Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

As 2010 draws to an end, it’s time to wish everyone a Happy New Year! It’s also time to wonder where the past 365 days have gone. Did they speed by when I wasn’t looking? As a little girl, I remember asking my mother why it took soooooo long for my birthday and Christmas come; now it seems just the opposite. My mother said that time would speed up as I got older...and guess what? It did!

2010 has been a good year. We enjoyed our friends, our family and our travels. So raise your glasses to a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous, and Adventurous New Year!

Happy 2011!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Camping

We are camping in an urban oasis, in the Napa Valley. It’s very civilized camping. You might note that our space is paved, there is a nice lawn, and while you cannot see it, free wifi! What else does the modern urban camper need?

As I was walking around the campground I discovered a herd/flock/mess of Canada Geese. Can you remember when they were an endangered species? They aren’t any more! I was trying to get a close up of the beasts, but all they did was waddle away from me. One of them waddled too far from the group, so it flew back. I was lucky enough to capture part of his landing.

Since it’s been raining, there are puddles all over the place. I like to take pictures of the reflections found in puddles. This picture has the reflection, plus the last vestiges of autumnal leaves. I thought it looked interesting.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cruise Critters

Since it is cold, and rainy, and windy, here, it’s fun to think about the warm weather we had in the Caribbean and the cruise in general. No cruise is complete without the towel animals that the cabin attendants leave in your room at night. I talked to our attendant, Jerrold, and he said he knew how to make 35 different towel animals.

Holland America has a commitment to these animals too as they print up “eyes” for the critters. On other cruise ship lines we’ve been on, you have to imagine the eyes, or the attendant clips little pieces of colored paper to represent eyes. Can you imagine how many “eyes” the company prints in the course of a week. If there are 2000 people on the ship, roughly 1000 rooms, each attendant is making 7 critters a week...that’s 7000 eyes, all of which need to be cut out. Just another piece of whimsey.

Here are some of the critters left in our room:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On The Caribbean

We’ve been home for awhile, but I’ve not posted any pictures from our Caribbean Cruise. The 14 day cruise took us to several interesting ports of call. Aruba, Curacao, Grand Turk, St. Maarten and Puerto Rico. The whole purpose of the cruise was to see Puerto Rico...which we did and now we both want to see more. It might be worth our while to spend about a week there exploring what that pretty island has to offer.

We were on a Holland America ship, the Westerdam, which was ok, but not great! People had told us that HA cruises were more sedate than Princess or Royal Caribbean, and we found out they are! The sedate feeling started with the dark blue hull of the ship which led into an interior decorated with dark colors. It was nicely done, but it did not have a lot of pizzazz. It took me a week to get used to the darkness of the interior. In addition, there were no “WOW” features on the ship. The atrium was a mere 3 stories tall and while it did boast a beautiful chandelier, it was the size of my dining room with a spiral staircase. The “big room” where nightly performances were held was nice, but again, nothing that made you say “WOW...this is SOME place.”

Given that, it was a nice ship. We had a veranda room which was roomy and filled with light. The veranda was a nice place to sit and relax as we sailed from one island to another. With a small sitting area, it was a nice place to get away from the world. The drawback of any veranda or balcony is neighbors. The first 7 days we had quiet neighbors; the last 7 days we had noisy neighbors who smoked cigars! That’s the downside of having a veranda. My favorite cabin is a window cabin near the middle of the ship on a lower deck. It’s stable, has enough room and a view of the great outdoors. I know there are folks who like their penthouse suites, but face it...when you are way up in the top of the ship, there is a lot more movement than when you are near the water line. I don’t like the constant swaying back and forth. In addition, the penthouses are rarely in the middle of the ship, they are at one end or  the other, where you have more rocking. Give me a nice window cabin that is low and mid-ships and I’m happy. On some ships, I even like an inside cabin (i.e., the Sun Princess has inside cabins on deck 5 by the elevators, near the Promenade deck and not too far from the show room, the big atrium, and music.)

Our first stop was to Half Moon Cay which is an island in the Bahamas owned by Holland America. Princess and Royal Caribbean also own little cays in the Bahamas. It is a good way to get introduced to the Caribbean’s warm water and weather.

From there we stopped in Aruba. This was our second time in Aruba, so we did not take an organized shore excursion. We just walked the downtown area enjoying the heat, the colors, the boats in the harbor and all the tourists trying to buy stuff made in China from little stalls along the beach.

Next stop was Curacao. We did go on an organized excursion here...a mini-submarine/glass sided boat, that floated over the reef. It was great to see the fish and coral. From there we went to the Curacao plant and tasted 10 different types of Curacao liqueur which was quite tasty. My favorite was a mixture of coffee and chocolate.

Willemstad, Curacao (the capital) has 2 wonderful is an old pontoon bridge and the other is a zoomy, modern Queen Julianna Bridge. The bridges tell the story of the 2 sides of all the Caribbean islands...they are a mixture of old and new and sadly the new is usurping land from the old, changing the feeling of the place. If you want to see the old Caribbean you probably need to see a movie filmed there in the 60s as there is not much “old” left (at least not on the islands we visited on this trip.)

These 2 islands are part of the ABC group (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) and are in the Netherlands Antilles. There’s a lot of Dutch influence on the islands which can be see in their architecture...but with a Caribbean bent. In Holland the colors are dark, in the Caribbean the colors are bright and garish and completely wonderful. The license plate for Curacao shows off the typical architecture and color.

We learned how the Antilles got their name. The area was discovered by the Spanish in the 1500s and they called the little islands “Islas Inutiles”which means “unusable islands.” Over time the word “Inutiles” was corrupted in Antilles. So now you know a piece of not very useful information.

From Curacao we circled back to Fort Lauderdale and we got off the ship and saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. The movie came out the day we sailed, so we were unable to see it on opening day (which we have done in the past). Using Fandango, I found a theater in a shopping mall in Ft. Lauderdale that was going to show the moving the following Friday. When we landed, took a taxi to the mall and saw the10 AM show at their IMAX theater. (I liked the movie, BTW.) When it was over, we called the taxi, he picked us up and we were back on the ship before sail-away. See the other DrC’s blog for a review of the movie.

There were some flowers, but not that many. When I saw some that were pretty, I snapped away. The whole time I’m taking pictures and learning how to use my new camera. I bought a Canon EOS 60D DSLR camera which is huge, has all sorts of bells and whistles and can capture some good images.

The next day we were on the Caribbean again sailing toward Grand Turk and Caicos Islands. I was expecting to see a huge island because the name is GRAND...and I was a bit disappointed to see a small, flat expanse in a very blue sea. We had a shore excursion planned for the island, but it was cancelled, so we walked around looking at the beaches and birds.

One of the newer “things” that is happening on all the Caribbean Islands are formal shopping zones that have been built at the end of the piers. The ships tie up to the piers and the first thing a passenger sees is the newly built Duty Free Shopping Zone.

They all look the same; they all sell the same stuff but with different island names on it; and they are all a waste of time, in my opinion. While they are clean and well organized and air conditioned, they have reduced the charm of the islands. The “old” ways have been replaced by a new commercialism. To add to that is the number of condos that have been built along the beach. The first place I saw the over-build-up of condos was Bora Bora where you cannot see the beach from the interior of the island because it has been built up with fancy hotels and condos. Well, the Caribbean is getting that way too.

On the other hand, there are beaches here as it’s not quite as built up as the bigger island. You might be able to see that Grand Turk is flat!

The beaches in Curacao were filled with condos, the same with Aruba and even Grand Turk. Grand Turk had these low-rise condos.

I’ll stop whining...Grand Turk is named after a cactus that has a flower that looks like a fez. It’s wild all over the island. I know it sounds strange that there are cacti growing in the tropics, but that’s not uncommon. There are cacti in Hawaii.

The next stop was St. Maarten/St. Martin. It is an island with a split personality. St. Maarten is Dutch; St. Martin is French. On the Dutch side the coin of the realm is the Gilder; on the French side the coin of the realm is the Euro. The Dutch-side license plate is more typical of the US, while the French side license plate is from the Euro-zone with the characteristic F on it for France. It was a good place for a bargain as they were taking US Dollars as par for Euros...about a 40 cent differential.

We took an island tour driving along the 16 miles of Dutch territory and the 21 miles of French territory. The two sides of the island are different, but the yachts found in the harbor were something else!

 The water is absolutely wonderful...look at that blue...and the temps were running in the 80s!

As you know I count the countries I have visited based on the list found in the Century Travel Club...and St. Maarten/St. Martin are considered 2 countries, so we have now visited 87 separate countries and we’ve seen an 88th (Pitcairn Island) but it does not count. You have to step foot on the country for it to count and we only saw Pitcairn.

This is a statue peg-legged Peter Stuyvesant--you’ve heard of him of New Amsterdam/New York fame. He lost his leg in a battle on St. Maarten. The story goes that the leg is buried on the island, but the rest of him is buried in Manhattan.
From SM/SM we sailed to Puerto Rico, the destination we wanted to go to in the first place. We did not arrive on the island until noon and we only stayed about 6 hours.

We did not have enough time to see everything, but we did take a tour of old San Juan and we did see the beautiful old fort built in the 1500s. I had wanted to see that fortress since I was 14 and my sister’s in-laws lived in Puerto Rico. I read about that distant island and I was mesmerized by pictures of the Fort. It was all that I expected and it was good!

Note that the Fort is on the license plate...and it’s very fitting.

The last stop was Half Moon Cay again, then back to Ft. Lauderdale where we were met by our friend from Sarasota. It took 2 days to fly home, but you’ve already read about that mess. I must admit that the flying fiasco was rewarded by United. They asked me to evaluate their flights, which I did. Today they told me they were sorry for our inconvenience and they rewarded me with 12,500 miles and I was given United credit for the Continental miles. While not a monetary reward, I can always use more frequent flyer miles and they did hear my plight by responding to me personally. I was impressed and surprised!
This has been a long entry, but I hope it gave you an idea what it was like to sail in the Caribbean. There are few more islands to visit, but I would like to return to Puerto Rico for a week or so and explore it before taking another cruise there.
It’s now time to sail off in the sunset for the next adventure.

There are some more pictures to post from the Caribbean, and I’ll get them out next posting.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Day of Infamy

On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in the US Territory of Hawaii. It was a complete surprise. Most of the Pacific Fleet was destroyed. Many brave young men were killed.

How many people remember that horrible event? Today I noticed the flag was at half mast. I hope the folks in town knew why? We always need to remember there are bad guys out there.

Let's salute our soldiers and sailors on this "Day of Infamy" so declared by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Their vigilance helps keep us free.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

Things do not always work out as planned. Yesterday we were supposed to fly on United to San Francisco via Washington, DC. instead we flew to SF on Continental via Houston. We arrived about the same time, but there was hassle in between. For folks who don't like to fly/travel, don't read on, as it will just reconfirm your fears.

The main reason for the hassle was the weather. That's something the airlines cannot control. Our flight from Tampa was delayed due to weather problems in Chicago. There was a one hour delay and that meant that we would miss our next flight. That's when the domino effect happened. Not only did we miss our flight but so did hundreds of other folks. The end effect was everyone scrambling to find a way to get to San Francisco.

The person who was helping me had the patience of Job as folks were screaming for flights. I tried to remain cool and calm as I was told that the flights to Denver, Salt Lake, LA, and Seattle were booked. Next she tried an alternate airline and after a lot of keyboard tapping and phone calls, we were booked on Continental to Houston, then SF. Sounds good...but don't be fooled...we had 20 minutes to go back to the main gate to GET the new tickets. That meant we had to take the shuttle back to the main terminal, find Continental, get the tickets, reboard a new shuttle to another terminal, then go through TSA security one more time and finally run like the dickens to get to the gate at the far end of the terminal to board the plane before it shut the doors. We were the last folks on the plane as the doors slammed behind us. One of us in first class, the other in an exit row in the back. So much for our United upgrade.

The flight was 2 hours long and uneventful. The exit row seat was roomy and the rest of the row was empty, so it was doable. The next flight had us in the back of the bus in different rows. As soon as we landed I asked for an upgrade and we were moved to an exit row with a chance of first class. Well, the first class did not happen, but there were only 2 of us in the 3 seat exit row, so we lifted the arms of the seats, and enjoyed the room. Not bad. Continental has roomier exit rows than United. I wonder if that will change when the merger is complete? My guess is it will, worse luck.

We arrived in San Francisco. Our luggage did not. It stayed on United and it is supposed to meet us at home. We are hopeful that will happen.

The flying experience is never easy. It's never straight forward. Given that, it's still very interesting. TSA is a bit intrusive. The other DrC was given the full pat down at the beginning of the he looks like a terrorist I cannot imagine. Maybe TSA should start profiling people to stop some of the needless, not to mention, RUDE, searching that is happening.

Time to board the next flight. It's short, direct and should be relatively easy. I'll let you know what happened.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cruising back to Reality

We have spent the last 2 weeks on a Caribbean cruise. It was great. When we get home I'll post some pictures but for now, it's getting back to real life. We have not been on an ocean cruise since January, but we got into the "swing of things" quickly. Room service breakfast, leisurely days, going on shore excursions to different places!

It came to an end yesterday when we left the ship. This morning I had no idea what day of the week it was. Since then I've learned it's Saturday. We will be home tomorrow. Until then it airports and airplanes. On a positive note, we have been upgraded to first class!