"" Writer's Wanderings: January 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

Connections


In a very short time, we begin to take things for granted. It wasn't long ago that we carried a dime, then a dime and a nickel, then a quarter in our pocket to be able to make a phone call in an emergency. Now we just have to remember to keep our cell phone battery charged and the phone in our pocket.

Computers that took up whole rooms now sit on our laps and give us instant connection to almost anyone in the world with another computer and access to the internet. Just find a McDonald's and you can connect with free wifi.

We've come a long way from the first telegraph message sent by Samuel Morse back in 1844. Following the first printed postage stamp in 1847, the pony express made it possible to send a letter to the opposite coast in 1860.

Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876 and by 1880 there were almost 49,000 in use. When the IPhone first went on sale, more than one million were sold in the first 74 days.

1897 brought radio. 1927 ushered in televison. Then in 1969, the first group of computers began connecting with each other--the beginning of the internet. The first email was sent from one computer to another in the next room in 1971. And now we can't live without social networking.

How do you connect with friends and family? What does the future hold for our communications?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dubai to Southampton to New York - It's a Cruise!


For a long time now, Bob has wanted to visit Dubai. Me, not so much. But I never turn down a cruise. Yesterday, he handed me a list of the things he'd like to see and do in Dubai for our three night stay before the cruise.

"As long as I don't have to get on a camel," I said, "I'm good."

Bob's list included the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. It is 2,716.5 feet tall and over 160 stories. When you visit however, you only get to the 124th floor where the observation deck is. That's high enough for me. The At The Top Experience is truly something to read about and sounds almost Disney-ish as you travel from the mall to the base of the building and the high speed elevator that takes you up.

Next is the Mall of the Emirates where there is indoor skiing as well as amusement rides, a large cinema and a theater of the arts. Oh, and I can shop too--window shop, I'm guessing.

Of course shopping continues at the Souks of Dubai--gold, spices and textiles--and to get there, an abra (water taxi). Hmmm. From the pictures of this, I may want my own life jacket.

Moving down his list, I fine something a bit more elegant--afternoon tea at Burj Al Arab hotel's Skyview Lounge. We've heard good things about this from friends we met on our last cruise. And it's a chance to visit this uniquely designed hotel that looks like a giant sail.

Aha! And now it gets more interesting. The last of his list includes a dinner cruise on the Dubai Creek (which is larger than it sounds). The description on the website says it's a romantic way to see the city, that's if you take your eyes off the belly dancers, I guess. The same company offers a city tour and a Desert Safari. Does that last one include a camel? I'm not getting on a camel.

So after describing our Dubai stay and the cruise through the Suez and transatlantic to NYC to our son, his comment was, "So, you're close to the terrorists, passing by the Somalian pirates, and then crossing the Atlantic on the iceberg laden path of the Titanic. Is your will up to date?"

Maybe riding a camel is not so much to worry about.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's All About the Cilantro


When we were in Puerto Vallarta on our whale watching excursion, we had some might good salsa and guacamole with chips. As my friend, Dalila who comes from Guatamala, says, "It's all about the cilantro."

Here's a simple salsa recipe that is similar to the one we enjoyed in Puerto Vallarta.

2-3 medium sized fresh tomatoes (from 1 lb to 1 1/2 lb)finely diced
1/2 onion, finely diced
small cucumber finely diced
Juice of one lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

If you want a little heat add one or both of these:
1 jalapeño chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced
1 serano chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced

Just remember when you are dicing the peppers to keep your hands away from your face. Nothing burns more than chili pepper juice on your mouth or in your eyes.

Let your salsa set for an hour or so before serving. The flavors will have a chance to blend.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cleveland's Playhouse Square - Tidbit of Trivia


We are subscribers to the Broadway Series at Cleveland's Playhouse Square and each year enjoy six traveling musicals that visit our city. This year, Cats came to the stage here but not as a part of the series. As we realized we couldn't use a set of our tickets (we would be on a trip-imagine that!), we turned them in, paid a small fee, and secured tickets for Cats--a show we hadn't been able to see yet.

Normally before a show, we go to what is called the Broadway Buzz and listen to a talk from Joe Garry who explains how the musical came to be, gives a few pertinent things to look for, and makes you feel much more intelligent about what you are about to see. Since this was not a series show, there was no Buzz and we arrived way too early at the theater.

I ended up reading the program cover to cover and found some interesting tidbits of trivia such as: Before dryers, the Palace Theater had a "drying" room for the actors clothes that circulated warm air through the lines of wet clothes and there was also a room where women could go and smoke in the 1920s since women smoking in public was frowned upon.
The one that really made me smile though was the story of George Burns and Gracie Allen's marriage in Cleveland, January 7, 1926, while they had a booking at the Palace. They stayed at the Statler Hotel for their honeymoon and were constantly interrupted by George's good friend, Jack Benny, calling on the phone. George kept pretending it was room service and hanging up on him. Finally at 2:30 a.m., room service showed up at the door with two orders of ham and eggs, "Compliments of Mr. Jack Benny from Omaha!"

After the early breakfast, Gracie turned to George and said, "George, this was the high point of the night."

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Village of Eze - My Top Blog Post

Periodically I check the stats on my blog to see what is bringing the most traffic and other interesting tidbits that Sitemeter and now Blogger give me. Blogger shows me stats on which pages generate the most views and in the past year, my post on the Village of Eze in France just outside of Monte Carlo has generated the most interest.

I'm not surprised. It is a place that is quaint, curious, and of interest historically, not to mention the great view. The post is dated December 1, 2009, but just since May of 2010 when Blogger began making stats available for blogs, there have been 384 page views. Makes me wonder how many there were before that.

Take a peek and see what so many others have been interested in.

Village of Eze

Friday, January 21, 2011

Books For The Road - Deceit


Some books truly need to come with a warning on the cover, "Warning: This book may be hazardous to your work/play/routine schedule. Once reading is begun it will be difficult to close the book until the end of the story." While I know a Brandilyn Collins story is going to give me a good suspenseful ride, this latest book that I picked up to read, Deceit, not only hooked me in the first chapter but totally reeled me into the story. Hard-to-put-down is putting it mildly.

Joanne Weeks’ best friend mysteriously disappeared six years ago and was thought to be dead since her car was found with blood smears in it. Her husband, a prominent citizen and upstanding Christian of the California town of Vonita, remarried, and his second wife dies in a suspicious accident. Joanne, a skip tracer (someone who locates people wanted by the law) by trade, is convinced that Baxter Jackson murdered both his wives. She uses her skills as a skip tracer to find the one person who can tell her the truth. The truth however is tied up in many lies.

Collins' underlying theme here involves the many facets of deceit. Is a white lie acceptable? Does the end justify the means when deceit is used? Are there shades of truth? While the deceit theme is thought provoking, it only enhances the suspenseful story line that keeps you devouring her words and trying to remember to breath.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two Wheeling Through Cabo San Lucas

Our first time in Cabo San Lucas and what do we do? We join a Segway tour of course!

Actually it was a great way to see a good portion of Cabo in a short time and without a lot of walking. In fact, the most walking we did was to the tour office and back to the tenders of our ship. Cabo reminded me a bit of a Mexican Key West. Lots of stores, souvenir shops, restaurants, etc. Definitely a tourist town.

Since we have had quite a bit of experience on Segways, we had fun zipping around while other were getting their "Segway legs" which involves learning to get on and off without having the two-wheeled vehicle that takes off with the slightest motion of your body move before your feet are firmly planted. It doesn't take long to catch on and in about 15 minutes our whole group was ready to roll--literally.

Cabo was colorful to say the least and very desert-like with lots of cactus everywhere. The mountains made a scenic backdrop to the beach town that is made up of resort after resort after condominium. Some of the resorts that we rolled by were beautifully landscaped and I'm sure would have been impressive if we would have had time to look them over a little closer.

Our tour guide was a little disappointed that there weren't any shoppers in the group. She seemed to know quite a few of the shopkeepers. While she gave a running commentary through the ear piece each of us wore, I didn't pick out a whole lot of historical information. But then I was concentrating on navigating some very narrow sidewalks filled with people and keeping out of the traffic lane as we rolled along the street in some places.

I don't know why Segways have not been more popular. They are fun to ride but after an hour or so, your knees tend to lock up and your feet fall asleep. Of course around home in the winter, it could be a little rough in the snow and ice.

After our tour, we took a walk around the marina where our tenders were coming in. The area was full of interesting stores and restaurants. We stepped into one of the drugstores to purchase a bottle of water. I was surprised to see shelves lined with familiar looking pharmaceuticals that would be prescription drugs back home.

I was surprised that there were a lot of vendors trying to hock their wares but it looked as though anyone inside the fencing that surrounded the marina needed a license or permit. There were vendors at some of the places along the fence that had no stores blocking the vendors from looking through the fence and showing their goods to passers-by.

We stood and watched a fisherman as he tossed some fish to the pelicans. At least that's what we thought he was doing until we realized there was a big dark fish/creature under his boat swimming back and forth. It wasn't until we saw a seal on our way out of the harbor that we realized he was trying to feed the seal not the birds.

After lunch on the ship, I spent the afternoon reading on our balcony looking across at the famous Land's End rock formation where all the snorkelers and beach people were enjoying the sun and watching the parasails float by.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Whale Watching - The Chase is On in Puerto Vallarta

Observing Puerto Vallarta from Deck 10 of the Celebrity Constellation the city appeared to be much nicer than Acapulco, our previous port. It was however a mass of boat and ship traffic as we discovered when we were tendered in. We had booked a whale watching excursion (I'm a sucker for those big critters of the sea) and our group left the ship early in the morning to join up with the boat that would take us out to observe what we could of the humpbacks in the area.

Once assembled on shore, a guide took us to a smaller dock where we boarded a small boat to take us to the sailboat that would take us to the whales. Sound complicated? It was in a way. You see there were two large cruise ships already docked, a third that was pulling into it's slip and tenders in the water from two other ships, including ours, who were ferrying passengers to shore.

Our little boatful made it to the sailboat but then we had to wait while the HAL ship positioned itself in its slip before the harbor control would allow the other members of our excursion to come out on the other little boat. We did not lack entertainment however. The crew on the sailboat was delightful and we enjoyed coffee, juice and rolls while we waited. Obviously they'd had this problem before.

Once everyone was on the sailboat, we took off to the area where the whales are spotted most. And so did every other whale watching boat in the harbor. The government licenses whale watching boats and they must fly a flag and follow some rules in their endeavors to catch sight of the humpbacks. However, not all boats out looking for whales were licensed and they certainly did not follow any rules. The whales were outnumbered.

We did spot several whales and watched as they dove for cover again when all the boats scurried to where the spout of water was sighted. One of our guides suggested we all shout and point in the same direction and watch all the boats chase each other to where we pointed.

One of the more amazing attractions that morning was the small manta rays. The harbor was full of them. They would jump out of the water and for an instant look like a bird with a large wingspan. We have been diving with giant manta rays. I didn't know there was a smaller version.

While it wasn't like observing whales in Hawaii, it was a fun time. And the guacomole, salsa, and chips were out-of-this-world good on the way back to the dock.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Fun - Fourth Amendment Underwear


Our beautiful cruise came to an ugly end. No, they didn't have to carry me off the ship screaming and kicking. I was on my way to see more grandkids. But the debarkation or disembarkation, whichever term you prefer, was absolutely the ugliest I've ever seen. Immigration officers boarded the Celebrity Constellation early Sunday morning (at 7 a.m.) to do their passport check on board ship. That's when the fun began.

We were all given times to appear at the theater to cut down on congestion. Either it was slow starting up or people ignored their times but when we arrived at our appointed time, the line was already from one end of the ship almost to the other. It moved along quickly though. Somewhere came a hangup however and at 10 a.m. the ship was still not cleared to let passengers off.

Announcements calling for several people to report to immigration were made. It was finally down to two people and for a moment I thought there might be a posse sent out to find them. At 10:15 or so, the announcement was made that the ship was cleared. But by then people had flooded the atrium area and even though we were told our group could leave, there was no way to get to the gangplank. There were a lot of questions that arose as we inched our way out finally at 11:45--fifteen minutes before our plane was to board at the San Diego airport.
Needless to say, we didn't make our flight and were on stand-by until we got one at 9:30 p.m. In the meantime, we had been through security once but decided that we wanted to check out the restaurants outside of security. We left our concourse and ate and then returned.

On our earlier pass through when lines were longer, the body scanner was not in use but this time we were treated to a thorough scan. Just my luck, I got held up. The TSA agent kept asking if he had missed hearing me cleared. Finally the answer came that there was something in my pocket. My cruise card!! It must have picked up the mag strip.

This week I saw an article on special underwear that you can wear now for going through the scanner. It has the fourth amendment (all about privacy and unneccessary searches) printed on it in a special ink that the machine can pick up as it scans. Hmmm. With that sort of idea it could lead to all kinds of interesting designs, sayings, etc. for the scanners to detect and deliver to those secreted away looking at all the pictures. Guess it would make their job a little more interesting.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Harry and Fred Take to the Ocean

While Acapulco, Mexico, may have once been a romantic place to spend a honeymoon or take a romantic getaway, we found the city itself to be less than what we would consider a place to rekindle the flames of romance. Perhaps the resort areas a bit away from the downtown are a little nicer but after our first experience in Alcapulco several years ago, we opted to get out of the city and do something a little different than fend off vendors and avoid the areas that were heavily patroled with machine gun armed personnel.

Our ship's excursion took us about an hour out of town and to another area less developed, with a huge beach area hopefully protected from too much development as this is where two species of marine turtles lay their eggs. Mexico is home to seven of the eight species of marine turtles in the world and the Acapulco area is privileged to have two of those species, the Loggerhead (Golfina, the Spanish name) and the Leatherback (Lute). Our mission was to release newly hatched turtles into the sea.

We arrived at a small compound (Campamento Tortuguero Manejo Ambiental Playa Larga) consisting of several shaded areas on the beach and a small restaurant with a small living area behind for the director of the operation, Victor Verdejo. Our tour guide did the lecture part of our experience under the guidance of Verdejo telling us about the turtles, the effort to save them from extinction, and the operation of the facility.

Basically it is a one-man operation. Verdejo goes out and collects the turtle eggs during the season, The turtles, depending upon species, lay an average of 110 eggs per nest which is then covered with sand. These are collected as soon as the female returns to the sea and reburied in a protected area in the compound. Each new nest is labeled with the species, date, and other pertinent information.

As the turtles hatch, usually within 45-60 days, they wiggle their way to the surface of the sand and are then collected and placed in a large shallow tank of water for a few days before release. Verdejo says he does not feed them because they will not want to go into the ocean for food if food is available to them on shore.


When the tour guide finished the lecture and showed the group how to carefully hold the baby turtles so as not to harm them, we were led to a flagged area along the beach near the water's edge and each handed a squirming turtle anxious to get along with his/her life. We were asked to name our turtles. Bob called his Fred and I named mine Harry. They may have been Fredricka and Henrietta for all we knew.


At the count of three, we all placed our turtles down and watched them scurry into the water. They looked so helpless. And as we watched, I remembered the statistic that was given. Only two out of 100 will probably survive due to predators and the other dangers that awaited them in the ocean. It was amazing to see them disappear in the surf and then see them bob to the surface, their tiny heads almost undetectable in the glistening waters that carried them further away.


It was a long bus trip for a short few moments of delighting in one of nature's wonders but it was so worth the effort.


Upon our return to the busy traffic-laden city of Alcapulco, we drove through several areas where we saw groups of military personnel with automatic weapons and one that had a truck with a machine gun mounted on it with a belt of ammo looped through it. Very unnerving for those of us not used to seeing those kinds of things on our streets.


We also marveled at all the VW bugs that were used as taxis often with a homemade luggage rack on top.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Port of Call - Santa Cruz Huatulco, Mexico

The description "a sleepy little Mexican town" is an oxymoron. While Santa Cruz Huatulco may have once been that, it is no longer. We went ashore to explore the little seaside semi-resort area that we once remembered as one main street lined with quaint Mexican storefronts that resembled a Hollywood movie set. Behind the facades were buildings that were hastily constructed all to create a port town for cruise ships and begin development of the area as a resort destination similar to Cancun on the other coast.


Now twelve years later, there were four times as many main streets, lots of restaurants, an open air chapel, scads of umbrella covered tables and chairs on the beach and resort type hotels on the hillsides above. And did I mention the hustle and bustle of industrious townsfolk, who I suspect did not all live in town, trying to attract your attention to indulge in their cuisine, or buy their goods, or take a tour, or. . .well, you get the picture.


Still, it was hard not to like this little town no matter what its origins or its hustle. The beautiful beach area was inviting for a day of sand, sea, and sun. And some of the offerings of the restaurants were tempting. We spent the morning walking along the beach and a few of the streets and then sitting down to just people-watch while we enjoyed the warm breeze and fresh air from the sea making us look as though we might be the sleepy part of this little Mexican town.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Third Time, Still Charming - Panama Canal

On our holiday cruise, we passed through the Panama Canal on our way to the west coast from Florida. This was the third time through the "big ditch" for us but the first time going from the Caribbean to the Pacific. I would say East to West but when you go through the canal it is actually North-South, or South-North because of its location on the Isthmus of Panama.

Around 6 a.m. we awoke to the bustle of our ship readying for its trip through the Gatun Locks. There are three levels of locks that raise the ship to the level of Gatun Lake, a man made waterway created by the damming of the Charges River as part of the canal construction in 1913. The activity in the locks is fascinating to watch as lines are pulled taut on either side of the ship attached to "mules," mechanical devices that follow tracks on both sides of the ship and center it in each chamber while water fills the chamber and lifts the ship up.

The lifting of the ship doesn't take long when you consider the size and weight of the ship and the amount of water needed to fill the chamber to lift it. The whole system is based on gravity. I couldn't help but imagine Newton chewing on his apple and saying, "See, I told you gravity was useful."

Once through the Gatun Locks, we could see the dam that created Gatun Lake. We sailed across the lake which looked very muddy from recent flooding that had actually closed the canal for a day, and into the area where most of the digging took place called, "The Cut." It was here that life was made so very difficult for those who took on the challenge of building the canal. It started with the French who eventually abandoned the project that was then taken on by America in Teddy Roosevelt's day and made a little easier by some of the discoveries that helped wipe out the malaria problem and some of the other difficulties that had plagued the French.

After passing under the Centennial Bridge, opened in 2004, we moved into the last area of locks that would lower us to the level of the Pacific Ocean. There is one level at the Pedro Miguel locks and two levels at the last set, the Miraflores Locks.

Once free of the locks, our next point of interest was the Bridge of the Americas, opened in 1962. The bridge is described as a "cantilever design where the suspended span is a tied arch." For us non-engineers we might just describe it as a spectacular structure connecting the two Americas. It is always awesome to pass under a bridge of this sort when on a ship. It gives the illusion that there is little space between the top of the ship and the bottom of the bridge.

The passage through the 48 mile long canal was complete well before the projected 4 p.m. schedule. According to our captain, it was due to light traffic in the canal itself. While it is always exciting to hear the history, see the canal, and observe the operation of the locks, I think it is a little more fun to start out from the Pacific side. I remember our first time through waking in the early dawn and seeing all the ships around us queuing for their passage. In the distance, we could see the lights of Panama City. This time, we saw the city lit by the afternoon sun that found its way through a break in the clouds.

We made a right turn (certainly not a nautical term) and headed up the coast toward Costa Rica and Guatamala, eventually to stop in Huatulco, Mexico but only after a Christmas Day at sea.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Books for the Road - Six Geese A-Slaying


In my quest to read some holiday related books this past Christmas season, I came upon Donna Andrews' novel, Six Geese A-Slaying. It is a comedy-of-errors type story mixed with a murder mystery. Meg Langslow in the middle of trying to organize a Christmas Parade with a 12 Days of Christmas theme finds Santa murdered, a holly stake through his heart.

The most likely suspects are the members of a save-the-birds society who are dressed like geese for the parade. But never fear, as the confusion mounts, the number of suspects grows and the plot thickens as it turns out "Santa" wasn't such a jolly ole elf.

I can relate to Meg's situation as I remember being in charge of several large activities in the past and experiencing the last minute panic of changes and kinks thrown into the best laid plan. She manages well with tongue-in-cheek humor and a little sleuthing on her own. It all comes down to quite a few smiles and an intriguing mystery with a good resolution.

Put it down on your list for a little light holiday reading at the end of the year.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

It's Christmas Time in Russia


The church in Russia still uses the Julian calendar which places Christmas 13 days after the date on the Gregorian calendar used by most of the world. So tonight is Christmas Eve. For the most part the festival of Christmas is being replaced by the Festival of Winter but with the easing of restrictions on the churches, some have returned to the traditional celebrations.

In the traditional Russian Christmas, special prayers are said and people fast, sometimes for 39 days, until January 6th Christmas Eve, when the first evening star in appears in the sky. (These are also the people who stand for an hour or more in a church sevice. When we toured a church in St. Petersburg, we were told they don't have pews or chairs because they stand.) Then begins a twelve course supper in honor of each of the twelve apostles. Dinner includes fish, beet soup or Borsch, cabbage stuffed with millet, cooked dried fruit and much more.

On Christmas Day, hymns and carols are sung. People gather in churches which have been decorated with Christmas trees or Yelka, flowers and colored lights. Christmas dinner is a variety of different meats, among them goose and suckling pig.

Babushka was a term I learned as a child but it was taught as a triangular scarf draped over the head and tied under the chin. I guess it's because it made you look like a grandma which is what the term means in Russian. Babushka is the traditional Christmas figure who gives presents to children. The legend is that she declined to accompany the wise men to see Jesus because of the cold weather. Later, she regretted not going and set off to try and catch up. Along the way she filled her basket with presents. She never found Jesus but now she visits each house and leaves toys for good children. (A children's book, Babushka, is available at Amazon and tells the story.)

с Рождеством Христовым ! (If Babel Fish is right, that's Merry Christmas!)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Costa Rica - Canals of Tortuguero

On our recent port call in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, we were privileged to take a tour with a group called Vacations.com. Vignettes. Our travel agent is a member and so we were invited along on a complimentary tour to the Canals of Tortuguero.

We weren’t sure what to expect but it turned out to be a wonderful trip. A bus took us from the port to a place along the canal where we were treated to fresh watermelon, pineapple, and other treats as well as coffee, juice and soft drinks. A local group of musicians played and we strolled around the lovely grounds of the facility looking at red, red ginger and other exotic plants.

A little while later, we boarded narrow canal boats and headed down the canal with eyes peeled to the boarding bushes and trees to glimpse the local wild life. We passed many species of birds and saw two and three toed sloths. You can tell the difference because one moves faster than the other which isn’t saying much for either one. Iguanas hung in some trees and howler monkeys swung from branches in another group of trees.

Our guide on the bus and for the ride on the canal had a wonderful way of putting things. She mentioned that her country likes to “dance” on occasion meaning there are earthquakes once in a while. She promised to show us the good, bad, and the ugly. She came through. There were some areas we drove through that were a bit depressed and some that were very nice. Most all areas have bars on the windows much like we noticed in Puerto Rico. Our guide explained that the bars were there because of tradition and prevention. Traditionally, the bars were originally made of wood and there to keep chickens from flying through the open windows. Now it is more prevention. Enough said.

All in all, it was a wonderful tour and we returned to the ship refreshed, relaxed, and feeling very privileged to have seen a very beautiful part of Costa Rica, the “rich coast.”
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