Let’s look at the art—what a classy ship.

This post will be the second to the last of my posts from our Nieuw Statendam (NS) cruise to the Southern Caribbean from January 23 to February 2. Today I promise to give you some photos of some really great art around the ship. So let’s get started.

Before I retired last June I was a graphic designer for 40+ years. I like to think I understand color and design. Some cruise ships drive me bats. Pretty much it’s the brash, gaudy colors that look like they were furnished by the same people (as my bride says) who designed downtown Las Vegas. Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam (and I am told it’s Pinnacle Class sisters) is one of the classiest ships we have been on.

Another thing I love on a ship is art. Themed art is even better. Somehow along the way of building NS they decided that the theme should be music. It does go along with their Music Walk venues and to be honest, I loved it. Most of this art was located in the stairwells so many cruisers who take elevators never see it. I never take elevators on a ship unless I have luggage with me so I got to see a lot more. Even though I hardly ever take pictures of other people’s art, I wanted to showcase some of the ones I loved. Here’s a quick gallery with some comments of the pieces I really liked. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.       —Aristotle

 

Avoiding Aruba and why I still don’t like the Caribbean that much

See—I love those alliterations. Can’t resist them in headlines. Never have been able to 😜.

Let’s talk Aruba. We have been here before…a very long time ago (2004) on our first Panama Canal cruise. It was the stop the day before we went through the canal. I totally get that things are going to change in 18 years but I guess I wasn’t expecting it to go this far south (pun not intended).

When we were here in 2004, we had heard it was really easy to get off the ship and immediately rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle and drive all the way around the island so that is what we did. It was (to that point and until this cruise) our favorite Caribbean experience. We had a lot of fun, saw a lot of stuff and generally enjoyed ourselves. The island reminded me of what we found in Curacao on this trip, not overly developed, not overly touristy.

Well that changed. If you saw my post two days ago about the commercialism in cruise ports you know what I am talking about. I have friends who follow this blog  and know that I have never been a big fan of the Caribbean in general. Now they are reading the last few posts and I am being asked if I now have either softened my stance on the Caribbean or changed it all together. I think I figured it out last night when I started writing the post. It’s not that I have changed my mind about the Caribbean, it’s that I have seen a different Caribbean on this cruise than we have seen before.

I figured this out when I was explaining to my brother and sister-in-law about the Caribbean islands we had seen as opposed to the ones we had seen before. In our past experiences down here we have stopped in…

  1. St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
  2. St. Maarten
  3. Labadee, Haiti
  4. Casa del Campo, Dominican Republic
  5. Cozumel, Mexico
  6. Costa Maya, Mexico
  7. Puerto Rico, USA
  8. St. Kitts & Nevis
  9. Grand Cayman
  10. Nassau, Bahamas

If you know the Caribbean and you see this list you realize that these are all the commercialized ports that ships sail to. These and the cruise line’s private islands are about it. On this trip we stopped in one of those places—Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic. When we were touring there it reminded me of all the things I really don’t like about the Caribbean. Tours of rum distilleries, tobacco/cigar factories, chocolate stores…anyplace they could sell us something.

In the new Caribbean I found on this trip they took us to Grand Turk, Bonaire and  to some extent Curacao. Places where it is probably much like the Caribbean used to be. No chain stores, beautiful beaches, tours that featured the natural beauty of that island. Sadly, those places are few and far between. But they reminded me of being in Galapagos. The guides in both places were proud of being from those places and they wanted to preserve the things that were important to life on their island.

Which brings us back to Aruba. Since we were here in 2004 I have always said that of all the islands in the Caribbean we had visited, I liked Aruba the best. And now I know why. Back when we visited it was like Bonaire. Oranjestad was a sleepy little town. It’s not anymore. Check out my photos below to see what I mean. There is a pink building that you can see in the center of my Oranjestad photos. When we were here in 2004, you could walk to that building from the port and not really pass any other buildings. And right outside the ship you could rent that Jeep to drive around the island. There were at least six places at the pier you could rent a car. Not so anymore. When I went walking in town, I asked where you could rent a car and was told that Enterprise was about three blocks away. That’s sad.

So what did Kathleen and I do in Aruba? Pretty much nothing. Kathleen stayed aboard and I took about a 45 minute walk to shoot some pics, get some postcards (yes, we still send those) and a magnet (yes, we collect those for the door of our garage freezer), ran into our buddy Seth and that was about it. Came back to the ship and had lunch with him. So the pics below are either from that short walk (not much to take pictures of) and stuff I shot from the ship. Please note the ENORMOUS hotel in the distance. Not here when we were here before but we are told it is incredibly expensive and they are building more.

I do want to add that my brother Steve and and his bride Jamie took an overall bus tour of the island and loved it. They saw a lot of the stuff we saw on our Jeep ride in 2004 and told us they had a great guide who truly loved his island. So maybe some of that spirit is still out there. All I know is that it kind of made me sick to walk through what downtown Oranjestad had become because now it looks a lot like the other ten places we had been before. I hope Bonaire and Grand Turk don’t succumb to this but I don’t have high hopes for Curacao.

Here’s the pics, such as they are. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That’s it for our ports of call. The last two days of the cruise are sea days as we make our way back to Fort Lauderdale. Yesterday was a lot of fun as we spent much of the day doing Sail with Seth stuff including a group photo, a cooking demo and a mixology class. Took up most of the afternoon.

My plan is to do three more posts about this cruise. One on the food, one on the ship and finally an overall review. Watch for those in the next couple of days. I will do them today (our last day onboard 😔) and tomorrow on the flight home and then post when we are home.

I sometimes detect that a type of regional divide is setting in, and there is a lack of real Caribbean connection among the islands, and I am concerned about this.   —Anthony Carmona

Colorful Curacao

Usually my headlines are written just for the alliteration but this one really is true.  We thought things were pretty colorful the day before in Bonaire, but Curacao really takes the colorful cake. It appears that this town loves color. We took a short tour on the town’s trolley and our guide told us the real reason that Curacao’s capital Willemstad has so many colorful buildings is that about 100 years ago, the governor of the island decreed that houses could no longer be white. That they had to be painted one of a set number of colors. After he left office it was found that not only was he the governor but he was also part owner of the only paint supplier on the island 😂.

But it has served Curacao well as you will see from my photos. It’s a photographer’s paradise. Besides all the colorful buildings my photos benefited from one of the bluest skies I have ever seen.

But before I show you the photos I want to tell you what we did to tour. First, when the ship arrived there was quite a bit of discussion between the ship and the port. It went on for a while. So long that many people were waiting for the Captain to announce we were going to have to skip the port. But finally, almost an hour later, the port allowed us to disembark. There was one big change though. We were originally scheduled not to leave the port until 11;00 pm but because Willemstad had a 9:00 pm curfew for everyone in the town they moved up our all-aboard time to match up with the curfew and let us off.

Our included (in our Have It All promotion) shore excursion for this port was the aforementioned Old Town Trolley Tour. We were actually picked up by taxis (vans) and driven across the Queen Juliana Bridge to meet up with the trolley and our guide in downtown. Our tour was in a three car trolley pulled by a gas-powered engine that looked like a train engine (bell included). We saw lots of colorful architecture on our about 90 minute tour which started and ended at the old town fort. Our guide was good, the driver a great guy but I can’t recommend this tour. The fumes from the engine were horrible. By about halfway through we were either nauseous or getting there or we had a horrible headache. This trolley engine needs a tune up or a replacement before anyone should try and take that tour again. But it was interesting (when you could breathe). What we saw is in the photo captions. Funny but it was one of the few times we were thrilled to be wearing masks. Can’t imagine how bad it would have been without them.

After we were done they gave us the option of either walking back to the ship or taking the taxi back. Kathleen had a bad headache from the fumes so she headed back. I wanted to take more pics of downtown so I elected to stay and walk back across the fabulous floating bridge.

So here’s the pics that explain everything else. Remember, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That was about it for downtown Willemstad. From the bridge it was about a ten minute walk back to the ship, back aboard and after a nice evening (more about entertainment and food coming soon) we went to bed and woke up sailing into Oranjestad, Aruba. More about that tomorrow.

What makes things memorable is that they are meaningful, significant, colorful.   —Joshua Foer

Beautiful Bonaire—I’m impressed

Yesterday (Friday January 28th) we were in beautiful Bonaire. One of the three ABC islands, the island is predominately known for its diving—both scuba and snorkeling. I could go on and on about their politics, their industry and the rest of it but if you really want to know—click here—for a link to the Wikipedia page for Bonaire.

What I will tell you about is the two (yes 2) excursions we took and how impressed I am with the island. First let me say that we are NOT divers of any kind. We leave that to our friends Mike and Cathy. They do the snorkel thing and the scuba thing. They live in Florida so they have warm water. We live in Washington where if you go in the water, you freeze to death in less time than you can say, “GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”

So we started off the morning with a ship’s excursion called “The Best of Bonaire.” There were three groups of about 12 people in three different vans. We had settled into one of the vans when the head of shore excursions asked for volunteers to move to another van because they had miscalculated the numbers on ours. We were in the front so we said we would switch. Best decision of the day. I have nothing against the guide and driver on the original van but the new van had a guide that made our day—Gladys. Now we really doubt Gladys is her real name because she acted like it was a joke all day long but if you are in Bonaire doing this tour, get Gladys. The woman is a HOOT! Not to mention an excellent guide and you could tell how much she loves her adopted island—Bonaire. She is originally from Wisconsin but has been on Bonaire off and on since 1963 so she knows her stuff. Her driver was a guy she called Cheech because of his past life as a cop confiscating marijuana and being in charge of burning it after the perpetrators were caught.

These two took us all over the island and while Gladys regaled us with stories, history, geography, science, nature and local customs, Cheech kept a VERY sharp eye out for the best flora and fauna he could find. And find it he did, time and time again. Check out my pics to see what I mean. He found parrots, parrot fish (he was good at parrot stuff 😜), lizards and all kinds of other stuff. Then he would slow down or stop so that us photographers could get the pics we were after. (BTW: I am so sorry I did not get a photo of Gladys or Cheech—my bad.)

We were out touring with Gladys and Cheech for 3.5 hours and other than my knees giving me problems from sitting for so long we had a great time and saw a bunch of great stuff as you will see in the photos. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Our second excursion a little later in the day was a short but very nice trip on a glass-bottom boat. Having never been on a glass-bottom boat before I thought maybe I could get some great underwater photos without going underwater. And our guide and skipper Kim took us out to the coral reef around a large island called Little Bonaire that is just off the main port. While we were able to see some very pretty fish, the only photo I could even slightly make work is the one of the turtle you see below. The other pics are from the boat ride but just not the underwater parts.

To sum all this up, I would say the one thing that most impressed me about Bonaire is that they have not succumbed to the usual cruise-type shops. No Diamonds International, etc. Also, both guides we had were so in love with their island and the things their government (which is funded and supervised by Amsterdam—Bonaire being a Dutch protectorate) is doing for their people, their environment and the flora and fauna of the island. It I also impressive that 70% of the island’s power (even powering their desalinization plants) is from wind. And they hope to be 100% renewable within 5 years. Not only that but everyone there has health care, an education, a guaranteed retirement…all things that every human should have a right to.

I sometimes detect that a type of regional divide is setting in, and there is a lack of real Caribbean connection among the islands, and I am concerned about this.  —Anthony Carmona

Surprising Grand Turk and some other stuff

After missing our first port (which should have been HAL’s private island, Half Moon Cay) due to weather conditions and not COVID, our first stop became Grand Turk Island. Grand Turk is the Turk part of Turks and Caicos. This was our first time on this island so we had no clue what we were in for.

On past cruises we hardly ever do ship’s shore excursions but using HAL’s Have It All program, we not only received a drinks package, two nights in specialty restaurants and complimentary Wifi but we were able to sign up for some HAL shore excursions for free. With that said, we chose “Charming Grand Turk by Open Air Tram.” This was just one of those overview tours where we would see the island and hear from a guide who would tell us a little about the island, their country and its history.

Sometimes things go wrong on a cruise and you just hope it’s not a big deal. This turned out to be one of those times. We had arrived at the correct time for the afternoon tram ride and after they signed us in they told us that the morning tram group had not come back yet and we would have to wait 15 minutes. No biggie. But the 15 minutes turned into 30 and then almost an hour. The shore excursion team offered us a full refund or we could wait another 15 minutes. In fact the tram never showed up (they might still be there 😜). Some people chose to take refunds and headed back to the ship. We had decided to wait the full hour and then take the refund.

But when an open air bus (not our tram) came in after their second tour, the HAL shore excursion people asked the guide if he would take us. We were totally impressed with their efforts and he agreed to tour us around. We were thrilled because he had a higher and larger open air bus than the tram would have been, which made it much easier for me to get the photos I ended up with (that I am thrilled about). The shore excursion manager did her job that day, totally coming through for us. Not only that, when we got back to the ship and checked our accounts we found that she had reimbursed us for the entire tour because it was late and we handled it so well. Going above and beyond—HAL’s service is blowing us away.

Once we got out on the road with our guide Nate we knew we were in a very fun tour. He was hilarious. He had two teenage girls working with him and they took great care of us as we drove all over the island. We learned a lot about Grand Turk and its history (for instance, did you know this where John Glenn landed after his first orbit of the earth?). Nate was also great about stopping for photos. I am going to tell you a little more about Grand Turk in the captions of the photos below. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my pictures on a phone. Please…

Not sure what more I can tell you about Grand Turk but I will say that this cruise is almost making me like the Caribbean. (For those new to this blog, this has NEVER been one of my favorite places—too warm, not a beach person, etc.) We loved Grand Turk, we had a great day in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic yesterday that I will write about later this afternoon or later this week and the weather has been near perfect. Yes, it has been hot when we are out and about and I think wearing a mask makes it about 10 degrees warmer but I am writing this on a sea day, sitting outside on our verandah. The temperature is 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the seas are flat as a lake and the breeze is awesome. I could get real used to this, really fast. We are already talking with our buddy Seth about doing another Sail with Seth in a warm climate. We will keep you updated in case you want to join us.

One more thing to mention about the Sail with Seth part of our cruise. This morning he arranged a special Coffee with the Captain just for the group and the captain verified that there are 895 passengers on board and a little more than 800 crew members. That means we have almost one crew member per passenger. No wonder the service is so awesome!

There’s definitely healing properties to being in proximity to the ocean and that breeze. There’s something about that Caribbean climate and humidity.   —Johnny Depp

On Board the Nieuw Statendam…it’s AWESOME!

Yesterday (it’s Monday right now and will probably be Tuesday before I finish this), we sailed on Holland America’s (HAL) Nieuw Statendam from Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Florida. After two really great nights in our FLL AirBnB we got to board in the first group. We had heard that HAL was being really being a stickler about boarding times due to the pandemic and we were no exception. Our time said noon and at 11:15 I dropped Kathleen, Steve and Jamie off at the port and took our rental car back to the airport. A quick cab ride back and we were ready to board right on time.

BTW: Before we went I did an early morning photowalk around Fort Lauderdale’s Riverwalk and here’s some pics from that morning. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Our home for the next 10 days

Check-in took less than 15 minutes and would have been faster if you took out all the COVID stuff. As soon as we got on board our rooms were available so we went to drop off our carry on luggage and to unpack those. I am not sure if I mentioned this but originally we had a verandah stateroom on deck six. About two weeks before the cruise we got an e-mail asking if we wanted to upgrade to a Neptune Suite. Neptune Suites are the second highest level of suites on the ship and the cost to upgrade was amazingly reasonable so we grabbed it. The suite is AMAZING! More than 350 square feet (which is big for a cruise ship stateroom, with a monster bathroom and a huge living space. Here’s some pics to show you what we are living in for the next ten (now nine) days and…don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

You always hear folks say, “I don’t need big room or a verandah because I am never it in.” This is true until you get a stateroom/suite like this. Then you are in it because you have everything you need. And on this cruise (and others for awhile) this is the only place we can walk around without our masks on. And because it’s just awesome!

I will drop some photos in my next post of the rest of the ship. Here are some facts about this particular cruise. First, due to COVID there are fewer than 750 cruisers on board. This is on a ship built to hold 3,214 passengers when at full capacity so to say that things feel empty is an understatement. I will say that there are some events (the Blues Club we were in last night) that can get crowded but we are doing our best to stay in our little pod of four.

We were supposed to have six ports of call on this cruise but that got tossed out the window yesterday when we could not land at Half Moon Cay, (HAL’s private island). This was NOT due to COVID but to high winds. Half Moon Cay is a tender port (that means they drop life boats and ferry you in from the ship) and the winds and seas were just too high to put those in the water safely, so we skipped that port. I will give the activity staff high marks because they quickly adjusted and found lots of things for people to do. BTW: If you are a trivia buff, this cruise is for you. I think there is trivia scheduled about every three hours along with lots of other activities.

Still have five ports scheduled and as I type this we are tied up at the pier in Grand Turk. We (the four of us) are going off around noon to do a HAL shore excursion. We got two free with our cruise and this is one of those. Grand Turk will allow us to get off and just wander around.

Tomorrow we are in Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, then a sea day, then we hit Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba in that order, on successive days. Then it’s two sea days and we are back in Fort Lauderdale. So far, everything is going great. More on the ship, the activities and the food in my next post.

The purpose of our lives is to be happy.   —Dalai Lama

The PANDEMIC IS OVER!!! At least they think it is in Key West, Florida

We spent our first night after flying into Fort Lauderdale at the Le Meridian Hotel near the airport. It turned out to be a very nice place. Being about an hour late, Kathleen and I grabbed a very quick bite before I high-tailed it back to the airport to pick up my brother (Steve) and my sister-in-law (Jamie) and bring them back as well.

The next morning we were up early, off to Starbucks and then we hit the road to go down for a one night visit to Key West, Florida. Kathleen and I had been there in 2009 with our buddies Bob and Judy and had loved it. Today is a tale of what happens in 12 years—bad things.

The cute and quaint town we visited in March of 2009 is now kind of a drunken, slobbery, very expensive mess. Well, maybe not that bad but certainly different from what we had experienced. The really big news in Key West is that the pandemic is OVER! We knew that because when we were walking around downtown, shopped and ate in restaurants and besides the four of us we saw exactly two (YES TWO) people with masks on. So we guess it’s over. At least it is there. We were so careful to keep our N95 masks on all day, even in the humidity and we are hoping that was enough. We have to take COVID antigen test this morning in order to be able to board the ship tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

The experience wasn’t all bad. I did get two new Crazy Shirts (the greatest shirt in the world—I have about 30 of them and wear them pretty much every day), we had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant on Duval Street (the main drag) called Bagatelle. Food was amazing and service was great. Except for the lack of masks, it was about a perfect dinner.

The same cannot be said about our hotel. Key West is in high season and that means hotels are not only scarce but expensive. We could not find a single AirBnB. The hotel (The Gates Hotel) was more than $300 a night so we were only staying one night. When we arrived and tried to get into the lobby to check in there was a sign on the door that said something to the effect that “two hotels, one lobby” with directions to drive to the hotel next door.

Once we got in the correct lobby we found out that not only was the hotel more than $300, they tacked on an undisclosed “resort fee” of $40. This “resort fee” got us two bottles of water and some free but pretty slow WiFi. Then we headed to our room which was way around the back of the building in a different, motel-type building. We found our room but we had to walk across about about 15 feet of muddy ground to get to the door and sometimes you had to fight your way through a flock of Key West’s famous chickens. Once inside we found another sign that people in Key West think the pandemic is over as soon as we used the facilities. There was no soap. Seriously, in a hotel room that charged us more than $350 plus tax, there was no soap. Also no bath mat to step out of the shower on. So I get on the phone and call the office to see if we could get both. I called about 15 times over and over again for about 20 minutes and there was no answer. So we went off to dinner and I figured I would ask when we got back. In the meantime the person who had checked us in sent me a text asking if everything in our room was OK and I texted back that we did not have soap or a bath mat. She said she would send some right out. This was two days ago, we checked out yesterday and we still don’t have it 🙄. I can’t recommend this hotel less than I do.

But I did get in an early morning photo-walk the next morning and the best of what I took are in the slide show below. Hope you enjoy them. Got some great sunrises and pelicans and a few other subjects as well. (Click on the first pic and you can scroll through the rest.)

The next morning after a quick hit of Starbucks we were back up the overseas highway to drop our luggage at our AirBnB where we would spend the next two nights. That done we headed north to Wellington to have dinner with our friends Mike and Cathy. We had promised my brother who loves Greek food, a visit to our favorite Greek restaurant, Chris’ Taverna in Lake Worth. After an hour wait we were rewarded with an amazing dinner (just like always). Of course I had the octopus and it was maybe the best I have ever eaten. Plus it was great seeing Mike and Cathy. Kathleen and I will meet them for lunch on the day we get off the ship as we don’t fly back until early evening.

That brings us to this morning (Saturday) when we are happily ensconced in the AirBnB while doing our online-monitored COVID tests so we can board the ship tomorrow. So far two of us have passed, one is waiting for their proctor to come back and then Jamie will do hers and we are good to go. More tomorrow!

Laughter is an instant vacation.  —Milton Berle

 

 

We are trying to travel again…

Just a quick note tonight. We are at the start of what we hope will be a really great 14 night vacation that we booked to make up for losing our European trip in December. When that trip got cancelled we immediately looked for someplace else to go. We didn’t want Europe because at that point things were going south there pretty quick and we have a big Mediterranean cruise planned for next autumn.

So one of the first people we asked for advice was our good friend Seth Wayne. Long time readers of these posts may remember that Seth used to be a meteorologist in Seattle and we met him on Twitter because of our mutual love of cruising. He also had a travel show on KOMO radio and I was often one of his guests to talk travel. Two years ago, Seth left his job at KOMO-TV as the morning weather guy and became the Director of Communications and Brand Ambassador for Holland America (HAL) cruise line. Since then (minus the pandemic) he has been on a HAL ship. From time to time he does a special Sail with Seth cruise where he is on the ship with a group of folks and there are all kinds of additional activities that he runs for the group. So I called to ask him when the next one was…and he said, “Hey, come with me to the Southern Caribbean on January 23rd!”

So even though I am NOT a fan of the Caribbean, because it was Seth and because we hadn’t been anyplace since our July trip to the Galapagos (which is forever for us) we jumped on it. And then came Omicron. So for the last two weeks we have been following all the news to see what was going on with the virus and cruising.

Yes, we have heard all the CDC stuff about cruising but I still totally believe that being on a cruise ship is by far the safest way to travel. Sure you can drive, but eventually you have to stop and eat or sleep. You could fly but when you do, you have no idea if the person next to or in front of or behind you is vaccinated or willing to keep their mask on correctly for your entire flight. But when you cruise, you know that every person on board has been fully vaccinated and wears a mask except when eating or drinking. Not only that but you can’t board without a negative COVID test whether you are vaccinated or not.

So last Saturday we went and got ourselves a Kaiser PCR test to be sure we were safe to fly south. We passed with a NEGATIVE result (which is kind of weird…to say that it’s a bad thing to be POSITIVE) and then we quarantined at home (no market trips, no restaurants, etc.) until this morning when we were picked up by Century Car Service and whisked off to SEA-TAC airport for our flight to Fort Lauderdale. I would love to say that everything went perfectly and it almost did except for the one hour delay to replace a knob in the cockpit But we finally got here and we even had time for a quick dinner at the hotel before I ran back to the airport to pick my brother Steve and my sister-in-law Jamie who are back traveling with us again. (They haven’t gotten to go anyplace since we came home from Ireland in June 2019) And now I am sitting in bed at the Le Meridien Hotel in Dania Point, FL writing this post.

Our cruise does not sail until Sunday and between now and then we are going down to Key West tomorrow, then back up to Wellington to have dinner with our buddies Mike and Cathy and then an AirBnB back here in Fort Lauderdale so we can do another COVID test before we sail on Sunday.

The big message here is to get ready for some more photos and posts as we spend the next two weeks out and about in Florida and the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean the temperature never changes, the sun just goes down.      —Kris Marshall

 

2021 Top Ten (could be anything)

Over the last few days I have written about my five best food experiences of 2021, my 10 best photos I took in 2021 and my five biggest downers of 2021 so today, let’s get to the good stuff to close out the year. So here are the 10 best things I loved in 2021. BTW: Unlike my photos which I numbered, this group is in no particular order (except the NUMBER ONE which is down at the bottom).

Walking all year

It’s funny that I am choosing to write about this first. I guess it’s because I haven’t been able to do it for a week (as of today) and that’s killing me. Too much ice and snow outside keeps me indoors. I am going stir-crazy but I know if I slip and fall then I might not be able to walk for weeks. It has been a big part of my life this year. So far in 2021, I have walked 1,466 miles (that’s 2,359 kilometer for our Canadian viewers). If I had just kept going and not come home I could have walked to my childhood home in Palm Springs and then to my brother’s place in San Juan Capistrano. Or I could have walked back and forth to our friends in Chilliwack, BC almost six times. Can you tell I love my walks? (BTW: I know how far I have gone because I use the wonderful app, Map My Walk from Under Armour. )

Going to Southern California twice to see Jamie and Steve

This was supposed to have been the year that the four of us went to Europe (for the third time) together and did a bunch of other stuff. But we “made do” with visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Southern California…twice. Great weather, lots of fun, family, food and superb activities organized by Jamie made these visits at least a good substitute for Europe. Not really, but we did have fun. We even went to the historic Musso and Frank Grille in Hollywood for dinner.

Stopping to see Mike and Meeting Cathy in June

We had so many schedule changes for our Galapagos trip in July that we were thrilled when it all finally worked out and we ended up  flying through South Florida to get to Ecuador. Thrilled because this gave us a chance to add on a couple of days to see one of our best friends and fellow Martini Mate Mike and to meet the new love of his life, Cathy, in person. We had an outstanding time, Mike even got up at 2:00 am to take us all the way to the Miami airport (WHAT A FRIEND!) and we LOVED Cathy. So it really stands out as a highlight for us. Even better, we get to see them again (I really hope) in three weeks.

Getting to go back to Canada in September

Over the last 15 years we have spent a lot of time in British Columbia. Specifically Chilliwack, BC. That’s because that’s where our friends Bob and Judy live. And in case you missed it, since the start of the pandemic, Canada had closed their border. That meant that even though we could FaceTime to talk, we hadn’t seen them in person from the day we got back from our Mardi Gras cruise (March 2o, 2020) until we finally got to get tested, get the Canadian entry app, show our Nexus cards and get in to see them in September. That’s a long time not to see someone you are used to seeing at least every other month. If all works out and it doesn’t snow again, we may go up again next weekend!

Going to Seaside with family in August

Every summer (or at least three of them) we have rented an AirBnB type place with our grandkids (and their parents). This year we went to Seaside, Oregon. I can’t tell you how much I cherish that week with them. We play games, go to the beach, local attractions, make meals together and watch special movies in the evenings (Star Wars!!!). Can’t wait until August 2022 to do this again.

Ted Lasso–forever

I know. It’s a television show. But I love television and it is the best television show ever made—in my somewhat humble opinion 😜. There is not a single episode where I don’t laugh, cry and exult in these glorious characters. I have watched each and every episode at least four times and some even more. We watched their Christmas show on Christmas Eve and will every Christmas Eve from now on. I listen to two podcasts about the show every week during the season. I still listen to Brett Goldstein’s “Films to Be Buried With” podcast every week.  I follow all the actors on Instagram. I have downloaded every song Hannah Waddingham has recorded that wasn’t from a West End musical. I watch every YouTube video about the show that YouTube throws at me—and that’s a lot. I have my Richmond FC scarf and I am ready to root for Ted and the Greyhounds again next summer. I am a total fanboy and completely obsessed. The show just speaks to me. When it comes to Ted Lasso, I am never a goldfish (you only get this if you have seen the show—go watch it!).

Getting fully vaccinated and staying that way with boosters

This isn’t the highlight of the year but it led to everything else we did. Do you remember when the vaccine was first introduced and so many people (like us) were clamoring to get our hands on our first shot…and then our second. We got our first one at the end of January and our second in mid-February. Then in mid-July I was in our local Kaiser (our HMO) clinic and they said they were throwing away vaccine every day because it was defrosted and people weren’t showing up to get it. I just don’t understand the anti-vaccination crowd. We know friends and relatives of friends who are part of that group and they are normally intelligent people. Please explain this because I can’t. I just know that I have had three, full potency shots (I take an injected auto-immune drug weekly so I got a full shot for my third and not a booster) and Kathleen is boosted.

Storyworth–all year long

I think have mentioned Storyworth on this site before but here’s a quick explanation if I haven’t. For Christmas 2020 my daughter gave me a one-year subscription to Storyworth. Since then I get an e-mail every week with a single question about my life. Either my past, my opinions or my relationships. Each week I answer the question and they keep them and at the end of the year (now) I order a pre-paid, printed book of all of the stories so that my grandkids can know about their Grandpa and how he got this way 😜.

I am currently in the process of editing my book (that’s the cover above) and I will order the printed version for myself next week. Once I see my printed copy, I will order two more, one for each of the grandkids. This has been a wonderful experience. I have learned so much. Over my lifetime I have been in therapy a quite a few times, but writing these stories had been more therapeutic than any of that. It does get a little dark sometimes but it’s really brought back some good and not-so-good memories. And yes, I guess I am verbose. The average Storyworth book is about 250 pages. I am over 450 at this point. Can you tell I have loved the experience?

Retiring from Jostens Yearbooks after 39 years last June

To be completely honest, this was not supposed to happen until 2022. I love even numbers and I really wanted to get to 40 years with Jostens and my own company, Koobraey Productions. But COVID did this in as well. Yearbooks have been changing every year of those 40 years and I still found things to write and teach about but when the pandemic hit and things were NOTHING like they have ever been before, it was just enough to push me to walk away. Jostens and Koobraey have been a great place to be self-employed for those 39 years and there isn’t much I would trade for the friendships I have made during that time.

It was a career I never expected (I was supposed to be a history teacher) but loved and did quite well with. From the day I started in 1982 until last June 14, I loved a lot of it. The six months since retiring (I am still in my “funtirement” job booking travel with Expedia Cruises) have been so busy I can’t figure out where I used to fit this job into my life.

Going to the Galapagos on Celebrity’s Flora in July

Being honest, this is number one. I mean not only was it the BEST thing we did in 2021 it may be one of the 10 best experiences I have ever had in my life. It is definitely the best trip/cruise/adventure we have ever done. We loved it so much we are going to do it again in 2024 to see the Inner Loop islands. I find it very hard to put into words what this adventure meant to us. Not only was it the first time we got to really travel after the shutdown, it was so much more than I ever thought it would be.

For me, the biggest excitement was the photography. The Galapagos are a photographer’s heaven. After a year of not shooting much of anything other than grandkids (which I love shooting) it was like I got all caught up in a week. Certainly equal to the photography were the amazing people we met on Celebrity’s Flora. There is no way I would go again and not go aboard that ship. It made the trip so very easy not to mention being the best place ever to come back to at night. Every single crew member we met was amazing. The guides, the crew in the dining room, the chef who made me sango, the officers and we were especially lucky to have been sailing the week that Celebrity’s resident scientist, Ellen Prager was onboard. I was never much for science but going to this incredible place and talking to Ellen and the guides she trains really got me excited about it. I leave you with a special gift to close out 2021, a slide show of my best photos from the islands. Happy New Year!

 

Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.

Art Buchwald

My 10 Best Photos of 2021

As promised yesterday, here are my Top Ten Photos that I took in 2021. I have been posting these on Facebook and Instagram for the last few days but if you don’t follow me on either of those platforms, here are my Top Ten.

Number 10: The Wenatchee River in Leavenworth, WA

I decided to start with a photo I took in my old stomping grounds of Leavenworth, Washington. This shot of the Wenatchee River as it flows through the town was what I consider the best of the ones on my early morning photo walk.

Number 9: Blue-footed Booby on Española Island

Number nine in my countdown of my 10 favorite photos I have taken in 2021 is this marvelous blue footed booby I shot on Fernadina Island in the Galapagos. I am doing these in order of how much I love them. As you can expect the majority will come from our trip to the Galapagos.

Number 8: A foggy field in Redmond, Washington

Number eight of my top ten photos of 2021 is the only one I took with my iPhone 12. I was out taking my daily walk when I saw this scene early on what would become a very warm day. The last vestiges of moisture were hanging low over this field and rapidly disappearing in the rising sun. I realize it’s not much a travel photo as I was about three miles from our home…but hey, I was traveling.

Number 7: A Galapagos Tortoise on Santa Cruz Island

My choice for my seventh favorite photo I took in 2021 is this old guy I snapped while we were on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. He saw me and decided he was going to see just what the heck I was doing with that big, ugly camera. I love the look on his face.

Number 6: Heron Reflection in Olympia, Washington

Number six on my top ten photos I took in 2021 is this heron I shot on an early morning photowalk in Olympia, Washington. It’s all about the reflection as far as I am concerned. The state capital of Washington was just a really nice bonus as the reflection.

Number 5: Blowhole landscape on Española Island

My Galapagos photos are mostly flora and fauna but this shot I took on EspañolaIsland is my favorite landscape from the trip. The water you are seeing is from a blowhole in the rocks that shot huge amounts of water up into the sky whenever a wave came in. Between that water, the incredible sky and the clear and clean air, I just love this shot.

Number 4: Two Pelicans over Santa Cruz Island

Number four in my Top Ten Photos I took in 2021 is one that I did not like when I first saw it. In fact my appreciation of it grows every day. Kathleen talked me into keeping it because I was going to throw it away. I didn’t like because of the way the pelican on the left is cut off. But I did like the contrast between the birds and the sky and the incredible sharpness I got by using a 1250th of a second shutter speed and a 16 f-stop. The birds were fast but every part of my shooting was faster except me. I just couldn’t turn quick enough. BTW: 2021 is the year I learned to back-focus on my Nikon and I will never go back. What a difference.

Number 3: Galápagos Sea Lion on Española Island

My number three choice is the best portrait I took this year. If you go to the Galapagos probably the MOST amazing thing is that all the animals will let you get within feet of them. This shot was not a telephoto or zoomed. I was about five feet away. I chose it as much for the clarity and photo quality as for the awesome subject that I hope to shoot again one day…and the look on his face.

Number 2: Mount Rainier from Olympia, Washington

I got this shot on another of my pre-dawn photo walks. We were staying in Olympia at an AirBnB so we could have the grandkids all to ourselves. Had the best time ever. I got up and went to do an Olympia, Washington photo walk. And lo and behold, the first thing I saw was Washington’s unofficial state symbol—Mt. Rainier. I guess the mountain is almost the official symbol—it is on our license plates and you can just about see it from every part of the state. That morning, as you can see, the sky was on fire. No retouching here, this was straight out of my Nikon.

Number 1: A flamingo coming in for a landing on Isabella Island in the Galapagos

Did you know that when flamingo’s land, they walk on the water as they come down? Neither did I. But this shot from a morning walk on the Galapagos Isabela Island is what I consider my best nature shot ever. I am so glad I did a lot of research into shooting wildlife before we went as it is not something I have done a lot of except in zoos. Learning to use back focus and shooting at 2000th of a second has enabled me to up my wildlife game. When I took this shot and the thousand others I took in the Galapagos I felt like I have made up for a complete pandemic worth of non-travel shooting in seven days. How much do I love this photo? I believe it is the second best shot I have ever taken…or maybe my third.

There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.

Ernst Haas