Going again

I bet you thought I died…or worse. But we are still here. And tomorrow, we leave on a two-week vacation that will find me posting a whole bunch. First, we are headed to Southern California to spend the night with my brother and his family in San Juan Capistrano. Then Tuesday, we head further south to San Diego, where we board Celebrity Cruise Line’s Millennium for a cruise back up the coast to Vancouver, BC.

On the way, we have stops in Santa Barbara, on Catalina Island, two days in San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon, Seattle, Victoria and finally Vancouver. And of course, I will be writing all about it and posting photos, so watch for my daily posts. I am happy this cruise has a couple of sea days, so I will do some posting and photo processing on those days. Hope you enjoy coming along.

But the real reason I haven’t posted in more than a month is that we are moving. And so we have been doing all the things you do to get your house ready to sell and dealing with all the fun of buying a new one. So I hope you will excuse my absence, but now it’s time to travel again. See you soon.

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

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

 

 

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

Total Disappointment–Trip Cancelled–Mad as HELL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick (well not that quick) Updates

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

Follow up to my Seattle post

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

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

Cruising is the safest way to travel right now

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

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

It’s October!

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

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

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

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

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

Being verbose

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

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

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

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

Heading out for more travel…this time with kids!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.