You got questions…I got answers

I keep promising to answer some questions so here we go:

  • In shortening the pre-cruise portion – were you given any type of compensation at all?This question comes from the fact that originally Celebrity had us booked on an 11-night trip that included not just our seven nights on Flora but two nights pre-cruise and one night pos- cruise in Quito (with some meals and a full-day tour) but with COVID they decided to cut back to a nine night with no tour of Quito either before our after the cruise. The answer is yes, we were refunded a little less than $400. This doesn’t sound like a lot when you realize that the difference between the 11 night package and the 7 night cruise. But if you are doing just the 7 night cruise, you have to find your own way to Baltra. So part of the trip that we were not refunded for was the single night pre and post in Quito as well as our charter flight to and from Baltra. All we lost was two nights, one before and one after and two breakfasts.
  • Were the fully vaccinated pax due to cruise line mandate, or did it just work out that way ie: no 5% unvax allowed onboard? Why were crew still in masks if vax’d? Was there a decrease in crew or full compliment?Vaccination was mandated for anyone eligible to be vaccinated. And since the youngest people on board are two 8th graders (who are a hoot) who are already vaccinated, we are at 100%. I suppose if people wanted to bring kids under 12 there would be some not vaccinated. The crew wore masks all the time because if there is one case on board, they might be banned from landing on any of the islands so they are just taking one more step in staying safe. I applaud them for that. And I asked and the crew is at full complement. The service has been amazing and we loved having only 66 people on board. We were told the next cruise would have just about that same number.
  • Are there any staterooms that hold more than two people?
    Nope! Not a one. Even the suites are limited (by the National Park and not Celebrity) to two people. That means if you want to bring the kids, they have to have their own stateroom. It is to make sure that there are NEVER more than 100 guests on board as there are 50 staterooms. And to get to 50, they had to give up some staterooms on their Expedition ship.
  • The rocking and rolling of these small ships at anchor in calm waters is worse than anything I’ve ever experienced on a larger ship in motion.  No one ever warned us about this motion at night.
    We have not had any problems that affected us adversely. It was just a pain some time. Others who are not used to sailing have had problems but we have felt a LOT WORSE motion on bigger ships than we did here in the Galápagos on Flora. The motion, for us, was not that big a problem…until a huge thump happened in the middle of one night. Freaked us out and I searched the entire stateroom to find the source of the crash. Couldn’t find it in the middle of the night. The next morning we realized that it was an unopened bottle of champagne that had been sitting on our small table in front of the couch. It has fallen over along with the full ice bucket it has been sitting in. It completely disappeared into the drapes of the window so I didn’t find it until morning. Carpet was wet but the bottle did not break. One other problem we had was the shower door kept slamming open and shut but we fixed that by shoving Kathleen’s sandals under the door. Celebrity might consider having a door stop for the shower (best shower we have ever had on a ship).
  •  If you have time can you find out if a scuba diving option is offered aboard Flora?
    Sorry, no scuba, just snorkeling.
  • I am an experienced snorkeler and on our trip I had trouble getting into the water then managing my flippers due to the strong current. On the next beach snorkel I wore my Keens in the water instead of the flippers and swam (slowly I might add) over to the rocks.
    On the more difficult snorkel trips (off the Zodiacs) they will not allow you to go unless you are wearing flippers.
  • Looking at the  menu you posted, I do hope that they repeat the menus each week as there were multiple choices that I’d love to try.  Ceviche, yeah!  Plus the other local specialties.
    I checked and YES, they do repeat the menus with slight variations. And they completely redesign them on a periodic basis. Not sure if that is quarterly, or yearly. I will try and post all the menus eventually.
  • What cabin are you in?  Our cabin is towards the front of the ship so I am concerned about motion.
    We are in 522, a traditional verandah in the aft area of the ship. We would book it again in a minute and if you have a forward cabin, I would see if you can move back. People we met who were in the front of the ship did feel more motion but not by a lot. One of the things we loved about our stateroom was that there is a kind of “secret” stairs at the back of the ship that led up and down and hardly anyone had discovered it. We used it all the time.
  • You have mentioned that you are on the “Outer Loop Cruise.” What does that mean and is there an “Inner Loop Cruise?”
    Yes, we are on the Outer Loop. This is where we have gone:

    And here is what Celebrity calls the “Inner Loop.”

    As you can see, some stops are the same (not many). We have been told the Outer Loop is more about animals and birds and the Inner Loop has the most beautiful scenery. We have loved this vacation so much that we are actively making plans to come back and do the inner loop.
    Our scientist friend Ellen who plans and organizes the off ship tours tells that the park requires them to have the two different trips to limit the number of people on each island. We totally get that. It is not just a ploy by Celebrity to get us to come back. 😀 BTW: I would not JUST do the inner. My favorite two days (BY FAR) were on Española and Floreana, neither of which are on the Inner Loop. So if you do one, do the Outer.
  • About footwear, any notes?
    Yes. I have two pairs of footwear with me. With size 13 feet, that’s all I can fit in my luggage. I wore my hiking boots (up to my ankle and helpful on the rocks and lava) on the plane and had Teva sandals in my bag. I have worn the Tevas on all the wet landings. Bare feet are NOT allowed in the Zodiacs. I have also worn them on short walks. Has not been a problem. The hiking boots have been a godsend on the long walks. Especially the ones over rocks (Española walk on Day 2) and all the days we were walking on lava. All of these long walks were on dry landing days so they never got really wet. And always know that whenever you return to Flora they have a station where you have to wash off (with brushes) your footwear to make sure no biological material is transferred from one island to another. This is another park rule and a damn good one. Lastly, I wore shorts and sandals in the dining room most nights as did just about everyone.
  • Was all the COVID testing you had on the trip covered by Celebrity or your own extra expense?
    We were tested pre-cruise with a PCR test at Celebrity’s expense. We were originally told that we would also be tested as we got off but as of this morning (I am waiting to leave the ship) they have not said that we will be tested as long as we are vaccinated. We know that vaccination allows us to enter the USA without a test so maybe we won’t have to. They are being extremely cautious and we don’t blame them. I will let you know in a future post if we do have a post cruise test. BTW: All guests tested negative pre-cruise so we felt very safe. But yesterday we were off the ship at the Darwin Station (with non-Flora people) and we were asked to wear masks all day. Some people were not happy with that. They need to grow up (sorry for the editorializing but this really ticked me off as they have asked so little of us, COVID-wise).
  • I did google Ellen (the Celebrity Science adviser) and now I want her to be my buddy too! Do you know how long she’ll be aboard, our cruise is 7/25.
    Sorry no, Ellen has been here for two weeks and she is on our flight to Miami tomorrow morning. Her presence has added much to our trip. I have learned so much from her. I call her the Neil DeGrasse Tyson of the Galapagos but she is so much more and a great speaker. She was here a week before we got here touring all the islands with the naturalists to check trails and conditions. Then she stayed on for our cruise. I learned early on that she is a early bird like I am and was almost always out on the first Zodiac. I made a point to be in the Discovery Lounge early to be in Group 1 to leave the ship because as I told my fellow Group 1 friends (who also got there early most days)…the Early Bird gets the Ellen. And it was always worth it. She rocks. I think Celebrity should advertise (do you here me Sussana?) when she is onboard and have a “Cruise with Ellen!” She is that good.

I think that’s every question I have received either here in the comments or on Cruise Critic where I am posting this as well. If you have more, I can address them as soon as I get caught up with the rest of our trip.

As I mentioned earlier in this post we are waiting to get off Flora right now. My plan to finish up my Flora blog is to post Day 5 later today or tomorrow and then do a post on the ship and our stateroom followed by Day 6 and then some general stuff and Day 7 (Giant Tortoises) finishing up with some general comments so I can answer more questions then. See you soon…here online.

And welcome to all my new blog followers. You rock! So glad to have you here.

Day Four and More!

So I have some questions but first day four. (In fact I am going to answer the questions in the next post so I can get this one online. Sorry to give you so much to read but there is so much happening.) We are still having an amazing time. How amazing a time? Well the route we are traveling on this week on Flora is called the Outside Route. It hits certain islands. Celebrity (by direction of the Galapagos National Park) must have two different routes with alternating schedules. So to tell you how much we are now enjoying this trip we were actually discussing at lunch coming back in the future to do the Inner Route. When we had dinner with the Captain and the Chief Engineer they both told us that their favorite island was Bartolome and it was on the Inside Route. So maybe we have to see that. 😁

On day four both our tours were on Isabella Island, the largest of the archipelago. Here’s today’s schedule:

In the morning I chose the long walk and Kathleen chose the short walk. I should also tell you that as you can see they also combined both of those with an “extended tender ride” which meant that after our long walk we took the long way back to the ship stopping to take pics at very slow speed. We saw so much. BTW: The “very rocky trail” was hardened lava. And since this was dry landing we had to get off on lava and we stayed on it for almost the entire way. Most of our “long walks” are about two miles but over very rocky trails. The lava varied between types but no matter which type it was (and I know what the types are but I can’t spell them. I will see if I can find Ellen our resident (for our cruise) scientist and get the rights ones.).

One other thing I want to say before I drop in the pics is that so far, this was my best day photographically. I took a photo which I consider my second best shot ever. See if you can figure out which one it is. Those of you who follow me on FB and Insta already should have a good clue. Remember, if you look at these photos on a computer or a tablet, you can click a photo and use your arrow keys to go through a slide show at full screen.

See you soon with answers to your questions and about food! And then I will tell you about day four’s afternoon excursions.

 

 

Off to Quito

Disappointing Flights

(Hope you don’t mind me posting twice in one day but I wanted to share a bunch of stuff that happened today.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, our buddy Mike took us to Miami Airport at 2:15 am so we could get there by 3:30 which would be the recommended three hours before our 6:30 am international flight on Copa Air. This flight had been hard to come by so we took what we could get even if it meant that we had to get up way before dawn.

If you have never heard of Copa Air, they are the national airline of Panama. Originally we had a non-stop flight on American Airlines but that was cancelled last weekend and the best we could do was a one-stop trip from Miami through Panama City to Quito. The good news was we still got to keep our business class seats on both flights. But that turned out to just be an OK thing as Copa Air’s idea of business class differs widely from what we have experienced in Business or First class before.

When we arrived at the airport we were so early that there was no place open to even grab a cup of coffee. In fact there was no place open at all. To grab anything. And to the best of my knowledge nothing opened before we took off at 6:38. On our flight we got two cups of really bad coffee, a ham and cheese croissant and a very dry granola bar. The seats were much like US domestic air FC seats. Fairly comfortable but certainly no place to lie back and sleep. I need to mention we were flying on a Boeing 737-8. You will see why in a minute.

Our flight from Miami to Panama City was just a little more than two hours. We arrived in Panama City in just enough time to get from our arriving gate to our departing gate. Once we reached our new gate, we boarded within minutes. And once on board we were pleasantly surprised to see full lay down seats in a section that looked like a true business class section. And this was on exactly the same 737-8 plane that we had just gotten off. Sadly, this flight was just about 90 minutes so even though we had the seats to sleep in, there just wasn’t time to sleep.

When we saw the seats we thought maybe we would get something a little better to eat and drink but that was not to be. We were offered a bag of pretzels, a small bag of cookies and a can of Perrier for me and a ginger ale for Kathleen. One thing I am very happy about is that we did not spend our own money to upgrade as Celebrity arranged our air. If you ever get a chance to fly Business class on Copa Air, give it a pass.

Quito!

We did it! We finally arrived in Ecuador and we have much to report if you are planning on cruising the Galapagos with Celebrity post-pandemic…at least for awhile.

When we landed in Quito we made it through customs in no time and with a minimum of questions. There was a temperature check and we had to show our vaccination cards but after they checked those, we headed to passport control. We were very lucky because our flight (which was not full) was the only international flight landing at the time and being in the front of the plane, we got to the health check and passport control very quickly. Our luggage took a little longer so getting through customs inspection (they didn’t inspect anything) took a little longer. Once on the other side of security in a very nice and clean airport we used the facilities and I was about to try and contact Celebrity here in Ecuador when a man walked up to us holding a Celebrity sign. Within minutes we were in the van and on our way to the EB Hotel.

Pre-COVID this was an 11 day trip with two nights and a full day in Quito before the Galapagos segment and then a day after in Quito as well. But due to the COVID conditions Celebrity wanted to keep us out of downtown Quito. So instead of the regular hotel they use (The JW Marriott–Quito) we were at the EB Hotel near the airport.

If you are coming, do not worry about it being near the airport. These three photos show you the area around the hotel.

We have been here for at least five hours and have not heard a single airplane.  By keeping us near the airport we will be able to go right back to the airport tomorrow morning for our flight to Baltra where we embark on Flora.

The hotel itself is modern, new and beautiful and the rooms rock. Here’s a quick tour of ours. It is easier to see the video if you click the headline at the top of the e-mail and read the entire post in a web browser.

As you can see. it is pretty darned impressive. A true suite which we did not expect at all. Kathleen says to tell the ladies that if you are staying here, the products in the bathroom are all very high quality so you don’t have to plan for those. And Celebrity left us some really nice water bottles, a bottle of horchata (a plant-milk based South American beverage) and a health goodie bag with a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

After getting settled into our suite we found lots of info from Celebrity including instructions about the included dinner and breakfast as well as all the hoops we will need to jump through before we can get on the plane to Baltra and the islands in the morning. Here’s our schedule:

Breakfast is 6:30 to 10:00 either in the restaurant or via room service. But either way we have to have our luggage in the hall outside our rooms by 8:00 am when they will collect it for inspection by the Galapagos Agricultural Authorities. They are making sure we have no organic materials coming into the islands that could change the environment there. To be honest, I totally understand their doing this but I hate the idea of them going through my bag because everything BARELY fits in the small carry-on I am taking for this trip. I have to be VERY careful when zipping it up or I will either break the zippers or catch my clothing inside. But we did find out later that we don’t have to put out our carry-ons. That made me happy as I don’t want them messing with my camera or this MacBook Pro.

We are also scheduled (we don’t have our time yet) to be health-screened sometime between 7:00 am and 11:00 am. We will have to go to their health screening room, get our temp checked (mine has been taken twice today already) take an antigen test, provide proof of vaccination and be approved for our flight.

At 11:00 am they will load us into vans and move us back to the airport for the 90 minute charter flight to Baltra. I will give you a full report on that flight tomorrow if the internet connection on the ship is a good one.

Celebrity seems to have this all really well taken care of. We have seen some folk in the lobby area we know are on the ship with us and we met the head of sales and marketing (Susanna) for Celebrity Galapagos who will be sailing with us. But I also know that some poor folks won’t arrive until the last Copa flight in tonight at 11:30 pm and they will have to be up doing the same things we will have do to tomorrow.

If you are sailing on Flora while they are still doing their pre-cruise at the EB hotel, here’s a tip for you. Request a parking lot view. We have a pool view and it faces west. And the afternoon sun beating against the windows (even though it is only 60F something outside) has made our room really warm. I have the thermostat set to 18 C but the AC just can’t keep up with the sun and it’s 23C in the room right now. Love the view from here but wish it was a little cooler and hoping it cools down once the sun sets in the next 15 minutes.

Another note about the hotel; because of the lousy food on the plane we were ready for lunch when we got here and the restaurant in the hotel (Tabla Bella) makes superb food. Kathleen had a wonderful salad and I wanted to try two Ecuadorian appetizers. I got the empanadas (they were OK) and something called an arepa. It’s two pieces of masa stuffed with avocado (they LOVE avocados here), shredded, braised beef and cheese with a side of their wonderful avocado sauce to dip it in. Pics are below to make your mouth water.

Almost out of here…stay tuned for more

Yesterday I started this post to detail a huge problem we ran into with our flights on Sunday/Monday. But it all got figured out and we are ready to go…to the Galapagos. So let’s concentrate on the positive because we are all packed and ready to go!

To be honest, first we are going to South Florida to visit with our good buddy Mike and to meet his new girlfriend, Cathy. We will spend three nights with them and then Mike (who is an INCREDIBLE friend) will drive us to the airport at horrible-o’clock in the morning so we can catch our new flight to Quito via Panama City, Panama on Copa Air. (I promise to come back and detail the problems we have had with the cruise line about our air in a future post).

I am just doing this post so you can remember to come back here on a regular basis from July 3 through July 11. I will be doing my best to post a report everyday with photos so that those of you who have never been to the Galapagos can follow along with us.

I am also going to try something new—video. So that’s why you can see my face above this post. Not sure if it will work, but I am going to do my best. Kathleen gave me a GoPro for Christmas 2019 when we thought we would be doing this trip last summer and I will be taking it with me for lots of short video clips. I am especially hoping to capture some great underwater stuff while we are snorkeling.

Lastly, if you have friends who can’t travel right now that you might think would be interested, drop them our URL (www.redmondtravel.com) and tell them to sign up so they get notifications when I post. In the meantime, wish us luck!

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.   —Saint Augustine

Two Italian Lunches

This episode of Jim & Kathleen’s Food Experiences will conclude the lunch portion of our show 😀. I am going all the way back to our very first international trip in 2002 for these two but they must be special if they stand out almost 20 years later.

Lunch in Venice—Eating with locals

It was November and we were ready to head to Italy, the home of half my ancestors. We had stops planned in Venice, Florence, Rome and Sicily. What the Italians call the “Golden Triangle” (plus Sicily where my family is from). Our first stop was Venice and it is there we learned a valuable lesson about eating in a foreign country—find where the locals eat AND then eat there.

We had spent the morning taking the vaporetto (if you haven’t been to Venice, that’s kind of a water bus) to the separate islands of Murano (where they make some really cool glass) and Burano (where they have some amazing and brightly colored houses I wanted to take capture photographically). Between walking around on both islands and the vaporetto ride to each of them, we didn’t get back to the main part of Venice until it was well into the middle of the afternoon and by then we were STARVING! Italians don’t do big breakfasts. Our typical breakfast in Italy was a croissant and coffee, maybe with some cheese or Nutella and some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. No eggs and bacon there. So when I say we were starving and it was 2:30 pm and we were STARVING.

Now the trouble was finding a restaurant that was open and that we would be able to get a decent meal in. Luckily for us, the vaporetto from the islands docks on the far side of Venice so you don’t get off (or at least you didn’t then) right into the touristy spots. If it had, we might never have had this experience.

Wandering around looking for someplace to eat we passed a bunch of places that had already closed. There were also small stand up bars where we could have gotten a small sandwich but we were looking for more than that. Luckily we almost got lost going down a small street (you can easily get lost in Venice) and saw a restaurant that looked open. When we looked inside the place was good sized but it was empty except for…about 20 gondoliers having lunch. We looked at each other and decided if this was where the gondoliers ate their lunch, it must be wonderful. And it was. We had not yet had an Italian specialty—spaghetti carbonara. If you have never had it think really great spaghetti with bacon, eggs and cheese. I have had it since then a few times but nothing can compare with that day. Of course looking back on the experience I often wonder if the carbonara was that good or if we were that hungry or if it was the entire experience of eating it in Venice in a restaurant with twenty very noisy gondoliers.

Lunch in Sicily—meeting Vito

About a week later we were exploring Sicily’s mountain towns looking for the final resting place of my great-grandfather in Corleone. Yes, my grandfather’s family comes from a town with the same name as The Godfather’s family. It was a Monday. If you have not been to Italy, finding almost anything open on a Monday is very difficult. This is especially true of restaurants.

We had risen early in our hotel in Monreale (just above Palermo) and headed into the Sicilian hills—a phenomenal drive as you pass walls and hill towns as old as the Roman Empire or the Moorish invasion. We found Corleone and headed to the cemetery where we not only found my great-grandfather’s grave but a man who claimed he could be my cousin who worked at the cemetery. By this time it was again about 2:00 and we wanted to find a place to eat lunch. Nothing was open in Corleone so we started heading back to the coast.

We passed through two or three small villages with nothing open. We were getting really hungry at that point. Plus, we really wanted to find someplace where someone spoke at least a little English so we could kind of know what we were ordering. All of a sudden we turned the corner into the tiny village of Masseri d’Amari and saw a big sign that said “Trattoria—Open!” By that time we didn’t care if they spoke English or not, we just wanted food.

When we got inside there was a HUGE seafood buffet all along one wall, a fairly empty dining room and two servers. One approached us and we asked if he spoke English. He didn’t and neither did the other. Since the buffet was all seafood we needed to know which dishes had no shellfish as Kathleen is allergic. We were about to abandon the place when in walked a huge man wearing all black with gold chains around his neck hanging down into a shirt that was unbuttoned fairly far down and showing a LOT of chest hair. Think Tony Soprano with a bunch of dark, black hair on his head. He saw us and walked over and said, “Hello, I am Vito. Can I help you out at all? I am visiting from New Jersey.” Seriously? We were in a tiny hill town in Sicily and we meet a Tony Soprano type guy with the name of Vito?

He was incredibly nice, told us what had and didn’t have shellfish in it and we grabbed a couple of plates from the buffet. After we had sat down at our table, Vito came over and asked if he could join us. We were thrilled to be able to talk to someone who spoke English and might know something about the part of Sicily we were in. As it turns out Vito knew a lot about that part of Sicily. He had grown up there. In fact, his family owned the restaurant we were in as well as most of the other businesses in town. We also found out that he spent about half the year in Sicily working on the family business and half the year in New Jersey. We asked him what he did in New Jersey and he REALLY said, “I work in waste management.” Unbelievable and kind of hilarious all the same time.

We had had a lovely lunch with Vito (who didn’t eat but just joined us to talk and order us the largest bottle of coke we had ever seen). When we were done we were both pretty full but Vito said, “You must have a cannoli. They are the best you will ever eat. The milk we made the cheese from was in the goat this morning.” We couldn’t pass that up so we said, “maybe just one.” Vito ordered and in about five minutes the server came out with two of the largest cannolis we still ever seen. They must have been at least six inches long and about an inch around and they were delicious!

That just about concluded our lunch experience except that when it was time to pay, there was no check. Now getting a check in Italy is pretty hard most of the time. The restaurants really don’t want you to leave. Seriously. It can often take 15 to 20 minutes after dessert is over to get the bill. But this time, there was no bill. I finally (after waiting a little while) asked Vito (since his family owned the place) if he could ask for it for us as we had to get on our way. He just reached down below the table and motioned with his hand so I could see it while saying, “Do you have 10 Euro? Just give it to me.” Far be it from me to turn down an amazing price on lunch or to not do exactly what this man told us to do 😀. And even after that, Vito insisted on walking us to our car and on the way introducing us to his brother who owned the local car dealership. It was a crazy day and we felt like we had found the true Sicily starting with Corleone and ending with Vito from New Jersey.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  —Milton Friedman

Puzzling Travel

This will be an unusual post for me, in that there won’t be as much writing as pictures. Pictures of our travel since the pandemic started…through jigsaw puzzles. Yup, like many of you, jigsaw puzzles became a big part of our lives. For most of the months since last March we have had a great big (500 or 1,000 pieces) under construction on our dining room table. We figured, why not use the table, it’s not like anyone was coming for dinner. We also have a big puzzle tray/box thingy that we could easily pack up the puzzle on the few and far between times the kids came to see us.

When we started we wanted to have a theme and I would say that other than one puzzle, I can at least remotely connect all of them to travel. And since the other one features the people we most like to travel to see, it kind of qualifies. So here, in order of our making them, are our puzzles. Hopefully in looking at them and reading my captions you will get the feeling of travel in your life.

Our first puzzle was this 1000 piece puzzle all about the Galapagos Islands. Santa had brought it to us on Christmas 2019 because our plans were to take a trip to the islands last August. We (of course) got cancelled out of that one and rebooked for this summer, thinking this would be all over. Now we are not so sure. But whenever we really get to go, we are going to do this puzzle again, just before we do.

Our second poster was full of vintage travel posters from around the world. I love it graphically and because it was a set of small blocks, it’s kind of a cheat. One thing we discovered with this puzzle was that different puzzle companies make better puzzles. Not so much the subject matter but how they hold together. Some fall apart if you breath on one piece. This one is from a company called Galison and it holds together so well, when we were done I could almost just pick it up. By far the BEST puzzle maker out there as far as quality of pieces and their cuts.

Another Galison puzzle. This one with scenes from New York City, a place we have visited quite a few times in our traveling years.

So we really have never traveled to get to a car show. But we do plan on attending the United States Grand Prix in Austin, TX one day. And when we do, we should see the greatest driver in the history of Formula One racing, Lewis Hamilton. That’s him in the white suit on the left (I know, it’s a stretch).

Now this is a place we have been—Key West, Florida. Both by land (driving the Overseas Highway to get there is way cool) and by ship (which the local populace is trying to ban) and we loved it both times. A very cool place. This puzzle is by a company called Dowdle. Their puzzles are on sale on Amazon a bunch but because they are paintings, I am not that big a fan. I prefer graphics. Easier to do 😀.

Ah beautiful Copenhagen, Denmark. Our only day in this very nice city was during a Baltic cruise we did with our friends Paul, Gail, Mike and Carol. Visited here and a BUNCH of other very interesting ports in Germany, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and Russia.

One of the roads we drove on when we went to Albuquerque, New Mexico (had few meals at restaurants on it as well) was the famous Route 66. This road which stretches from Los Angeles to Chicago is widely known as “America’s Road.” This puzzle from Galison is of road signs, motels and more on the Route.

Keeping with that theme, our next puzzle was a diner that could have been on Route 66. It was a fun puzzle to do and this one was from a company called Ravensburger. Their puzzles are pretty good. Not as good as Galison (can you tell I liked those?) but not bad either. I would take them over a Dowdle.

Traveling a little closer to home, our ninth puzzle was another Dowdle, this time it was our home state of Washington. Kind of fun.

For our 10th puzzle we stayed in Washington State and did this Dowdle of Leavenworth, Washington’s Bavarian Village. This one was actually kind of special because when we first met I lived in Leavenworth and it’s where we got married as well.

Alright not really traveling but we have to drive at least 25 minutes to get to what used to be Safeco Field (it’s now T-Mobile Park), the home of the Seattle Mariners. This Dowdle (they have a LOT of puzzles) was fun to put together having been in this stadium so many times.

So this is the one I mentioned that isn’t really a travel puzzle but one with the people we most like to travel to see…our grandkids! My daughter gave me this puzzle for Father’s Day and she had it made by Shutterfly. I won’t even link it here because this was the WORST puzzle we did in terms of quality of pieces. If you sneezed, it fell apart. But we persevered and got it done because we loved the subject matter so much.

Back to Europe for number 13 as we explored one of our favorite cities, Barcelona. This one (a Dowdle) was fun to do because we had been to so many places that were pictured in it.

Another Galison (YEAH!) number 14 celebrates fifties style motel signs. Again, I love the graphics on this one—so retro.

Another place we have visited and loved, Sydney, Australia. I consider Sydney the most photogenic city we have been to. Everyplace you look there is something to shoot. We loved our stay.

Number 16 was awesome New Orleans. And it was very fresh in our minds since we had returned to Mardi Gras just a week before the pandemic really hit. We count ourselves VERY lucky to not have been part of their super-spreader event.

The Bay Area is where Kathleen grew up so this one of the Golden Gate Bridge is kind of like a trip home for her. We have been there together too many times to count and pretty much loved all our visits. It’s been a while since we have gone and we were supposed to meet our Brit friends Paul and Gail there last fall. Maybe someday.

It took us until puzzle 18 to find this puzzle manufacturer—Eurographics. We really like their graphics, especially on their travel puzzles. This one of lighthouses from around the USA featured many we have been to and one that we visited in December of last year when we went to the San Juan Islands for a short quarantine getaway. We really like the quality of these puzzles but especially love the edges which are always black with a red line. We liked these so much we bought a bunch more as you will see.

Number 19, also from Eurographics, is vintage travel posters from around the world. We find these much easier to work for a number of reasons. First, all the type makes them easier and the fact that they are individual posters also means we can separate pieces a lot faster.

Finally, this is number 20 (also from Eurographics) that we finished on Friday. It is very much like number 19 as it is vintage U.S. travel posters. Our next puzzle is much like this one but it is Canadian vintage travel posters. This one is still put together on the dining room table.

I hope you have liked my tour of the world through puzzles. They have been a constant companion during this pandemic and once one is put together and then taken apart, it heads to Olympia for the kids to do it (my daughter and her husband are MUCH faster than we are) and we used to just let her get rid of them on FB Marketplace but now we get them back and pass them on to our friends Elbert and Barry in Bellevue. I guess you could say that these puzzles really do some traveling themselves.

Every day is sort of a jigsaw puzzle. You have to make sure that you’re putting the most important things first. —Julia Hartz

Cities I love–part 2

About 12 days ago we were talking about cities that I love here in North America. If you missed it, you can just click here. I thought I would come back to talk about cities I love internationally. There aren’t as many as in North America but there are a few. If you didn’t see the first list then I will tell you that these are cities that we love, cities that we have either been to more than once or want to go back to again. They aren’t all the places we love. We have other places we love but they aren’t cities. For instance, we LOVED New Zealand and can’t wait to go back but we weren’t as impressed by Auckland or any other city there as we were with the rest of the country. We really want to go back but that’s a really long flight 😀. Another good example might be the Yorkshire area of England. We loved visiting there and spending time with our friends but even though Leeds and York were lovely, they aren’t a city we yearn to go back to. Going back to Yorkshire is another story—we can’t wait.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

We have been to Edinburgh three times. The first time way back in 2003, again in 2016 and then again a year ago this month. Each time we have stayed longer. We just love Edinburgh. I like it so much, I could live there. It is a wonderful mix of history and modern. There are miles of places for me to walk. Great restaurants and just a super small city. I want to go back again and again. Maybe part of the reason we love it is that Kathleen is of Scottish descent. Or that we love Outlander so much. We have just had a great time every time we have visited Scotland.

Panorama from the city Amsterdam in the Netherlands at sunset

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We have only been to Amsterdam once but WOW! We were there for almost a week before we sailed on our British Isles cruise in 2016 and we loved it. At least I know I did. A lot. Amsterdam is downright gorgeous to me. Walking the canals and really any part of the city is a great way to spend time. It is also a photographer’s dream. There are great photo opportunities in every direction. Good food, great people (who all speak fluent English) and we got to stay at the best hotel we have EVER stayed in, The Banks Mansion. I would go back in a minute and when we look at European trips, if the cruise or the trip takes us near Amsterdam, you can be sure we will.

Barcelona from Santa Maria del Pi church, Spain

Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain

Like Amsterdam we have only been in Barcelona once but we were there (pre-cruise) for almost a week and it truly made an impression on us. I always tell people that Barcelona is like a city at a party—24/7. Again, great food, great people (who treat you wonderfully), a lot to do and so much to photograph. From the crowds on Las Ramblas to the incredible market, La Boqueria, to the free concerts in front of the cathedral on Sunday it rocks. When we talk to friends and clients about traveling in Europe I tell them the perfect vacation would be to spend a week in Barcelona and then take a cruise to our next favorite city and spend a week there. You would have a week of partying followed by a cruise to lots of Mediterranean ports and a week of peace in…

Romantic gondola ride near Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

One of the people that most affected my life was my Uncle Jack. He traveled (not as much as we do) and he always told me that Venice was the least favorite city he had ever been to. So when we went to Italy for the first (and only) time in 2002 I was prepared to be unimpressed. But instead, I fell in love with this amazing place. When we returned I told him that I had loved it and he couldn’t understand why. Took me a few years (and talking to others who either loved or hated Venice) to figure out why so many people had this love/hate relationship with Venice. It all comes down to WHEN you visit this city. My uncle had gone in the middle of July, the HEIGHT of the tourist season. The place is jammed with people slammed together just about everywhere. Long waits at restaurants, higher prices, packed markets and the canals that smell from the summer heat.

We on the other hand, visited in early November. The weather was still great (they had gallons of rain the week after we left) and there were no crowds. None. We walked the Piazza San Marco almost alone. No lines to go to the top of the Campanille. It was a city totally at peace breathing a huge sigh of relief at the absence of visitors. But we were welcomed everywhere in restaurants and shops that were still hungry to serve visitors. We had an amazing time and would go back (at the right time of the year) at the drop of the hat. One reason I can’t wait to go back is that I had not gotten as involved with photography and early morning photo walks then and I really want to walk the streets of Venice with my Nikon. What pictures I could take!

Sydney Skyline Panorama 1

Sydney, Australia

This is the city I refer to as the most photogenic city in the world. Everywhere you look there is a something amazing to shoot. And the Opera House seems to be in all of them. It’s amazing how many of my shots of Sydney it is in. As you can see in the picture above,  the cruise ship we were on (not the one in the photo) docked right next to that Opera House so you get to start shooting it as soon as you get there. We were there for four days post cruise in 2012 and it is a fantastic place. Again, great food, incredibly welcoming people and just plain fun, not to mention the best zoo we have ever been to (yes, better than San Diego). We had flown to Auckland for three days pre-cruise, sailed all along the southern coast of New Zealand visiting small cities and towns and then crossed the Tasman Sea to Melbourne and finally Sydney. We would love to go back.

Hong Kong Skyline Panorama bei Nacht

Hong Kong, China

We spent three days here after our 2010 South East Asia cruise on the wonderful Azamara Quest (I think this was probably my favorite cruise of our more than 25 cruises). This is the only city I really loved that I probably will never get back to nor do I now have any desire to go. When we visited it was just following the transition from English rule to Chinese and the place was a wonderful, bustling, interesting, photographer friendly city. Nothing like the demonstrations you see from there today. We were able to get around and felt totally safe all the time. Stayed at the second best hotel we have ever stayed in, The Langham. Rode to the top of Victoria Peak (where the photo above was taken) and had lunch at a truly authentic Asian restaurant, Bubba Gump’s Shrimp 😜. Maybe someday it will be safe to go back to this amazing city. We hope so.

That’s about it for our favorite cities…so far. I have high hopes for the months ahead. Even if our Galapagos trip is cancelled in July/August we are still hopeful our Christmas Market cruise down the Danube will happen in December. Before the cruise we will (at least we plan to) visit Lisbon, Portugal and I really think from all reports from friends who travel, that we will love it. Then we go to Prague, Vienna and Budapest while on the river cruise. We won’t be staying long in Vienna but we do have three days in Prague before we sail and then three days after in Budapest. Might just have to go back. You never know.

I have never felt salvation in nature. I love cities above all. —Michaelanglo

Back to travel—Cities I love-part one

We have been having amazing weather so I have been out walking a lot the last couple of weeks. On my walks I try to come up with something to write and since it has been so long since I posted something good, fun and non-virus related, let’s get back to travel.

I have been seeing a ton of list making on social media: best albums, best songs, favorite food, etc. To be honest, I love lists. If you look up at the top of this page, you will see four menu items. One of them is Lists. Check it out sometime. It’s all the lists I have posted since I started this blog in December 2018.

Cities I love in North America

So, when I was out walking yesterday I was thinking about my favorite cities. For my purposes today, I am going to just list our favorites in North America (I’ll be back soon with the rest of the world). We have been to many of America’s great cities, big and small. We have liked all of them but the ones on this list are ones we have either been to more than once or would like to go back to someday. I am going to list them, not in the order of how much we like the city but in distance from home which means we start with…

Seattle SkylineSeattle, Washington

Yes, I know we live here but it is a city we love. A little less than I did a few years back but I still love the place. We live about 15 miles east and before Kathleen retired she worked right downtown (for most of her career) about two blocks from the Space Needle. At that time, one of us was in the city almost daily. We did theater, concerts, spent the night at hotels after those concerts and above all went in for some amazing food. Seattle has so many incredible restaurants and we love trying them. I should point out (as I have posted here not long ago) the city is no longer as safe as it once was and we think twice about when and where we go in the city. That’s sad, but I still love Seattle. I even have a completely separate website (My Seattle) that I created for friends coming here.

Downtown VancouverVancouver, British Columbia

After Seattle, the city we have spent the most time in since we started traveling together is Vancouver, BC. We made our first trip back in 1998 when Kathleen took me there for a wonderful birthday weekend. Since that time we have been back more than 50 times. We have gone less since 2005 when we met our best friends Bob and Judy who live in Chilliwack, BC, about 120 km east of the city. Before we met them, we probably went to Vancouver three or four times a year, but since then, maybe only once a year. But every time we go, we love it. I LOVE taking photos there. Many of my favorite photos in the last few years were taken in YVR (the airport designation for Vancouver and a common nickname). We will go back many times in the future and I encourage you—if you have never been there—go! Stanley Park, Vancouver Theater Sports, Granville Island, Gastown, Robson Street are all things we love and that you should not miss. Oops! I almost missed our favorite Italian restaurant—CinCin. We went there for our 20th anniversary last August and have eaten there at least 10 times. A great restaurant.

Panoramic view of the downtown San Diego skyline, CaliforniaSan Diego, California

Growing up in Southern California I spent a lot of time in the LA area (heck, I was born there—in Lynwood–near Compton) and Kathleen is from the Bay Area, right across from San Francisco but for some reason it turned out that our favorite California city is San Diego. I think the first time we went there together was for a business meeting I had to attend. We loved it. It’s a big city that’s really a bunch of small towns. From the Gaslamp District to Old Town, from Coronado Island to downtown, we love the whole place. Even losing our friends who live there…we still love it and look forward to going back. Great restaurants, nice hotels (even though we got kicked out of our room the last time because the Secretary of Homeland Security wanted three whole floors) and we have had pretty good luck with AirBnBs as well. Of course there is the world famous zoo and wonderful Balboa Park that surrounds it. One of my favorite things about San Diego is its waterfront. We have sailed into and out of San Diego harbor a number of times and it’s a great place to start or end a cruise. Besides as everyone knows, the weather is always perfect.

Sunset in Santa FeSanta Fe (and Albuquerque), New Mexico

Once we leave the west coast, our next stop is New Mexico. Yes, we know we skipped Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas but even though we seem to visit them regularly, if you told me I could never go back, I would neither cry or die. If you ask me where I want to go between coasts in the USA, the first place that comes to mind is Santa Fe. We have only been to New Mexico twice but both trips were favorites. The last trip was the best! Besides Santa Fe, we also got to see the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (worth the entire trip) with good friends and then spend four days in Santa Fe. If you have followed my posts for awhile you know we love food and we have done food tours and cooking classes with the Santa Fe School of Cooking while there and loved them. Lastly, if you visit, DO NOT MISS Meow Wolf. It is a one-of-a-kind experience that’s beyond crazy and a lot of fun.

Toronto city skyline at night, Ontario, TorontoToronto, Ontario

One thing I pondered when I added Toronto to this list was this—do we really love the city or am I just listing it because we get to see our friends Tim & Perry when we are there? No, we love the city and Tim and Perry are just a big bonus. We have visited three times and loved all of them. I love walking in the Beaches area where Tim and Perry live (on the shores of Lake Ontario), they have amazing food all over the city (especially when you have two foodies to take you to find that food), a super art festival called Nuit Blanche that we got to attend and some beautiful places to see within a short distance (Niagara Falls, Port Hope, the Thousand Islands). We have even flown out of the coolest airport in the world (Billy Bishop International Airport) on the coolest airline in the world (Porter Airlines). You should try both. Billy Bishop is on an island right in downtown Toronto and Porter Air is a HUGE throwback to the 1960s and gold age of air travel. The flight attendants still wear pillbox hats and they serve you actual food.

Aerial panoramic sunset view of Charleston, South CarolinaCharleston, South Carolina (and Savannah, Georgia)

Even though these two cities are in different states, they is only about a two hour drive between them through some really cool country. And both of these cities exude Southern Charm. Why we even saw a performance by “the Southern Charmer” in Charleston. The entire area is known as the “Low Country” and when we visited we found that their reputation as amazing food towns was well deserved. There are also lots of things to see (old plantations, giant oak trees, Fort Sumter, Hilton Head beaches) and do besides eating…but I liked the eating best. That and the awesome photos I got on my early morning photowalks. I would go back to both cities in a minute but if I had to pick one thing to go back for, it would be the chicken and waffles at The Early Bird Diner just outside Charleston on the road to Savannah. They were absolutely amazing. I can still taste them in my mind. You can read about our trip to the Low Country on our website.

New York City skyline from roof top with urban skyscrapers before sunset.New York, New York

I debated about adding NYC but we have so many memories there and I would go back at the drop of a hat that I just couldn’t leave it out. We have been three times and I may be getting too old for the craziness but when last we were there in the fall of 2018 I did have some great experiences. New York is not a place I need to tell people about. Either you already know or you don’t care. I will mention some of my favorite spots and memories which include walking The Highline at dawn, taking an old yacht on an architectural tour around the island of Manhattan, doing a tour of the area around Ground Zero, taking a food tour of Greenwich Village and of course theater. We have seen so many great plays on Broadway that it is hard to remember them all. And the food…don’t get me started. Too much variety, if that’s possible. New York is not a city I can’t wait to go back to but I would be really sad if you told me I couldn’t go back there.

That concludes my list of North American cities I love…and would go back to. I would LOVE to hear from you about the cities you love in the comments below. Make your own list. Pass mine around. See what people think and where they would go if they could go to any city on the continent. In the next post (or the one after that) I will list my favorites from around the rest of the world. Watch for it.

When you tour as much as I do, you’re always on the road, and you tend to gravitate toward cities where you’re like, ‘Every time I’m in that city, the shows are fun.—Tom Segura

 

Finally…Mardi Gras!

I’ve been teasing you long enough. We were actually still in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and yes we loved it. Had a superb day which started off with my taking the photo mentioned in my previous post. Please check it out if you have’t read it yet.

Pre-dawn photo walk

After I took that pic I walked around some of the same streets I had walked through the day before and a few others. First I hit St. Charles Street where the parades were scheduled for later in the day. At the corner of Julia Street and St. Charles, there were hundreds of people who had camped out overnight to save their places. Many had tents, sleeping bags and a few had charcoal grilles fired up and cooking breakfast. I watched an awesome sunrise and captured a lot of it. I will let the photos speak for the actual photo walk and be back with more narrative after the photos (with captions).

Later that day…

After my photo walk I headed back to the ship to shower, eat and convince Kathleen to come to a parade with me. Eventually she and I along with Bob, Judy & Mike walked up Julia Street to St. Charles Avenue to watch what we thought was the start of the Krewe of Rex parade. King Rex’s Krewe hosts the final parade before the end of Mardi Gras. Turns out the Krewe of Zulu’s parade (that preceded Rex) was a little late getting started and that put Rex a whole bunch late getting going. We stayed and watched a bunch of Zulu floats go by. The crowds were about 20 people deep going back from St. Charles Street and in that mess were some truly unusual and fun people watching the parade and celebrating Mardi Gras in a real New Orleans fashion.

After we watched the Zulu Krewe parade for a while, we headed back to the ship, got some lunch and around 4:00 pm Mike and I walked back out to get some authentic cajun gumbo for me and jambalaya for Mike. We both just had a small bowl because we still had dinner with our friends later that evening back onboard.

_8101812After we got back aboard but before we went to dinner I did a quick panorama of downtown New Orleans from the ship (it is below). Pay special attention to the skyscraper that is just to the right of center in the distance. (It is also the tallest building to the right.) When we did the HoHo bus tour it was another very sad building failure in the history of modern New Orleans. When we drove by the tower, all the bottom floor windows that were easy to see, were covered in plywood. It (The Plaza Tower) was built (according to our guide and the previously linked Wikipedia page) in 1964 and totally abandoned in 2002 due to a HUGE infestation of black mold. And even worse, it can’t be demolished because it is full of asbestos and imploding it would put a mile wide cloud of asbestos all over downtown New Orleans. So it sits there and probably will for a very long time. So sad. 

New Orleans Pano

This finished up our time in New Orleans which brought us a ton of fun, lots of walking, parades, Krewes, beignets and so much more. We are very glad we visited during Mardi Gras and we truly loved the city and the people we met there.

Mardi Gras, the drinking, the partying—that scared me. —Archie Manning

 

Crazy Lundi* Gras

If you read yesterday’s post you know that we sailed into New Orleans after coming up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico. We arrived on Sunday night but Kathleen and I decided to stay on board, mostly because I wanted to be up very early to do my usual early morning photo walk. Kathleen (and others in our party) were a little concerned with my safety walking around what is supposed to be one of the craziest cities in the world during their craziest festival. To be honest, I was a little worried as well.

My first early morning photo walk

While I have photo walked before dawn in many, many cities around the world (from Amsterdam to Victoria) without any problem at all, as I left our stateroom on Monday, Kathleen said, “That camera isn’t worth dying for.” YIKES! I hadn’t even thought that way until then. But I am happy to say that not one single time did I even feel the slightest bit threatened and that was all probably because Mardi Gras was going on. Even at 5:30 am, there was a heavy police presence just about everywhere in the city. I felt totally safe and since we were in New Orleans for three nights, I was able to get in two wonderful early morning photo walks. Here’s my pics from my early morning walk (with captions of course).

One quick thing about my photography. If you are looking at this page in an e-mail, please click the link and go to the web on a computer or a tablet before you look at the photos. They just aren’t anywhere nearly as good when you see them tiny or in an e-mail where they have been condensed to fit. If you are on a tablet or computer and you see the grouping below, you can click on the first photo and it will open in a larger window that you can then click or type on the right or left arrows (onscreen or on your keyboard) to scroll through. That’s the best way to view them. Make an old photographer happy and check them out that way…please.

Midday touring with our group

After I finished taking my early morning photo walk I headed back to the ship to shower, change, grab some breakfast and then we (myself, Kathleen and our friends Bob, Judy, David and Mickie) headed out to tour New Orleans for a few hours. Originally we were just going to walk around and look at the sites but I had sat down for breakfast in the buffet with a very nice couple who were going to take the Hop On/Hop Off (HoHo) bus and had a brochure they let me look at. That sounded even better to me than just walking around willy-nilly.

We found the bus outside Harrah’s Casino (where we were told, they don’t do gambling—which is illegal in Louisiana—they do gaming 🤔) and after a short wait we…hopped on. The bus had 19 stops all over the city and we had a great guide to start with. In fact all three guides we had that day were excellent. They knew their stuff and you could hear them clearly—those are the qualities of a great guide. The busses were comfortable but at the end of the day I had two huge quibbles with the bus company. First, they told us when we boarded that because of the Mardi Gras parades that evening that it would be a shortened day for them. Usually they would run the busses until 5:30 pm but because of the parades, they would be stopping at 3:30 pm. Now I totally get that but what I don’t get is them still charging full price for a reduced day. The trip is a little spendy already ($39 per person) but to have it cut by 2 hours should have triggered some kind of discount, don’t you think?

The other thing I wish they had done better was put more busses on the street for what is probably their busiest day of the year (they don’t operate on Mardi Gras itself). We found ourselves waiting way too long for busses after 1:00 pm when we only had a short time to get on and finish the entire loop. Both those things taken into account, I would recommend the tour because as we have found in many other cities where we have done these kind of tours, these HoHo busses are a great way to get a quick overview of the city and find out a little about the history and current events.

We rode the bus through uptown, the Garden District, past Storyville (the birthplace of jazz) and back around to the French Quarter, where we hopped off so we could get our first bite of famous New Orleans tourist food—the beignets at Cafe Du Monde, a city landmark. The line to get in and sit down for beignets was about a mile long but the takeout line was much shorter so we opted for that and within about 10 minutes we were scarfing down our beignets. If you have never had a beignet, it’s a square donut without a hole, that is COVERED with powdered sugar. For the takeout window, they just pour about a cup of powdered sugar in a bag, toss in three very hot beignets and you shake them like crazy to spread the sugar around. This is NOT food for those that don’t like or can’t eat sugar. And it’s not something I would eat anyplace else in the world. My doctor (and dentist) would shoot me. But WOW! They were so delicious.

I should note that by this time we had picked up two fellow travelers who were part of our Cruise Critic Roll Call group, Melody and Les from Colorado Springs. Bob and Judy had decided to continue on with the HoHo bus tour and skip the beignets (they have a lot more will power than I do) so Melody and Les were a welcome addition to the group. After our beignet snack I led the group down past St. Louis Cathedral to Bourbon Street so they could see some of what I had seen before dawn. There were two huge differences between my pre-dawn walk and this one (around noon). One, the streets were CLEAN! Amazingly so. Nothing like the incredible amounts of trash I had seen that morning. Secondly, the streets and the balconies above them were now full of people. Those on the street were hollering up to those on the balconies to throw them beads.

In case you are unaware, beads are the currency of Mardi Gras. Beads and other things you can wear around your neck are thrown from the balconies of Bourbon Street, from the floats in the parades and from just about everywhere else. When I had walked these streets in the early morning, it was hard not to step on thousands of discarded strings of colorful, plastic beads. Beads aren’t the only things they throw. There are tiny frisbees, lighted necklaces, light-up wands, beer cups and when they are done throwing everything in them, they throw the bags that used to be full of all that stuff. Coming back from Bourbon Street or any of the parades it is not surprising to see people with hundreds of strings of beads around their necks.

On our few blocks walk down Bourbon Street, Kathleen and the rest of the folks in our party caught their first beads thrown from a very fun group of yodelers on a balcony (see  them in my pics below). Between that and doing some shopping we spent about an hour walking in the French Quarter before standing in line for far too long to get on another HoHo bus. This bus took us out of the Quarter through Treme and downtown and finally back to Harrah’s where we disembarked and headed back to the ship for (I was hoping) a nap 😜. Below are the pics from this foray into the craziness that is Lundi Gras and the rest of our HoHo bus ride.

If you want more info about the Hard Rock Hotel collapse (above), click here.

Evening walk with Mike to see King Rex and some parades

After heading back to the ship, we grabbed a quick burger, fries and a beer (the only thing open for lunch by then) at the Mast Grille before going back to our stateroom for me to download pics and Kathleen to collapse. Later on (around 5:30) I went to meet our friend Mike to head out to do some evening exploring and picture taking.

*One of the things I did not know about Mardi Gras before doing pre-trip research was that the day before Mardi Gras (which literally means Shrove Tuesday) there is an entirely different festival going on down by the river called Lundi Gras. And the big highlight of Lundi Gras is the arrival (by train) of the king of Mardi Gras, King Rex. At 6:00 pm, they back a train into the area near Lundi Gras, the King (with trumpeters and a Grand Vizier) comes out onto the train platform and greets his adoring fans. Then he is escorted to the Lundi Gras stage where he is met by the actual mayor of New Orleans who reads a proclamation that states that the mayor relinquishes control of the city until midnight on Mardi Gras to King Rex and until then, it’s party, party, PARTY (like it hasn’t been before)!

Just a side note: I was always under the impression that Mardi Gras was just the day before Ash Wednesday when in actuality is starts with the first parade on January 6th (the feast of the Epiphany) and lasts until Mardi Gras day itself. During that time there are more than 75 parades all over Louisiana. I was shocked. You can already see next year’s schedule by clicking here.

So after Mike and I took pics and movies at the welcoming of King Rex, we met up with a friend of Mike’s (a native of New Orleans) also named Mike and his wife Cindy and two of their friends who told us a whole lot about Mardi Gras and their city on the way to the Krewe of Orpheus parade. They were awesome and gracious hosts of their city which they are clearly very proud of. Mike is part of the Krewe (the groups who put on the parades) of Bacchus and their parade had been the night before. After about an hour of shooting pics of the parade, I was just about done so I thanked them for their hospitality and left them (and our Mike) to watch the balance of the parade while I headed back to the ship to be ready for the actual day of Mardi Gras the next morning. Below are the pics from our evening foray into the crazy Lundi Gras streets of New Orleans.

One last thing I learned from Mike’s friends Mike and Cindy: All of Mardi Gras is totally self-funded by the Krewes who put on the parades. They raise money all year long to do the parades and to contribute to charity. They even pay the city back for the cost of security and policing. Really impressive and a real boost for the city.

I had one of the best nights of my life at Mardi Gras. —Cenk Uygur