Visiting every country in the world?

SALThink you can do that? Visit every country in the world? Do you even know (without Googling it) how many countries there are in the world? I will save you some time—there’s 193. Late last week I was checking my Twitter feed and I saw a post from Conde Nast Traveler’s website about a guy (Sal Lavallo—that’s him at right) who actually visited every single country in the world. All 193 of them. WOW! (I want his frequent flyer miles!)

So I checked out the article. It was great. Instead of a typical travel log or interview, Conde Nast Traveler asked this great guy 193 questions. One for every country he visited. I read every one of them and I loved them. Sal is the is the kind of guy who I would love to meet and I would love to travel with. The article that you can read by clicking here is worth a look. And the best part is, it reads fast.

You can find out all about his life and his journey in bits and pieces by reading just a few of the 193 questions. You can learn some cool stuff like, which country has the best tap water or what was his worst mistake. Or the most unusual place he slept and the hardest country to get into. I am betting if you start, you will finish. It’s that good.

Were you ever bored? There was always something new to see and learn.—Sal Lavallo, the man who visited all 193 countries of the world.

 

Sorry…

Number one rule of posting online: never apologize for not posting.

Ok, I just made that up. But I just got a reminder from WordPress saying, “You haven’t posted this week. Are you going to post soon? Your readers will forget you.”

Since I only have one real reader who I am not married to (Hi Bob–tell Judy we said hi), I doubt he will forget me.

So what’s my excuse? Lots of stuff but the biggest is that our franchise partner Mark and his lovely wife Kim have gone off to an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner meeting and I am covering for him this week. This means that for the first time since I taught high school in 1982 I have someplace to get up and go to every day this week from 9 to 5. It has been interesting and while I have truly enjoyed all the travel talk, it means I have gotten very little done outside of going in to work, coming home, cooking dinner and waking up really early to work on my other job.

And last night was my son’s 40th birthday so we had the local family over for dinner which consumed another full evening. By the time they went home at 8:00 I was half asleep. It was fix some websites, deal with a couple of things online, watch a TV show and fall asleep. It’s been that kind of week.

So hopefully you will forgive me and know that I will get back to posting about travel next week. Thanks for your patience.

I’m busy, man, too busy. There’s a lamentable absence of free time. —Juan Pablo Montoya

Quick Shots

Viking almost catastrophe follow up

Tonight just two quick things I want to share. The first is an awesome story about Viking Cruise Line’s ship that ran into trouble last week off Norway. If you missed it, I wrote about it late last week. Their crew and the whole company stepped up big time. You can click here to read the article. Worth the few minutes. Warning thought, it is a harrowing account. I would not have wanted to be on that ship. But I would have been thrilled by the way the crew onboard handled things.

Watching a big ship sail down a tiny canal

MeyerWerftAll through 2008 we were anxiously waiting the building and launching of Celebrity Cruise Line’s Solstice. This was not just a new ship, this was an entirely new class of ship. We (Kathleen and I) along with our Martini Mates were booked on Solstice’s 8th cruise in early March. So leading up to the launch we watched her being built at the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. They had web cams all over her and we checked every day to see the progress. We would try to figure out where our staterooms were and how the rest of the ship was coming together. Finally, after waiting for months, they had the “roll out.”

They call it a roll out because the ship literally has to roll to the sea though some pretty tight places. We watched that journey on webcams and from people posting photos taken along the way. When ships roll out from Meyer-Werft they are quite a ways from the open ocean. It is really quite a site to see a GIANT cruise ship in a tiny little canal floating through farm lands. I bring this up because it happened again this week. It wasn’t a Celebrity ship but a Royal Caribbean ship. Their new behemoth, Spectrum of the Seas, is really something to see. And she was captured in a really cool YouTube video being towed out to sea. You can watch it all by clicking here. It’s one of those things that I find fascinating and you might too. It’s only a little over a minute.

We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend. — Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Odds and Ends

Going to touch on three topics tonight.

Topic 1: Viking cruise ship problems

VikingAs usual the day all the Viking ships problems went viral I got a ton of texts and e-mails from both my new-to-cruising friends and my non-cruising friends telling me things like, “See, that’s why I will never (or won’t go again) cruise.” Or, “You aren’t still going to cruise are you?” Well of course we are. Here’s why.

First, sailing off the coast of Norway at this time of the year is kind of like sailing in the Caribbean during hurricane season. You takes your chances. The folks on those cruise, if they did their homework or had a great travel agent to warn them, would not have taken that cruise without knowing it could be rough. These folks wanted to see the Northern Lights on this cruise. They took a chance. BTW: If one of my clients told me that they were extremely subject to motion sickness, I would have advised skipping this one. There are other cruises they might now want to take at certain times of the year as well. And global climate change is making those “times of the year” vary from historical norms. Kathleen and I have been through winds higher than that but thankfully always on a ship with fully functioning engines. Our first time through the Straits of Messina we had 60 knot winds and in the Tasmin Sea we had some amazingly heavy seas. I will address how Kathleen beats her motion sickness in a future post.

Second, if you haven’t seen the follow-up, the cause of the engine failure was lack of oil. So why didn’t the sensors tell them they were low on oil? Because the ship was rocking so much that the sensors were registering incorrectly. Still no excuse for pure stupidity on the Viking engineers part but I am sure it’s the kind of thing that won’t happen again.

Lastly, when I got a note from someone who said, see what happens when you cruise, “I am never cruising again.” My first reaction was to check the traffic stats for their particular city in the last week. I found that more than 30 people had been killed in their regional area. While that is sad, my question to them is, “Were they going to stop driving?” I doubt it. But in a storm situation when no one suffered more than minor injuries, they were going to stop cruising? Not that logical. And all those Viking passengers got their money back as well.

Topic 2: An absolutely excellent and awesome article about one of my favorite travel people

StevesArticleIn case you missed it last Sunday, the NY Times weekly magazine had a really long and really in-depth article about one of my favorite people, our local travel expert, Rick Steves. (Click here to read it.) We have seen Rick speak a few times and his office is just north of us. He even performed with Seattle Men’s Chorus a few years back. He didn’t sing but he did tell some great travel stories between the songs. It was fun.

We love Rick and often follow his travel advice. His books on touring and museums are the best. He even has books about cruise ports in Europe. We love his restaurant picks as well. His book helped us find a superb place in a basement in Sienna once. Great food! If you are touring museums or taking walks in cities in Europe, have Rick with you either on his app or one of his guide books. He rocks. The article is worth a read. It kind of defines why travel is so important.

Topic 3: Cruise lines need to do a better job of getting in front of stuff like the Viking thing.

Whether it’s something as crazy as the Viking news earlier this week, norovirus or an unscheduled cruise cancellation, the cruise lines need to get out there with what is going on a whole lot faster. In this day and age of constant social media posting, things often end of looking a lot worse than they are but when people post about them and nothing is said by the cruise line involved for 12 hours or more, it looks bad and it gives social media control of the issue.

The same is sometime true when you are on a ship as well. Things will happen, there will be alerts or schedule changes and you won’t know what happens for hours. For instance, on our last cruise a port was cancelled. It was obvious from where we were when we woke up that we weren’t going to the port we missed. On the ship’s television map, we were far beyond it. And outside our windows, we couldn’t see land, which meant we were at sea. Yet there was no announcement about the change in course until around 10:00 am of that day. Pretty obvious by then that we weren’t going to the port.

Just an aggravation when I was just a passenger but more so now that I am a travel professional.

Wherever you go, go with all your heart. — Confucius

Food, Biosphere, Driving & Food

The headline and the pictures pretty much say it all for our last transition day from Tucson to Sedona. Let’s start with the morning food. If you are ever in Tucson and want an incredible breakfast, try one of the three Baja Cafes. Best breakfast we had on the entire trip and a truly cool place to eat. We were headed north out of town and stopped at their Campbell Ave. location early on a Sunday morning. The best way to sum it up is to say they had one of the most amazing dish of smoked brisket machaca huevos rancheros anyone has ever eaten. Not to mention that they give you sooooo much of it that even I couldn’t finish it. Kathleen had the waffle. I know, that sounds boring compared to my amazing meal, but it wasn’t. You see they make their waffles from dough and not batter. It is truly amazing. And the best part of the entire meal was the Snickerdoodle pancake. I need to mention that we did NOT order the Snickerdoodle pancake. About two minutes after our food (that we had ordered) our server came by and brought us this amazing pancake. Now I don’t really like pancakes but this one was amazing. If you are in Tucson, go to this place for breakfast. But get there early or you will wait a very long time on weekends. We got there around 8:00 and got seated right away. By the time we left around 8:45, there was a line at the door. Our server told us that it gets worse later in the morning.

After breakfast we had previously-purchased tickets to see Biosphere 2. It’s about a 30 minute drive north of Tucson. First, in case you are wondering where Biosphere 1 is, look down. You are standing on it. This particular fact was repeated to us a whole bunch of times during our 2.5 hours visiting Biosphere 2 which we found very interesting. One of our fellow travel agents (Thanks Jim M) had recommended it to me about a month before our trip. To be honest, I remembered it from back in the 90s but I had no idea it was north of Tucson but when Jim M told me about it, we decided to buy tickets. I am glad we did.

If you are in Tucson, make sure that you make it part of your plans. Doesn’t take long to get there and the time we spent on the included tour was outstanding. Learned so much about climate change and so much more. Check out their website and stop by if you are in Tucson.

After Biosphere 2 we were off to Sedona. But as we sometimes like to do, we took the back roads. The normal way to get to Tucson from Sedona is to take I-10 to I-17. That route would have taken us on a very boring 4-hour drive. Instead we opted for a 5+ hour drive up Arizona 77, 188, 260 and 89A  through the great communities of Winkleman, Globe, along Lake Roosevelt, through Payson, Camp Verde right into downtown Sedona. Along the way we drove through deserts and mountains. Temps went up and down as we climbed from the low 80s in Globe to the low 40s at 7,000 feet where we drove through about two feet of snow. Quite a day.

And we finished off our day (after having that amazing breakfast and no lunch) with dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants in the world, Dahl & DeLuca. We had been there before and had a superb meal. After that we spent that night and the next one at the Sedona Rouge Resort and Spa, which was very nice but reinforced my belief that I much prefer AirBnB rentals to hotels. (More about that later this week.)

So the next day and the one after it were pretty much uneventful. We did a day in Sedona relaxing and then did a drive to Phoenix on the aforementioned boring I-17, and had brunch at the Daily Dose Grille in downtown Scottsdale. We have been there on many Arizona trips before and highly recommend it if you are in the Phoenix area. After lunch we stopped at the most amazing brick and mortar bookstore (yes they still have those), The Poisoned Pen, only a few blocks away. It’s a real, live bookstore and it’s all about mysteries and we are both really into mysteries. Then it was off to PHX for our 3-hour flight back to Everett. A nice get away. Hope you enjoyed joining us (if belatedly) for the trip.

 

The worst part of traveling

busy office workerSo you know how much we love to travel. And I can say that I love coming home and sleeping my own bed. But the worst part of traveling is coming home to catching up. For some reason no matter how well I plan ahead of time, or how long we are gone, it’s always crazy to get back. With my old job and my new job, I need to write, write and write but not the stuff I want to write…like this site—that’s what I want to be writing. And I need to design websites, brochures and book travel and follow up on other people who are currently traveling or people who are about to travel not to mention catching up at home with things that need doing. Like the stuff I cook once a week that I now need to makes batches of, all on the same day. So much to do and just living as well.

All the while I am trying to get around to updating this site and writing one last post about our trip from Tucson to Sedona. So that is still coming (probably tomorrow) but I have been so busy I just haven’t been able to get to that yet.

The worst part of traveling? Coming back to work. Lots of it. I heard a radio discussion while driving this week about “free time.” I have heard that people actually have that. Kathleen says if I have it, I will just fill it up. She’s probably right. I have to be busy. Always doing two things at the same time. Like right now, writing and watching TV. We went to the movies today and saw Captain Marvel (Really fun film!) and I realized that this is one of the few things I do that I just do one thing at a time.

As much as I love to travel, coming back can be trying.

 

Tucson

 

Well I had high hopes of posting everyday on this trip but unlike a cruise, there is no real downtime. If we aren’t touring, then I am driving. When we go on a cruise, the captain drives and I have time to post. Evenings have been full of just downloading and processing photos so those get taken up as well.

Today we are in Sedona and I don’t have anything to do while a wonderful young lady cleans our room. Got a bunch of photos processed and now I can tell you about our adventures in Tucson, where we spent three days.

We got down to Tucson just before noon and met up with Lee who used to live in our condo complex in Redmond. He and I were on the condo board together for a few years. He sold his place about three years ago and moved down here where he bought a beautiful home. We stopped and saw his place and then we were off to lunch with him at a great restaurant called Wildflowers. It’s one of a big conglomerate of unique restaurants that started in Tucson and now stretches all over the place. I did a link to the restaurants because during our stay we would end up eating at three of them and they were all outstanding…and fun. You should check and see if they have one of them near you.

_8100103After lunch we headed into our Tucson AirBnB (I need to do an entire post on why we are now using AirBnBs most of the time) which was in the University district of Tucson. It was a very funky, cool, bungalow and it was huge. One of the best parts of AirBnBs is that you get an entire place for a great price. So we had a living room, dining room, almost gourmet kitchen, TV room, bedroom and bathroom for a lot less than the price of a hotel.

I covered the rest of that day in my last post which you can read here if you like so on to the next morning. Our good friends Bob and Judy from Chilliwack, BC headed down the next morning to meet us and then we were going to take a long “tootle” as Bob calls it (a nice long drive) to Tombstone and Bisbee even further south in Arizona. Bob and Judy arrived around 10:00, we swapped cars and headed south.

_8109956Had a great drive and a great time yakking away at each other for most of it. Just about every topic in the world comes up when the four of us are together. It took us about 90 minutes and we arrived in historic Tombstone, home of the OK Corral. Bob had been there a few years back (I think he said 1984) and back then then did fake gunfights out in the streets. Today they do them all either indoors or in outside areas that you have to pay to see them. I am sure this is because of two things. First to make some money on them them and second because of the proliferation of mass shootings around the world. The idea of having everyone in town shooting at each other is not really a good one.

It was cool and very windy so we decided we weren’t going to stay very long. We had lunch and walked around a little as well as doing a little shopping before we headed further south to Bisbee, a cute little copper mining town and scene of an entire series of books by JA Jance that came up a bunch that day. I just wanted to see all the places I had been reading about for years. Got to take some pics, we stopped at an old copper mine and then headed back by way of Sierra Vista (also in the books).

After a quick stop to get refreshed at our place, we were back out looking for Barrio Historico in downtown Tucson. We didn’t have a clear idea of where it was because the books and websites we had read about it only gave us streets that bordered it, not really great directions. You can’t put a street without a number in your GPS. After driving all over the place and never finding what we were after, we gave up and headed for dinner at another of the restaurants that was part of the Wildflower family, Culinary Dropout. Totally different than Wildflowers in a big way and totally cool. Had a great meal before heading home and sending Bob and Judy off on their way to a hotel and then the next morning, back to Sun City where they are staying with friends.

Our Saturday started with me taking a long walk around the University of Arizona. It reminded me of my walks around Oregon State in Corvallis or Auburn University in Alabama in that it is a actual campus, with a gate and an entrance. It has spread outside of the original place but it still feels like a “real” college as opposed to a commuter school like the one I went to (Cal State Fullerton).

Around 10:00 Kathleen and I decided to take a stab at finding Barrio Historico again because we wanted to see some of the doors we have photographs of in our home. If you have ever visited us, you know that we are cuckoo for door photos (we have almost 50 hanging in our place) and some of them came from this famous barrio. This time we found it and spent about an hour driving through and taking door, window and gate shots. Some of them will be in my Flickr feed later on. My favorite is in the group a the top.

IMG_1645At 11:30 we met my old high school friend Randy again for lunch at her son’s restaurant, Reilly’s Pizza. (That’s her with us at right.) If you are ever in Tucson, it’s right downtown in an old, completely refurbished mortuary. The food is amazing as is the decor and service. Of course it helps if you are eating with the bosses Mom. We had eaten there four years before (to the very day) and had a wonderful lunch and the food was still just as amazing. Truly with a visit to downtown.

After lunch Randy took us to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum high in the hills west of the city. It’s much more than a museum and definitely worth the 30 minute drive and admission price. Not only is it a museum, it is also a zoo, aquarium and more featuring desert animals, fish and birds. We spent almost two hours roaming the grounds and of course with me taking pictures. I have included a few above and the rest are (or will soon be) on my Flickr feed (at right). After a wonderful day with Randy, she headed off to meet her husband for a business dinner and we went to our third restaurant related to Wildflowers, Blanco way up in the foothills above Tucson. Great food, atmosphere and service one more time. The Fox Concept Restaurants are outstanding and we will look for them again as we travel. Guessing we will get to try both of them in San Diego on our next trip down.

And that concludes day two and three in Tucson, the next morning we were up early and headed to Sedona on the backroads with a stop at Biosphere 2. More about that later.

 

In Arizona waiting for warmth.

As I mentioned last week, we are in Arizona for some sun and some warmth. Well, we have the sun. The sky is blue without a cloud but when I went to walk this morning, it was below freezing. Having only packed shorts and short-sleeved shirts to walk in, that’s just too cold. If I was at home, no problem. Just put on some sweats and off I go.

So far though many parts of this trip have been superb. We are doing the first two segments of this three-city trip in AirBnBs. We started using those in 2017 and have had pretty good luck so far. Only one was just so-so (needed a good cleaning) but we have since done at least 10 and they are a super value and in many cases, better than hotels. The place in Phoenix where we spent the first two nights of this trip is a great example. You can see it by clicking here. We would highly recommend it for two-four people. It’s a really nice condo that is centrally located. The host was outstanding and super responsive. We would stay there again in an instant.

Our stay in Phoenix included meeting up with our best buddies from BC, and then visiting and having lunch with some old mutual cruising friends. After that we took in a nighttime Mariner’s spring training game which was so cold and windy we barely lasted three innings. Just sad. We originally were thrilled it was a night game because we had sweltered in the hot AZ sun at previous games but we were longing for some of that heat by the end of the second inning.

Yesterday we moved down to Tucson. Stopped on the way to have lunch with an old neighbor who had served on our condo board in Redmond with me in the past and then we checked into our Tucson AirBnB where I am sitting and typing this while we wait for the BC crowd to get down here from Phoenix so we can tootle off to Tombstone and Bisbee. This AirBnB is a very quaint bungalow with lots of really cool features. It’s older than the condo in Phoenix but so far, we really like it. You can see that one by clicking here.

After we had checked in (that means getting a key out of a lock box) and dropped our luggage we headed out to tour the Tucson Botanical Gardens. A very cool place with lots of cacti as well as a really nice butterfly house. Spent about an hour there and it almost warmed up while we were inside. Luckily the butterfly house is kept at a constant 88% humidity and about 85 degrees. So we warmed up for a few minutes.

After a quick return and a change of clothes we were out to dinner to meet my best friend from high school, Randy. She and I have known each other since sometime in elementary school and no matter how often I see her, it’s just like we are back in the old times. Kathleen did her best to not be bored while we talked about this person or that person that she had never heard of. Randy took us to El Charro Mexican Restaurant which is a Tucson landmark. Kind of the king of Mexican restaurants in a town full of great Mexican food. It was quite the place and the food was superb. My only problem was the noise level and hearing Kathleen or Randy half the time.

We are meeting Randy again on Saturday at her son’s pizza place where we had the world’s greatest Brussel’s sprouts the last time we were here. Can’t wait to have them again. Then we are heading to the Desert Museum (which we are told is so much more than a museum.) I’ll give you a report tomorrow.

PS: If you would like to see more pictures, check out my Flickr feed at right.

Martini Mates Forever

I have written in the past about the Martini Mates but I am just not sure I have written about them on this site. So here’s a short bit of explanation about who we are and a sad bit of news about one of our best friends—a Martini Mate.

Back in 2005 we booked our second Celebrity Cruise on Infinity that would take us on a short repositioning trip from Vancouver, BC to San Francisco, CA. As is our habit, as soon as we booked the cruise, we joined the Cruise Critic roll call (click here if you don’t know what that is) for it. Little did we know how life changing joining that roll call would be. There were about 100 people posting on the roll call but one day (about six months prior to the cruise) we started discussing the Martini Bar on Infinity. Now none of us were big fans of martinis but it was fun to discuss all the different kinds that X serves in its many martini bars throughout their fleet.

During that discussion someone suggested that we (everyone on the roll call) start calling ourselves the Martini Mates. This caught on and pretty soon we were all a bunch of Martini Mates. By the time we all arrived in Vancouver for the cruise, a bunch of us who had done a TON of posting felt like we were good friends. Many of us gathered the night before the cruise for a pre-cruise cocktail party that was organized by Carol Preisman who is the wife of the god of shore excursions Mike. We met in the bar at the Sheraton Wall Center hotel and when I walked into the hotel, Carol came up and I put out my hand to shake hers. She said, “I’m from the South honey. We don’t shake, we hug.” And she did. And I did. And I made a friend who lasted from that day until last night when we lost Carol.

Carol would always say that she wasn’t sure why she and I were friends. Neither was I. We were pretty much the opposite of each other. She was a conservative, reserved Southern Belle of the highest order and I was a liberal, loud, ex-hippie from California. And we became friends. And every time we saw each other or she would introduce me to someone, she would say, “Not sure why Jim and I are friends…but we are.”

Of course there were many Martini Mates on that cruise but for some reason, six of us stayed Martini Mates. We still correspond with others from that 2005 cruise. We have sailed with some of those people as well. Over the years we have added more folks to the Martini Mates but the six of us were the core—Bob, Jude, Mike, Carol, Kathleen and me.

Those four people have been a huge part of our lives since the day we met them. We have sailed with Mike and Carol at least eight times and done a couple of land trips with them as well. They have stayed at our place and we have stayed at theirs. Yes, we were closer to Bob and Jude but that’s just because we were geographically closer since they lived in BC and Mike and Carol lived in Florida but the six of us were still the best of friends. And when we were able to travel to all the parts of the world together, we felt like no time had passed between trips.

When we returned from the original trip in 2005, Carol wanted us all to be able to have a place to keep talking to each other on the original Cruise Critic roll call so she started the Martini Mates “friends of Cruise Critic” board that we still post on to this day. This morning it was filled with love for both Carol and Mike.

I am posting more photos than I usually post because when I went to look for them, I found so many that I loved of us with our Mates all over the world. Bob and Jude never did the really long and adventurous trips—Bob hates to fly. But we still went everywhere together.

This morning after I had found out about Carol passing I took a long walk and was thinking about all the places we had been with Mike and Carol. Besides the initial Martini Mate foray in 2005, we sailed with them to Alaska twice, to SE Asia from Singapore to Hong Kong, through the Panama Canal in 2014, to the Baltic a few years before that, on the eighth voyage of Solstice in the Caribbean and Hawaii.

So that’s kind of a short history of the Martini Mates. The Mates suffered our first huge loss when Jude passed away a few years ago. Today we lost Carol. And she will be missed but I like to think that she is undoubtedly in a heavenly Martini Bar, sipping her chocolate martini with Jude and another of our group, “The Straw.” She and Jude are rolling their eyes as “The Straw” (that’s a whole other story) tells the story of how she became “The Straw” for the 1 millionth time.

We love you Carol and will miss you. I wish I could see you right now to give you that hug because you taught me that “we don’t shake hands, we hug.”

Just a quick heads up

IMG_4095Starting on Tuesday, you will be seeing a lot of posting on this site as we are off on a one-week trip to Arizona. No, we aren’t there yet. The photo above is from our 2015 trip which is the last time we were there.

We fly out around noon from Paine Field in Everett, WA. This is remarkable because this is only the second week that this airport has been open for commercial flights. Previously it was just used by private aircraft and Boeing as it’s the site of the world’s largest building where they manufacture the Boeing 787, 777, 767 and 747. Pretty much all of Boeing’s aircraft other than the 737 which is made in Renton.

As we tour Arizona, I will be trying to post every night with a little bit about what we are doing and how we are enjoying the traveling. We will be in Phoenix Tuesday and Wednesday, Tucson on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Sedona, Sunday and Monday. We fly back a week from Tuesday.

So, watch for my updates. No cruises this time. Just a great little road trip around the southwest.