"" Writer's Wanderings: April 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Galapagos Journal - Quito, Ecuador

The sky was pitch black all around us. Earlier we had seen a red sunset stripe the sky above the clouds below us. I knew we were approaching the Quito airport as we’d been advised to turn off all electronics and my water bottle was slowly collapsing on itself.

I searched below for any sign of a city and saw nothing but eerie grayness punctuated by the flashing of the plane’s wing lights. I reached for a copy of the airline’s magazine thinking I still had time to peruse the pages. All of a sudden we felt a jolt and realized we were on the ground. The first landing strip light flashed by my window. I turned to Bob and his eyes were as wide as mine. Neither of us had even heard the landing gear go down, the last indication that the plane would land. It was as if we’d set down on the landing strip as a helicopter would.

Welcome to Quito, Ecuador!

Since it was 11:30 at night here there were few people other than our plane load to pass through immigration and customs. We did so and immediately upon entering the airport’s main area, were greeted by a cheerful Celebrity hostess who led us and two others to a small mini van for our ride into the city proper. The new Quito airport is about an hour from the main part of the city.

Like in the air plane, there was little to see along the way. Much of the time it was foggy or misty and our eyes too bleary to focus since it was approaching 1 a.m. our time at home and we had been traveling since mid-morning.

Our hotel, the JW Marriott, was a welcome sight. We were checked in by Celebrity Cruise Line already and needed only to pick up our keys and find our room. Our luggage followed us. The room was spectacular, a suite with a sitting room, a bedroom and a bath with tub, shower, and two sinks. Luxury.

It didn’t take long to slip between the smooth cotton sheets and fall asleep. It would be a short night but as we drifted off, we anticipated a wonderful day of sightseeing to come.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Books For The Road - The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

Anticipating our trip to the Galapagos Islands and knowing that they played an important part in Charles Darwin's work, I was curious to know a bit more about the man whose controversial writings still ignite debate. A comment too by a friend of mine as to Darwin originally being a man of faith fueled my curiosity. I had a hard time deciding which version of his autobiography to read but chose what I could download from our library.
The edition I downloaded was edited by Francis Darwin, his son. He eliminated all of the personal entries in the journal his father wrote mainly for his wife and children. He felt his father never intended the personal items to be made public. It keeps you from seeing, I feel, an important side of the man.

It is a heavy read, Darwin not sparing the reader the scientific names for plants, animals, insects and geological finds. But what did I learn? I discovered that in his early days Darwin was a rather unruly rich kid who considered that he was well off enough to perhaps just enjoy a life of shooting and hunting which he dearly loved.

Darwin's father though would not be content for his son to follow his own way and insisted that he enter medical school as had his brother to follow the family history of medical professionals. When he didn't do well and sought a way out, his father gave him an ultimatum: the medical profession or the clergy. So he chose to study to become a clergyman thinking that a country clergyman might have a rather easy life. He didn't stick it out and instead became engrossed with science mainly in the study of geology and botany.
When given the chance to join the expedition of the Beagle, he took it and thus began the journey that led him to indulge further in his studies of geology and natural sciences.

The book is interesting if you can stick with it although it gave me only a slight glimpse of the side of the man I truly wanted to see but a good book for the road to Galapagos.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Emptying The Piggy Bank For Those Baggage Fees

What to pack and how much to take with you on your vacation has added stress to every traveler who is flying to their destination. Why? Baggage fees. They can add up in a hurry and make that airline ticket even more expensive.

Fees are ranging between $20 to $75 for the first bag--that's as long as it's not overweight. Woe to traveler who has heavy shoes or wants to pack War and Peace, the hardback edition, into their suitcase. Overweight bags can cost you up to another $150.

If you need to take two bags, you will most likely pay $20 to $60 for the second one--again, as long as it's not overweight. To add insult to injury there are some airlines charging now for carry on bags as well.

Now all of the above is for travel within the U.S. and Canada. Once you go international and jump either pond, the fees change. Some are better, allowing for more weight and no charge for the first piece of luggage. I guess the planes must be sturdier, yes? [For a comparison chart on the airlines' fees see AirFairWatchdog]

I'm beginning to think that the way to go might be to take just essentials. A few things I can't be sure to get anywhere else like my brand of eye solution for my contacts, my favorite brush, and my most comfy shoes. After that, I figure I could pack clothes for one day and with the $150 to $300 (roundtrip) I'd save on baggage fees, I could find a Walmart, a Target, or something comparable and buy enough clothes to get by for my length of stay. Then, use them on vacation and donate them to charity (which is tax deductible) before my return home.  I could see that being a big savings. Wonder if I could sell the idea to my husband? "Honey, we have to go shopping. . ."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Nothing Like A New Cruise Ship

While I'm not sure cruise ships could get much bigger than Oasis of the Seas or Allure of the Seas, there's no stopping the new innovations. Oasis and Allure have wonderful areas on the ship like Central Park, a green park area with restaurants and shops, a carnival area, a deep water pool for a water show, an ice rink, a zip line and flow riders to name a few.

But wait! There's more. Celebrity's Solstice class ships were the first to feature electric kilns for glass blowing shows and grassy lawn growing on the top deck! The newest of this class ship is the Reflection which has the Lawn Club Grill where you can pair up with a chef and help grill your party's dinner. The Art Club features two master artists who will have classes in all sorts of arts like jewelry, painting, sketching, and even mixology and some culinary courses.

Princess Cruise ships have gotten larger as well and the new Royal Princess due to be sailing in June of 2013 has some new features for a WOW factor.  The top deck has the largest pool in the fleet with a water and light show in the evening as well as an expanded and improved Movies Under the Stars. The Lido deck also has a sky walk on each side that takes you out over the side of the ship where you can look 128 feet to the ocean below on a see through walkway. I'm guessing if you're prone to seasickness you don't want to spend much time there but if not, the port side has a Sky Walk Bar.

Apparently Royal Caribbean has decided that size is not quite as important in their newest ship to debut in 2014. The Quantum of the Seas is quite a leap into the future. Taking its cue from the Eye in London (a large ferris wheel that gives quite a panoramic view of London) there will be a large jewel shaped glass capsule that rides on a huge arm and will give passengers (holds 14 at a time) a 360 degree view of the ship and the ocean or port area around it. Rides are 15 minutes long and free except for sunrise and sunset rides.

Again, there"s more! Want to go sky diving? RipCord by iFly will give you a simulated skydiving experience in a 23 foot vertical wind tunnel that creates a feeling of free fall as participants float in the air.

Still need more adrenaline rush? How about SeaPlex where you can ride bumper cars, learn to juggle and yes, take lessons on the flying trapeze.

There's lots more planned and you can check it out at the Cruise Critic webpage for the Quantum of the Seas.

All of this just proves that cruising is not always about the destination. Sometimes it's just about the ship.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Road Trips - The Lincoln Highway, Part Two

The Lincoln Highway, the country's first transcontinental highway, stretched from New York City to San Francisco. Today, it is made up of paved highways and instead of bearing the Lincoln name, the sections of it are mostly numbered highways. There are associations in most of the states it crosses and you can find out more information about the route and what you might see along the way through their sites.

In Ohio, the Lincoln Highway enters the state at East Liverpool by State Route 39. It then follows SR 267 to Route 30 into Lisbon. Route 30 seems to be the primary route across the state although is veers off here and there in several places.

There would be lots to see and do just on the Ohio section alone:
Covered bridges in Columbiana County
Pro Football Hall of Fame and McKinley's grave in Stark County
Amish country in Wayne County
Mohican Forest in Ashland County
Malabar Farm in Richland County
Battle of Seccaium Monument, the last battle of the Revolutionary War in Crawford County
The land of the Wyandot Indians in Wyandot County
Sawmills and gristmills in Hancock County
MacDonnell House Victorian Mansion in Lima, Allen County
The Dutch Mill in Van Wert county

Maps of the route through all the states and information of things to see along the way can be found at the links to the states of the Lincoln Highway at the association's site.

Looks like this will be on the bucket list for us--at least the Ohio section. It will be a nice short jaunt sometime this summer.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Road Trips - The Lincoln Highway, Part One

Back in 1912, there were no transcontinental highways. In fact, there weren't a whole lot of roads navigable for the cars of the day and many that were actually went nowhere. Enter Carl Fisher, the founder of the Indianapolis Speedway and later the developer of Miami Beach. He had a dream of a highway that spanned the continent.

Fisher proposed to do the graveled road for ten million dollars, getting the public to donate $5 each and having communities along the way work on their section of the highway. It was tough going but some big names from companies like the Packard Automobile and Goodyear Tires joined in with funding and support. It was suggested to Fisher to name the highway after Abraham Lincoln. At that time the congress was considering 1.7 million dollars for a monument to Lincoln and the highway supporters thought it might sway congress to help fund their project.

On July 1, 1913, the highway was officially incorporated as the Lincoln Highway and the route was considered. The planners wanted to take the most direct route from Times Square in New York to San Francisco. As you can imagine, many communities and prominent attractions were bypassed creating quite a stir. In addition, a new material called concrete entered the picture and now there were proposals to test the product along the way as well.

Somewhere along the way between 1915 and 1925, the decision was made to begin numbering the sections of the highway. Eventually the Lincoln Highway that had stretched coast to coast, became numbered highways and the association that had first begun the project disbanded.

In 1928, bands of Boy Scouts placed markers with the head of Lincoln along what had originally been the Lincoln Highway so that its significance would not be lost. Even with the markers and a radio program devoted to the highway in the 1940s, its name faded into history. However in 1992, the Lincoln Highway Association was reactivated dedicating itself to the preservation of the highway.

But where is the highway today?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Books For The Road - A Test of Wills

Just to see what's trending I take a look at the NY Times best seller list on occasion. There was a book there by Charles Todd called Proof of Guilt, but when I looked for it, I discovered that it was one of a series featuring a detective from Scotland Yard, Ian Rutledge. The wait was horrendous to download from the library so instead, I went to the first book of the series, A Test of Wills. Besides, I thought, if I like the bestseller, I'm probably going to end up reading the whole series. Might as well start at the beginning.

Ian Rutledge is quite a character that Charles Todd has come up with. A veteran of WWI, he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and a broken heart. He and his sweetheart parted ways when he was hospitalized. Ian only wishes the voice in his head he calls Hamish would depart as well.

Rutledge is given an assignment to investigate the murder of a war hero and the suspected murderer is another war hero. Rutledge's superior has given the assignment in the hope that he would fail or at least be the fall guy should a political fallout over the whole mess occur. Rutledge comes through though and solves the murder and lives to see himself go on to the second book in the series.

Todd masterfully makes you feel you are reading one of the old classic detective mysteries like Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Chrisite, etc. You won't find any CSI technology. It's all done on intuition, collecting facts from those involved or surrounding the murder, and putting it all together at the last possible moment. It feels like a step back in time and is a fun read in that respect.

So if you're up for a "trip" to England, open A Test of Wills and meet Ian Rutledge. I'm on to the next book, Wings of Fire.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Who's Buried in Garfield's Tomb?

Sure. I know. The joke is supposed to be about Grant but as we were out visiting cemeteries in the Cleveland area to get some more information for my husband's genealogical pursuits, we discovered that James A. Garfield was actually buried in the Lake View Cemetery which is near University Circle in the Cleveland are. In fact, there is a huge monument that houses his crypt, one that is said to be the largest for any American president.

It took us a few minutes to find it since we really didn't know what we were looking for. Certainly we didn't anticipate the huge structure that we found. We were simply following signs that said Garfield Monument. Luckily it was open (the schedule has it open from April 1 through November 19, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m.) so we parked the car on the side of the road, grabbed the camera and started up the steps.

James A. Garfield was actually born in 1831 in what is now known as Moreland Hills, OH, and grew up in the area. He worked as a driver along the Erie canal, guiding the mules that pulled barges and earned enough money for his education. Late he went on to become a professor at what is now Hiram College in Hiram, OH, and a year later was made president of the college.

He served in the Union Army during the Civil War and in 1862, Ohioans elected him to Congress. He became the Republican leader of the House and in 1880 was the party's nomination for president. In January of 1881, he took office but it was not to last long. on July 2, 1881, Garfield was mortally wounded by a disgruntled attorney who had been turned down for a consular position. He died of an infection to the wound on September 19, 1881.

The memorial is quite impressive as you can see from the pictures and in the base of it is the actual crypt with the flag draped casket of the president and beside it his wife's. Two urns are there also which contain the ashes of their only daughter and her husband.

We explored several levels of the memorial and marveled at the murals and the mosaics. Had it been a clear day, the view of Cleveland from the upper balcony windows would have been quite nice as well.

All of that history was right in my backyard all this time. How did I miss it? I never liked history in school so it's quite possible it went right by me and I just ignored it. Guess when you are old enough to feel a part of history you take more notice.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Happy Tax Day!

In the USA, today is the day that income tax forms must be filed. When I saw this display in a museum in the Agora in Athens, I couldn't help but think of the verse in the Bible where the chief priest and scribes are questioning Jesus about taxes and they describe the denarius as having Caesar's image. Then Jesus tells them,“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. . ." Luke 20:25

Ah, but Caesar always seemed to want more. Things haven't changed much, have they?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Educational Vacations - For the Adults

While an adults only vacation may not be on everyone's agenda for summer, there are lots of opportunities for those eighteen and older to enjoy some time learning new skills. Here are several that I ran across that sound interesting.

Want to stretch your artistic side? How about learning to work with glass? The Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, WA, offers several courses throughout the summer. Glass blowing (one course is called Nerds Blow Glass Too), glass sculpting, mixed media, enamel painting, and caneworking are a few of the areas listed. Check out there website for applications and deadlines to sign up for courses.

Chocolate! Just makes your mouth water to see that word, doesn't it? If you plan a vacation in or near Chicago, you might want to check out the Saturday courses for consumers (unless you are a professional in the food industry where courses are during the week) at the Chocolate Academy. Courses vary depending upon which chocolate chef is available or visiting. I wonder how much tasting is involved?

For the extremely adventurous, the is the Mahout Course in Chiang Mai, Thailand. If you ever wanted to get up close and personal with elephants, here's your chance. A mahout is a driver and keeper of elephants. To receive your mahout certificate, you will learn how to ride, bathe, and give commands to the elephants, basic knowledge of elephant biology and health care, and elephant art creation. There's also some Thai food cooking classes. At the end you will have earned a Mahout Certificate. I just wonder if that's license to join a circus?

A little more tame but still educational are some of the themed cruises that you can find with many cruise lines. And if you'd like a little immersion into another culture, check out some of the Work and Witness trips some church organizations offer. They have different names depending upon the denomination, but not only will you get to experience some of the culture of another country, you will donate time and talent to making others' lives better. 

The world has a lot to offer. Jump in!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

8 Suggested Destinations for an Educational Family Vacation

Actually any destination can be educational. It's all in how you approach it. Even those beach vacations where you expect to just chill out in the sun and surf with a book. Look around you. There's lots to be learned from nature, from the people you meet, and perhaps even that book in your hand.

But some destinations are obvious educational opportunities. Here are just a few.

  1. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Seeped in history and the culture of the 18th century. 
  2. Washington, D.C. Again, you can't escape the history here but there's also a few civic lessons to be learned if you plan ahead and make arrangements with your senators or congressman.
  3. For some science, astrology, and aeronautics, visit NASA at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida or Space Camp at the Space Center Houston.
  4. Many of us live a reasonable distance from a National Park or even a State Park where there are scheduled nature hikes, lectures on flora and fauna and even on the history and folklore of the area. 
  5. Try a Dude Ranch or Be An Indian For A Day and your family can learn about social customs and a different way of life.
  6. Pick your family's favorite sport and visit their Hall of Fame: Baseball, Football, Basketball, Golf, Tennis, etc.
  7. Why not learn a new skill? At the North House Folk School in Minnesota your family can choose from quite a variety including basketry, photography, woodworking, sailing and so much more. Children must be accompanied by an adult for many of the sessions.
  8. Don't want to travel far from home? Make your educational destination your own town, nearby city, or your state. There's lots of history to be had in every state, museums to visit, trails to be explored. A little surfing on the internet will give you lots of ideas and as I said in my last post, the learning often comes more in the planning.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Educational Vacations - It's in the Planning!

If you haven't begun to think about summer and vacation you are probably in the minority. I think that's what spring fever is all about--looking forward to summer. Ever think of making vacation planning an educational experience for your kids?

As a kid I loved reading the map and navigating. I still do today although much of that is enhanced with GPS and Google maps and smart phones and. . .the list goes on. Nothing beats a fold up map or atlas for planning though. Whether you are driving or taking a tour, getting a map ahead of time and having the kids map out the places you are going to see gives them a sense of direction and distance and geography.

Math skills enter in when you have them calculate distance and average drive speed (don't tell them Google or Mapquest will do it for them). Of course online help won't factor in stops along the way so that adds to the math problems. If they make a little chart, they can see how well they estimated and it might even cut down on the "are we there yet?"

Set a budget for the vacation and involve the kids in it. This is a great way to show them the importance of setting spending limits individually or as a family.

Meteorology factors in when you get them to explore what the climate might be like as they get farther from home. Will it change in higher elevations? What kind of clothes need to be packed for the weather changes?

A trip to the library for a guidebook, even if it is outdated, will give your child some idea of the sights to see at your destination or along the way. Perhaps a book or two, fiction or nonfiction, about something or someone or some event in that area will inspire some reading time.

With some guidance, let them feel like they've planned the whole trip. They'll be much more interested if they've been involved and certainly will learn a lot from the planning. Oh, by the way, don't tell them it's educational or you're doing it so they will learn something. They'll figure it out down the road.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Through My Lens - Lake County Captains Baseball

Dressed as if we were going to a football game, we attended the Lake County Captains opening game of the season at Classic Park. We sat in the sun so I had a little trouble with sun glare but there was no way I was moving to the shade. Temps dropped to the lower 40s by the time we left in the eighth inning with the Captains ahead. They won the opener.

Friday, April 05, 2013

One More Journey of a Lifetime - The Galapagos

While my husband labeled China as the journey of a lifetime (mainly because he knew he couldn't get me to return), there has been at least one other and another that looms on the horizon. Chances are we will not return to Antarctica. For one thing, we could never duplicate the beautiful trip we had and would probably be disappointed. But in several weeks we will be setting out on yet another journey of a lifetime--the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos Islands are off the coast of Ecuador and our adventure begins in Quito. We will fly there and spend some time seeing the city before flying off to Baltra Island where we will meet representatives from our ship, the Celebrity Xpedition, and transfer to the ship by Zodiac rafts. I remember those from Antarctica! Should be a fun beginning.

From there we will spend eight days cruising around the islands. Each cruise is a little different because they vary the stops so that no one spot is overwhelmed with visitors. The area is protected to preserve the natural environment and is regulated by the Ecuadorian government. But rest assured that we will be seeing quite a variety of animal, bird, and marine life no matter where we stop (here's a link for some pictures). Lucky for us we can take digital photos rather than having to draw sketches of what we see like Darwin did.

As my son put it, "You'll be seeing God's great creations and learning about Darwin's evolution." I'm sure we will be in for quite an education on all the work that Darwin did there. After all, it is historical and has led to much controversy as well as contributed to the study of all that is in nature. But we will view it all with a whisper of praise for a God who is so creative, and thankfulness for the opportunities he's give us to see his magnificent works.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

It's Spring at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

As the temperatures edge up and the trees begin to bud and blossom, the river valley echoes the sound of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Now through May, the train makes regular runs on the weekends and has some special event runs in between.

The conductor calls out the familiar, "All aboard!" and the whistle sounds. While we live a ways from the Rockside Road train station, I can hear the whistle in the distance as I take my morning walk through my neighborhood. It brings back fond memories of our Polar Express runs before Christmas.

The nature runs are a little different than the Polar Express--make that a LOT different. Park rangers from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park provide information on the flora and fauna you see along the way. There is also audio commentary available with individual players and ear buds.

For the more adventuresome and athletic, the train provides transportation one way or the other for you if you want to bike but don't want to make it a round trip on the tow path. This year there will also be the opportunity to jog one way and take the train to return. It will all be a part of a get fit program the train will be promoting.

One of the amazing things about the railroad is that it runs mainly with volunteers. Only a handful of the people involved are paid employees. Trainmen, servers, gift shop and cafe personnel are all people who have volunteered their time to keep the train operational. It's a great bunch of people and recently those with 100 hours or more of service for the year were recognized at a banquet.

No matter what your interest, fitness, fun, or just being a train fanatic, you'll enjoy a ride on the CVSR. A great way to see the park and experience an old fashioned train venue. Hop aboard this spring and summer!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Who Owns Your Favorite Cruise Line?

Several years ago when it was announced that Royal Caribbean had acquired the Celebrity Cruise Line, everyone was a bit concerned about whether the quality of Celebrity would drop. Being one of our favorite cruise lines and the one we "cut our teeth" on, we did notice changes. Thankfully the powers that be realized even though some of the changes were not that big, there were a lot of little things that loyal cruisers enjoyed. For instance, just the fact that there were molded portions of butter on the table rather than butter wrapped in foil.

I'm not sure how the corporate structure works but have you ever wondered who owns who in the huge cruising industry? Here are just a few examples of what I found.

Royal Caribbean has of course the Royal Caribbean line and also Celebrity Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Pullmantur (a Spanish line), and Croisieres de France (which appears to be a subsidiary of Pullmantur according to several sites I found).

Carnival, which is the largest cruise company, owns in addition to its Carnival Line, Holland America, Princess Cruises, Cunard Lines (which was originally connected with White Star back in the Titanic days), Costa, Seabourn (a very upscale line), P&O Cruises and P&O Australia, Aida Cruises (a German cruise line), and Ibero Cruceros (a Spanish line).

Third largest is Star Cruises, which I believe is now called the Genting Group and is located in Hong Kong. It owns 50% of Nowegian Cruise Lines.

I'm sure there are a lot more ins and outs to who owns who (or is that who owns whom?) but I don't have the resources or time to explore more. I just find it interesting that when someone asks, "What's your favorite cruise line?" the answer involves a much bigger picture.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Hotel To Open At Everest Base Camp

An enterprising small Dutch hotel chain plans to build the first hotel at the Nepal Base Camp on the south side of Mount Everest. It was announced today that the initial permits have been granted and work will begin  in May before monsoon season sets in and then continue in the fall.

The southeast side of Mt. Everest is the most popular route for climbers and they usually spend several days at Base Camp acclimating to the weather. In the past, supplies have been sent up by way of sherpas or porters on the backs of yaks. No mention of how the project will supply the building needs for that altitude. 

The hotel is said to be a new innovation in design but details are hush-hush so far. They have indicated that there will be a small restaurant on the premises. Yak burgers are rumored to be on the menu. 

"If all goes well," said Boudewijn Gillis, marketing VP of the chain, "we will open in May of 2015." 

This could put a whole new meaning to the phrase roughing it.

And if you haven't already guessed, there's another phrase popular this day each year: April Fool!!
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