171…over a Roman fortress…and it was never taken by invading forces.  45 minutes  climbing  to see the fantastic view (and catching your breath) but only 15 back to the ferry.


Returning to town, we wanted to checkout some of the 15th century additions to the 1160 Castle.



Wonderful entrance through the old Castle walls.One of the Cloisters

Inside we visited one of the Cloisters. This is the area where the monks, and in this case, the Templars would come for prayer and worship.

Begun in the 15th century, this “Cloister” reflects the Italian art of the time. There were concealed spiral stairways in the corners leading to the, “Terrace of Wax”. But- they were sealed off.

We were tempted to climb up the outside walls and find out what the “Terrace of Wax” was.



Synogue de Tomar

This synogue was built in 1430 and is one of the oldest synagogues in Portugal. It was last used as a place of worship in 1497, after Emanuel I closed it to all Jews who didn’t convert to Christianity, and consequently it was used as a prison, a hayloft and a warehouse. Today it holds a small Jewish museum. You can see the original columns and a vaulted ceiling in the back of the picture.

As we left Tomar we stopped just over the bridge to view the top of the Templar castle as we saw it in the beginning.

Town view of castle


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A Sad Tale of Two Persons Traveling

(I’ll get to the picture of the enormous airplane in a bit.)

It began when Mike called our hotel clerk to find out which terminal we should go to for our, “Delta connection” And she said, “Go to the regular Delta domestic connection.”

A bad start for a Holiday; when we arrived at Delta we needed the International Terminal! So dragging our luggage, up the escalator, down the walkways, on to a tram- and finally to check-in.

After a single glass of good wine we dragged our luggage through the passport control.

Now, look at the plane picture in the beginning. Mike had reserved us window an isle seats- but we were given a three-seater row instead. And I have a window obsession. He ended up in the middle seat and had paid more for the extra leg room-?? There were two-seaters across the aisle from our seats. It turned out they were backed up to a wall with no windows because they were up against a kitchen, so now opportunity to switch seats. A lovely stewardess, because of a take-off delay, gave me a tour and told me this was the end of the 767-7000 plane because the smaller planes are more spacious, comfortable, and economical to maintain.


Looking at the picture above we were in the row of the three brown seats in the front of the plane. And the two-seaters on the sides of us had no windows because the kitchen walls impeded their views. So it wouldn’t help switching.

The stewardess also showed me the first class… and I was not impressed. (Giant sea shells like pods) But maybe the food was good!

I was thankful for the many bathrooms she showed me around. The only exercise I had for this thirteen hour flight was using it frequently, sometimes with a book.

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Baltic States IV

Pure joy for Mike today!   We’re off to meet with 2 of the winemakers he had emailed long before our trip began. Both their vineyards  were near Kandava, Latvia.

Kaspars Sunins 16+ year old  vineyard (his wife the wine maker) were not producing this year but we got a vineyard tour.


Their winery.

The second winery, Abaxas Vineyards, owned by Martins and  Liene Barkans, was open and the tasting plus discussion about  good and bad problems from the winemakers was excellent.

While they talked about viticulture and aging,  I went to the car and read my book….it’s not fun to be the designated driver…but I’ll make it up tonight at dinner!

Then off to Cesis, Latvia  for a wonderful 13th century castle.

Cesis Center


With no GPS, the smaller towns are easier: find the Old Town Center and follow the people.

It was certainly smaller than Riga’s (Baltic State III) and far less crowded .When we ate dinner here later, a gentleman was playing the guitar and different women came to sing with him.

Our drive through town ended with the Hotel Cesis…and there we stayed.


This building maintained its 100+ old dignity both inside and out although  it did update the amenities. The dining room was regal with many windows overlooking the park beyond.  After lunch we explored the park and were delighted to find remains of the “old” 13th century castle.




Walking further, we saw reconstructed 13th and 14th  buildings. The following picture gives a better overhead view of what we found.

Cesis Castle, Latvia

Our hotel, upper left, orange roof, was very convenient to everything.  Also, free parking. We continued to  explore the site.

In 1236, the Pope, after the battle of Saule, incorporated the survivors into the “Livonian province of the Teutonic Order” in the 13th century. It became the strongest military organization in present day Latvia and Estonia. (These may have been descendants of the Knights’ Templar.?) From the 13th to the 16th century the Teutonic Knights reconstructed this Castle. But a shadow fell in 1558….Tsar Ivan the Terrible declared war on them and the subsequent history is both bloody and brave…..

Cesis Castle, #2

This recent picture of the castle shows the continuing restoration.  The newer walking bridge is just above the original (rocks and boulders) and hovers over the original moat. (left side, big rocks) with a newer walking bridge above.

Now, on to Tartu, Estonia,  the university town. There was a big fire here in 1755 so most of the city is “new”.

Barkley Hotel, Tartu




We drove to the Barclay  Hotel, stopped and stayed. We got a balcony room which over looked one of the many parks and was ideally located for walking. We loved the hotel, except for the shower- the water was not “contained” and we walked on wet towels! (Who designed this atrocity?!)

The hotel was built in 1912, forfeited to Soviet headquarters in 1944 and became this hotel in- 1995.

Tartu kissing coupleThis statue of a “Kissing Couple” was our favorite in the town square- a definite sign of the university city!

Later we walked through the university campus and found the Tartu Cathedral ruins adjoined to the back of the university library.

Tartu Cathedral ruins

Astounding that the university kept and maintained what had gone of long before. This 370 year old university is the undisputed intellectual center of the country, and 370 year most prestigious seat of learning in the Baltics.

The next day we took a ferry over to Peke’s winery, restaurant and hotel on Muhu island for dinner and overnight.

Dinner was lamb, roasted underground all day- with a multitude of excellent wines.

Photo209Mike is sitting and wine maker Peke is standing. (Aspirin needed before bed)

The next day we were driving to catch the ferry back to Tallinn when whoops—


Although we had a rental with Lativa plates our being American upped the ante from 20 Euros to 160 Euros!

Finally arrived at Tallinn. Mike, still   driving, goes through the old town to our hotel the wrong way through the pedestrian streets, (Sunday crowded- hazardous to everyone’s life and limb- he pulled into a “no parking” spot and says, “We’re here!”) And we were in front of our hotel, the Merchant’s House.


Merchants house hotelAnd then we started touring. Our concierge told us that since it was Sunday afternoon, most of the crowds would return to their ships very soon.


Tsar Alexander III ordered this Cathedral  named after the Duke Alexander Nevsky (1219-1263) who had defeated the Livonian Knights in 1242. Many Estonians disliked it as a symbol of the “Russification” policies. As a tourist and unaware of their political viewpoints, I saw this massive building looking down on the crowded square and very narrow streets below, and also looking out beyond to its livelihood :the shipping trade and visiting ocean linerson the Baltic Sea. A conundrum. But it is colorful.


Our hotel had a lovely private courtyard  and we had our lunch delivered there.


Reenergized, we walked the many pedestrian streets particularly noting the restructuring and widening of some. Around 7pm we entered the major square and found a restaurant.

Town Hall Square in Old Medieval Hansa Tallinn, Estonia

Much less crowded now- but most of the restaurants  were busy. Our roasted lamb was  delicious.

Excellent breakfast in our hotels basement “Cave”. Two hundred years, old-heavy stone walls and floor but wonderful atmosphere!

Our concierge arranged our ferry tickets to Helsinki for tomorrow and our car rental return today. Wonderful assistance!

Walking through the city, we came to Toompea castle at the very top.


Although now home to Estonia’s Parliament, for over 700 years it belonged to various occupying foreign powers. Except for the towers, the most interesting site (for me) were the original defense walls down below. You can see through one straight ahead between two of the towers.

That afternoon we toured the vineyard of winemaker Jaak Eensolu who produced some excellent wines. My tour was short lived- driven back to the car by various bugs!

Our 4 hour ferry to Helsinki was beautiful….after we found our way up the 10  floors to Deck 10…the open area on the stern and the beautiful Baltic Sea!

Arrived at our reserved lovely Hotel Rivoli Jardine shortly and the assistance of very professional Concierges. Our last meal in Helsinki was near their beautiful port….and this is what we saw…..


Helsinki Port

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Baltic States III

Riga, Latvia

Today we were leaving Vilnius, Lithuania and we had loved it! But just one more castle first.


Mike was not happy and yelled “Where’s the &%$# wine cellar????”.  This was a 13th century defense castle…but that didn’t matter to him.

On to Riga, Latvia and the Garden Place Hotel. I had reserved 2 rooms, 3 months earlier for us and  our “exchange” student Kate and husband Tom.


Part of the reason I choose this hotel was the lovely outdoor courtyard where people meet and greet and sip something while doing so.

hotel-garden-palace, courtyard

Bit of an argument with the Registrar when checking in. “No”, he said, “all rooms with balconies are rented. Let’s see what’s left.”  I said “the manager”.  “…This is our policy…” I said “the manager  now.”  He called…and then said “we can offer a suite for the same price and a room with windows with a view to your companions.”  After checking the rooms, I asked him to thank the manager for honoring our reservations.

Since Tom and Kate are two educators with 2 kids, time was short, and they were arriving at 9 PM. So Mike and I strolled the Old Town looking for a restaurant. This one was typical of the many within walking distance.Typital dining in Riga

And I am glad we didn’t stop!  On our return it was packed with students singing “fight songs” at another large group across the street…and they, of course, returned the favor.

Our guests arrived and we spent hours on the lovely patio, catching up. The next morning we decided to tour this beautiful Old Town and headed to the river.

Riga Town

Looking around, you can see much of the Old Town, including the Cathedral and Daugava River.

When the city walls were torn down (mid 19 century), the space was divided into a ring of avenues and parks and most of the remaining area became pedestrian.

This is the Swedish gate- The soul survivor of the eight gates. It was built in 1698.Part of Riga town walkwaythe front wall and archway were the original and the remaining walls rebuilt into apartments  and shops, keeping  the rough, stone streets.

Finally, when our feet (ours not theirs) gave out, we stopped for lunch.



Mike is grimacing because he had to share his larger portion of wine with Tom.  Being energized by food and wine, we headed off to explore the collection of “Art Nouveau” buildings which UNESCO recognized  as “Unparalleled anywhere in the world.” And they were!



This Art Nouveau building was my favorite (and there were many). It could use a little make-up  but I loved the windows  and “kid” noise coming from the tunnel down front. Most buildings were apartments.

Photo194I used this picture to show the difference between the structures: the first was on what was designated the “quiet zone” with limited street traffic and the second, although lovely, was on a busy street…and that’s what all those beautiful balconies overlooked.

When the city removed the major part of the fortress, starting with the riverside and including the Old Town, they added parks and walking areas.


It included walking and biking trails, part of the river, benches and beauty, and a quiet escape from a somewhat noisy city center!

That night we ate in the cellar of an Italian restaurant  and moved up to the walkway patio to finish our wine.  Since Kate and Tom were leaving tomorrow for home, kids and jobs, we made the most of our time together!


“Al-fresco dining at night in the square” This shows just one of the many patio dining areas. The next day we only had the morning to finish the tour.  And there it was…only 2 blocks from the hotel.

Riga Old Town

And this was the Center.  On the left the, Cathedral,  and on the right the beautiful House of  Blackheads originally built in 1334 for the city’s guilds. (They obviously revered their workers.) Apparently the name came from their patron..who was depicted as a Moor.  Since they were mostly unmarried foreign merchants and the sole occupants of this building, they had riotous parties.(??)

The Dutch Renaissance façade was added in the 1500’s.

A bit sad that it was time for them to catch their flight back to Antwerp, we clinked our wine glasses together.


Mike and I look a little down……but maybe it’s just the exhaustion of trying to keep up with them!






Baltic States IIII  coming soon!




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MasadaMasada! One of the oldest and most glorious places I have ever seen. We saw the classic, Roman buildings from the 1st century BC on the very top of this 6,ooo year old Chacolithic Period site. Today it is crammed with people from all over the world coming to see and visualize our past as a people. And perhaps to learn from it.

This archaeological site tops the rock mountain at 1,300 feet above the Dead Sea. The ancient Roman fortress, built by Herod the Great in 31BC , became the 20th century symbol of Jewish heroism. UNESCO World Heritage Status evolved in 2001.

Cable Cars

There are two ways to travel to the top: walking the Snake path (curvy, stony, and hot), or taking the Cable Car. Easy decision! You can see the top of the Snake beneath the cars. Obviously the structures were build around the mountain rim for protection. The center plateau was used for farming and cattle/sheep raising. For this water was essential but scarce.


Herod had water chambers dug around the bottom of the mountain with channels catching and carrying the rainfall into the cisterns. Then donkeys were used to haul the water to cisterns at the top. Now, with aquaducts and sufficient water, Herod created a bathhouse complex.


The water was heated, passed through pipes into the saunas and eventually funneled into the swimming pool. Incredible.

This Hanging Palace, a 3-terraced structure, was Herod’s personal quarters. If you look closely there appear to be three giant steps down the mountain side. And there are. The top level holds the throne room that opened out to a courtyard. On the back wall behind the throne, we were able to see faded wall paintings. These were the original drawings and it was magic to stand there visualizing the artist working on them. The second terrace contained the meeting/conference quarters, while the third level was the family living area.

SynagogueThe incredible discovery that this synagogue, presumed to be the oldest in the world, has ties to the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The skeleton excavation so far sheds light on this ancient House of Worship. Standing at the edge of Harod’s courtyard, we could just see the Dead Sea beyond and the salt mounds that pepper it. Makes me hungry.

Dead Sea

Leaving Masada we prioritized our needs as air conditioning, food and wine. While driving along the Dead Sea, a surprise Las Vegas appears. A compound of large hotels and restaurants situated along the shore.

Dead Sea2Shortly we sat in a lovely, cool restaurant, drinking wine and watching the beach activity. Mobs of people, young, old and families plunged in and out of the warm water and lounged under roofed cabanas. Apparently there are wonderful health benefits from swimming in this super-saturated salt water.

Ein Gedi Kubbutz3

Ein Geddi Kubbutz



We checked into Ein Gedi Kibbutz Hotel about mid-afternoon. This family styled hotel was located about a half mile up the mountain.


And this was the view we had from ourback patio.

Ein Gedi Kubbutz2






They closed our wonderful pool at 5:30 so everyone would make a timely arrival the family-style dinner buffet (which closed at 8).

While walking to the dining hall, the lowering sun began its slide toward the Dead Sea.


And tomorrow we have but an hour’s drive till we reach Jerusalem.


Tel Aviv: the new Face of Israel

Tel Aviv3

Arriving at 5pm in Tel Aviv, through Security and into a rental car, we dashed to our reserved Lusky Suites Hotel with the sun-lit Mediterranean Sea and the promenade viewed from our balcony.

Tel Aviv4

Tel Aviv was created in 1909, when the Jewish National Fund purchased land among the dunes north of the old Arab port of Jaffa and named it Tel Aviv “Hill of the Spring”.

While not a beautiful city in its self, its rebel but friendly attitude and vitality are most appealing. Dinner that evening, overlooking the Mediterranean shore, was alive with people of all ages and many cultures, walking, sitting but most of all, socializing, along the promenade.

With only 2 days here, we planned the first for a walkabout of the Bauhaus buildings which received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004. This was a pre-Nazi German architectural style of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The over 4000 Bauhaus buildings have earned Tel Aviv the nickname “The White City”.


As an architectural form, the buildings are based on functionality rather than glamor but the elongated balconies and rounded corners vastly appealed to me. Some of them are sensually appealing and I wanted to run my hand over them.


THEN OFF TO JAFFA, one of the most beautiful ancient sea ports in the world! According to to the Bible, Jaffa was built after the great flood by Noah’s son Japheth.Old Jaffa

Remains have been unearthed dating back to the 20th century BC ,  establishing this site as one of the world’s oldest ports. After a decline in 1948, it revived as a center for arts, crafts and dinning. We can vouch for the food, sea view,  salty breeze and the beautiful antiquity of this ancient site.

We found the Visitors Center on the main plaza just in time for the “English” tour of the “Underground” . Down one level was a museum with many relics: statues, working implements, part of a fishing boat and the like from hundreds/thousands of years ago, all excavated from from this site. Our guide told us who used them and when. Unbelievable.  How many cultures passed through and left their mark??

Old Jaffa2Two stories down we found the on-going excavation of a Greek village. The stairs took us down-and-around  the walls and room of a typically ancient house opening to a section of the forum and a water well. The excavators were not the least bothered by our passage. The guide said they had many more levels planned for digging. (That’s probably why the workers were smiling!)

At the end of the tour,  we were led to an enormous circular viewing screen. A marvelous 3-D video of the history of Jaffa was presented. I wanted to see it again but our guide said another group was entering and another language would be used. (Dam)

Hot and tired, we headed back to our hotel. Later we walked to an outside Kosher restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean Sea  and sipped an excellent wine.

Tel Aviv


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Armenia now, after the Soviet Union Implosion

Armenia now , after the Soviet Union  Implosion

When Armenia and Georgia  were mentioned as  possible wine trips….my response was “I’m not Excited.” (I went and researched them on a World Map and was less enthusiastic to see they abutted the Caucasus Mountains with the Russians on the other side.) Then Mike mentioned the discovery of  a viable “ 6000 year old Cradle of Wine cave “ …..and I was hooked.


This picture (yes, we went) of Yerevan, Armenia, backed by the beautiful Mount Ararat (initially Armenian owned but now belongs to Turkey), dominates the landscape. On your left notice the drooping  cross arms….enfolded by angel wings which became the Christian symbol for both Armenia and Georgia since the 4rd century. Saint Nino, a 4th century female evangelist and miracle healer, formed her cross with grape branches and bound the arms with her hair.


Over time the arms dropped, but the symbol continued.

As we drove into Yerevan,

we were surprised to see the

downtown lit up by the lights on

the Noy Brandy Factory.

6936186117_8283e07986.jpg Noy Brandy FactoryShortly after, we approached the Ararat Brandy Factory. Obviously this was a day time photo, I couldn’t find a night shot.

5383583993_69c2ff6da0_z.jpgArarat Brandy Factory

I looked at Mike and said, wine??? he said, “It will all become clear.” When the Soviet Union took over 90 years earlier, the Armenians had to adapt their fully developed vineyards and wineries to the Soviet tastes: sweet-heavy duty Brandy.

Their brandy was highly regarded by Winston Churchill (who preferred it to the French).  That said, Armenia produces some wonderful wines, particularly from a grape variety that can hold its own with the world’s best: the ancient, indigenous variety Areni. (If you want to find it in the U.S., seek an Armenian grocery market).


Yerevan Armenia

We chose the B.W. Congress because it centered the city and was good for walking tours. Our suite was on the top floor, left front corner with a balcony that overlooked the city and park.


This picture I took looking down over the pedestrian area. Those squared Soviet-constructed buildings in the  distance were under renovation for Armenian businesses.

Yerevan Hotel Pool

Breakfast overlooking our lovely pool. (Except it was too early in the season and had no water.) We then joined up with our remarkable guide/translator for sites and wineries. Armenia is a country of ancient monasteries and churches.  St. Hripsime was the first.

Church Hripsime 2

We were followed into the parking lot by a herd of sheep being ushered up the church’s roadway to a pasture beyond. Many curious and noisy ewes…..and messy. We had to watch our steps to the church door.

St. Hripsime was a refugee nun from Rome in the 3rd century. The Bishop tried to rape her and she was killed. It seems he had her buried under the front portico of the church. He left instructions to be buried beside her when he died. (Some of these sites were going to be interesting!)

Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin

Forth century Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity. The history says  St. Gregory the “Illuminator” saw a vision of Christ descending to the ground and striking the earth 3 times. Clouds and fire arose from these sites. Holy Mother Ejmiatsin Cathedral, pictured here was the first. It was built over a 4th century pagan church, one wall which they incorporated into the Cathedral. Looking closely at the picture, it’s easy to see the newest addition of the entrance. The older sections were built in the 5, 15, 16, and 17th centuries. Stone wears well!

Our guide told us that this was a most important and revered site for the Armenia people. And it looked like it….many people were respectfully coming and going, lighting candles and praying.

Armenia is a country of many mountains but few forests so almost all structures are built with stone. (Hmmm, 2 thousand years and still standing…..got to be a message here.)


Historically, Geghard Monastery, 4th century, was initiated by Christian/Syrians who crossed the mountains and began excavations at this site. Many individual caves were dug into the mountain for independent living and worship. (Looking at the picture it’s clear more monks arrived and additions, churches and cooking especially, developed.)

In 923 the site was plundered by Nast from Azerobaijan who wanted to use it for the conversion of the Christians to Islam. After that it declined until the 12th century. Then there was a revival of Monastery building that reactivated reconstruction.


The main Cathedral was built in 1215, below ground level. In the following picture you will see the enormous pillars, an oculus at the top for light and air, and be able to hear (if visiting) the fantastic acoustics.

Geghard Monastery Armenia

Standing by a pillar, I whispered to Mike “Do you know where the facilities are?”   A good distance away, the guard by the entrance said “The first left turn past the pillar for the bathrooms.” Embarrassing.



There were individual caves you could climb into (carefully) and visualize how these monks chose to live their lives. Disappointing that I could find no information on WHY  they chose to isolate themselves here.

Our marvelous guide arranged a lunch at a small hotel in the nearby mountain.

Garni TempleExcellent meal and fantastic view of the Garni  Temple across the Azat River. This is Armenia ’s only Graeco-Roman 1st century pagan temple. The structure was mostly destroyed in the great earthquake of 1679 but restored in 1969.  Looking closely, you can tell the original stones from the replacements. Hard not to stab yourself in the mouth when looking at a view like this!

Coffee and off to visit 2 prearranged wineries.


A wine tasting at the Areni Wine Factory. Our translator smoothly got us through the introductions, oversight and tasting with the winemaker, who, thankfully, had chosen 3 wines for us to sample.

Since I was the driver,  tasting  limited,  looking at all the wine bottles….it was very tempting. The hospitality was wonderful.

The second winery used all organically grown and processed grapes paired with the organic cheeses made by the  winemaker’s wife. He is breaking new ground and entering the new “artisan” markets. His success won’t be from luck!

The following picture happened just before we left Armenia and entered Georgia.


Nothing like having someone back into our car and rip off the front bumper (the white stuff on the ground).

To be continued in GEORGIA


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Stone Porch Inn, Evanston Illinois.


This was our planned Murray clan meeting place. Mike and I flew in from LA while brother Frank and his wife Sally drove in from Gross Point Woods. And timely that we met in the garage—Frank had to move his SUV over so we could fit our normal rental car in the space. Settling into our rooms we agreed on a dinner time and “The Discussion” that would come with it.

And this is where we stayed.

This was the view as we came walking out of the house….eat your heart out….

Tom, our senior Murray was in a Senior Center Care place and we had arranged to meet the next day for lunch at Affresco Pizzeria and Lounge. Having contacted Tom’s daughter Suzanne, earlier, Mike and I asked her to arrange for a table: Inside if foul weather and outside if fair conditions. “And all was go”.

Being chilly out about 8 of us managed to fit at table a: the food and drinks were excellent. After a glass of wine (or 2) talking and laughter abounded. My brother Tom was sitting next to me and he slid over a large envelope, “Read later, I tried to compile information on the Feuerbachers so you can write the history”.

“Why me?” I asked.

“Because you spent your weekends at the Feuerbacher’s home during your time at Fontbonne University and learned more about them as they aged”. He was right. Flora Place was mom’s childhood home in St. Louis, Missouri. And Fontbonne University was not far away.

—This next section was taken from a news article written about the history of the Southern Commercial Bank and its founders—One of whom was Frank Feuerbacher….our grandfather.

In the years following the Civil War, several Carondelet-area banks were organized and failed. In 1891, however, Southern Commercial Bank was founded. Rooted in the values of its immigrant, working class founders, it thrived. For a hundred years, Southern Commercial has played a vital role in the stability of the South Side of St. Louis.

More than any other individual, German-American John Krauss was the inspiration and organizer of this Carondelet institution.

“Krauss then invested his profits and energies in local interests including the Carondelet Zinc Works. Carondelet Flour Mill, and Klausmann Brewery. When Klausmann Brewery faltered, Krauss bought it to protect his interests. Under his management the brewery grew multifold. After twelve years, he sold it to an English brewing syndicate for $650,000.

In 1891 Krauss became the first president of the Southern Commercial Bank. When John Krauss died in 1897, there was an interim president until Frank W. Feuerbacher took office in 1898. Frank Feuerbacher, John Krauss’ son-in-law, was stepson and adopted son of the German-American brewer, Max Feuerbacher. Four years later he married Caroline Krauss.

In later picture above see Frank and Caroline. (The above photo was taken with state of the art photography technology at the time.)

Under Frank Feuerbacher’s leadership, Southern Commercial Bank entered a period of rapid growth. By 1904 the bank had outgrown its original storefront and moved to larger quarters at 7203, South Broadway. Only two years later, President Feuerbacher announced the growing institution needed larger quarters. Southern Commercial constructed a new bank building at 7201 South Broadway.

Late in Frank Feuerbacher’s tenure, in 1922, Southern Commercial Bank was one of the first state banks to join the Federal Reserve system. Arthur Henry Feuerbacher succeeded his brother as president of the bank in 1928.

In 1930, as banks across the nation faltered, conservative Southern Commercial Bank was able to celebrate its steady growth by Opening its current stone and brick building on South Broadway.

*Courtesy of NiNi Harris, “A HISTORY OF CARONDELET”

(You may receive a copy of “A HISTORY OF CARONDELET” at any Southern Commercial Bank location by making a $5.00 donation to The Carondelet Historical Society!)


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2 Families, intertwined, who saw the world differently

My first real memory of my grandparent’s home in Saint Louis Missouri, was traipsing down the basement stairs, slipping and sliding in my new patent leather shoes, at age 4. I was looking for, “Tommy the turtle” being the youngest grandchild we had at that time I had learned that he would allow me to tickle his neck.

This is the Frank Feuerbacher’s family.

The backrow center is Frank and his wife, Caroline Feuerbacher. And in the front row, is my mother Caroline with all that curly( red) hair. Originally there were 12 children, 4 sons had died already from childhood diseases that today are curable.

The background of this photo is the fireplace—much loved by my two brothers and me for the many Christmases we drove from Toledo to St. Louis to celebrate.

We arrived the day before the holiday mainly because my parents knew that the living room would be, “boarded up” for three days for the help to decorate and wrap presents…. allowing my brothers and a few male cousins to cascade down to the basement for entertainment—fastening long strings to the pipes overhead and setting fire to time their burn factor for the Winner. (Tommy the Turtle never came out)

One or two of my female cousins would join me in the top floor ballroom and we would drive around on very old, old, wooden scooters—sometimes bumping into each other. (But not as bad as the guys.)

On Christmas Day, after the destruction of the gift wrap , the living room was a shamble of torn paper—and we adjoined to the dining room.

The dining room was used daily with seating of up to 25 people. Frequently we played hide-and-seek in the darkened  and unused room….  any older family member who walked by hearing the noises, would just keep on walking and ignore it.

The following picture is the backyard with all four of us Murray kids, (must have been Sunday because of our clothes). My brother Tom is facing me, my brother Franky holds the head of our baby sister Veronica and: All are pushing on the old fashion footrest to move the swing back and forth but really trying to kick each other in the ankles, and did…

It was a large yard with a three car garage and a chauffeurs apartment. The marvelous garbage bin on one side faced the back alleyway for pick-up. The other side faced the yard and was used frequently by my brothers and several cousins during lengthy family visits… to shove each other in and sometimes did… (And did they smell at dinner!)

Since only four of grandfathers children married, producing three children in one family, two in another, and four in the Murray family. There were no more male decedents left as of two years ago.

The following picture is of Elizabeth Feuerbachers Ganss with her husband George and their three children: George Junior never married, his sister Betty in the picture is a Nun who survived the Church’s changes for the Nunneries, and daughter Carolyn who has five children.

Uncle Fred Feuerbacher had two children: Father Edward who became a Marvelous Parish Priest, and a daughter whom all are dead now.

And the end of the Frank Feuerbacher name and male legacy— but the female descendants carried on the family traditions.

Ohio to St. Luis is not a short drive but over the following years the Murray’s would make the trip or vice versa. Our maturation was quite different from out St. Luis cousins-vice verse- but we continued to meet and loved it.

The following three pictures might explain the differences.

The Feuerbachers had a “river house” and in this first picture you can even see a little bit of the river on the left. Immediately after the photograph both my brothers and I ran into the house to get our swim suits. And we went screaming down for the rope that out dad had helped us tie on a tree above the water. And one at a time leaped onto the rope and off into the river! All the other kids were forbidden- except Georgie (on my right side) he came running after- in his underwear!

Picture number 2 is a typical picnic planned by the Feuerbachers. All adults sitting in chairs with plates and silverware- and no children.

This was a picture of the grandchildren at grandpa’s house in St. Louis. All nicely dressed and controlled by two overseers- eating off of china plates. And using silverware and nary a smile in place.

All Murray children could swim by the time they could walk and also climb ropes and much much more. On our summer trips to grandpa Murray’s home our aunt Mary and avid swimmer would take the three of us Murray kids: Tom, Franky, and me out for canoe rides. The only condition was when we were close to the shore we would swim in- and dash loved it. The only repayment was to help pull the canoe ashore.

Now to include grandpa Murray’s family home in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

A very large house with four floors, including the reference/reading room at the very top- with an ocean view.

It was set in a large yard, frontal view of the Long Island Sound and two huge cannons facing the water. They were wonderful to climb up and down, and get pushed off of too. Originally they were built for defense against attacks along the Long Island Sound- but the attacks never came.

The circled part of the picture is the original house being smothered by the new campus buildings. So what did grandpa Murray do? He willed it to them after he died at the highest possible price.

Two Families, intertwined, who saw the world differently, and as they aged discovered the differences.

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