Total Disappointment–Trip Cancelled–Mad as HELL!

How do you start a post where you are both sad and mad? Today is November 24. Next Tuesday, November 30th we were SUPPOSED to be flying to Europe for a four night stay in Lisbon, a three night stay in Amsterdam, a two night stay in Prague, a one night stay in Nuremberg, a seven night Viking River Cruise from Regensburg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary with stops in Vienna, Passau and Krems. After the cruise we would spend an additional two nights in Budapest. We were going to be out doing what we love best for 22 days in glorious Europe. We would have seen the Christmas Markets of Europe, done a plethora of tours, gotten to travel with my brother and his bride once again…and so much more.

But last week we learned two things that made us reconsider the entire trip. First, due to a spike in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths Germany closed all their Christmas Markets–one of the main reasons we were going. At that point we thought, “Well, let’s go ahead and go and we can do the Christmas Markets in Prague, Budapest and Austria.” On Friday of last week, Austria went into lockdown so the cruise was going to just be a lot of time on the river and not a lot of time in those cities that we really wanted to visit. When I called Viking I was told that they had rescheduled all the Austrian stops (3 days out of the seven) as river cruising days and that they might schedule a day in Bratislava, Slovakia but there probably would not be any independent touring allowed in any of the stops we would make except maybe Hungary at the end of the cruise. With all those restrictions, not  to mention the risk of getting COVID ourselves (even though we have had three shots) we decided to cancel.

This was a pretty bitter pill to swallow. We had originally booked and paid in full for this cruise in 2018. We were supposed to have taken it last winter (December 2020) but of course that got cancelled. And because it was cancelled by Viking, we could have either had a full refund or a voucher for 125% of our fare to use on a future Viking cruise. We opted for the voucher and used it to book the same cruise again in 2021. Now that we have cancelled that one Viking has again offered us a full refund or to reinstate our 125% voucher so we can try again. That’s what we decided to do. As soon as I have the voucher we will book this same cruise in 2023. If any of you would like to join us, we would love to have you travel with us. I will post all the details after we book it.

So that’s what made us sad. We had to cancel. Then we got mad. Not at the cruise line, not at the airline, not at all the tours and shows we had prepaid to do because they all gave us either a quick refund (in less than three days) or a voucher for future travel (which we are OK with since we intend to continue to travel). Of course we could have still gone to Europe but then we heard that other countries were also shutting down. Which brings to the people I am mad at. The people who caused our cancellation. The freakin’ European idiots (who are no better than our home-grown American idiots) who refused to believe in science and get themselves VACCINATED—they are why this happened.

We have two friends who live in Bavaria. They are both retired physicians. Their kids are all doctors. We were corresponding with them on a regular basis leading up to our decision. They were telling us that due to the infections in the unvaccinated, there were so many people who needed ICU beds they were shipping patients to Italy. How stupid are people? I guess we all know the answer to that one.

That’s all for now. Suffice it to say that we are sitting sadly at home and staying there until at least January…but that’s a whole other post. Stay tuned to find out how well we did with cancellations and where we are going instead.

To my US readers, have a great Thanksgiving. To everyone else–stay safe (especially if you are in Europe).

When things are a disappointment, try not to be so discouraged. –Carol Burnett

Mixed Emotions

If you are here because you like reading about travel, skip this post. Come back in 18 days when I will give you an early morning tour of Lisbon, Portugal…if all goes well. This post is personal. It is kind of about travel because we went someplace so I could experience it but it isn’t about travel, it’s about me.

Two weeks ago tonight was my 50th high school reunion. I graduated from Palm Springs High School in Palm Springs, California in June 1971 and with COVID we finally got around to holding the reunion. Also, because of COVID this reunion included the class before ours (1970) as they had missed theirs.

As you may have seen from earlier posts, I was really looking forward to going to the reunion and to spending a few days with my brother and his family as well. BTW: That part of the trip was great. We had our usually awesome time with Steve and Jamie.

But the reunion itself wasn’t that great. Or maybe I should say that the reunion (the event) was just fine. It was just not great for me. For a lot of reasons. Some external and some internal. I have been trying to decide if I wanted to write about it for the last two weeks. Each day when I walk I kind of plan out my posts in my head before I write them. Never had one perplex me more about how I feel about it.

Things I had almost no control over

One of the big things we (Kathleen and I) were really looking forward to was seeing my best friend from high school, Randy. She and I have known each other since elementary school and we became very close in high school. We were never boyfriend/girlfriend, just really close friends. I spent some of the best times of my life with her. We lost track of each other after our third year of college but we reconnected when I met Kathleen (my first wife did not like her) and we have been rebuilding our friendship ever since. Kathleen and I have visited Randy in Arizona and she and I communicate via e-mail, text, Instagram and FaceBook on a pretty regular basis.

Kathleen was only going to come to the reunion if Randy was going to be there because she wanted to at least know one person. I didn’t blame her. I doubt I would have really wanted to go if I didn’t know anyone. Especially being married to Mr. Extrovert who would be running around talking to everyone else.

On the day before the reunion we had planned to get together with Randy for lunch but early that day she texted that due to a medical problem she was headed home to AZ and would miss the reunion. She was crushed. We had been talking about doing this for more than a year. I was sad (more than sad) because when I look back on it now, I really only had only two or three people who I knew were going to be there that I really wanted to see. And she was definitely one of them.

When Randy let me know she wasn’t going to be there, I let Kathleen off the hook and told her to go have dinner with Steve and Jamie. They would drop me off at the reunion site and go get dinner and pick me up on their way back to our vacation rental, two hours later. I figured that with Randy not there, I could easily see the two or three other people I wanted to see, say hi to others and be ready to go. The reunion did include a BBQ dinner and a single drink ticket for everyone attending but food was not why I was still going.

When the family dropped me off I have to say I was not impressed with the site. I fully get that this is what the group could afford and still keep it affordable for everyone. It was held at a stables that is within a couple of miles of downtown. The place has a clubhouse kind of building and patio behind it where there were tables set up. Inside the building a lot of people were congregating and there was a bar, a place to take pics and some old high school photo stuff including a display honoring those in our class that had passed away. Guess what comes with a stables…horses (they were a pretty long way away) but that means they also bring…horseflies…and they were pretty close. So was that wonderful aroma that cowboys know well.

Now let’s get to something I was really uncomfortable with. I know I am partly to blame for my being uncomfortable and to be honest, I can’t believe I did what I did. When I got out of my brother’s truck, I had a mask on but when I walked up to the registration table that was in front of the building, I took it off because not a single person had one on. Yes, we were outside, but people were close together. Yes, I am vaccinated (three shots) but still, for the safety of myself and my family, I should have kept mine on. But I bowed to the unspoken peer pressure and shoved mine in my pocket.

After checking in, I immediately ran into someone who I had been friends with more in elementary school than in high school but our mothers had been VERY close. It was great seeing her and that was nice. But it was pretty much downhill from there until about 90 minutes later.

I headed into the building so I could get out onto the large porch area in the back. As I went in, I noticed a big sign stating, “By order of the City of Palm Springs, only vaccinated guests may be inside these premises and all must be masked.” Of course not a soul was…wearing a mask. Not sure about the vaccination status but of course after I got through the building and wound up outside in the back the first group of people I ran into was four men (I didn’t know any of them so I am assuming they were from the class of 1970) who were talking about “all those sheep who are vaccinated.” Needless to say I avoided those folks like the plague (no joke intended). Most of the rest of the time I was there was spent outside and trying as hard as I could to socially distance.

Internal stuff that I should have controlled

Looking back on the experience of that night, I have come to some sad truths about myself. The first being I realized I was neither liked nor disliked in high school. Most of my classmates, other than my closest friends, didn’t care one way or the other about me. Sadly, it took me going back to this reunion to realize that. I blame my job of 39 years in the yearbook industry for this. Writing, speaking, teaching yearbook advisers and staffers how to preserve memories for all those years has made me romanticize how “great” high school was. But to be honest, it really wasn’t. I, like most people, had a few close friends (some of those were in the class of 1972 and not there) and everyone else was just an acquaintance. Someone who had passed through my life for a few years.

So this led me to ask myself, why had I wanted to go if I really was only hoping to run into two or three people who I really wanted to see? Here’s my second hard truth: vanity. When I was in high school, I was a pudgy guy (to be real–I was fat). And I was a little nerdy. I was president of the Forensics Club for god’s sake. I wasn’t in sports. I was on the student council and I did help out with the yearbook (but wasn’t on the staff) because Randy was the editor but I wasn’t one of the “in”crowd.

Today I weigh about 15 lbs less than I did when I graduated. I am in so much better shape today than then and I work hard to get that way. And unlike about 65% of the guys in my class, I still have hair on my head as well as on my face, in my nose and my ears😜. To be honest, I look a lot better than I did in high school and I really wanted to have someone who knew me then be impressed. Talk about a bad reason to go and setting myself up for failure. Yes, I guess I am that shallow. The entire night, one person (just one) mentioned how “young” I looked. That’s it. And how sad am I that I feel this way.

Once I got past my motives for going, my other reason this was not the best reunion ever was my interaction with people. In all but three instances seeing someone I had known in high school went like this:

Me: “Hi (their name here)! I’m Jim Bellomo Remember me?”

So all I am saying is that it would have been nice if someone had asked me anything about what I had been up to in the last 50 years. I mean after just being there for two hours I can tell you about a guy who was a flight attendant for TWA and he quit when they were bought by AA and that he hates AA but his wife still works there. Or another person who owned a pool cleaning business for years and was now working in construction (I can even tell you about his truck and the people he works with). And someone who was a graphic artist and worked at Disney Animation in the 80s and 90s. Or someone who worked for a transportation company in a far off state. I know so much about so many others but was most impressed about how long they could talk about themselves without ever taking a second to ask a question.

It wasn’t all bad

Enough boo-hooing, I do want to make it very clear that the reunion wasn’t all bad. I did catch up with an old friend from elementary school who has had quite the life and wanted to know about mine as well. And someone who I had known in high school but we really hadn’t been friends then who I now hear from all the time on Facebook. She is a traveler like me and we have been corresponding about travel, so it was good to see her in the flesh, so to speak (that’s her on the left at the top of this post).

I was also thrilled to see one of the other three people I had been really close to in high school–Teresa (that’s her on the right at the top of this post). She and I were always great friends (she was my Senior Prom date–as a friend) but had completely lost track of each other after high school. The last time I had seen her was on the morning my son was born in 1979 when the doctor kicked me out of the delivery room (after my wife had been in labor for more than 14 hours and he wanted her to try and rest) and I went to find something to eat. Teresa was working in Palm Springs then as a letter carrier and happened to walk in the door of the restaurant to deliver her mail as I was standing there. 

She got to the reunion late so we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked before the family was picking me up and she too was crushed that Randy hadn’t made it but it was great catching up with her. In communicating with Randy and Teresa post reunion, I realized that we three  should have just had our own reunion. Those were really the only people coming who I had really wanted to see. Not that I didn’t enjoy seeing some of the other people who were there, but deep in my heart, I wish I had skipped it. 

When you have expectations, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. —Ryan Reynolds

Going home…kind of

As I write this I am sitting in an AirBnB in Palm Springs. Tomorrow night is my 50th high school reunion. For those of you who don’t know me personally, I grew up in the tourist-haven of Palm Springs way back in the 50s, 60s and 70s. So here I am back in my hometown with my bride, my brother and my sister-in-law. And I am kind of bummed out about the reunion because my best friend from high school that had been planning on being there had to turn around and head for home to deal with a medical problem 😔.

But we actually have been on the road since Wednesday. We flew down from our favorite airport, Everett, Washington (PAE) to John Wayne International in Santa Ana, CA where my brother picked us up. We got to see a bunch of friends we had cruised with (who just happened to be my niece and my sister-in-law’s sister and her husband and daughter and my niece’s boyfriend) when they all came over for dinner. We had a great time and my sister-in-law is an awesome cook and an award-winning baker and I may gain back all the weight I lost for the reunion before we go home.

My sister-in-law is also a great activity planner. Yesterday we drove two hours through Los Angeles traffic to visit the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. For a film buff like me, it was awesome. It is fairly new (opened just a few weeks ago). Lots of great stuff about how movies are made, about the Oscars themselves, about just everything and anything about movies. We spent three hours viewing all the exhibits as well as having a quick bite in their cafe and checking out their rooftop viewing area. It was wonderful. There were a lot of artifacts that you would know from movies.

Then we did a very cool drive up Hollywood Blvd and back down Sunset Blvd while waiting for our dinner reservations at the historic Musso and Franks. It was an outstanding dinner. Great bread, great drinks, 1050’s stuffed celery, pasta, steaks and the nightly special, chicken pot pie. The real reason to go to Musso and Franks is the experience. You sit in booths that have appeared in movies and books for years. Who knows who has sat in this booth before us.

Dinner at Musso and Franks

Today was all about getting to Palm Springs. We headed out about 11:00 am and have been here since 1:00. Stopped for a quick lunch and then it was off to head out and hopefully see my old nephew Sean who owns a vinyl record store in nearby La Quinta. Unfortunately, he was off on a record buying trip to Los Angeles so we missed him. Finally after a pretty long wait we were able to check into our AirBnB. This particular AirBnB experience has not been a great one so far. The place looks great in the pictures but not so much in reality. Tomorrow night is my reunion. More later and maybe some desert photos.

You can never go home again.

Thomas Wolfe

Quick (well not that quick) Updates

Just dropping in with a couple of things I have seen in the last few days that I wanted to share…and a comment on my writing.

Follow up to my Seattle post

If you read my last post you know that I am really unhappy with the state of the city we live closest to—Seattle. This morning this was in The Seattle Times:

If you have been here, you know that the number two (after the Space Needle) tourist attraction in the city is Pike Place Market. It’s now a haven for drug users, panhandlers who are aggressive and lot of other problems. This happened yesterday (October 4). Everyday brings new reports of problems. If you are coming to Seattle in the next months, be VERY careful.

Cruising is the safest way to travel right now

Earlier this week I saw an excellent article by Gene Sloan about cruising. Gene used to be the travel editor at USA Today. He now writes for the website, The Points Guy. (If you aren’t familiar with The Points Guy—the site is all about the best way to use points and mileage rewards but also covers major travel stories.) The story he wrote is all about why cruising is probably the safest way to travel right now. His reasons include the fact that most cruise lines are requiring everyone on a cruise to be vaccinated. They are, in many cases, requiring masks to be worn as well. The people who are on these cruise ships have agreed before sailing to these rules. There’s no discussion about vaccinations and no fights about masks. If you are onboard, you have already indicated you will comply. If not, they put you off at the next port.

Contrast that with some places in the USA where many are unvaccinated, won’t wear masks or think COVID is a government conspiracy. Or airplanes where people who won’t wear masks fight with the flight attendants. So I get where Gene is coming from and I couldn’t agree more. You can read the entire article by clicking HERE.

It’s October!

Of course you knew that, but it is really exciting to us because now we can say that we are traveling this month…and next month…and the month after too. Sadly not until the very end of October and November but we are still traveling.

Later this month (on Kathleen’s birthday–October 27th) we are off to Southern California for a few days. The big reason we are going is my 50th high school reunion in Palm Springs on October 30th. Happily, it also means we get to see my brother and his family as well as spend a couple of days with them in Palm Springs.

Then on November 30th (see what I mean about the end of the month) we are flying to Europe! First up, five days in Lisbon, Portugal. Never been there before but can’t wait to go. Then we fly to meet my brother Steve and his wife Jamie in Amsterdam to stay at our favorite hotel in the world…The Banks Mansion. We stayed there in 2017 when we did a British Isles cruise and can’t wait to go back.

That part of our trip is on our own—not a cruise ship or tour group in site. But after we leave Amsterdam we come under the care of Viking River Cruises as we fly to Prague for a three day pre-cruise visit. Then we move on to Nuremberg, Germany for another one day pre-cruise visit.

Then the cruise starts. We board the Viking Long Boat Atla in Regensburg, Germany for an eight day cruise to visit the Christmas Markets in the cities on the Danube River. We stop in Passau, Germany, Vienna, Austria, Krems, Austria and then finish in Budapest, Hungary. Of course I will be blogging it all so you can follow along with us as we go. Expect a whole lot of Christmas!

Being verbose

A while back my best buddy Bob told me that I was verbose. I answered him in a post that you can read by clicking HERE.

If you don’t feel like going back to read it, here’s the definition:

Why do I bring this up now? Because I know I write that way. I mean this post was supposed to only be a quick look at three topics. And here I am at 713 words so far (WordPress keeps track of it). But about three months ago I heard a great quote about being verbose and I had to share it for those of you who read my ramblings. It is below. I had originally heard it attributed to Mark Twain but I found that it wasn’t but it does sound a lot like me.

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.  —Blaise Pascal

I Miss My Seattle

You may not know this but I have a website called “My Seattle.” Originally I put it together because we had so many of our traveling friends coming here to go on Alaska cruises that asked for recommendations I decided to put them all in one place. I love Seattle. When I list my favorite cities it has always been in my top five (at least it used to be).We choose to live in a Seattle suburb. One of the things we have loved about the 22 years we have lived here (Kathleen has been here even longer than I have) is being so close to the city. In fact for more than 20 years Kathleen commuted to an office that was about 5 blocks from the Space Needle. I am a Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariner fan. I am sure I will also be a Kracken fan as well. We love going into the city to eat at our favorite restaurants, to see theater, to go to concerts and so much more. That’s why this post makes me sad. Very sad.

You see, my Seattle is currently gone. What is left is an awful place that is both disgusting and dangerous.

Last week two of our friends from cruising were in town to take an Alaskan cruise. Before they came the posted on a thread we converse on from time to time that is on Cruise Critic. When they posted they were headed our way we told them we would love to see them and go out to dinner but we also told them to be VERY aware of what is going on in downtown Seattle and to take care when going anyplace on foot. They replied and asked for a much more in-depth about what to avoid and if their hotel and the restaurants they planned to eat in were OK to get to. Luckily they were but even better we decided to pick them up and get them out of the city for one dinner at least at one of our favorite seafood places in Bellevue (across the lake), Seastar. As we drove them back to their downtown Seattle hotel the sun was setting on the city. With the Olympic mountains as a background, the lights of the city looked like a fairyland. And from that distance it is. But you get close up, it isn’t.

So what’s wrong? The city has become a haven for drug users and the mentally ill with no real policing going on. One of the best ways I can tell you what is happening is to quote a reader-written Op/Ed from The Seattle Times:

“I am watching a block of downtown Seattle die. From my office on Third Avenue between Pike and Pine streets, in recent weeks numerous tents have been erected. More keep coming. No one has come to remove them. Daily, I observe people passed out on the street with needles in their arms. I must watch my step to avoid human excrement.

We have 30 employees in our firm. They do not want to return to work because they fear getting off the bus. Our offices have been burglarized four times in 12 months.

I am not conservative. Homelessness has complex causes and must be addressed through a variety of means. But allowing tent dwellers and drug users to occupy a city block is not acceptable. What message does this send to the businesses on the block and tourists who visit our city? Our company will not renew our lease if this persists.

Two blocks from Pike Place Market, where Wild Ginger previously welcomed diners pre-theater or symphony, now only remains graffiti, trash, drugs and tents. Are we willing to let what appears to be less than 300 people destroy a block of economic activity in our city? Apparently, we are.”

For those of you from out of town, the block he is referring to is on the main route from the downtown hotels to the world famous Pike Place Market. It just isn’t safe to go there. And I totally agree with his point of view.

This is what Seattle is up against. An ultra liberal city council has allowed the city to get to this point. The mayor is fed up and decided not to run again. The very capable police chief resigned. More than 200 Seattle police officers have left the force since the summer of 2020 and NOT been replaced. Those that are still here feel like they have been handcuffed themselves. Shops and restaurants in downtown and the Pioneer Square area report calling police after thefts from their establishments or to handle threatening behavior by mentally ill or drugged up people are being told, “We decline to respond,” when people call 911. There is video of a mentally ill man jumping on cars and breaking car windows with the police standing right next to the cars and they can’t do anything because they have been ordered to cease and desist if it is only a property crime.

To me, that means you are not safe in downtown. And even if you were safe in downtown it can be a disgusting place to go. An Instagram account called Seattle Looks Like Shit documents the kind of things that are going on in the city. It’s just sad. Warning, if you look at it, you may get grossed out by the videos and photographs of people urinating, defecating and shooting up on the streets but it will show you how bad it really is. It’s so sad. Many of the photos on the account were taken this week.

It is tough for Kathleen and I since we don’t live in Seattle where we can vote and have input. Yes, there are a few problems here in Redmond but they are nothing compared to what you will see in Seattle. Thousands of homeless many of whom are major drug users (the city attorney will NOT prosecute drug laws other than the sale of large quantities) or mentally ill are just camped out on the streets. Some in areas directly adjacent to schools. There have been school events cancelled because the city could not guarantee the safety of the kids participating. Many of the homeless have been offered shelter but refuse to take it because it means giving up their drugs. And things just keep getting worse. There were two other articles in the Seattle Times this very morning detailing basically the same thing. We see those articles and the reports daily. One week in late August there were 16 shootings in Seattle alone. Things are crazy here. We want them to get better but until we do, I wouldn’t come this way. I miss my Seattle.

The two elements the traveler first captures in the big city are extra human architecture and furious rhythm. Geometry and anguish.  — Fedrico Garcia Lorca

 

 

We have a great time on the Oregon Coast with the kids except when I took a tumble


We just got home from our Oregon Beach Trip with the grandkids and had an awesome time. If you have grandkids like ours you totally get why we want to be around them on a regular basis. For us that means we grab a rental every summer (at least for the last couple of years) and spend a week with them. We play games, take outings and just have fun. Those VRBO commercials I am always seeing are totally on point when they show you making memories that will last a lifetime.

We got down there on Monday after about a three and a half hour drive from our place in Redmond. We stopped on the way at the kid’s house in Olympia (90 minute drive to get there) where we exchanged two bags of food and a cooler with my daughter and son-in-law for two awesome kids who rode with us another two hours to Sunset Beach, Oregon. We were totally thrilled when we arrived that the rental that was EXACTLY like the pictures we had seen online. A huge house with lots of light, a big back yard (that has deer walking through constantly—usually twice a day) and a super kitchen/dining/living area for cooking, playing games or watching Return of the Jedi with my grandson. That night we did dinner at a place I had found on line called Ruby’s Roadside Grille in Seaside. The website overstated what the place looked like (a converted gas station) but understated the food, which was awesome.

On our first full day, Grandpa (that’s me) made his world famous pancakes. Then we we went south to the community of Seaside, Oregon where we visited their aquarium (skip it—it’s sad), walked on the promenade (OK) and went to Captain Kidd’s amusement park (race the go-carts and skip the rest) and tried our hand at swan paddle boats on the river. Won’t do that again. Way too much work. Finished completely covered in sweat and with a massive back ache.

After we got off the swans, we headed back to the house for lunch. After lunch and at least three games played at the table before we got up, the kids headed down to the beach where they actually went swimming (the water here is very cold). They also did some geocaching (and there is a lot more to that subject below but first let me finish with the next two days). Of course after our dinner of Grandpa’s pizza and salad there had to be more games around the table—this family loves games.

Wednesday we went north to Astoria. First we stopped at Fort Clatsop where the Lewis and Clark expedition had ended. We were just in time to see a demonstration of old rifles. We even got to hold our ears while an old muzzle loader was fired. This was a biggie as Mason had done a big study of Lewis and Clarke and the Oregon Trail during the school year. Then we visited and climbed the Astoria Column. It’s a big giant column at the top of a hill in Astoria and there are 164 steps on a spiral staircase to the top. It’s a very cool tower (as you can see) but it was a long climb to the top. Some super views though and worth the climb. Not only that, it’s free except for $5 for parking which is good for an entire year.

After that it was back to the house where we had started playing badminton the night before and the kids were just getting good at it. We had bought a portable set from Sharper Image and this was the first time we have used it. We had a lot of fun playing in the backyard. In the later afternoon while Jenna and Joel went running, Mason and I watched Return of the Jedi. He and I have been bonding over the original Star Wars films since last summer. I shared the first one with him on our summer trip and the second when we saw them for his birthday in February. We finished just before our dinner that was some yummy carnitas and then after dinner was…MORE GAMES Playing games was so much better this year because now that Maylee is almost 8 (only two weeks) she can keep up with and sometimes beat all of us.

That was also the night we did our annual family photo shoot. Every year Jenna asks me to take pics of the their family. She actually thinks her old dad is a pretty decent photographer. So they get all dressed up and we head to the beach. We got some great shots. This one is my favorite. Aren’t they the best darned looking family you have ever seen? I know, I am prejudiced.

Day three (that’s yesterday) we didn’t really have anything planned so after breakfast we of course stayed at the table to play at least one game or two. Then it was off to do some geocaching. Kathleen stayed at the house because it was going to be mostly hiking through high grass and beach sand. We headed out to follow the GPS geocaching app which took us to Shipwreck Beach, so named because of the remains of a 1906 shipwreck that is still on the beach.

After we checked out the shipwreck we headed into the tall beach grass at the top of the dunes to search out the first of two geocache capsules. We walked about half a mile, not on any trail at all, through grass up to our waists. Finally the kids found the first one under a tree. When you find one, it’s usually in some kind of tube or watertight container. You open it and inside there’s a piece of paper with the people who have found it before. You add your name to the paper and then you put it back. We did that twice (there was another about .2 miles away). Still in deep brush and very high grass.

After we found the second one we decided to head back to the beach because we didn’t want to go all the way back the way we had come, fighting our way through the brush. Too much hassle getting through. So we turned right and headed to the beach so we could walk back on the sand. The only problem was when we got down to the end of the beach grass on the dunes, there was about a five foot drop off from the beach grass down to the beach and the beach was covered with driftwood below this drop off. I thought maybe I could kind of lower myself very carefully down to the ground but one minute I was getting ready to do that and the next thing I knew, the bank I was standing on collapsed and I fell about five feet, landed on my right side with my camera under me. Needless to say, I am banged up. Huge bruise and bump on my right arm and a badly bruised left leg that I was standing on and hit first when I fell. And my camera is damaged. Enough that it will take some serious repair. I think that hurts the most. I have been icing and stretching since I got back to the house and now at home but it is still pretty painful. I wasn’t really not looking forward to the three and a half hour drive home today but it turned out OK.

But should say that as banged up as I was, I was well enough to pile in the car and head north to Dairy Queen with the whole gang for my first ever blizzard. I had the frosted animal cookie flavor that when Mason tasted it, he said it tasted like cardboard.

So to finish the day we had a super dinner (Jenna and Joel did burgers) last night,  I played video games with the kids and we all played another couple of board games after dinner. Then it was ice up again and watch some TV until bedtime. Was feeling kind of low. I know I will live. I know my camera will be OK but right now, I wish that bank had not given away.

But let’s sum this all up by saying that it was still the best week of the year so far…and we have been to the Galapagos this year. That’s how much we love traveling with this family.

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.   —Lin Yutang

Heading out for more travel…this time with kids!

Just thought I would give the regulars a heads up that we will be traveling next week which means I will be posting a little more often. It’s our annual (2nd year in a row 😀) trip to the Washington/Oregon Coast with our grandkids👍🏻 …and their parents. We started doing this last year so we could have them all to ourselves for a few days. Last year we did a three night stay in Ocean Shores, Washington. This year we are venturing further south to Sunset Beach, Oregon.

We have a rental that sits right between the beach and a small lake. (Click here to see where we are staying.) The rental looks really nice and for the first time we are getting it through VRBO and not AirBnB. I just could not find anything I liked on AirBnB. We usually book with them and have one set up for Palm Springs in late October. If you aren’t a regular vacation rental person, we love them. We have used AirBnB 18 times (I just counted and I was pretty surprised it was that many). We have done them all over the USA as well as one outstanding one in Edinburgh and a nice big one for three families in downtown Dublin, Ireland. If you haven’t used them, both services are pretty good. We have had only one place we didn’t like and many we loved. And the place we didn’t like just needed a good sweeping.

We have found that when we travel with the kids it is more challenging to find a place to rent because we need more. When we are by ourselves we can get anything with a bed and a bath. For me a real must is a living room so when I wake up REALLY early I can go in there and not disturb Kathleen. I also like a living room when we are traveling with friends. One of my favorite parts of getting a rental when there is more than just us is that it gives you a great place to socialize with everyone you are traveling with. Hotel lobbies are not conducive to family/friend fun. That’s another reason we cruise. Everyone has a bedroom and the entire ship is your living room.

When we book with the kids it HAS to have three bedrooms and two baths. We love them dearly but we aren’t sharing a bathroom 😜.  Also, for the trips with the kids, a kitchen I can cook in is a must. Grandpa loves to make pancakes for his grandkids. And we eat most of our meals at the rental. The one we have this year has a nice kitchen (according to the pictures and reviews) and unlike the one we had last year, this one has a gas BBQ as well. We also found out that there is a bakery less than 400 feet from the front of the driveway. This sounds very dangerous to us as the bakery is very well reviewed and pictures of their baked goods look awesome.

Other than pancakes, it’s everyone for themselves at breakfast, lunch wherever we are in the day. We take turns making dinner. I usually take two of them, my daughter and son-in-law take one or two. This year I have already pre-made and frozen Grandpa’s famous pizza and Grandpa’s newly famous carnitas so we can make tacos and nachos. Those will come along with us, and the kids are doing hamburgers and hot dogs since we have a grille this year.

Of course photos will be forthcoming. Especially wildlife and early morning stuff. Probably some beach stuff as well. I usually don’t post pictures of the grandkids without my daughter’s permission so you may not see any of those. Last year (because they knew they would be with Grandpa and he would have his camera) we did family portraits that came out really great (at least I think so), My guess is we are doing those again.

There’s lots to do in that area as Sunset Beach is right between the Oregon Coastal communities of Astoria and Seaside. Astoria has a famous column and Seaside in the other direction has the Seaside aquarium. Plus, last year in 4th grade, our grandson Mason studied the Oregon Trail. The class all became pioneers (he was the famous Nate Arnold😜) and in a three month unit, they moved from Springfield, MO to Oregon, just like Lewis and Clark. That trip ended at Fort Clatsop which is also in Astoria so we have to stop there. These kind of things will take up our days. Last year we really couldn’t do any of that stuff due to COVID.

All this stuff sound like a bunch of fun but the most fun we will have being together and playing all the great games we bring along. If you like games or you have grandkids and want to play games, you have to see the line of games from Exploding Kittens. Between us and the kids, we own all their games. They are hilarious to play and are really fast and creative. Everyone from the two of us (68 years old) to our granddaughter who is almost eight, loves playing them. Check them out if you want to have some fun. You can get all but one of them through Amazon. Sadly we ordered the newest one that you can’t get through Amazon directly from Exploding Kittens and it is still stuck in Indiana.

So follow along as we travel south to the beautiful Oregon Coast (for those of you who don’t live in the Northwest, I have always thought it was funny that in California you go to the beach, in the Northeast, it’s the shore but here, it’s the coast) next week.

The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy. —Sam Levenson

 

She can’t stand it…and neither can I

When we were on Celebrity’s Flora two weeks ago we spent a bunch of very pleasant dinners with two new friends, Katherine and Jamie (that’s them on the right). Jamie and I (even though they are both young enough to be our children) had a lot in common. He loves beer, Formula 1 racing and octopus. All three of those interests make him a great person to have a conversation with…in my book.

Then it turned out that I had two things in common with Katherine. First, she is as big a fan of the what we (Katherine and I) consider to be the greatest television show ever made—Ted Lasso (back tonight for season 2 on Apple TV+! We can’t wait! If you haven’t seen it, go watch the first season now) and she also (like me) can’t stand to finish a vacation without having another one planned.

It just about kills either of us to have nothing coming up and booked. Thankfully for Kathleen and I, we have so much booked I don’t have that problem (but there have been times I did) with our annual beach trip with the grandkids next month, my 50th high school reunion in Palm Springs in October, our Portugal/Amsterdam/Christmas Markets cruise in December, our Pacific Coastal cruise in May 22 and our Mediterranean cruise in the fall of 22.. But Katherine had that problem—nothing booked. I told her to get going. I gave her some suggestions but sadly, I can’t be her travel agent because she works for Royal Caribbean and gets some really nice employee discounts. I am pretty sure that’s how they wound up on Flora.

But if YOU don’t have any travel plans and it’s killing you too (blatant and shameless plug coming 😀), drop me a note. I have plenty of ideas of where you might be able to go and I can even help you to get there.

When you can look forward to something outside of now, then you have an open door.    —Esther Peril on Armchair Expert

Celebrity Galapagos PDFs

I know I promised that yesterday was the last post on Galapagos but I forgot to give you a link to download the PDFs I have from X.

You can click here​​​​​​​ to download some Celebrity PDFs that I saved. The big one is the dailies for the entire week. Our entire schedule with other items as well. The others are menus, one is the room service lunch and dinner menu, another is a mid-week menu and the last one is the Celebrity menu choices for the pre and post hotel dinners.

Enjoy!

Summing up the Galapagos on Celebrity’s Flora

This was a hell of a trip. We have decided it was the best we have ever taken. On the final night on board Captain Patricio (one of the nicest guys you will ever meet) talked for a few minutes about how he feels about the Galapagos. He said that (paraphrasing here) that “the Galapagos should be the model for the rest of the earth. A place where every animal and bird has learned to live together. And the people who come to visit care about those islands and do their best to nurture them.” I loved that. It’s the way I felt walking through the nests of the albatrosses, stepping over sea lions, watching penguins be totally unafraid and letting us get within inches and so much more.

It is also the way I felt when I talked to the naturalists and crew members who lived and had grown up on the islands. Their love for the place they live was evident in the way they protected the land, the animals, the birds, the foliage and the geology. These islands are truly magical.

One thing I love that Celebrity Cruises is doing, is giving back. From the perfect ship (that does not run on smog producing bunker oil) to the fact that they never drop anchor so as not to disturb the ocean floor and the tree planting that we did and they continue to support. I will admit that in the middle of our day on Santa Cruz Island I was not that thrilled to stop to plant some trees in the rain, but as I look back on it, it was more than just a symbolic gesture on Celebrity’s part. It was making us think and giving us a chance to give back to these incredible islands.

Somewhat else that makes Flora different from every other Celebrity ship (besides the  other two small ships in the Galapagos) is that there is no caste system on board. I think I have mentioned that after 21 cruises with Celebrity we are switching our cruising to Viking Ocean. This is because on their other ships, if you aren’t in a suite or aqua class you do not get the same experience as the others on board. You get a lot better trip if you spend a lot more money. You can actually sail in a suite on their big ships without ever seeing the folks in the “economy class” staterooms. They can stay in “The Retreat” and have a “luxury” experience and never have to associate with the riff-raff. But on Flora, everyone is the same. Unless I stood outside the door of the biggest suites, I would NEVER have a clue who was in them. That would not be the case on the other Celebrity ships. There would be lots of places those in suites could go, that I couldn’t. Sad.

This post is all about summing this cruise up and answering some last questions and giving you a few more pieces of information I have missed in previous posts.

Let’s start with the questions:

  • What was the weather like?
    When we there in early July it was magnificent. In the 70s every day and pretty much every night. Before we made the decision to go, we did a lot of research on the weather. As we were told by our naturalists mid-June through mid-August and mid-November through early-January (the transitions between seasons) are the best times to go. Here’s a chart on the weather:

    From looking at this there may be a better time if you are a snorkeler, you may want to go when the water is warmer.
  • I like cocktails. What were they like on the ship? Are they expensive?
    First, everything is included onboard including all alcoholic beverages. That said, as much as we love our wine and cocktails we drank less on this cruise than we have on any of our 25+ previous cruises. Why? I think for two reasons. We knew that we had to be up early every day to be on the islands on the ship’s schedule. Being even the least big hung over or dehydrated was something we could not do and be at an optimum for the excursions. The other reason we didn’t drink as much is that there was less time to drink. Seriously, on other cruises, gathering in our favorite lounge both before and after dinner to socialize and sip is not something you do on this cruise. Before dinner you hear about the islands and what you will be doing the next day and after dinner…you go to bed.
  • What was the one thing you bought for this cruise that you could not have done without?
    That’s easy. My dry bag. I would have been lost without it. I owe the advice to get one to my Instagram friend Marvic_212. He is a crew member on Flora and takes the most amazing photos of the islands. He and his family live there as well and one of the biggest regrets I had was not being able to meet him when we were there. He was going to come back onboard a few weeks after we left. But if you love my pics, you will love his. When I asked him what I would need to keep my camera dry, he said “get a dry bag.” So I got the one I linked. I also ordered a strap so I could carry it with me. You will need a backpack with straps to take on the Zodiacs. The reason you need the straps is because you have to have both hands free to board the ship or get off on a wet or dry landing. So this is the strap I got.  I am really glad I got this as on the very first Zodiac trip, the bag got soaked. If I hadn’t had it, it would have been my camera getting soaked. And there would have been none of the great photos I took.
  • What was the best thing that Kathleen got before the cruise?
    She says, “That little turtle backpack.” Celebrity gives you a small mesh backpack but it is just too small. This one was the envy of all our fellow cruisers.
  • Are there bathrooms facilities on the islands?
    Nope, the only facilities are the bushes and trees. Seriously. I asked Ellen what do people do if they have to go. She said that you tell your naturalist and they will direct you to a place (hopefully out of sight of others but sometimes that is not possible) where whatever you will do the least damage to the environment. On all our trips (always more than 2+ hours) I only saw one person “using the facilities.” It was a young lady and I felt sorry for her because she had a wetsuit and a one-piece bathing suit so she pretty much had to disrobe. And it was on an island with hardly any bushes or trees, just lava. Everyone just looked in the other direction. As for me, I stuck with one cup of coffee every morning 😀.
  • Can you say a little more about the motion of the ocean? Will I get seasick?
    Kathleen says, “A couple of nights it was rough. The wind was blowing in one direction and the currents going in another. So if you are a person who has problem with motion sickness, you should consider possible preventive measures.” Kathleen always has her “Relief Band” with her on any cruise. It has saved her a bunch of times since she learned about it from our friend Carol. The ship does have dramamine-type drugs available if you need them and some of our onboard friends used a behind the ear patch.
  • What was the best thing about the ship?
    I loved the bed facing the ocean. That and deck eight where we went to see the stars on two nights (DON’T MISS THIS!). Kathleen says hers was hands down the shower. So well equipped, so well designed. For instance, there was a towel rack on the outside of the shower door that opened inward so you didn’t have to reach out and get the floor wet. Brilliant.
  • What was the worst thing about the ship?
    Kathleen says the lack of electrical outlets. Especially none on her side of the bed. The two that weren’t on the desk, were on my side of the bed. If you asked me, I would have to say the pillows. I am a side sleeper and the two we had were just too soft. I had to use a couch pillow under one of them or my neck was sore all day.
  • What was the most amazing you saw on the ship?
    Kathleen says that for her it was everything we saw while we were off the ship. It was just so magical. I would totally agree with her and add that one of the most amazing things I have ever seen a human do is the way the seamen on board handled the Zodiacs. They were able to do things with them that blew me away—such incredible skill. And you don’t realize it before you ride in one that they NEVER tie them up to the ship or to any dock. They control them while loading and unloading with the throttle and the steering. It’s amazing.

We are totally willing to answer any other questions but this is my last post about this trip. I think I have covered it pretty well and I have struggled to think of anything I may have missed. I hope you have enjoyed traveling along with us. We have lots more adventures planned or you can go back through the archives to see our Iceland trip and our Mardi Gras trip from 2019. You can also switch over to our other website a by clicking here to see all our travels since 2002. And come back after Thanksgiving when we will journey to Portugal, Amsterdam, Prague, Nuremberg and the Christmas Markets of Vienna, Krems, Passau and Budapest.

The Galapagos Islands are probably the most famous wildlife-watching destination in the world. And no wonder – it’s almost impossible to exaggerate the sheer spectacle of the place that provided inspiration for Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking theory of natural selection. – Mark Carwardine