Friday, December 30, 2016

How Many Countries (But Who's Counting?) - 2016 Year End Edition

We once ran into a couple on a cruise who were strangely proud of having visited 130 "countries" and realized we never wanted to be "those people." It's more common (and a more difficult question) to be asked about our favorite region, country, or city. Still, people do ask us from time to time.  

For those who ask, and for our own amusement, since early 2009 we've been annually counting up the countries we've visited in the course of our travels. In 2016 we added one new country, Peru, to our list.

Based on the Century Travelers' Club current list of 325 entities (they added one in 2016), we've been in a total of 101 to date. (We had not included Scotland on previous lists so jumped up two from 2015.) You'll notice the following list includes a lot of places that aren't sovereign states, but it's one harmless way to keep score. You'll find further down a list of the 75 sovereign states we've visited:



Pacific Ocean (6/39)
Australia
Fiji Islands
French Polynesia (Tahiti,Tuamotu, Austral, Gambier)
Hawaiian Islands
New Zealand
Tasmania

North America (4/6)
Alaska
Canada
Mexico
U.S. (continental)

Central America (5/7)
Belize (British Honduras)
Costa Rica
Guatemala
Honduras
Panama
 
South America (5/14)
Argentina
Brazil
Chile
Colombia
Peru
Uruguay
 
Caribbean (15/30)
Antigua & Deps. (Barbuda, Redonda)
Bahamas
Barbados
Cayman Islands
Dominican Republic
Jamaica
Leeward Islands, French (St. Martin)
Puerto Rico
St. Barts
St. Kitts
St. Lucia
St. Maarten (formerly Netherlands Antilles)
Turks and Caicos Islands
Virgin Islands, U.S. (St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas)
Virgin Islands, British (Tortola, etc.)
 
Atlantic Ocean (6/13)
Azores Islands
Bermuda
Canary Islands
Cape Verde Islands
Iceland
Madeira
 
Europe and Mediterranean (37/67)
Austria
Belgium
Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Minorca)
Croatia
Czech Republic
Denmark
England
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Gibraltar
Greece
Hungary
Ionian Islands (Corfu, etc.)
Ireland (Eire)
Ireland, Northern (Ulster)
Italy
Liechtenstein 
Luxembourg
Malta
Monaco
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Russia
Sicily

Scotland
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
Turkey in Europe (Istanbul)
Vatican City
Wales
Antarctica (0/7)
None

Africa (7/55)
Egypt in Africa
Lesotho
Morocco
Senegal (plane refueling at Dakar - did not formally enter)
South Africa
Swaziland
Zimbabwe
 
Middle East (0/21)
None
 
Indian Ocean (1/14)
The Maldives
 
Asia (14/51)
Cambodia
China, People's Rep.
Hong Kong
India
Japan
Korea, North (DMZ tour only)
Korea, South
Malaysia
Singapore
Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
Taiwan
Thailand
Turkey in Asia
Vietnam

If we restrict our list only to sovereign nations, we've visited 75 of 195 such entities:

Antigua
Argentina
Australia
Austria
Bahamas
Barbados
Belgium
Belize
Brazil
Cambodia
Canada
Cape Verde
Chile
China
Colombia
Costa Rica
Croatia
Czech Republic
Denmark
Egypt
Estonia
Fiji
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Guatemala
Holy See (Vatican City)
Honduras
Hungary
Iceland
India
Ireland
Italy
Jamaica
Japan
Korea (North) - DMZ tour only
Korea (South)
Lesotho
Liechtenstein
Luxembourg
Malaysia
Maldives
Malta
Mexico
Monaco
Morocco
Netherlands
New Zealand
Norway
Panama

Peru
Poland
Portugal
Russia
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Senegal (plane refueling at Dakar - did not formally enter)
Singapore
Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
Slovakia
Slovenia
South Africa
Spain
Swaziland
Sweden
Switzerland
Taiwan
Thailand
Turkey
United Kingdom
United States
Uruguay
Vietnam
Zimbabwe 


To look at it yet another way, courtesy of the Visited Countries website, we have visited 85 states (they include some entities such as Caribbean islands that are actually dependencies):



Playing with the statistics (a bit obsessively, don't you think?), we realize we've actually visited a higher percentage of the world's current sovereign states - 38% - than our presence in 34% of the Century Club's entries. But - as we always say about countries and our anniversaries - who's counting?
 
Yes, we’re already looking forward to at least one or two new entries in 2017.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Our 12 Months of Travel: 2016

We count ourselves fortunate to have enjoyed a great year of travel in 2016. Our 12 months of travel turned out to be seven months of travel with a lot of time at home in the middle part of the year.

The first few months of 2016 count among our busiest travel months ever, for which there's a fairly simple reason. We switched our airline loyalty program to Alaska. To reach top tier on that carrier, you have to fly either 75,000 miles solely on Alaska metal (flights), or 90,000 miles on Alaska's partner airlines.

Since it would be highly unlikely for us to fly 75K within the U.S. (okay, with some Canada and Mexico also on Alaska's routes), we are constantly on the lookout for bargain business-class flights on Alaska's partners (we no longer have within us the motivation to fly in coach on long overnight flights - as one of John Cleese's Monty Python characters remarked of certain strenuous achievements, "Where's the pleasure in that?"). Yes, we found some bargains and we did some serious flying.

A highlight of the year was taking our third-eldest grandchild, Taegan, on a Spring-Break trip to Europe in March. We think she enjoyed it almost as much as we did. We have five more grandchildren to take on promised trips, and we'll do our best to stay healthy and strong.

Speaking of health and strength, Kathy tore her meniscus three nights before we were leaving for Peru and Macchu Picchu - how's that for timing? We still made the trip. and even saw a fair amount of that classic bucket-list destination, thanks to a sympathetic guide and Kathy's determination.

How many people have seen the Northern Lights in Iceland and a torrid Buenos Aires tango in the same month?  Heck, between January and early June we saw those along with the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, the Panama Canal, Machu Picchu, and the Sydney Opera House, an intensive level of landmark sightings even for us.

Our travel between June and November consisted largely of trips to physical therapy and we did enjoy our time at home, the longest period of time we've gone without boarding a plane in many years. We managed a little more travel as the year drew to a close. Along the way, we managed to qualify again for Alaska Airlines MVP75K and Hilton Diamond.

This is also the first year in quite a few that didn't include a cruise, but we'll make that up with two in 2017. Yes, we're already looking forward to trips in our future.

January

New Orleans, Amtrak City of New Orleans to Chicago and Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, Puerto Rico, San Francisco, Florida.

February

Florida (still), Iceland, Buenos Aires

March

Europe with Taegan (Paris, Rome, Venice, Salzburg, Munich)

April

Changsha, China, Peru, Panama

May/June

Panama (still), Thailand, Australia (Oz Fest)

November

Hawaii (Big Island), San Francisco

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Birch Bay Sights on the Shortest Day of the Year

We've seen raccoons and even once a coyote in our back yard but this morning was the first time we recall seeing a squirrel bounding around behind our house. But that wasn't all.
Later we went for a walk down to the water's edge and what did we see but a big yellow ball in the sky to let us properly observer the winter solstice on this beautiful day.



Thursday, December 15, 2016

Birch Bay Cold Snap

And ice on our majestic Thunderbird Lake

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Shorter Days in Birch Bay

The view this afternoon from our back yard - a colorful sky over majestic Thunderbird Lake...


Monday, November 21, 2016

Au Revoir, San Francisco

Aboard Alaska 315 SFO-SEA at 36,000 feet, after an interesting parallel takeoff with a Delta flight on the next runway over...


Alaska-style Couscous
.

Last Lunch of the Trip: Yank Sing

One of Kathy's brothers urged us to try it. Thanks, Tom! It made for an excellent Dim Sum lunch.


This branch is located in the Rincon Center, a magnificently restored old post office building from the late 30s.


Lots of accolades in the window...



The team meets for a pep talk before opening.


We're in and scanning the menu.


No duck feet or pork belly on the menu, but a lot to choose from...



The Xaio Long Bao was good...


This shrimp dish was a work of art.


Their version of lettuce wrap is elegant.


We're happy to have finished with sesame balls, a quasi-dessert but not too sweet.



A delicious way to wrap up our four-day weekend in San Francisco.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Rock: Alcatraz

Amazing to learn that the total number of federal prisoners that Alcatraz housed totaled only 1500-1600. 

Rainy San Francisco

We are finally going to Alcatraz and it proves to be pouring rain.

We picked up our tickets at Pier 33 and discovered Butterfly just down the street, a great place to enjoy a Sunday brunch.




And the sky is brightening.



Saturday, November 19, 2016

Dinner at Tin: San Francisco Vietnamese

It was a dark and stormy night (well, rainy) and we researched the neighborhood around the Intercontinental, settling on Tin, a well reviewed Vietnamese eatery in the next block.



We started with Cha Gia rolls and papaya salad. You wrap the rolls in the lettuce, adding the mint leaves, cilantro and sauce.



Our main course included lemongrass chili chicken with vermicelli, "shaken" beef with rice, and a side of baby bok choy.



This place is a winner.

The Busy San Francisco Exploratorium

The pass we bought included entry. It's a great hands-on science center kind of place and as busy as you'd expect on a very rainy Saturday.

We took a quick walk through and then headed back to our hotel on Streetcar F.


Quite a drinking fountain to attract young people...



San Francisco Aquarium of the Bay

Jellyfish, sharks, and more...