Rick Steve's 2014 Best of Europe Tour

Day 0 - Friday, August 29

After a long time spent in planes and airports, we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport at around 7:00 AM. After a quick stop at an ATM to load up on Euros, we located the stop for Air France Bus #2, bought our tickets, and took the bus to the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile. From there it was short 3 block walk to our destination the Hotel Tislitt Etoile. We arrived at about 9:00 and, although our room was not ready, they told us that it would be ready in another hour. We left our bags at the front desk and used the time to wander around the neighborhood and familiarize ourselves with the area. 

We checked into our hotel and, after a short nap, headed out for a walk down the Champs Elysees. We walked all the way to the Louvre and the new pyramid entrance designed by I. M. Pei and finished in 1989. We also viewed the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel which was built between 1806 and 1808 and commemorated Napoleon’s victory of the previous year. On the return trip we saw the Tuileries Gardens and a photographic exhibit of the 100th Anniversary of France’s efforts in World War I. 

After a light dinner at a local sandwich shop, we visited the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile and climbed the 284 steps to the top of the Arc. From there we viewed the Eiffel Tower light show which happens every hour on the hour starting at dusk. We also viewed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.  We returned to our room for a much needed night of rest.

Day 0 Pictures

Day 1 - Saturday, August 30

We slept in so late we almost missed the hotel breakfast and had to go down for breakfast before showering.  After breakfast and a shower we headed out for the Eiffel Tower.  We made it to the tower pretty easily and spent some time just walking around in awe. You could actually go up into the tower but the lines were very long and we really weren’t that interested.  Besides the tower, there was a Japanese cultural exhibition of some type on the site.  After the tower, we wandered around the Trocadero which is across the river from the Eiffel Tower and the site of the Palais de Chaillot which was built in 1937 and houses a number of museums.  We also stopped to watch several hucksters who were playing the classic shell game on the bridge over the river.  We were amazed at how many people were playing and how much they were betting.

We walked back to the hotel and, after a quick lunch, met with our amazing group for our orientation.  Besides meeting all of our amazing new tour mates we also met Dave and William who would be our guides for the next two weeks.  We also hooked up with our new buddies for the tour - Briana and America - great buddies.  We had a short break and then met for a neighborhood orientation which consisted of a walk to the Eiffel Tower and then to a local restaurant near the tower where we had our first group dinner.  After the dinner we walked over to the river where we boarded a boat for a scenic river ride on the Seine.  The ride was interesting and included the Ile de la Cite as well as views of many famous buildings, Notre Dame Cathedral, and another view of the Eiffel Tower light show.  The only negative was a sudden rain shower which lasted about 20 minutes and sent us all scurrying for cover.  After the boat ride, we all walked back to the hotel and retired for the night.

Day 1 Pictures

Day 2 - Sunday, August 31

Sunday morning we took our first trip on the Metro with Dave acting as our local guide for the morning.  After exiting the Metro, we proceeded across the river to the Ile de la Cite.  Out first stop was the Palais de Justice and Sainte-Chapelle.  Sainte-Chapelle is a Gothic chapel built in the early 13th century.  It was commissioned by Louis IX - later to become Saint Louis - to house his collection of passion relics including the Crown of Thorns which he purchased from the Emperor of Constantinople for more than the cost to build the chapel.  The Crown of Thorns is currently housed in Notre Dame Cathedral.  The stained glass windows in the chapel were incredible.

After Sainte-Chapelle we walked to the Latin Quarter which is located on the Left Bank and is one of the only neighborhoods remaining in its original condition since the revolution.  From the Latin Quarter we moved on to Notre Dame Cathedral where we learned about the history of the cathedral.  The guided tour ended here and Linda and I toured the interior of the cathedral on our own and then attended Sunday mass in the cathedral.  After mass we took the Metro back to our hotel to plan the afternoon.

We started with a trip to Trocadero again with thoughts of visiting the Aquarium.  Unfortunately our museum pass did not include the Aquarium and we decided instead to visit Sacre Couer.  Sacre Couer, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, is a Roman Catholic Church and minor basilica dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus. It was begun in 1875 and finished in 1914.  The church is located on the summit of the butte Montmarte, is the highest point in the city, and offers amazing views in all directions. You can also climb to the observation level of the dome but we were too late for that.   There were huge crowds of people on the steps and grounds outside of the cathedral as well as inside.  Perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has continued uninterrupted in the Basilica since 1885.  Because of this visitors are asked to dress appropriately, maintain silence, and no cameras are allowed.  After our visit, we returned to our hotel for the evening.

Day 2 Pictures

Day 3 - Monday, September 1

Monday morning we met our bus driver, Rony, who hails from Belgium and would be with us until we arrived in Rome.  Rony took us to the Louvre where we were to meet up with our local guide.  Unfortunately the Louvre did not open on time because the employees were in a meeting to decide if they wanted to go on strike.  Apparently they decided not to strike and eventually the Louvre opened although our tour was shortened due to our schedule.  Once in the Louvre we viewed some of the most famous exhibits – the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory of Samothrace estimated to have been created in 200-190 BC.  The Louvre is massive and it would take weeks to see the whole museum but this did give us a taste for what we could expect should we return some day.

We left the Louvre around noon and headed for our next destination, Beaune, which is located in the Burgundy region of France.  We checked into the Hotel des Remparts and spent some time wandering around this quaint city.  Around dinner time we gathered in the basement of the hotel for some wine tasting and a talk about the wines of the region.  After the tasting, we walked to a local restaurant for another group dinner.  After leaving the restaurant we discovered an amazing light show that was being projected on the Chapel of Saint Etienne.  This is one of those surprises that you never really expect and makes traveling even more interesting.  After returning to the hotel, we retired for the night.

Day 3 Pictures

Day 4 - Tuesday, September 2

Some of the group got up early to visit the Hospices of Beaune but we were still trying to get our internal clocks in order so we passed on this and got a little extra sleep.  We did however take a short walk back to Chapel Saint Etienne and then gathered in the hotel courtyard prior to leaving Beaune.

After breakfast we boarded the bus for our trip to Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland.  Lauterbrunnen is located in the Lauterbrunnen Valley which is one of the biggest nature conservation areas in Switzerland and boasts 72 waterfalls.  We checked into the Hotel Oberland although we, along with 2 other couples, were actually put up at the Crystal Annex across the street which the Oberland had acquired.  The rooms were very nice and we had a balcony with a wonderful view of the valley.  After checking in we washed out some of our clothes in the sink since they would have two days to dry.  Then we went out to wander around the small town to see what we could find.  One of the interesting things was a cemetery that had more flowers than any cemetery we have ever seen.  There was a bed about 2’ X 5’ over every grave that was packed of flowers.  Apparently this is a Swiss tradition.

Before dinner we had a demonstration of classic Swiss fondue that was very tasty.   Dinner was described as a ‘hearty’ Swiss dinner (sausage).  After dinner we walked to the Staubbach Falls which is located at the edge of town and plunges 300 meters from an overhanging rock face.  They are one of the highest free falling falls in Europe and are especially beautiful at night since they are illuminated by several high power spotlights.  There is a winding path part way up the falls and we walked up to the observation point with Mike, Tammy, Briana, and America.

Day 4 Pictures

Day 5 - Wednesday, September 3

We started out with a short walk to the Gondola Station in Lauterbrunnen where we rode the Gondola to Grutschalp.  This is where we began our Swiss Alps hike.  The hike was about 3 miles over a nice path with only mild elevation and incredible scenery.  Along the way we had great views of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau – three of the most famous mountains in the Swiss Alps.  Eiger was actually the location of The Eiger Sanction, a movie made in 1975 starring Clint Eastwood.  Since this was still summer, the cows were all in their upper pasture so we passed lots of cows all with their unique bells.  We think that having to listen to their own bells constantly must be maddening.

Our first stop in the hike was Winteregg where some of the group bailed out and took the train back to the Gondola Station.  Our next stop was Murren where some more group members left to take the Gondola to Schilthorn which, at 9740 feet, is the highest mountain in the range.  We continued on to Gimmelwald where we had lunch with Brooklyn and Christian and then caught a Gondola back to Stechelberg which is at the other end of the valley from Lauterbrunnen.  From there we hiked the 3 miles back to Lauterbrunnen along a nice path along the valley floor.  We had excellent views of the paragliders and base jumpers who make this area a special destination.

In the evening Rony took us back to Stechelberg for dinner at the Hotel Stechelberg Restaurant which he recommended because of their Black Forest Cake.  The meal was average but the cake was excellent.  We rode the bus back to Lauterbrunnen and called it a night although some of the group hit the local pub.

Day 5 Pictures

Day 6 - Thursday, September 4

We spent much of the day in the bus traveling through Lichtenstien, and Austria on our way to Munich, Germany.  It was actually a beautiful drive and we saw lots of scenery including numerous castles.  We stopped at numerous rest areas along the way both today and on our other travel days.  The Europeans definitely do rest areas in a big way.  All of the rest areas had huge cafeterias with every kind of food you could ask for (if you knew how to pronounce it).

We arrived at the Hotel Blauer Bock around 4:00 in the afternoon and, after checking in, Dave gave us a quick tour of Marienplatz and the Viktualienmarkt or Victuals Market which is a popular market for fresh food and delicatessen as well as a popular gathering spot.  We had a few hours before we were to meet up for dinner so we wandered around central Munich and walked to the Karlstor, one of the three original gates left from the wall that once surrounded and protected the city.

The group met up for dinner and we took the Metro to the Augustiner Keller Beer Garden.  This is one of the 7 major beer gardens in Munich and could seat 5000 people.  You can bring your own food to any of the beer gardens but, of course, you must drink their beer.  There were lots of people having parties, bringing picnic baskets, and generally having a great time.  Food is served cafeteria style and, like the Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame, you better be ready to order when it’s your turn or you’re out of luck.  The beer steins were huge, the beer was excellent, the pretzels were huge, and we had a great time.   We finally called it a night and headed back to our hotel for the night.

Day 6 Pictures

Day 7 - Friday, September 5

We began the day meeting out local guide Kathleen outside of our hotel.  We proceeded to the Viktualienmarkt where Kathleen explained the significance of the Maypole.  We then walked to Marienplatz - the city center of Munich since 1158 - where we saw the New Town Hall with the Glockenspiel, the statue of Mary at the center of the square which was erected in 1638, and the bronze statue of Shakespeare’s Juliet which was a gift from Verona in 1974.

From here we walked to the Alter Hof, the former imperial residence of Louis IV.  Next was the Hofbrauhaus which was built in 1589 and is arguably the most famous beer hall anywhere.  We saw all of the individualized reserved tables for local families and groups as well as racks of personal beer steins.  The next stop was the Residenz Museum the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs.  The Residenz museum is a complex of buildings which contains ten courtyards and displays 130 rooms.  From the Residenz we returned to Marienplatz for the completion of our morning tour.  What is amazing is that 80% to 90% of Germany, including Munich, was destroyed during World War II.  Most cities chose to rebuild in a modern style while Munich chose to rebuild as much as possible to original conditions.  The fact that so many of these buildings like the Residenz and the Town Hall were so massively damaged is hard to believe considering their current condition.

After the end of the tour, we boarded the Metro for a 20 minute ride to Dachau where we were to meet with our guide, Franz, for a tour of the former Dachau Concentration Camp.  Although it may not have been a pleasant afternoon from an emotional standpoint, it was without a doubt the most memorable part of our tour.  The tour included replicas of the buildings the prisoners were housed in since the originals had been destroyed, the grounds, the crematorium, several memorials, and a museum.  The most telling experience was the two word sign "NEVER AGAIN" and knowing that the same thing has happened many times since the days of the concentration camps and indeed is still going on today in parts of the world.  We could have easily spent more time here but we eventually had to head back our hotel for the evening.

We spent the evening wandering around central Munich and eating at a local Thai restaurant across from our hotel.

Day 7 Pictures

Day 8 - Saturday, September 6

We left Munich Saturday morning after taking a few pictures of some unique circular bikes that we had never seen before.  These are apparently referred to as Conference Bikes and look like a lot of fun.  We stopped for lunch in Enga, Italy at a Pizzeria Lauben where we had all you can eat pizza and salad as well as wine for 1.0 € per glass – what more can you ask for.

We arrived at the bus parking lot for Venice tourists about mid afternoon.  From here we took a Vaporetto, a Venice water taxi, to within a few blocks of our hotel.  From here we navigated several bridges and narrow alleys to get to our destination for the next 2 nights – the Hotel Mercurio.

After getting settled in we joined our tour mates for another group dinner followed by a traditional Gondola ride on the canals.  Nice day and memorable evening.

Day 8 Pictures

Day 9 - Sunday, September 7

We began our day by meeting up with our local guide in Venice.  We first visited Campo Manin with it's status of Daniele Manin.  From there we headed for the Rialto Bridge, the most famous bridge to cross the grand canal, and from there to the Scuola Grande di San Marco which was originally the home of one of the six major sodalities but is now a civil hospital.  Then it was the Basilica of Saints John and Paul (not the original disciples) with the statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni.  We ended up the tour at the San Marco Piazza which is the home of St. Mark's Basilica as well as a central meeting point in Venice.  It was an interesting time because it was Aqua Alta and much of the Piazza was flooded.  This marked the end of the formal tour.

We entered the Basilica and attended Sunday mass.  Because we were going to mass, we could bypass the long line waiting to enter the Basilica.  We spent the afternoon following our guides recommendation to "get lost in Venice".  Of course you really can't get too lost since Venice is an island but we put in many miles wandering around the main routes as well as many side alleys where there was very little traffic.  The annual Regata Storica was happening that day so there even more people than usual in town especially in areas like the Rialto Bridge.  The regatta was to begin around 4:00 PM so we wandered back to the Piazza San Marco to watch the beginning of the races. On our way, we encountered hundreds of protestors carrying signs and blowing police whistles which were deafening. We have no idea what they were protesting as all the signs were in Italian, but it was most likely political. It was a fun and interesting afternoon.

We stopped at an outdoor restaurant on one of the side alleys where we met a nice couple who were down from the Netherlands for a weekend.  We were still getting used to the idea that going from country to country in Europe is as easy as going from state to state in the US.  There are still guard posts at most crossings but most of them are completely unmanned.

Day 9 Pictures

Day 10 - Monday, September 8

Monday was sort of a rest and restore day.  We left Venice and headed for the Tuscany region of Italy and the Villa il Crocicchio which is located outside the town of Reggello.  The Villa il Crocicchio is part of the Agriturismo network of working farms that owners have decided to use for accommodations.  There were rooms that were in the main building that were complete suites and exterior buildings that had rooms with lofts for sitting rooms.  There was also a very nice pool and we spent the afternoon hanging out by the pool and enjoying adult beverages.  There was also one washer and one dryer so we were able to wash clothes as well.

Before dinner we had an Italian cooking demonstration which included, pasta, sauces, and biscotti - all of which were excellent.  The dinner was just as good as the demonstration and we all finished completely full and well rested.

Day 10 Pictures

Day 11 - Tuesday, September 9

It's a good thing we got some rest Monday because Tuesday was to be a very busy day.  We began with a bus drive to Florence where we met up with our local guide for the morning - Cindy, an ex-pat who has lived in Florence since college.  We started out at the Piazza del Duomo the site of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (English, The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower), also known as the Duomo.  This is actually a complex of three buildings - the Duomo itself, the Baptistry, and the Bell Tower.  The Duomo was begun 1296 and completed in 1436 with the completion of Brunelleschi's dome.  The exterior is faced with polychrome marble panels which are currently being restored and are truly amazing.  The Baptistry is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and was constructed between 1059 and 1128.  It is most famous for its three sets of bronze doors decorated with relief sculptures.  The most famous of which are the eastern gold-gilded doors which face the facade of the Duomo and are better known as "The Gates of Paradise" - named by Michelangelo.  The Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotta) was constructed between 1334 and 1359.  The tower is 278 feet tall and decorated with marble tiles similar to the cathedral.

We then visited the Piazza di San Lorenzo the home of the Basilica di San Lorenzo.  The Basilica is one of the oldest churches in Florence and can be traced back to the Roman era.  The basilica's rough front facade is still incomplete. Michelangelo created a marble design for the facade but it was never implemented. We also visited the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata which exemplifies the ideals of the Renaissance architecture with works and buildings by some of the most famous masters of the period.  Besides the balanced porticoes, the piazza also includes the equestrian statue of Ferdinando I de' Medici as well as two strange bronze fountains.  From here we continued our walk through the neighborhood where we viewed some interesting street signs.  We then walked to the Piazza della Signoria, an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio and the political hub of the city.  The center of the square was dominated by the Neptune Fountain.  On the south side of was the Loggia dei Lanzi which consists of wide arches open to the street and is essentially an open-air sculpture gallery with replicas of David, The Rape of the Sabines, Hercules and Caucus, and a number of others.

From the Piazza we entered the Uffizi Gallery, among the oldest and most famous museums in Europe.  The museum contains famous works such as "The Birth of Venus" and "Allegory of Spring" as well as works from the likes of Botticelli, Lippi, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Goya, and Rembrandt.  It was simply overwhelming.

After leaving the Uffizi we had several hours on our own.  Linda and I found a sandwich shop for a quick lunch and then headed for the San Lorenzo Outdoor Market which featured hundreds of booths, many of which featured leather products.  Linda was able to find a purse before we got burned out.  We then returned to the Duomo where we entered and spent the remainder of our time viewing the interior of the cathedral.  For how light the exterior of the building was, the interior seemed quite dark.

Finally we walked to The Accademia Gallery, most famous for its sculptures by Michelangelo.  His "Prisoners", "St. Matthew", and "David" are what draw most visitors to the museum which also includes works by Botticelli and many others.  The museum also has a section on musical instruments which displays old and one-of-a-kind pieces.  Finally one of the halls includes a huge collection of plaster casts from famous sculptors.  

Completely spent, we boarded the bus for our return trip to our hotel and another amazing Tuscan dinner.

Day 11 Pictures

Day 12 - Wednesday, September 10

We started Wednesday with our last bus trip, this one from our hotel in Tuscany to our next hotel in Rome.  After a stop along the road for lunch, we arrived at the Hotel Selene in Rome, said goodbye to our great bus driver Rony, and checked in for the next 3 days.  After getting settled in we gathered together once again and headed for the nearby Metro stop.

We exited the Metro, climbed the steps to ground level, and were amazed to be looking directly at the Roman Colosseum.  It seemed very strange to transition from a modern means of transportation to an immense building that was almost 2000 years ago.  Building something like the Colosseum would be an impressive feat today but to build it 2000 years ago with the tools and instruments they had available is hard to imagine.  We met up with our local guide and entered the Colosseum where we toured the interior and listened to a description of why the Colosseum was built, what kind of events were held here, and the history of the last 2000 years.

After the Colosseum, we passed the Arch of Constantine on our way to the Roman Forum.  The Roman Forum was the center of Roman life and activity for more than 1000 years.  There were originally three major arches here of which only the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Septimius and Severus remain intact.  With the exception of these arches and several temples - The Temple of Saturn, The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, and The Basilica of Cosmas and Damian - much of the forum has been destroyed over the years but what is left gives you an idea of how impressive it must have once been.  From the Forum we walked to the Capitoline Hill and the Piazza del Campidoglio.

Our final stop was the Pantheon.  The Pantheon was built more than 1800 years ago and was originally for all of the pagan gods but was converted to a church in 609 and now contains the tombs of the famous artist Raphael and several Italian kings.  The only light in the temple is from the oculus - a round hole at the top of the dome which is totally open.  When it rains, it rains into the temple.  The dome was the largest dome in the world until the Duomo of Florence was built in 1436.  Because the day was overcast and it was very dark in the temple, we only took a couple of pictures.

After the Pantheon, we ate dinner at a local restaurant where we sat outside, in the rain, and felt like we were home in Seattle.  We walked back to our hotel with one of several stops during our stay in Rome for Gelatto.

Day 12 Pictures

Day 13 - Thursday, September 11

We began the day with another trip on the Metro - this time to Vatican City to meet our local guide for the morning.  We met our guide and started with a trip to the Vatican Gardens where he used storyboards to explain what we would eventually see in the Sistine Chapel.  This was done because there is supposed to be complete silence and no photographs once we are in the Chapel.  Although we did this in intermittant drizzle, it was not much more than we are used to on a regular basis at home.

After the introduction to the Sistine Chapel, we proceeded to the Vatican Museum where we spent much of the morning viewing many of the exhibits and incredible works of art.  Our guide was very knowledgeable and we enjoyed the tour although, to be honest, we will probably only remember a portion of what we learned.  From the museum we went directly to the Sistine Chapel.  We spent about 30 minutes in the Chapel and, even though we had received an introduction, it was still more than you could take in in such a short time.

After the Chapel we were on our own and Linda and I entered St. Peter's to tour the Basilica.  The church is immense and, again, you could probably spend days exploring the entire building.  After about an hour we decide to leave and find some lunch.  We had to leave St. Peter's to find food but we found a nice sandwich shop and, of course, a Gelatto stand.  

We still wanted to climb the steps to the top of the dome so we re-entered the Plaza and got in line to enter the Church.  The line was very long but it only took about 35 - 40 minutes to get in and most of the people were going into the church rather than the dome.  We took the elevator instead of the 251 steps and then climbed the final 320 steps to the top of the dome.  Although it was crowded, the views were amazing and we spent 30 to 45 minutes walking around the platform and taking pictures of the sights.

After we came down from the dome, we went back into the church for some additional exploring.  Finally we left St. Peter's and headed back to our hotel for the final group gathering.  We all met at a local restaurant for an excellent dinner and final fellowship with all of our tour mates.  It was a great evening and everyone hated to leave.

Day 13 Pictures

Day 14 - Friday, September 12

Although the tour was technically supposed to be over after breakfast Friday morning, it was really over after dinner last night.  A number of folks left early in the morning either for a flight home or off to a different destination to extend their stay in Italy.  Linda and I slept in a little, met some of the others from our group who were still around for breakfast and then headed back to St. Peter's.  We decided that as long as were here we should attend a daily mass at St. Peter's.  We had to wait in line again for about 30 minutes and then got in just after the start of the 11:00 AM mass.  We continued exploring some more and the attended the 12:00 PM mass.  The mass was in Italian of course and lasted about 18 minutes.  It was probably the shortest mass we have been to since St. Patrick's in New York.

After mass we left St. Peter's for the final time and just spent time wandering around the neighborhood of the Vatican where we discovered the Castel St. Angelo along the shore of the Tiber River.  The Castle was originally a mausoleum that Emperor Hadrian built for himself but has transformed many times over the years.  We had some lunch outside the castle and finally headed back to our hotel.  We spent most of the afternoon either shopping the local street merchants or wandering around the neighborhood around our hotel.  We ate at a local outdoor restaurant where we met an interesting gentleman from Australia and turned in early since we had a very early call the following morning.

Day 14 Pictures

Day 15 - Saturday, September 13

We got up at the ridiculous hour of 3:30 AM in order to catch a van ride at 4:00 AM to the Rome Airport since we had a 7:00 AM flight to Frankfort.  Despite warnings about the Rome Airport, we had no problems at all.  We found the correct check-in desk, checked in, and made it to our gate with no problems or delays.  The flight to Frankfort was on time however, despite landing on time and having a 2 hour layover, we just made the flight to Seattle since we had to go through another security check and they only had one check point open.  

The flight to Seattle was supposed to be 11 hours but about three quarters of the way through the flight it became obvious through the actions of the crew that there was some kind of medical emergency with one of the passengers.  The problem was significant enough that the plane had to make an emergency landing in Churchill, Manitoba.  Apparently this was the closest landing strip long enough to handle our plane.  The passenger was removed and put on a LifeLine Flight to a hospital somewhere else and, after refueling, we eventually resumed our flight.  An 11 flight became a 15 hour flight and, after landing in Seattle, reclaiming our car, and driving home, we arrived at our door 23 hours from the time we left our hotel in Rome.

Closing Thoughts

Overall we had a great trip.  We have never done a Rick Steves Tour but it worked out well and we would definitely do it again.  Although everything went well, we find after every trip that there are a few things that we might do differently so here are a few thoughts for our next trip:

That's about it for now but I may add more thoughts in the future as I think of them.