Quarantine continues so let’s get Primed

As of 5:00 pm yesterday we here in Washington are officially quarantined. According to our governor that means that anyone other than about 300 occupations should stay home. And when we are staying home (like we know you are) we do lots of different things but we know we always end up watching television. In my last post I gave you my personal recommendations for the best on Netflix. Today—Amazon Prime.

First, a statement about Amazon Prime in general. I know a lot of people are either anti-Amazon or Amazon-ambivalent but we have been totally sucked into world of Amazon. Most weeks we will have at least four deliveries and many weeks more. So we would be nuts not to have Amazon Prime. That $119 we spend every year is probably the best value we know. Just the free shipping alone (for us) is worth the price of admission but when you throw in the rest of what you get (complete list here) it would be stupid for us not to have it. And that is before I even mention Amazon Prime video.

In doing these streaming lists it kind of surprised me that two of my absolute favorite shows are Amazon Prime originals. These are shows that we stream on the day they are available and when I say we stream them, I mean we totally binge(d) them. That d was in parentheses because one of them no longer has new episodes but it is still one of my absolute all-time favorites.

Our top three Amazon shows

If Amazon Prime was just a video streaming service, I would subscribe just to get these shows—I like them that much. I am sure you have heard of them, or you may have watched them but in case you haven’t, these three are worth having Prime for.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: What can I say about this show that hasn’t already been said? If you haven’t seen it, get Prime just to watch it. The adventures of Midge, Susie and the rest of the characters is a pure delight and when a new season is released (there are three seasons with a fourth on the way) we will usually watch all eight episodes in one weekend. It’s funny, poignant and just plain great. I envy those who have never seen it. I would love to be able to binge those three seasons for the first time.

Bosch: This is a detective show. But what a detective. And because Kathleen and I have both read every book Michael Connelly has ever written, we think Harry is one of the most interesting characters in fiction. We have been reading the Harry Bosch books by Connelly since before we first met more than 20 years ago. When they announced they were making a TV series from the books we were both excited and worried. Harry is a character we both love in books and we were worried they (Hollywood) would screw it up. After all, they let Tom Cruise play Jack Reacher (WORST CASTING EVER). But we were  very pleasantly surprised (and then thrilled) when this series premiered. Because the author Michael Connelly is closely involved and loves his character as much as his readers do, this show is VERY close to his books. Probably the best adaptation of a book into a show or movie I have ever seen. And Titus Welliver IS Harry Bosch. When I read new Bosch books, I see him in my mind and it works. If you like detective shows, these (there are currently five seasons with two more to come) are the best. But I watch shows for the characters, and this show has some great ones (including the entire city of Los Angeles). Give it a try.

Mozart in the Jungle: This show is no longer in production, but if you haven’t seen it go back and watch it. Don’t be mislead by the title. It’s the closest thing to Mrs. Maizel that we know. There are four seasons and they are all available so make sure you start from the beginning. A quick synopsis would tell you that this is the story of a philharmonic orchestra in NYC but that would be too simplistic. This is a comedy, a drama, a romance and one of our favorite shows ever. Go immerse yourself (this one is a great binge) in the world of “Hilee” and the Maestro.

The rest of our Amazon list that we watch together

Fleabag: If you haven’t heard of Fleabag after the year that the creator of the show, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has had, you must not be into TV. This totally irreverent, adult’s only show is a Brit classic. Just two seasons but they are funny ones.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: One of the most filmed characters of modern fiction, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is almost iconic (the character has been played by both Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin before this). This version with John Krasinski is a pretty good action series. There are two seasons with a third on the way. Decent show.

Goliath: Neither of us are big Billy Bob Thornton fans. We did like him in the first season of Fargo but that was about it, until this show came along. He plays a disgraced attorney who fights for underdogs. You get the idea but this show is from David E. Kelley who has made some of the most offbeat series on network TV, from LA Law to Ally McBeal to Doogie Howser, MD. and always gives you something interesting to watch. Goliath is a solid series and if you like lawyer shows with quirky stuff, check it out.

Modern Love: One of my favorite things to read in the NY Times is the Modern Love column. There is even a podcast which I also listen to. These are stories of love. All kinds of love. About a year ago, Amazon put a short series of eight of these together. This is an anthology so each episode is a totally different story but there is some crossover. This is a great filler series. Something you can watch an hour of and then come back to a week later. No need to binge this one. Lots of different people in it and it is almost always sweet and touching.

Catastrophe: This is another great comedy like Mozart or Fleabag. An American visiting London has a one week fling with a British woman and she gets pregnant. The hilarity continues from there. For four seasons. This series is also out of production but that still leaves you plenty to watch (or binge if you like). Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan are really good as the couple in question.

Hunters: We just started this new series about a group of people hunting Nazis who have infiltrated the US in the 1990s. It has a decent cast led by Al Pacino with an accent that often makes him hard to understand. And there is a fair bit of violence but so far we are intrigued. Be warned, it is a little intense. We can only take one show at a time.

Amazon shows I watch when I am working out

These are shows that Kathleen doesn’t watch. That doesn’t mean that they are not for the ladies, just that they aren’t something she likes. I, for instance, do not watch the PBS show Call the Midwife with her. It’s a great show, just doesn’t appeal to me.

Hannah: There is one season of this show about a girl who is brought up in the woods by the man who killed her mother. It goes from there. There is only one season but it is pretty good action.

The Boys: This show with one season out already and another coming could be called the Anti-Avengers. What happens if super heroes were evil? This show tells you with humor and interesting characters. Also, my feeling is that any series with Karl Urban in it, is a great series.

The Expanse: My son and Kathleen’s son-in-law have been after me for years to watch this series. I tried a few times to watch but it just started too slow for me. When I am riding a bike I need to be distracted from the pain of the ride so I need something with some action. Recently I learned I was wrong. Before we went on our last cruise I downloaded the entire first season onto my iPad (did you know you could do that with some Amazon and Netflix shows?) to watch while I rode a bike in the ship’s gym. I got hooked! I am currently almost done with season three (there are four with a fifth coming later this spring) and I almost look forward to working out just to watch it. Can’t wait to see where it goes. If you like science fiction adventure, this show is great. I think it may be the best sci-fi series I have seen since Battlestar Galactica (not the original but the outstanding remake).

That about covers Amazon for us. Next up will be the other streaming services we stream shows on including Hulu, Disney+, Apple Plus+, CBS All Access and The Paramount Channel.

I was like, Amazon Prime? Who has Amazon Prime? It turns out everybody.—Gaby Hoffman

 

 

 

What are we watching?

In a previous post I mentioned binging TV during this quarantine and I got some texts and some e-mails asking what we are watching. I know that we have discussed this with some of you in person or by e-mail but I don’t think I have ever written down a complete list. And my oh my this is a long list.

First, for those of you who aren’t close, personal friends that we see all the time, you need to know upfront that we watch a lot of television. We have season passes on our TiVo (that means we record every new episode of those shows) for more than 50 shows. Don’t freak out—many of those are not on at the same time. Some happen once a year for ten to twelve weeks while others only come around every few years (Luther or Fargo come to mind), some sports are included (Seahawks and Formula 1)  but my guess is that we have about 20 regular shows at any one time.

After those are out of the way (which happens surprisingly often) we hit the streamers. Our first line streamers that we ALWAYS have subscriptions to are Netflix and Amazon Prime. Those are ones that people ask me about when we are talking and then later they say, “What was that show you told me about? I forgot to write it down.” So for the next couple of posts I thought I would list our favorites. Today: Netflix.

BTW: There are other streaming services we watch programs on at different times of the year. Before Kathleen retired two years ago, we had a cable subscription that charged us an obscene amount for things we could get for much less by streaming them. I called our cable company, cancelled all the premium channels (HBO, SHO, Starz, etc.) and we went to a cable lineup that is just basically the local network affiliates.) Now, once a year we will subscribe to one of the other services for a few weeks and catch up on all our shows on that service. For instance, right now we have a three month subscription to Starz so we can watch Outlander—one of our favorites. Next month we will get CBS All Access for a month so we can watch The Good Fight and I can watch Picard.

More about those later—on to Netflix. I have subscribed to Netflix since they first started. That was back in 1997. Of course at the start it was all DVDs and no streaming. In fact we didn’t cut out the DVD service until about three years ago. Can’t remember the last time we even turned on the DVD player. Guess it is about as worthless as our old VCR.

By the way, all the Netflix shows I am listing are Netflix originals. Some started as broadcast TV but were eventually taken over by Netflix after they were cancelled.

First thing you need to know about all the shows I list is that Kathleen does not watch all of them. I ride a stationary bike every morning for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and I watch shows that she isn’t interested in…mostly action stuff. So I will start with the ones we watch together.

First, let’s get the best shows (that you have probably seen but I need to mention) out of the way. They are the most famous and most viewed of the shows on Netflix and include:

  • Grace and Frankie: I shouldn’t even have to mention this–you should have already watched all six seasons but if you haven’t you should. It’s an awesome show and it’s not just for old people. Lily Tomlin is one of the funniest people who has ever lived and Jane Fonda is amazing for someone over eighty. Together they rock. And the supporting cast is superb.
  • Stranger Things: If you haven’t seen this I bet it is because you “hate” horror stories. Well I really HATE horror stories but this series is one of the best—all three seasons. Go binge it. We do on the day the new season comes out. It’s one of only two or three seasons we do that with every year. The other two are on Amazon.
  • The Crown: This is a another one of Netflix’s most well known series. The story of Elizabeth II, current queen of England. We are currently in season three with Oscar winner Olivia Coleman playing the queen. If you haven’t seen it at all, Claire Foy plays the Queen in the first two seasons and all three are great.

Here’s the shows that Kathleen and I watch together.

  • Queer Eye: This is not the old Queer Eye for the Straight guy. That show was just fine, but this one is AWESOME. We have loved every episode of all four seasons and we watch and listen for anything from Bobbie, Jonathon, Karamo, Tan and Antoni. Give it a chance. If you don’t love it, I will want to know why. This show is one of the ones that we binge every episode as soon as it comes out.
  • Sense 8: This is a very special series. There are two seasons and if you liked Lost, Fringe or maybe even the X-Files then try this an outstanding show made by the Wachowskis who made The Matrix. It is also one of the most beautiful shows I have ever seen. And as a plus for travelers, it is filmed all over the world. Stick with it—it’s kind of science fiction, kind of action, kind of drama, kind of comedy—all good. Fantastic characters and a cool story.
  • Manhunt: Unabomber: This show is less of a whodunit than a how-we-caught-the-bad-guy. There is one eight episode season and there may be more someday.
  • Love: This a kind of a stupid series about a nerd who is in love with a very difficult cool girl. Not the best series but good when you need a mindless half hour show. We usually watch it at the end of the evening if we aren’t quite ready to go to bed.
  • Dead to Me: There is one season of this surprisingly good show. I wish I could tell you more but every single episode ends with a total game changer so just go watch.
  • Lucifer: This was originally a broadcast show and then it switched to Netflix. The story is totally ridiculous (the devil comes to earth to solve crimes) but it is a whole lot of fun. We love Tom Ellis who plays Lucifer and just makes the show. There are four seasons with one more coming.
  • The Politician: This is NOT about politics. It is made by the same creative team behind Glee and stars Ben Platt (BIG Broadway star) and Gwyneth Paltrow. Lots of fun and lots of singing.
  • Atypical: A great little half hour show about an autistic teen. There are two seasons and we have enjoyed them both.
  • Secret City: Two seasons of an Australian series that is full of intrigue and spy kind of stuff. It stars Australian Anna Torv that we loved on Fringe.
  • Sex Education: A very funny series about an English teenager whose Mum (Gillian Anderson from The X Files) is a sex therapist—so he becomes his high school’s sex therapist. There are two fun and heart-warming seasons of this one.
  • The Kominsky Method: A very funny show starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. Two seasons of eight episodes that are over way too soon.
  • Russian Doll: There is one season of this show. It is a take-off on Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day but different. Just take our word for it, it’s good. Different but good.
  • Travelers: This Canadian series is about time travel starring Erik McCormack (Will of Will & Grace) and is a fun diversion. 

Shows that I watch by myself when I ride my bike

  • Mindhunters: Directed by David Fincher (He did the movies Se7en, Fight Club, Social Network) this is the story of two FBI agents in the sixties interview the worst of serial killers (they use real killer’s stories) to help them catch others. The start of criminal profiling.
  • Altered Carbon: A dystopian science fiction piece set in the future and is really cool. My son and Kathleen’s son-in-law both told me to watch it and they were right, it is great.
  • All the Marvel series are excellent except Iron Fist (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Punisher and The Defenders) Daredevil is my favorite but they are all good. Warning: these are violent. Kathleen has watched some of these as well.

I love a good Netflix binge!—Simone Biles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need some positive news?

BreathI don’t know about you but every time we turn on the news, things just seem to be better. Kathleen sits next to me and tells me the latest things on Twitter (which I have pretty much abandoned) and they are mostly negative. Everything is horrible, everything is awful. The world is over, etc. Now I don’t want to make light of it but I certainly need some positive news right about now.

First, I saw this on the web and verified it with simple math. As of this morning there are a little more than 200,000 cases of Covid-19 in the world. The current world population is 7.59 billion people. That means that the percentage of people who have it in the world is less than three percent of one percent of the population of the world. That made me feel better. Of course it DID NOT MAKE me feel like I should be doing any less as far as social distancing, sheltering in place, washing my hands or any of the other precautions we all should be taking right now. It just made me feel better.

Then yesterday a good friend of ours sent me a text with a whole bunch of very positive facts. They are below. You may have seen them before because when I Googled them to verify them, I found a lot of copies of the list. But if you haven’t seen them yet, they are great reading. To be sure that they are legit, I added the links below so you can read the original stories. They are for real and I just know that if the world pulls together, we will be OK. Our amazing caregivers and first responders have done everyone such good. Now researchers and chemists are jumping in to do their part. Here’s the facts.

– China has closed down its last Coronavirus hospital. Not enough new cases to support them; (https://nypost.com/2020/03/11/china-shuts-all-16-temporary-coronavirus-hospitals-in-wuhan/)

– Doctors in India have been successful in treating Coronavirus. Combination of drugs used: Lopinavir, Retonovir, Oseltamivir along with Chlorphenamine. They are going to suggest same medicine, globally; (https://www.insideover.com/society/indian-doctors-successfully-cure-italian-coronavirus-patients.html)

– Researchers of the Erasmus Medical Centre claim to have found an antibody against Coronavirus; (https://nltimes.nl/2020/03/14/dutch-researchers-first-find-covid-19-antibodies-report)

– A 103-year-old Chinese grandmother has made a full recovery from COVID-19 after being treated for 6 days in Wuhan, China; (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/coronavirus-latest-103-year-old-woman-recovers-wuhan-hubei-china-a9393991.html)

– Apple reopens all 42 china stores; (https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/13/21177964/apple-stores-china-reopened-coronavirus-covid-19)

– Cleveland Clinic developed a COVID-19 test that gives results in hours, not days; (https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/continuing-coverage/coronavirus/metrohealth-medical-center-can-now-test-covid-19-results-available-in-2-hours)

– Good news from South Korea, where the number of new cases is declining; (https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/coronavirus-cases-have-dropped-sharply-south-korea-whats-secret-its-success)

– Italy is hit hard, experts say, only because they have the oldest population in Europe; (https://www.wired.com/story/why-the-coronavirus-hit-italy-so-hard/)

– Scientists in Israel likely to announce the development of a Coronavirus vaccine;(https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/science/scientists-in-israel-likely-to-announce-it-developed-coronavirus-vaccine/articleshow/74592807.cms?from=mdr)

– 3 Maryland Coronavirus patients fully recovered; able to return to everyday life; (https://www.fox5dc.com/news/3-maryland-coronavirus-patients-fully-recovered-able-to-return-to-everyday-life)

– A network of Canadian scientists are making excellent progress in Covid-19 research; (https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/coronavirus-canadian-researchers-make-progress-toward-vaccine)

– A San Diego biotech company is developing a Covid-19 vaccine in collaboration with Duke University and National University of Singapore. (https://www.cbs8.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/san-diego-biotech-company-developing-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccine/509-110c3c4f-1d0c-46e4-b2df-663789db6889)

If you appreciated this, send your friends by to read it. It just might make their day.

Good news is rare these days, and every glittering ounce of it should be cherished and hoarded and worshipped and fondled like a priceless diamond.—Hunter S. Thompson

What a couple of weeks

 

Greek Matches
Stay home and save some folks

As my regular readers know, two weeks ago yesterday we returned from our cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection to Mardi Gras. (Kathleen always reads my stuff before I post and when she read this line she said “It’s been longer than two weeks!”) But it really has been just two weeks. We got off Reflection on Monday, March 2.

So much has happened to us and to you since then. Thought I would write something to let you know how we are doing and ask you how you are doing. Of course I did post about everyone blaming cruise ships for all of this but that was just me on a soap box.

So now the reality. Kathleen and I are basically quarantining ourselves at home. (Before you ask, since we are pretty much together 90% of the time, this is not a big deal for us. We love being together.) I have been out to do some shopping and we had three friends (who we knew were not infected) over for dinner, but that was about it. Since we are in Washington (one of the most seriously affected states) our restrictions are ahead of the curve (trying to flatten the other curve). Our Governor first banned groups of 250, three days later it went down to 50, the next day he closes all schools until April 29 at the earliest. We are doing our best to practice social distancing. Tonight we shared an Aperol Spritz with our next door neighbors, sitting in their driveway, six feet apart. It was wonderful.

Our days have been spent (so far) cancelling client travel, dealing with yearbook advisers who suddenly have no spring sports or activities to cover and binging all the television on our TiVo that accumulated while we were gone. We are all up to date with television now and will start working our way through Netflix and Amazon Prime shows soon. The only really great thing this week has been the amazing weather we have been having. Sunshine and warmth do make things a little easier to handle. I have been able to walk three days out of the last four so that makes me happy. Walking since the quarantine has been different than usual. People make sure to stay far apart but when they do, they actually nod, wave, smile and even greet each other. That doesn’t usually happen.

We also started a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle that is all about the Galapagos Islands. We still have high hopes that we will be able to take our cruise there this August. In the meantime, our April Holland America cruise with our friend Seth has been cancelled. Which means we have no travel scheduled until the aforementioned Galapagos trip in late July. That’s crazy strange for us. But the way things are now, we can’t even make plans to go see our grandkids in Olympia. We are being discouraged from any kind of travel. But we do FaceTime regularly with the grandkids

One other thing that is keeping us going is the great friends we have online. We hear from our Martini Mates almost daily, FaceTime with Bob and Judy in Canada, have a constant group text exchange with my brother and his wife Jamie and text, e-mail, Facebook, Cruise Critic and Twitter contact with so many others.

How about you? What’s your daily life like. Hopefully you are staying healthy. I have decided to close every e-mail and every post until this is over with these words—stay safe and STAY HOME.

A pandemic influenza would mean widespread infection essentially throughout every region of the world.—Anthony Fauci (The only person in Washington D.C. with any credibility.)

 

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

 

One photo I love

It’s 4:30 am on Leap Day and I am wide awake and sitting in the library on board Celebrity’s Reflection staring at an enormous tree hanging from the walls and watching eight glass elevators go up and down. Those of you who have sailed on S-class Celebrity ships know right where I am. (It’s a really cool tree.)

Since I can’t sleep I decided why not write about another, smaller part of our New Orleans story—so here we go. When last we chronicled our NOLA adventures, it was the evening of Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras. The next morning was the big day itself so as usual (for me) I was up before dawn to get out and take photos. Now to be honest, photographically, this was one of the best and most productive photo walks I have ever had. As much as I loved the photos I had taken the previous morning, these were better. At least one of them was.

I am going to do something I have never done before. I am going to write a post about a single photograph. In the last few days since we left New Orleans, I keep coming back to this photo again and again. Over my years of taking photographs I have taken what I consider to be some pretty good pictures but this one, I think, is my best…so far. Of course now that I am building it up so much, you will see it and say, “What’s so special about this pic.😀” I hope that doesn’t happen. So here’s the photo (please look at it as large as possible and let it come all the way to full clarity—this is not a photo to be seen on a phone).

BestPhoto

 

This was one of the first photos I took that morning. It had recently rained but even better, workers from the city were out pressure washing the streets and had just moved on from this one. For those of you who know New Orleans, when I took the shot, I was standing at the corner of St. Peter and Decatur streets next to Jackson Square. I had stopped to shoot the reflections of the lights on the pavement when a taxi pulled up on Decatur and the cab driver got out and went to knock on the door of his early morning pick up. Looking through my viewfinder, I saw what I knew was going to be my favorite photo of this trip or maybe that I had ever taken. And I was right.

There is an artist I love named Edward Hopper. My favorites of his paintings are haunting, noir pieces that show something that just reaches out to me. I have always loved them. I love his colors, his use of light and dark, and how people in his paintings are often alone and isolated.

One of my biggest disappointments when traveling was visiting Chicago a few years ago and finding that his seminal painting, Nighthawks had been loaned out to a museum out of town and was not hanging in its home, the Art Institute of Chicago. I really wanted to see it. It’s one of my favorite works of art. I humbly submit that this photo is my tribute to Hopper. I loved the photo when I took it but when I got back to my laptop and opened it full screen, I realized how well it came together and how much it reminded me of his work.

Another thing I love about this photo is that it says something I truly believe about photography. It seems that everyone these days is a photographer and their number one camera is a phone. And even those who still shoot single lens reflex cameras like my Nikon, often shoot using nothing but the automatic settings on their cameras. When I go out to shoot early in the morning, when I am looking for that perfect light, when I look for this kind of photo, there is only one way to shoot—manual.

If I had put my camera in Program mode (Nikon D850s don’t even have an auto mode), then this photo would have been as bright as daylight. That’s what automatic modes strive for. Giving you light to make it look like it’s noon. Phones do that sometimes as well. When I teach photography at workshops, I try to convey this to students who struggle to understand light and using their cameras to capture what they are seeing, not what the camera thinks they want to see. This shot, taken in manual mode, was exactly what I was seeing and what I wanted to capture.

Don’t get me wrong, so much of this photo is not about my skill as a photographer but the total luck of everything coming together at one time. This is my photographic equivalent of a hole-in-one. You have to have some skill but you also have to have some luck. I will say that this is the shot I envisioned when we first decided to take this trip. In my mind I saw this shot of the lights reflecting off the pavement in the French Quarter. I just never new I would get lucky and find the focal point (the cab driver) to take this from a good photo to one I truly love.

There is so much more I want to say about this photo and why I love it but just let me sum up by saying that this photo is the reason I love taking pictures, the reason I get up out of bed at 5:00 am to roam the streets of the places we visit, the reason I will continue to take more…in hopes of getting another one like this.

Maybe I am not very human – what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house. —Edward Hopper

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

Thoughts about coronavirus (Covid-19)

Panic2Yesterday I had an e-mail exchange with a good friend about the coronavirus (Covid-19) situation. He was a little worried about it because of all the current news coming down about cruise ships. Not necessarily about the cruise we are both going on next week, but for the long run. Believe me, I have heard some of the same things from other friends who cruise. Plus being someone who sells cruises and is going to be boarding a cruise ship a week from Friday, I have been hearing a lot lately. To those people who are worried and asking why I still want to cruise, here are some things to think about:

  • The quarantined ships we see in the news predominately sail in Asian markets and the cruises on those ships are being sold and marketed primarily to Asians.
  • There are a few Westerners who take those cruises because that is when they can cruise but our news media knows that we relate better to people who look like us, so they cover people from US, Canada, Great Britain and Australia. This makes it look like there are bunch of Westerners on board when there are actually very few. The fact that pretty much every news item I have seen on television is the same woman from the Princess ship who has been diagnosed with coronavirus.
  • The ships with problems originally sailed and visited Chinese ports before anyone knew there was a coronavirus (Covid-19). That’s why we are seeing so many people on that Princess ship that have contracted the virus. You should note that there have been no other ships with that number of cases. That’s because there is a 14 day incubation period and it is barely 14 days since this all started.
  • Driving to an appointment this morning and listening to news radio, there was a spokesman from the CDC who stated that all current US cases were either someone who had been in China in the last three weeks or was closely related (spouses and children at this point) and living with someone who came back from China in that time frame..

So I am still going on my cruise next week. We did receive an e-mail from the cruise line saying that they would be doing some extra screening when we boarded but friends boarded that same ship yesterday and they let us know that the only “extra screening” they received was asking them if they had traveled in China within the last month. That works for me.

I tend to stay with the panic. I embrace the panic. —Larry David

 

This makes me sad…and mad!

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 11.56.46 AMPlease excuse me if I get up on my soapbox. And yes, this is about travel…you (and others) traveling here. Our city (Seattle) is not doing very well. The article above is a prime example. Not sure if you heard about this on your hometown news but in the last three days there have been three shootings in downtown Seattle. Two of them within a block of each other. This wasn’t in a “bad” part of Seattle, it was right at what many of us consider the center of Seattle. A block from Westlake Park and Westlake Center. That’s the heart of our downtown.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle. One of my many other websites is called “My Seattle.” I created the site about 10 years ago because so many of our cruising friends come here to sail to Alaska and they were always asking me for recommendations. Sadly, my recommendation to them now is…don’t come. You don’t know how much that makes me sad to write. Or come here but stay out of downtown.

I have a PDF flyer I put together for clients and friends about all the reasons I think that when you take an Alaskan cruise, you should sail out of Vancouver. There are lots of reasons I say this; sailing the Canadian Inside Passage, not losing a day due to your “by law” stop in  Victoria and others. Now I have to add this to that flyer: It isn’t safe to stay or tour downtown Seattle. Sorry, it just isn’t.

Its not just these shootings. We have a homeless problem here. It’s bad. (Want to know how bad? Watch this special done by KOMO, one of our local TV stations.) Please don’t get me wrong, I believe that people who are homeless should have opportunities to find a permanent place to live. I believe those people who want help are getting help. But we also have a population of homeless that does not fit that description. They are homeless by choice. Maybe it’s addiction, maybe it’s mental illness but they don’t want to live in a way that conforms to the rest of society. But it’s not just that they are homeless. They are aggressive in their panhandling and demeanor to the point that King County (where Seattle is) had to close two of the main doors into the county courthouse because of the confrontations happening outside those doors every day.

The original historical area of Seattle is Pioneer Square. That’s where we started. If you have been here you may have taken the Underground Seattle Tour, or walked from downtown to a Mariner or Seahawks game, then you were in the Pioneer Square area. The panhandling and confrontations are the worst down there and it’s been a few years since I have felt comfortable going to that part of town except at midday.

But that problem has rapidly moved north into downtown. Walking from downtown to our biggest tourist attraction, Pike Place Market is not something I would do today. You see to get from most of the downtown hotels to the Market, you would probably walk through the intersection where last night seven people were wounded and one died in what was probably (they haven’t officially said yet) a gang shooting. This wasn’t even late at night. It was at the height of rush hour. I would love to say it doesn’t happen that often but as I mentioned, there have been three shootings in the last three days within blocks of each other and more in the last few weeks not to mention knifings and other attacks.

Even if no one is shooting, it can be scary. Kathleen and I have been walking to restaurants or the theater and had vagrants yell and scream at us. Some want money, others are mad at the world. Most that scream at you are mentally ill and there have been so many attacks, you just don’t know what is going to happen. Sadly we have season tickets to a theater that is right in the middle of it. The season start in March and the only reason we are keeping the tickets is that we can park in the theater’s underground parking and not leave the building.

I am not going to go into why I think this is happening. That has been debated over and over again for the last few years. Watch the special on KOMO that I linked and you will get some idea. But I do have a solution. It’s what New York City did to clean up Manhattan about 20 years ago. Travelers didn’t want to go downtown in NYC and the city decided that had to change. Now, I have no problem walking the sidewalks there. I have a lot more problem walking the sidewalks in most of downtown Seattle. What’s the difference? Cops! And lots of them. If you have been in downtown Manhattan in the last few years you may have noticed that almost anyplace you are on a sidewalk, you can stop and look around and probably see at least two police officers. Sometimes more. Seattle needs to do that. NOW! Hire more officers and put two at every intersection in the downtown core. It’s not going to take that many. Downtown isn’t that big. At least the areas that currently need policing. The city says it has been doing “emphasis patrols.” Moving cops driving around. This (IMHO) is not what we need. We need street cops, who can enforce the law with the backing of the city, on foot, at every intersection.

In the meantime, my best advice if you come here is: Stay out of downtown. Especially anywhere in Pioneer Square or in the Pike/Pine corridor from 6th Avenue to Western. Unfortunately if you are sailing out of Seattle on Norwegian Cruise Lines, your ship docks just below that area and if you come here you will want to explore. But if you do, be VERY careful. Please. We now avoid this area like the plague.

What we all want is public safety. We don’t want rhetoric that’s framed through ideology. —Kamala Harris

How we plan our travel

Travelling concept.Two men choosing place of vacation, exploring compromise on map, taking notes in notebookLately I have been doing a lot of planning for our upcoming trips. We are currently snowed in so that gives me time to catch up on a lot of things. Since I have been doing this I thought I would give you a little insight into how I plan travel.

First we decide where we want to go. Often this is spur of the moment. In the case of booking our next trip, our cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we decided to do this trip almost three years ago when we were onboard Celebrity Solstice sailing to Alaska with our Martini Mates. We booked it because we wanted to go to New Orleans (one of the few US cities on our list that we haven’t been to yet) and going during Mardi Gras is a big bonus. So we started planning this that long ago.

When we first book a cruise or decide we are going to go someplace, I make a list of everything I need to do for that trip. I will usually do this in my packing program (Packing Pro)  that has a place for tasks as well as packing lists. This includes booking the cruise and flights to get there. Then I get on my Mac and go the King County Library website and search for all the travel guides they have about that place. I place them on hold and they ship them to my local library.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 4.20.52 PMWhen I tell people I do this, they ask why don’t I just buy the books in paperback or Kindle editions? Because nothing gets out of date like a travel book. That’s why people like Rick Steves and Fodors, Blue Planet, Top Ten and Frommers do a new/update about most places every year. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies all open and close so why should I spend money to buy them when our library does a great job of keeping up. I have about six books on the Galapagos, Portugal, Budapest, Vienna and Prague in the house right now and all of them are 2018 and 2019 editions. If I like one a bunch and want to refer to it again and again, then I will buy it. Usually the Kindle edition because then I can have it on my phone when we are traveling.

About this time is when I do my preliminary research. I am looking for the best part of town to book pre and post cruise hotels (or in the case of a land trip, just hotels) as well as trying to find out if we want to rent a car or rely on public transportation and if we need restaurant reservations to get into the places we would love. I will usually get books from the aforementioned Rick Steves (great for restaurants and tours but he and I never agree about hotels), Frommers, Fodor, Lonely Planet, Top Ten and Eyewitness.

I won’t read every page in the books but I will peruse all of them to see what they mention as top destinations, lodging and restaurants. If a few mention the same places as being great, they usually are. At that point if I am going to do hotels, I then check with friends who I know have traveled to that place. My first stop is ALWAYS the website of our good friend Mike Preisman. Mike not only picks great places, he does a great job of giving you his opinion of them and has really great photos of them as well. I know from experience if Mike liked a hotel, I am going to like it and it will be a good value. And I can be sure his photos will show me what a hotel room really looks like.

After checking with friends, it’s time to book hotels or, in some places, AirBnBs. Before I do that, I will have looked at every actual hotel website as well. Then I have my travel agent do the booking 😜 (that would be me).

11 months before we travel (especially true for international travel) I start looking for airfare. We have been very lucky in that up to this point when we travel internationally we have been able to use miles/points to buy all our tickets since our first two trips. Getting those can be a challenge because there is less and less availability than there used to be. More people with more miles competing for the same seats. That means I start as early as I can. We are going to Europe for a river cruise in December and the hunt for air will start in early February. In case you don’t know this, 11 months is usually the earliest you can book a flight.

Another thing we have to decide before we book a flight is where do we want to go before we go where we want to go. I really did mean to type that. Many times we are taking a cruise but we may want to go someplace else first. For instance, last summer we were taking a cruise from Dublin to Iceland and back. But it was just an 11 day cruise and Europe is way too far to go and use our valuable miles to just take an 11 or 12 day vacation. Plus since we are semi-retired we can spend more time away from home. So as we planned this trip, we decided that instead of flying directly to Dublin, we would fly to Edinburgh, spend four days and then a train to York and six days with our Leeds buddies before we flew to Dublin for the cruise. We have to decide all that before we book air. Lots of research.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 3.58.18 PMOnce the cruise is booked (if this trip involves a cruise) and the airfare purchased and hotels reserved, I start with the sites we want to see. We do a lot of research on those as well using notes I made from the books (Kathleen and I share notes on our Apple devices about our trips), websites (especially Mike’s)  and other recommendations on what to see. Then I create a Google map. I have done one for every major trip we have taken. I put our lodging on the map first and then all the places we want to see while there. I use a different layer for every city on the same trip. So for instance on our Mardi Gras trip we are going to Sarasota and Boynton Beach pre-cruise and then New Orleans, Costa Maya and Cozumel. So each of those places has its own layer with all the places we want to see. To get an idea of this, you can click here to see this one.

Once we have seen where everything is, we start planning our day…or I do. Kathleen seems to like where I decide to go and she does contribute places she wants to see if I have missed them.

IMG_2284All the way through this process I have been adding these to my TripCase app on my phone. You can find the one by clicking here. It keeps track of everything I book. Some of it automatically. For instance, when I buy my air, I just send the confirmation e-mail to TripCase and the schedule is automatically added. It places everything in one place for that trip and,  when we are traveling, everything is in once place and as long as I have synched it while we have internet access, I don’t need to have access again to get to all my info. One of my favorite Canadian readers told me about it and I can’t thank her enough. It has been awesome.

All this time, if we are going on a cruise, we are posting on the Cruise Critic Roll Call for the cruise trading info and getting suggestions about things to see and do and having people ask if we want to share tours and day trips.

At this point, we are just about ready to go. The only other thing I sometimes do (if we will be doing any driving) is stop by AAA and grab some actual paper maps (yes, I still use those—it gives me a better overview) of where we will be driving as well as put all the places we want to drive through into our Garmin GPS (yes, I still have one of those because I like it better than my phone).

I welcome your comments or questions on this process. I should add that we have lots of friends and relatives who travel with us who rely on us to plan the trips and we are happy to do so. The fact that I love doing this is one of the reasons I love being a travel agent. And I love planning travel for anyone and everyone.

My father’s plan was, we were going to grow up and travel the world.
—Philippe Cousteau, Jr.