nav-left cat-right
cat-right
Just Added

Review of Royal Caribbean Bahamas Cruise

My nieces from New Hampshire and I took a three night Royal Caribbean Bahamas cruise. It left from Port Canaveral in Florida on a Friday and returned on a Monday. A great escape if you only have a short time to get away.

Lucky for me, I have a sister who lives in Florida, and she’s done this cruise many times. I am sharing the tips she gave me plus my own feedback.

Meals: The food in every venue was delicious. This includes the buffets and the dining rooms. The dining room portions are small, but there is no limit to what you can order. Want three appetizers, order them. If you’d like a couple of desserts, that’s not a problem. And the bread…love the pumpkin seed rolls at dinner.

Drinks: Don’t be cheap. Splurge and get the upgraded drink package. Even if you are a light drinker like me, after a couple of glasses of wine, you’ll make up the cost. Tip: buy the drink package before you get on the ship – it is cheaper.

The Island Accent: Everything sounds better with an island accent. When I complained about the dirty curtains at our table in the dining room, the manager said, “Don’t worry, my love. We will fix it for you. Anything else we can do for you, my love?” No, just keep talking!

The Announcements: Good Lord, enough with the announcements over the in-room speakers all day long. All we need to know is the safety information. Not: We are here. We are leaving. Bingo is starting. Diamonds on sale now. Time for the art raffle. Book your shore excursions. Tonight’s entertainment will be… We got the daily newsletter on our bed. We can READ!

Gratuities: Want to save money? Prepay the gratuities before you get on the ship. Note: it is sad to imagine what the salaries of the crew are because they are practically begging you to give them excellent reviews on the online survey you will get after the cruise

The Casino: Smoking is allowed…

Shopping: On the stop in Nassau, shopping is a major activity. Someone is always enticing you to their shop for the best knock off purses, or to take their tour, or to visit their crafts stall for island souvenirs. Just be polite and when you need help, there will many choices.

Unexpected Surprises: Dancing to Uptown Funk with a hip grandma and getting the spotlight turned on us. Listening to many talented karaoke singers. Entertainment by great comedians and a fabulous band. Meeting a lady who lives in my neighborhood. Drinking one chocolate martini. Enjoying the beautiful views of the Bahamas. Visiting the cool Pirate Museum in Nassau. Hearing the Islanders say, “Smile Mam.”

View of Ship from CocoCay - RC's Private Island

View of Ship from CocoCay – RC’s Private Island



Best of all: spending time with my two wonderful nieces who make me feel young, laugh at my jokes, and remind me how much fun it is to still be in your twenties.

Just Added

Can Airports be Enjoyable?

Chicago O’Hare Celebrates the Holiday
I traveled in early December to visit family on the East Coast. On the way out, my connection was in Chicago. I try to avoid stopping in Chicago anytime during the winter because, you know, the weather usually sucks. To my surprise, the weather was fine, the flights were on schedule, and I had extra time to walk through the airport.

It is safe to say that I rarely notice anything inside an airport terminal besides the gate numbers and restroom signs. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a photo in one either. The stunning decorations at this airport make you stop and look up. I rummaged in my purse for my cell phone and took a photo. I couldn’t believe that in the hectic rush of traveling, I felt some holiday joy in my heart.

chicago-at-night

Charlotte Douglas Dining Choices
On my return flight, my connection was in Charlotte. This was my first time at this passenger-friendly airport. The variety of dining options was impressive. I was tugged three ways: the Beaudevin Wine Bar, First in Flight for sushi, or the 1897 Market with hand-crafted cocktails and locally-sourced produce.


First in Flight Hissho Sushi bar won because it is right in the middle of the atrium and has a cool airplane mobile circling overhead. The bartender asked what I liked to drink and suggested I try the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I could smell the passion fruit notes before I tasted it. Now, I’ve got a new favorite wine which I can easily find in San Diego.

first-in-flight-3


The sushi bar was also very woman friendly. After I sat down, two solo women travelers joined me. The Army Navy game was on TV. I wondered out loud why Donald Trump was talking to the sports casters since I thought he’d be doing important president-elect stuff. We all laughed and were polite enough to not engage in any heated political discussions. One of women informed me, however, that President Obama was also there. So shame on me for not knowing that attending this game was a big deal for politicians: it gives them a fun way to show their support for the military.

Whether you are staying home or traveling over the holidays, I wish you the joy of the season. Let’s try to be kind to each other.

“Kindness is like snow: It beautifies everything it covers.” Kahlil Gibran

Just Added

Quirky Colma

I love discovering quirky little towns. After a day of sightseeing in San Francisco, my daughter and I discovered Colma. Colma happens to be the closest BART station to her home. As we walked through the BART parking garage, I spied the rolling hills of a cemetery. Since we weren’t in a rush, my daughter accommodated my unusual hobby of looking for angel statues in cemeteries.

Colma has a lot of cemeteries. In fact, on the town’s website, it states that it is known worldwide as the “City of Souls” with 1,500 residents and 1.5 million souls spread out over 16 cemeteries. That’s 1,000 souls per resident.


So I asked myself, how did they get here? (Yes, I love paraphrasing the Talking Head lyrics from “Once in a Lifetime.”) The reason that Colma became the final resting place of so many folks is because land in San Francisco got too expensive. From 1900 through 1912, San Francisco passed two ordinances that not only stopped interring the dead, but also evicted those buried within the city limits.


We drove and walked through the Japanese, Jewish and Italian cemeteries. I soon discovered that if you are looking for statues, an Italian cemetery is the place to go. Below are a few of the beautiful angels I photographed (click on them for enlargement).

angel-colma-tall-lady

angel-colma-pointing-finger

angel-colma-praying

Further exploration into the Italian cemetery took us to rows upon rows of tombstones with smaller angels. As we read the inscriptions, we realized we had entered a very holy space. Tears filled our eyes and our hearts grew heavy. We’d found the children’s cemetery. I stopped taking pictures and took some moments to reflect on what had happened here.

Most of the dates were from long ago, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and I thought perhaps an epidemic had hit the area. But the bubonic plague of San Francisco was twenty years earlier. Back home in San Diego, curiosity inspired me to find out more. A quick call to the cemetery revealed that there wasn’t an epidemic or plague, but rather the cemetery filled naturally over the years.


I’d like to end on a lighter note. In 2006, Colma chose a new town motto: “It’s great to be alive in Colma.”

Just Added

Baltic Sea Cruise

Awake at 3:30 this morning with jetlag, I have ample time to blog about a wonderful cruise on Viking’s ocean liner, The Star. The journey started in Norway and ended in Stockholm. We traveled with our dear friends from northern California who we’d been on a river cruise with a few years ago. Our husbands were a bit leery of traveling with 900 passengers and 600 crew. For the most part, the typical cruise passenger is older, slower, and plumper than we are. However, there were couples younger than us.

Traveling by cruise ship is not inexpensive, but if you factor in that it includes: hotel, meals, beverages (beer and wine), transportation, and evening entertainment it helps with the “ouch” factor. But by far the number one reason to travel by cruise is to never unpack and repack more than once during your vacation. The number two reason: no time is lost traveling as most cruising is during the evening. And all that food to eat…you eat so much all the waiters know you by name and how you like your gelato served. No need to worry about weight gain, you walk between five and ten miles a day.

A negative about cruising is that if you really like a place, you don’t get to stay there very long. We stopped in all the Scandinavian countries as well as Germany, Poland, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia. Here are a few highlights via photos. (Click to enlarge)

By far the most scenic place was our first stop, Norway. The fjords of Norway are breathtaking. We could have spent a week here and hope to again in the future.

Norway fjord

After we left Norway, we cruised to Denmark. My husband and I flew into Copenhagen prior to embarking on the cruise. We arrived in time for a Pride weekend which made the visit lively. Copenhagen is a large city with old and new parts. My favorite place was Nyhavn. Nyhavn is located on one of the many canals.

Nyhavn Copenhagen

We also found the cemetery where Hans Christian Andersen is buried and also this lovely angel.

Angel Copenhagen

Our next stop was Germany. I took a day off from the land excursion to Berlin. It involved a twelve-hour trip that started at 6:30 in the a.m. Instead, on the next day, I left my travel companions behind to tour Gdansk, Poland so I could go to the Stutthof Concentration Camp. As I have difficulty reading books about the Holocaust, I knew visiting Stutthof would be a sobering experience. The visual impact of the gas chambers, living conditions, and pile of prisoner shoes left behind was beyond atrocious. I’m not sure a word exists to explain the feeling and hence am not including photos other than the entrance sign.

stutthof

Our next stop was Tallinn, Estonia. This young democratic country is charming, warm and welcoming–even in the rain. We spent most of our brief visit in the Old Town district. This is one place where we would have enjoyed a longer stop for exploring. A seagull decided to photo bomb my shot looking out over the city.

tallinn

St. Petersburg, Russia was impressive and oppressive. Pickpocketing is rampant and police presence is not visible though you feel like you’re being watched at all times. Without a visa, tourists must be accompanied by a tour guide. The shots below are of the interior and the exterior of The Church of Spilled Blood which is a museum and not a functioning church.

Gold Church St Pete

St Pete Church
After many days of bus and walking tours, by the time we reached Helsinki, Finland, we were ready for a bike tour. I managed the ten miles fine except when it got hilly and had to jump off and walk with the other old ladies. Really, I did it so they wouldn’t feel bad… Below is a shot of a cool sculpture by Finnish sculptor Eila Hiltunen. It resembles a soundwave made of clusters of over 600 steel organ pipes unevenly grouped together and reaches over 27 feet in the air.

Pipes in Helsinki

Our last city was Stockholm, Sweden, a city of many islands (and bridges). We got a tip to tour the public library which was very impressive. Another tip was to see a Viking ship at the Vasa Museum. Sounds dull? We were all overwhelmed. This museum is dedicated to a Viking ship that sunk hours after its maiden voyage in the 1600’s. It was located and salvaged in 1961. For the next thirty years, restoration workers brought it back to life and built a museum around it. My photos cannot give the Vasa ship justice. The one below is from Pinterest. (www.pinterest.com/pin/552253973026365499/)

Sebastian Holzapfel

Sebastian Holzapfel



We scored some inexpensive tickets to the opera, “Marriage of Figaro.” Let’s just say that although the music was impressive, listening to Italian and reading Swedish subtitles was extremely difficult. To make matters worse, Mozart’s comedy was redone in a modern rendition that strayed too far from the original to follow. We left at intermission. Below is a close up of some of the artwork in the Royal Swedish Opera.

opera stockholm
I leave you with a hilarious photo. I found out it is a company which allows you to deliver a complaint to any organization in the world and notifies you if you get an answer.

delivery company

I took hundreds of photos during this trip. If anyone would like to see more on a particular city or landmark, please let me know.

Just Added

Girls Weekend In Austin

The annual trip this year took us to Austin, Texas. As the resident tour guide, Barb took us to some of her favorite places and some new ones as well. On most of our excursions, the red granite dome of the capitol building was a welcome sight. You may think that July is a hot month to visit Texas. You are right. We were warmed by triple digit temperatures every day and planned our outdoor activities before noon. Below are some of my favorite places in Austin.

Food – The Launderette was our first stop. This eclectic restaurant served us a wonderful lunch. It lives up to all the hype and awards it has won and would be an exciting place to try at dinner time.

We ate a couple of times at Taco Deli. My first thought was, this is going to be Taco Bell, but I was wrong. Instead it was the best taco place I’ve ever been to. Get the shrimp taco!

For dinner, the highlight was Péché. I mistakenly thought Péché was the French word for peach. It actually means sin. The food was sinfully delicious. The bar runs the length of the restaurant – a very cool touch.


Nightlife/Music – I learned that Austin is the live music capitol of the world. Although we weren’t there for any music festivals, after our meal at Péché, we went next door to Cedar Street Courtyard. Memphis Train Review played and we got some dancing in. The unique design of this venue is that three of its walls are shared with other buildings, and the front and top are open.

Culture/History – I saved the best for last: UMLAUF Sculpture Garden, Texas State Cemetery, and LBJ Presidential Library.

The UMLAUF opened in 1991 as a sculpture garden for the dozens of bronze and stone pieces given to Austin by noted 20th century American sculptor, Charles Umlauf. To borrow words from their website, “Art and nature meet in serene harmony.” Below are a few of my favorites. (Click on all photos to enlarge them.)

umlauf 3

umlauf 2

umlauf 1

The Texas State Cemetery is both a historical and cultural resting place for many prominent Texans. I’m not a big Texas history buff, but I like to explore cemeteries for their unusual headstones. I was rewarded with the three below. One is very old and dated 1852 for Captain Bryant. I love how the carvings appear sinister until you look close. Two lovely ladies also caught my eye. (The famous author, James Michener, is buried here.)

tombstone freaky

lady 2

lady tombstone

The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library was my first visit to a presidential library. Had I known how interesting a presidential library can be, I sure would’ve visited more of them. The effect felt like I’d time traveled back to when LBJ was president. There were so many facts about him I didn’t know including the hundreds of landmark laws he passed for civil rights, the environment, Medicare and education. For more info, click on this site: http://www.lbjlibrary.org/lyndon-baines-johnson/lbj-biography/landmark

PS. In case you were wondering…yes, we went to the boot store and yes, we ate great BBQ. However, we didn’t go and see the bats.