"" Writer's Wanderings

Thursday, April 24, 2014

On The Bucket List - The Northern Lights

It always seems to follow that whenever there is a natural event that will occur in the skies our weather becomes cloudy. We did get to see Haley's Comet a few years ago but that was because it hung in the sky for several weeks. We've missed most of the meteor showers and most recently the Blood Moon phenomenon. There have been a few times where the news people have said we might see the Northern Lights but it didn't happen from our vantage point. So on to the bucket list goes "see Northern Lights."

There are quite a few areas to which you can travel to see this amazing phenomenon but before I jump ahead, let me tell you a little about the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. It is a light display in the night sky caused by charged particles in the magnetic field of the earth's atmosphere. Hmmm. Maybe not the best technical explanation but there are lots of science sites that will have you scratching your head to figure out what they are saying.

The Northern Lights occur mostly in the upper north latitudes and are caused by geomagnetic storms. Activity peaks with sunspot activity that is on an eleven year cycle and is more active during the equinoxes, spring and autumn. Confused? Well, when we get closer to planning an actual trip to see them, we'll do a little more research.

Meanwhile, we can take a look at the places to choose from for viewing. Fairbanks comes to mind first since when we were there some time ago, there were tours advertised for the purpose of viewing the Northern Lights. One resort that sounds inviting is the Chena Hot Spa Resort. Not only is there the spa but they have a heated lodge from which you can view the lights or if you like, you can take a ride in a vehicle to a ridge where there is a heated shelter where they serve you warm beverages as you watch. The only drawback is the time. The viewing doesn't happen until after 10 p.m. but the desk will give you a wake-up call if you want to nap until then.

There are several other options near Fairbanks and you can always stay in Fairbanks and then drive to some of the viewing cabins in the surrounding area. The trip does require sleeping during a good part of the day in order to stay up for the night time viewing.

Another place where we have seen advertising for viewing the Northern Lights is Tromso, Norway. Probably the best place to stay unless you're up for being out in wild. The trip to the base camp where the tour takes you though is a three hour ride. Check out the ratings on Tripadvisor for the Safari Base Stations Day Tour.

There are a few other spots to see the Lights in Sweden, Iceland, and several other northern countries. The SmarterTravel website has a neat pictorial article on all the other places. The hot springs in Fairbanks still appeals the most to me but I'm still checking out all the others. Have you viewed the Northern Lights? If so, from where?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Do You Survive Those Long Flights?

Our son and his family are embarking on a new adventure. They are moving to Tokyo, Japan. They will do well with this since his wife is Japanese and the kids are bilingual and, even though his children correct his Japanese, our son has managed to learn enough to get along. We on the other hand will count on their language skills to help us out when we visit. But to do that will take a very long plane flight.

We're familiar with long plane flights. From our Ohio location it's about an hour or a little more to the east coast and from there about 7-10 hours to Europe depending upon where you are headed. To Australia and New Zealand we flew almost five hours to the west coast and then 12-14 hours across the Pacific to where we were going--Auckland, Sydney, Cairns. It will be a little different for Tokyo. We may fly to Detroit or Minneapolis or Chicago (about an hour)  and then on to Tokyo for a 12-14 hour flight.

Click to see what Delta offers.
Planes today are equipped with lots of gadgets to keep you busy for those hours. The entertainment systems usually have video games, music, movies and more recently on United with a swipe of your credit card, live TV. Of course you can always connect to your playlist on your own MP3 or iPod and read a good book. I can finish a good novel in one flight.

All of that is great if you're flying during the day but keep in mind, the time changes and drastically. If at all possible, it's best to get some sleep. Sleep, you say? How? Bob prefers Tylenol PM. My daughter-in-law recommends Melatonin. Whatever you think you might use, check with your doctor first (even if it's a natural product) to be sure it doesn't affect your medications.

While you are checking with the doctor, you might also ask for suggestions for when to take your meds. Going to the other side of the world means you're due for your pills in the middle of the night if you try to stick to your home schedule.

Above all wear comfortable clothes. Pants that aren't as tight around the middle. Annie Pickels does this in my novel In A Pickle and has a little trouble in security that brings a smile to those who travel and read it. Shoes that slip off and on easily not only make it more convenient going through security but also allow you to slip them off while you're flying. Be sure they are not too tight or you won't get them back on later. No matter how many times you get out of your seat during the flight, your feet will still swell slightly.

Don't overeat and stay away from the carbonated beverages. Need I explain why?

Instead of carrying a pillow or using the airline's pillow on our last trip west, I stuffed a cardigan sweatshirt into my backpack and used it to cushion my head. I could shape it anyway I wanted and when I wasn't napping, I used it behind my back. Why are airplane seats shaped so wrong?

There is lots more information on the web if you search a bit and perhaps you might find something that suits you better. We all travel differently and most of us can't afford to go first or business class. If we did that, we couldn't afford to see all the places that aren't checked off our ever growing bucket list.

Monday, April 21, 2014

World Cruise - Choosing Excursions: African Safari

Luckily we have been to many of the ports our 2015 World Cruise will visit but we did choose this itinerary because it visited lots of places we haven't been--like the southern part of Africa. It's been on my bucket list to go on an African safari. Not so much Bob's, I think. We found a good compromise in the listings for excursions on the Crystal Cruise site. The safari lasts for two nights and we get four forays out into the wild of Kruger National Park.

The excursion starts when we put into the port of Maputo, Mozambique. We depart the pier in an air-conditioned coach (yay!) for a three and a half hour ride to Lukimbi Private Game Reserve in the southern portion of Kruger National Park.

The KNP was established in 1898 for the purpose of protecting the wildlife of the South African Lowveld. The park is over two million hectares. One hectare equals 2.47 acres. That is one large park! There are hundreds of different birds, animals, fish and plant life in the area as well as some historic archaeological sites.

At the border of South Africa, we go through immigration and then transfer to 4X4 jeeps to the Lukimbi Safari Lodge. (That should be interesting.) Our accommodations look absolutely wonderful. Forget the tents and outdoor camping. Peruse the Lukimbi Safari Lodge site and you'll see that this is resort living in the jungle. Our kind of camping.

After getting settled and having a light lunch we enjoy our first guided safari where we have a chance to see the Big Five: the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. The information assures us that there is lots of other wildlife to see as well.

The evening will include dining around a boma fire (fire pit) and the possibility of seeing some other nighttime animals. Then a good night's sleep to prepare for an early morning wake up call to start the day with another safari. Breakfast, lunch, a late safari drive and another night in our beautiful accommodations.

The next day sees us up early for another safari and then off to an airport to fly to Durban, South Africa, where we will be taken to our ship once again.

I know there will be lots of other wonderful things to see on this cruise but I'm guessing this just might be the highlight. We quickly booked this to be sure we wouldn't be shut out and now it's time to look at other excursions we might take. You know, the planning and anticipation are half the fun of travel.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Can You Be Kicked Off A Cruise Ship?

You betcha! We've seen it many times but mostly it's for the person's own good. They are seriously ill. We're not talking about the Norovirus type illness. What I mean is a serious illness such as a heart problem, a stroke, appendicitis, etc. Those types of illnesses will have you meeting an emergency squad at the next port on a medical ship for transport to the nearest port with a hospital or on a helicopter. The prospect of ending a cruise that way is frightening and keeps us checking our insurance coverage.

I do have to credit the cruise ship doctors we have met so far who have great common sense. Our cruise to Asian ports was diverted from Nagasaki in the middle of the night. It was after eight days of touring China and I was so glad to be on board after our land experience. I woke to the feel of the ship turning and remember in my fog of sleep thinking, "No! Don't take me back!"

We found out the next morning that we were going to Shanghai where there was a hospital for a passenger who was experiencing heart problems. The captain explained that a medical ship had met us outside the port of Tianjin (port for Beijing) to take the passenger to Beijing but when the ship's doctor inspected the medical vessel he found it to be quite lacking the facilities the passenger might have needed for the trip. That's when the captain decided to make a change in plans. We were disappointed
to miss Nagasaki but grateful for the care taken by the captain and crew to insure the passenger was well cared for. After all, it could have been one of us.

Of course we have seen and heard of people removed for other reasons. On one cruise quite a few years ago there was a fellow who must have decided that his goal was to see how much alcohol he could consume in seven days. The trouble was, he became a belligerent drunk. He wrapped a T-shirt around his head, waved his glass of the drink-of-the-day and walked around the pool loudly trying to pick a fight with whoever would respond. He lasted until the first port and was promptly escorted off the ship to find his own way home.

There are several other ways to get booted from a cruise ship and Erica Silverstein of the Cruise Critic covers them in 11 Ways To Get Booted Off A Cruise Ship. Most of them just involve common sense. After all, who is stupid enough these days to joke about a bomb? Oh, well, maybe there are a few.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Faster Than A Speeding Nerf Ball

A good part of our travel is to take time to see grandchildren. Our kids are scattered all over the continent and soon to be the world. I wonder sometimes what my grandchildren think of us as we travel. 

When my children were younger and still at home there was a period of time where the women’s magazines and talk shows were all about the Super Mom. She was portrayed as the cloaked lady who could leap tall piles of laundry in a single bound while reading Seuss to her children and baking homemade cookies. You remember. Peggy Lee sang:
“I can wash out 44 pairs of socks and have 'em hangin out on the line
I can starch and iron 2 dozens shirts 'fore you can count from 1 to 9
I can scoop up a great big dipper full of lard from the drippin’s can
Throw it in the skillet, go out and do my shopping, be back before it melts in the pan
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again”

Then along came the Enjoli perfume commercial with the woman in the business suit singing “I can bring home the bacon. Fry it up in a pan. . .” Helen Reddy sang, “I am woman, hear me roar. . .” Trouble was, there were mixed signals. Were we supposed to do it all? Or were we supposed to slow down and save our sanity by not trying to do it all?

I wonder if our generation has changed? Or have we become the Super Grannys who do it all? We plan the family get-togethers, cook the meals, bake the cookies, play ring-around-the-rosy with the grandkids, and still find time to make quilts and afghans and hold down full or part-time jobs. Of course these days we don’t bring home so much bacon because of the high fat content and our cholesterol levels—not to mention the economy.

As I was writing my grandparenting column a few years ago, I would always try to find something interesting to write about to help grandmas on this new journey in our lives but sometimes I wonder if I added to the pressure. Please know that it’s okay to put away the cloak with the big red S on it and take time to renew and refresh. (It's a good excuse to travel.)
You don’t have to the best cookies, the most tender roast beef, or the neatest quilted throw for the new grandchild. Once in a while a package of Oreos (they’re great dipped in milk), a trip to McDonald’s or KFC, and a (dare I say it) store bought gift can be just as appreciated—especially if it means you have more time and energy to play a little ring-around-the-rosy with the grandkids. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what it’s always been about. Those moments with the children that are remembered because of the love and the attention that was exchanged, the words of encouragement shared, or the world discovered together.
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