Grand Cayman Crystal Caves

_8101850I love alliterations so you got that one as a headline. Of course it also relates to where we spent our next port day. After two days at sea (relaxing and socializing) we arrived at the island nation of the Cayman Islands (this is where I keep all my off-shore bank accounts 😜). Specifically, we came ashore in tenders on Grand Cayman Island. But not the town of George Town which is where we were supposed to come ashore. The winds were too strong for Reflection to get us on to the tenders (For the non-cruisers, these are small boats that ferry us to shore when there is no ocean pier and the ship has to anchor offshore.) So we had to go to the opposite side of the island and tender into a much smaller port, nowhere near a town.

_8101861We did have plans on Grand Cayman and we were still able to do everything we had set up. Our buddy Mike (the god of shore excursions) had set up a small group trip to the Crystal Caves, a relatively new attraction on Grand Cayman. On the way off the ship (while on the tender) I got to take the photo above which shows The Reflection in her best light. Then we got to the tender dock and I shot her again with some island color in the foreground.

We were picked up by a taxi hired by the tour company and whisked away to the Caves. We were a little early so our driver gave us a free tour of some of the sites of Grand Cayman. One of the things we saw everywhere on Grand Cayman were tiny cemeteries everywhere. It was like every neighborhood had one of their own. In our short drive to the Caves we passed at least nine._8102059

We finally reached the Crystal Caves (a new attraction on Grand Cayman since 2016). It is a fascinating system of caves. There are three main caves and because there was a threat of rain that day, we were not able to visit one of them. We were able to visit the Roots Cave and The Lake Cave. I took more than 200 photos of the caves and if I showed you all of them, we would be here all day and you would get sick of caves. If you are interested in more, I will drop the balance on my Flickr feed that you can access at right.

After our outstanding Crystal Caves tour (it lasted about an hour or so) we taxied back to the pier and headed back to the ship. On the way I took a few more photos to kind of give those that have never been to Grand Cayman an idea of what the island looks like.

The mystery is what prompted men to leave caves, to come out of the womb of nature.—Stephen Gardiner

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

Mardi Gras Trip—Days 1-3 in Sarasota

Shame on me for not posting sooner on this trip but to be honest, we have just been really busy. Plus, this is the non-cruise part of the trip. The really interesting stuff starts on Friday when we sail away on Reflection to Mardi Gras.

Monday morning we (Kathleen, our good buddies Bob and Judy and I) were picked up bright and early (6:00 am) and driven off to SeaTac to catch Alaska Air flight 770 to beautiful Tampa, Florida. It was a totally boring flight (which is a very good thing) and we arrived just a little early (but of course that means that our bags took forever) and after grabbing our rental car we were off.

Just a little disappointed in the rental car we got. I had asked for a large SUV that would seat five people with luggage for five people going on a cruise. What we got instead was an Infiniti SUV that is big but if you put luggage for four people in it, it only has room for four people There are six seats in the car but two are only for tiny children or contortionists. But if you have the back row of seats set up as seats, there is no place to put luggage…and we have a lot of it. We had hoped to be able to take our friend Mike to the ship with us on Friday but now he can hopefully go with his neighbors Barbara and Hans who are also joining us on this cruise. If they can’t take him, I may have to go swap rental cars. Tampa only had this one that was big enough to fit us all, that wasn’t already reserved for someone else.

We arrived at our AirBnB fairly late (Tampa traffic was the cause) and after going to dinner it was pretty much come back here and sleep. The place we are in is nice enough but the host has a lot to learn or maybe this is the standard for AirBnBs in Florida. Don’t get me wrong, the house is very clean, very nicely furnished and HUGE! You can see the listing for the house (with lots of pics) by clicking here. The only real problem is that this particular AirBnB bills itself as “Secluded luxury with heated Saltwater Pool & Spa” but the spa is NOT working. Water won’t get over 72 degrees and we have been contacting the owner every day since we got here. The pool isn’t heating up either but during the day it is in the sun so it does warm up to 74 or so. We are now down to about 6 hours of possible time to use the spa before we leave and still nothing is being done. I suppose it could be worse but that’s one of the reasons that we chose this place, because Bob and Judy like a good hot tub experience.

We were also kind of surprised that there was nothing in the house when we got here. Not even bottled water. We have never stayed in an AirBnB that didn’t at least have that and coffee. This place had neither. But maybe that is just the way AirBnBs are in Florida. We have stayed in AirBnBs (like Salt Lake City) that had an entire breakfast, bottle of wine not to mention bottled water ready for us when we arrived.

Enough about our first world problems, Tuesday was all about us driving up to Ana Maria Island for a visit with a bunch of Canadians. It is a total coincidence that I suggested that we go to Sarasota pre-cruise because when Bob mentioned that to his cousins that live in Ontario, they said they would be wintering on Ana Maria Island, a short (well with traffic, a long) drive away. So in the morning we headed north to visit Bob’s four cousins and to meet up with Bob’s brother who had driven down from their winter perch in Myrtle Beach, SC. We had a true family reunion going on where not only were Kathleen and I the only non-relatives but we were also the only non-Canadians. We had a great time and I assumed my usual roll as the group photographer (samples below).

Today (I am writing this on Wednesday) I took a pre-dawn photo walk on St. Armand’s Key and Longboat Key and then after breakfast we headed off to The Ringling. The Ringling is Sarasota’s biggest attraction besides shopping and the beach. It is the former home of John Ringling of circus fame. On the property is an art museum housing his private collection (he’s been dead since the 1930’s so he doesn’t need it), his actual home (kind of a junior San Simeon) and my favorite part, the circus museum. The circus museum features an ENORMOUS miniature circus from the heyday of circuses, the 1920s-1930s. It is truly amazing and if you are in Sarasota, make sure and stop by and check it out. We only wish we had had the grandkids with us. They would have loved it.

Also toured the bottom floor of his house (they charge you more to go upstairs) and three of us toured the art museum as well. And we all had a little lunch on the property. When we got back to where we were staying I had nothing special I needed to do (except text our host again about the lack of heat in the spa and pool) so I thought, why not do the first post of this trip.

Tomorrow we are off to our friend Mike’s house in Boynton Beach, to spend the night, before we drive to Fort Lauderdale on Friday morning to board Celebrity’s Reflection, a ship we stepped off of last June in Dublin, Ireland. I will keep this going as we go and whenever I have enough photos that I want to post them.

Pre-dawn photo walk

The Ringling in photos

My best vacation is somewhere I could hide, somewhere warm and not a lot of people around. —Derek Jeter

 

 

Lamenting learning loss

LearningYou have to love a headline that is also an alliteration. But there’s an explanation below. (Warning, this isn’t really a travel post—big announcement on that below—but more of a quick personal thing.)

When the year started I did what I always do—set some goals. It’s a yearly ritual. Some are always the same, like exercising every day, others change. For instance, I always have the goal of losing weight (don’t we all have that one 😀) but this year I decided to change that one and just do “eat healthier” which meant cutting out red meat and switching to a predominately plant-based diet. And doing my usual Dryuary (not drinking in January). It worked. We are eating a lot healthier. Tonight when our older kids come for dinner will be the first red meat I have since December 30 (except for one of Mason’s mini-corndogs). I had other goals as well that had to do with work, travel, etc. Still working on all of them.

But the one that I totally missed was learning. One my goals for the last five years that I have failed miserably at is setting up a day each week that I can schedule (and stick to) for learning. I am supposed to be semi-retired after all—I should be able to do this. Usually that learning has to do with one of three things that I dearly love: travel, photography and cooking. This year I am also taking up videography so that I can better document our travels, especially in the Galapagos this summer.

Kathleen got me a GoPro Hero8 for my birthday and I am ashamed to say that it took me until yesterday to even look at it with videos running and books open. And I still have a ways to go before I will feel comfortable shooting and editing videos. Sadly, I have scheduled at least five full days to watch videos and read books to learn how to use this new camera but had to put each and every one of them aside because of work or personal things getting in the way.

I also feel bad that I haven’t been shooting pictures this year. Haven’t take a single shot with my Nikon since sometime in October that wasn’t pictures of family (mostly grandkids) and that’s just not me. I even did this after I took a photo class with the incredible Scott Kelby in late November. One of Scott’s tenets is practice, practice, practice shooting pictures. I just haven’t been doing that. Part of this I blame on the weather. We have had measurable rainfall every single day since November 30th until today. We are WATERLOGGED and that just doesn’t lend itself to taking a camera out shooting. Plus, I have taken photos of just about everything there is in Redmond.

Banner five dogs celebrating carnival, halloween, new year wearing pirate hat, blue wig, red mask, cape and doctor costume. Isolated on white background..But good news (here’s the travel stuff)! We are leaving a week from tomorrow for a two week vacation in Florida, New Orleans and the Caribbean. This is our first big trip of what will be a year of memorable travel. We fly on Monday the 17th to Tampa (with two of our best buddies, Bob and Judy) and then spend three nights in Sarasota, a city I have been to but Kathleen hasn’t. After Sarasota we head south to Boynton Beach to meet up with another close friend, Mike. Regular readers may remember him as we stayed at his place for three days in October when we cruised on Allure of the Seas.

Then comes the highlight of the trip when we (along with Mike, Bob, Judy and other friends) board the Celebrity Cruiseline ship Reflection (the same ship we sailed to Iceland last June) to sail to New Orleans where we will be moored at the Julia Street Cruise Terminal for three full days during…Mardi Gras. Yes, we know it will be a zoo, but we can’t wait! After Mardi Gras we sail down to Grand Cayman (where we will tour some really cool caves) and then to Cozumel, Mexico where we will practice our snorkeling. We want to kind of know what we are doing when we go to the Galapagos in August so I can snorkel with the penguins and sea lions. By the time we get there, I need to really know that GoPro so I can take it and shoot underwater. Hopefully all of this will take place in beautiful (AND WARM) weather.

For me this trip means non-stop photography. I have been planning my New Orleans photo walks for weeks. And the same in Sarasota as well. So watch this page for daily reports on our travel. I will try to not be verbose (since I will be traveling with my #1 reader who says I can be verbose that shouldn’t be too much of a problem) and stick to some great photos and an overview of the trip.

Hopefully when I get back, I will be able to schedule that one day each week when I can just learn. Can’t wait.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. —Mahatma Gandhi

Coming soon…in 2020. A HUGE year!

Happy New Year!

Just want to say that I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. What I do believe in is New Year’s goal setting. So I have been doing mine this past week and things are looking good. Of course like everyone else I know—I would love to lose weight. And I have a continuing goal of learning new things. I want to be a better photographer, a better cook and to get better with technology. And I have to find a way to deal with logins and passwords 😜. They are my nemesis.

But the one goal both Kathleen and I have this  year is to TRAVEL! To lots of places. If you have been following this blog during 2019 you will know that we lost two of our beloved Martini Mates. After losing Carol and Sandra, Kathleen and I decided that we should not put off some of the travel we kept saying we would do…someday. So far this year we have the following planned:

New Orleans collageLate February/Early March—Sarasota, Florida and a Celebrity cruise to New Orleans for Mardi Gras

One of the few major cities we have not been to in the US is New Orleans. We were looking for a way to go there and spend a few days and see the city. When we heard about this cruise we thought, what a great way to see it. Then we heard that it was going during Mardi Gras. After our experience going to Edinburgh during the Fringe and Military Tattoo we thought AWESOME!

Just so you don’t think that we are nuts to go to New Orleans on a cruise ship, we are there for almost three full days, docked right downtown just blocks from the Mardi Gras parades. And yes, we fully realize that there will be crazy crowds and it will make it hard to get into restaurants but anytime we want to, we can head back to the ship and get away from it all. Besides New Orleans and Mardi Gras we also get two other ports, a cruise and we are going with a bunch of friends.

Pre-cruise we are going to Sarasota, Florida with our buddies Bob and Judy. The cruise is only 11 nights so we could not see just flying all the way to Florida for just those 12 days. Since we had been to the Keys a few years back pre-cruise we were looking for someplace else to explore. About five years ago I spent three days in Sarasota teaching a workshop and I was really impressed so we decided to go there first, then rent a car and drive down to the Fort Lauderdale area the day before the cruise. We will stay with our awesome buddy Mike pre-cruise and then he is coming with us on the cruise as well.

Holland America cruise ship Koningsdam in HelsinkiLate April—Pacific Coastal cruise from San Diego to Vancouver, BC on Holland America’s Koningsdam

You may remember that our good friend Seth Wayne (the guy who I did all the radio shows with). Well, he has left KOMO television and radio and taken a position with Holland America Cruises as their new Director of Communications/Brand Ambassador. In that new job he will be doing a lot cruising and this is one of the ones he will be on so we thought, why not run down to Southern California, see my brother and his wonderful bride (who is now RETIRED) and then sail to Vancouver and take the train home from there.

Besides the fact that we will be onboard with Seth, this will be a learning cruise for us as Koningsdam is an entirely new class of ships that we have never been on so we will love that part. It’s only a four night cruise but it should be a lot of fun. And I forgot to tell you all the exciting new ports we will visit between San Diego and Vancouver, BC. That’s because there aren’t any. On those four nights, we only stop once—in Seattle. LOL

The Galapagos Islands letter conceptLate July/Early August—Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

10B_ZODIAC-OPEN-WATER_4948_v4This is the BIG trip of 2020! We are flying down to Southern Cal again to see my brother and his bride for a few days before we fly Copa Air through Panama City to Quito. We are there for two nights before we fly out to the Galapagos Islands and board Celebrity’s tiny (only 100 passengers) ship, Flora. On Flora we will sail around the islands for seven full days, only getting off on Zodiacs with naturalists as our guides. I have started following Marvi Cordova on Instagram. She works on board Flora and take the MOST AMAZING PHOTOS of the ship and of the wildlife on the islands. If you want to see what we will be seeing and what I will be posting to this blog, check out her gorgeous photos.

EclipseLate September—Pacific Coastal cruise on Celebrity Eclipse with Bob and Judy

We are always looking for a chance to get away and a chance to get on a cruise ship. When it leaves from Vancouver or Seattle, that is really a big plus because we don’t have to fly anywhere. And we are always looking for a reason to sail with Bob and Judy. This five night cruise does stop in a few places—like Astoria, Oregon, Seattle and Victoria. But since we don’t have to fly at all, this one will give Bob and I a chance to get our tuxedos out of mothballs and formal around a little bit. We like that kind of thing. 😀

Early December—Our first river cruise on Viking to see the European Christmas Markets

This is one we have been planning for quite awhile. You have to if you want to sail with Viking because they do sell out quickly and early. We are going with our traveling buddies my brother Steve and his bride Jamie. Jamie’s brother and sister-in-law are also coming along.

We start with three nights before the cruise in Prague, then we join the boat (and it is a boat because it is small enough to go ON a ship) in Nuremberg, Germany where we will visit our first Christmas Market, the oldest of them all. Then it’s on to Regenburg and Passau Germany, Krems and Vienna Austria and finally we finish in Budapest, Hungary. We spend two nights after the cruise in Budapest and then we are deciding where to go next because we will NOT fly all the way to Europe for less than two weeks. It just isn’t worth it to us to go that far and spend that much on airfare and then stay for less than that. We are still debating between three days in Paris or three days in Lisbon.

We would love to have anyone out there who wants to, to come and join us on any of these trips. You can make your own arrangements or call your favorite travel agents (that would be us, right). We promise lots of FUN!

So that’s it! It’s quite the year and I am sure that in between these major trips we will fit a few smaller ones like a hockey excursion to Chilliwack, BC or a wine sojourn to the east side of the mountains. You know us, we hate sleeping in our own beds.

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

 

 

The BEST and worst of travel in our 2019

Seasons Greetings to all! I have been working on this post for a few days now and I thought I would try and get it online before the new year. I am starting the actual post  on December 22 but probably won’t finish it today as we are headed to our Christmas tradition this afternoon—Seattle Men’s Chorus. The concert isn’t until tonight but we always get a hotel room downtown, go out to dinner and then hit the show—it’s our holiday tradition. We have done this now for more than 10 years. If you live near Seattle (or even if you don’t) you should get here around Christmas to see the Chorus.

Picking this up again on December 27. Looks like I will finally get it online tomorrow, the 28th. We had a super Christmas and we hope you did as well. Spent Christmas Eve with our adult kids here at our place and Christmas Day with my daughter, son-in-law and my grandkids. First time I have spent Christmas with my daughter in 20+ years. Long story.

But enough about now, let’s look at last year. Here they are, the best and worst of our travel year in 2019.

Best of Travel-2019

  • Best dinner companions—Our grandkids, Mason and Maylee on our Alaska cruise on Ovation of the Seas. Can’t begin to tell you how great it was to introduce our grandkids to cruising. In all likelihood, they won’t go on another cruise for quite a while…unless we take them. But every night (except one) we sat next to them in the dining room and had their undivided attention and they had ours. We kid that Kathleen’s arm was bruised from Maylee poking her and saying, “Grandma K, Grandma K, Grandma K”. That’s not only funny but pretty much a true story. I loved getting Mason to try new foods like escargot. He is not the most adventurous amongst us but by the end of the week he had moved totally to the adult menu and had escargot two more times.

  • Best cruise—Reflection from Dublin to Iceland and back. We had the best time on not only this cruise but on the almost two weeks that preceded it. From our four days in Edinburgh, to our week with Paul and Gail in Yorkshire, to our 11 night cruise from Dublin to Irish ports and to incredible Iceland, it was outstanding. We were thrilled that after the disappointments of our New England cruise in October 2018, Celebrity cruises came back big time with this one on Reflection.

  • BirkirBest tour guide you can hire that we used in 2019—Birkir Mar in Reykjavik. We found Birkir on Tours By Locals. If you need a guide in Reykjavik, let me know and I will get you Birkir’s info. He was outstanding.
  • Best tour guides you can’t hire that took great care of us this year—Our long-time Martini Mates, Paul and Gail who took us everywhere in Yorkshire and the Lake District of England. We have never had so much fun and toured some many places in one short week. It was the best part of our awesome almost-a-month trip in June. We would do the whole thing again in an instant…but sorry, you can’t. They only do tours for their close, personal friends. We are so glad they are ours.

  • Most incredible child we spent time with that was not our grandchild—Paul and Gail’s granddaughter Jemimah. This girl can write stories and then act them. She can even get her grandparents to play parts in them. Quite the accomplishment for one so young. Meeting her (after hearing so much about her) was a true highlight.
  • Best storyteller—Frank (Dobby the House Elf?) at Stirling Castle in Scotland. When we were in Edinburgh we took a bus tour north to see the Kelpies and Stirling Castle where were led on the castle tour by Frank (who we think looks like Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter books) and it was OUTSTANDING! If you are in Edinburgh, the Kelpies and this castle are well worth the trip. But ask if you can wait to take the tour with Frank, it will be worth the wait.

  • Biggest travel surprise—how much we liked the floating behemoth, Allure of the Seas on our FAM cruise in October. We were certain we would hate the BIG ships. Just didn’t think that cruising with 5,998 other people would work out that well, but it did. Royal Caribbean has figured it out on these BIG ships. Too bad they haven’t yet on some of their others.

  • Akureyri-072Best meal on a trip—lunch at the Porch on Reflection—amazing seafood. If you sail on Celebrity’s Reflection or Silhouette, you have to try The Porch. It’s a little outdoor specialty restaurant on the side of the Lawn Deck. just to the right of the Lawn Club Grille facing forward. The seafood is amazing and you can eat as much as you want. They have a seafood tower that includes so much shellfish you won’t believe it. It’s almost worth taking a cruise just to eat there. We are going back in February and can’t wait. Of course having the gang above with us made it that much more fun.
  • Best sangria we have ever had—during lunch at the Porch on Reflection. Maybe the food wasn’t that good 😂 (it was!) and it was just the Sangria talking but this was DELICIOUS and memorable! And they just kept it coming—so BEWARE! It sneaks up on you. Can’t wait to go back and get more of this as well.
  • Best video blog about a place we were going—The Broonford’s video blog about Edinburgh. If you go to Edinburgh without seeing Tony’s YouTube videos, you are nuts. We learned so much from him before we went and we are still watching them sometimes because Tony is just a hoot. I wish he had them for every city we want to visit.
  • Best travel experience—climbing Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh before dawn. One of the experiences I learned from Tony on The Broonford’s video blog was that a great thing to do in Edinburgh was to climb the mountain/hill known as Arthur’s Seat. Alright, at just under 900 feet, it’s really not a mountain but it does tower over downtown Edinburgh and to an average guy like me, it feels like a mountain. Hopefully you all know by now how much I love getting up before dawn (way before dawn) and going out to take photos. Especially when we are on trips. So I set a goal to climb Arthur’s Seat after hearing Tony Broonford talk about it. It was cold! It was windy! REALLY WINDY! And I had injured my knee just a few weeks before so I was wearing a brace…and shorts, but I did it! And I have some amazing pics as well. I would do it again in a minute.

  • Best cruise on a ship we hated—Ovation of the Seas to Alaska with our grandkids and their parents. Ovation just doesn’t understand Alaska yet. And they don’t understand taking 5,000 American to Alaska as opposed to sailing around in Asia with nothing but Asians on board. It’s an entirely different experience and last summer, this ship’s first in the Alaska market, they failed. Sold out, but failed. But the cruise was AWESOME for us because of the company we kept. Having the grandkids with us for an entire week was wonderful.
  • image0Best reunion—spending three days with our friend and fellow Martini Mate Mike at his place in Boynton Beach. We had not seen Mike since his wonderful bride and our dear friend (another of our Martini Mates) Carol had passed away earlier in the year. Although we have had some political differences in the past few years, we have been able to see past those and stay friends. When we decided to take the Allure cruise we e-mailed and asked if we could stay with him pre-cruise. Thankfully he said yes and we had three great days running around the Boynton Beach area with him (not to mention a bunch of great meals at some outstanding restaurants). We can’t wait to see him again when we spend one night pre-cruise with him in February and then he joins us on that cruise.

Worst of Travel-2019

  • IMG_1627Most disappointing evening: Going to a Mariner Spring Training game in March in Arizona and freezing so bad we had to leave after the third inning. I can still feel that wind blow. In Arizona! In March! Are you kidding me?
  • Biggest travel screw-up I did—booking a jeep ride in Sedona for the day after we we supposed to leave. We did get our money back but we missed the jeep ride. Then got stuck in traffic on our way to a horrid dinner. I knew being able to book the exact time we wanted to take the tour was too good to be true when I only did it online about three hours before the tour. I should have known better. I will next time. And we won’t travel again without dinner reservations. That’s about the only time we ever argue on trips—when we haven’t planned in advance. I know that some of you will think this ruins spontaneity, but we can always cancel plans if something else comes along but that night in Sedona, the restaurants were PACKED and we ended up in a place I would never have eaten in if we had planned it. (BTW: If you go to Sedona, plan a lot of extra time to drive to dinner. Around 4:00 pm, the traffic goes from bad to stopped.)
  • Getting the flu on Allure of the Seas, a cold at Paul and Gail’s and having a bad knee for all of it. After our Allure of the Seas trip, someone at our travel agency where we work remarked  that they wouldn’t cruise with us because I was always getting sick. And this year it felt like that really happened. The worst was the Allure version of the flu. At least four members of our Allure travel agent class came down with it and two had to be hospitalized. Thank goodness, that wasn’t me. It did seem like I caught everything when we traveled this year but I think that is because I am no longer spending a lot of time in schools (for my real job) and I don’t get exposed to as many germs until I travel.

Saddest experiences of 2019

  • Worst cruise ship we sailed on—Ovation of the Seas. They just don’t get it. See above under Best Cruise on a ship we hated.
  • Losing four traveling friends this year.
    • We lost two of our Martini Mates who passed way too soon. Carol and Sandra will be so missed. Our Martini Mates have been reduced by three (including our beloved Jude in 2014) in the last five years and much to our trepidation and consternation, they were all women. What’s up with that? Our travels will never be the same without these wonderful friends.
    • We also lost two of our closest friends who we had traveled many, many places with since 2016, who just stopped talking to us, blocked us on social media and cancelled future travel plans with us and we still don’t know why. We miss them but have no clue what we did to make them do that.

Try celebrating the best and not the worst. —Rob Manuel

 

One year of writing about travel

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To celebrate my one year posting anniversary, I wanted to grace you with what I believe is the best travel photo I took this year.  This shot with all the incredible light was captured in Vancouver, BC (one of our favorite cities) where we were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. It is exactly what I took out of the camera with no post processing. 

A year ago today, December 16, 2018 I tentatively started this…blog. My first post was about how much I don’t like the word blog. A year later I still hate the word blog. It sound so blahhhhgggg. But no matter, here I am one year later. In that time there have been 116 posts which averages out to two a week. Of course, I fully realize that when traveling I often do seven in a week and when we are home I might only do one, but I hope it all evens out for you, the readers.

Writing these posts (see how I avoided the word blog there 😀) has been a great outlet for my creative side and helped me share my love for travel. It’s been a good year for us in the travel game as we got to take a bunch of trips with more planned for the future. I promise more about the past year before January 1 and then a look ahead after the first of the year. As great a travel year as 2019 has been, 2020 will be even better.

Lastly, I need to thank my friends and those who have discovered my travel passion and stuck with me. I am thrilled that so many of you have read me on a regular basis and especially to those of you who comment. I only hope to grow this number in the future, so if you know anyone who loves travel, recommend it to them if you think they would like it. (But please wait until I write about something more interesting than this anniversary post 😀.)

PS: One other thing. If you are on Instagram I would love to have you follow me at (www.instagram.com/jimbellomo13). I recently took a photo class from the great Scott Kelby and his advice was that “to get your photography noticed, you need to be on Instagram.” So after trying to avoid it for years, I am now on Instagram, posting only travel pics from my library with comments about when and where the photo was taken. So if you are on Instagram, I would love to have you follow me and to let me know so I can follow you.

How does a project get to be a year late? One day at a time. —Fred Brooks

 

On the radio…again…for the last time

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Well, Seth and I have recorded our last Adventures Await radio show. And you don’t have to wait to hear it. It’s at the bottom of this page. And since I recorded the show on my iPhone, there are no commercials, weather or newscasts. We just talk for about 25 minutes about travel (funny that an hour radio show without commercials, weather, newscasts and traffic is only around 25 minutes).

First, an explanation about why this is our last show together. That’s because on the morning KOMO-TV news today Seth announced he was leaving KOMO. That’s sad for us who watch him every day. One of my favorite thing is to carry on texting conversations with Seth while he is on the air in the morning. I know that if I send him a text, he will read it on the next commercial break. And I know that he is probably only going to be getting texts from me because it’s 4:30 am and I am riding my indoor bike. We have had many early morning conversations like this.

Seth is leaving KOMO to become the Director of Communications for Holland America Cruise Line (HAL). In that role he will be cruising…A LOT! But he says we can still text to stay in touch but I won’t know if he’s available like I do now between weather updates because I won’t be able to see him on TV 😀. But we (Kathleen and I) are thrilled for him. I will certainly miss seeing him and doing the show with him.

Our last show was super. It was my fifth time on the show and Seth let me choose the topic so I said let’s do the Top 5 Things we have talked about on the first four shows I have joined him on the radio. You will have to listen to the show to find out what they are but suffice it to say, it’s not anything you haven’t heard he…or I mention before.

By the way, if you would rather hear it with all the music, weather, news and commercials, etc. you can do that on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 pm on KOMO radio AM 1000 here in Seattle or on KOMO Radio 1000 on Tune-in online.

Here’s the show—there are three shows on the page. The latest one is at the bottom of the list: CLICK HERE! I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed doing these shows with Seth. He is a good friend, one of our favorite people and maybe the only person who loves talking about travel as much as I do.

A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.—Charles Darwin

Two of my favorite things combined: travel and photography—asking for help

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 4.29.53 PMI fully realize that my posts are supposed to be about travel, but this one kind of is. Not my travel but the travels of some good friends of mine, Ellen and John Jarvinen. Their travel plus a HUGE project they are looking for help to make happen for this coming summer.

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Last summer John (who is an accomplished photographer and a retired teacher) and Ellen (who is also a great photographer and one of my favorite yearbook advisers) traveled to the remote Southern Pacific island of Aitutaki. Here’s what Ellen has to say about it on their GoFundMe site:

“During our month on the island, we fell in love with the people and want to do something meaningful for their children. We have the permission of Araura School’s principal to teach a digital photography course July and August 2020 as volunteers, supplying the cameras, computers, software, and peripherals needed to accomplish learning. Now we just need the equipment and to get it and ourselves there!

The photography class will include composition (rule of thirds, angle, line, framing) as well as learning to manipulate the variables (shutter speed, aperture) for effect. Students will also learn professional workflow with Adobe Photoshop to enhance their photos in terms of contrast, color, and sharpness. They will also learn to cut mats for their photos.

We also plan to teach a couple of the teachers at Araura High School so that they can continue to offer the class..”

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After hearing all about this, I really wanted to support Ellen and John in this really great endeavor and I hoped that some of you might as well. If you want to know more about what they are doing and what they want to raise money for and maybe even make a contribution, you can go to their Go Fund Me site by clicking here.

I had promised Ellen I would ask my readers for help and she dropped me a note this week to let me know that they now have 501-3c status which means that donations to their project are now tax deductible. Being a photographer and a traveler, this is my kind of project and I hope some of you will join me in supporting them.

The practice of charity will bind us – will bind all men in one great brotherhood.—Conrad Hilton