"" Writer's Wanderings: September 2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

Port of Call - Victoria, British Columbia

Because of a really old maritime law in the states, cruises originating and ending in the USA have to visit at least one foreign port. Victoria, British Columbia, was our token foreign port and because of our cruising schedule, sadly we arrived in the evening. To make matters worse, we were almost an hour late and by the time we got on the shuttle in to town, the sun had set and it was just about 8 p.m. Due back on board at 11, we only had three hours to see what we could--in the dark.

But the city of Victoria wasn't dark. Many stores stayed open late to accommodate the ships in port and the quaint street lights added a warm glow to the main area around the old Empress Hotel (built in 1908) and the legislative buildings. The legislative buildings were illuminated with over 3500 lights adding to the ambiance.

Victoria is the oldest city in western Canada dating back to 1843 when it was known as a Hudson Bay Company trading post. It's chosen name was to honor Queen Victoria and it is considered to be the most British city in all of Canada. So if you are craving that British tea and scones with clotted cream, you can drop into the Fairmont Empress Hotel's lobby and enjoy your high tea with a great view of the Inner Harbor.

This night the Inner Harbor was alive with a craft market and
street entertainers and surrounded by delicious smelling restaurants making me wish we'd opted to eat on shore although it would have been a bit late for us. Instead, we wandered up Government Street and enjoyed the shops and cafes and people watching. It was Saturday night and there were a lot of young people about having a great time together.

What we didn't get to see because of time restraints and the time we arrived in port were the beautiful gardens we have heard so much about. There was an excursion but who wants to see gardens at night even if they are lit up with twinkling lights as the brochure suggested?

Other points of interest besides the Butchart Gardens we would like to return and take in are the Craigdarroch Castle, the Legislative Buildings in the daylight, Beacon Hill Park, and of course the high tea at the Empress. There is a ferry that runs from Seattle to Victoria and lets you off right at the Inner Harbor. Since we are always looking for an excuse to visit our Seattle grandkids, it sounds like a perfect idea for some time in the near future.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

There's Power In The Crosswalk

On our first trip to Bermuda I was amazed at the response to stepping into the crosswalk when you wanted to get to the other side of the street. The cars immediately stopped. That doesn't always happen here at home--at least not in a crosswalk where there is no traffic light.

Recently I started a new routine, an hour long walk in the morning to try to accomplish several things: lose weight, get more physical stamina, and spend some time in prayer. To make the walk long enough to stretch to an hour, I need to walk somewhere other than our
development and that puts me on a busy street. When I walk south, I'm forced to cross to the other side because the sidewalk ends on my side just before entering another community. Thankfully, there is a traffic light and a crossing signal.

It occurred to me one morning as I pushed the button and stood to wait for the traffic to stop what power I had. With a push of the button I had the power to stop traffic. There have been times I've seen others cross the street without using a crosswalk. Like Frogger, they dodge the traffic. Stopping on the median strip to wait for a break to run to the other side again.

Life is difficult. Why make it more so by not staying in the crosswalk? Or the Cross walk--the walk of faith that helps us through, around, and across the busy highway of life. There's power in the Cross walk.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Little More of Skagway

Out of all the ports of call on this Alaskan cruise, I enjoyed Skagway the most. I wouldn't mind coming back some day to spend more time. The area is rich in history and the residents seem to be ready to preserve it and share it.

While we didn't do the White Pass and Yukon Railway ride this time, we did sit for a bit and wait for the train to arrive at the station. They actually have two trains that run from Skagway to the White Pass Summit in the Yukon territory just over the border in Canada. One train leaves from the downtown station and another leaves from the cruise ship pier.

The cars of the narrow gauge railway are vintage passenger coaches and allow for great views along the way including parts of the old trail used by the gold miners before the railroad was built. The railroad dates back to 1898 and is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Amazingly the whole thing was built in 26 months at a cost of $10 million. It was a product of British financing, American engineering, and Canadian contracting. Tens of thousands of men and 450 tons of explosives were needed to complete the project.

A 3,000 foot climb over 20 miles with some steep grades, a few tunnels and a bridge makes for an exciting trip. Once gold and mineral prices slipped in the 1980s, the railroad became a tourist attraction taking mostly cruise passengers on the excursion (over 390,00 in 2012).

Back in town, the National Park Service offers talks and of course the reproduced Mascot Saloon with some museum pieces. The "Mascotte" Saloon was one of 80 in the little town of Skagway that sprang up in 1898. But by 1899 the local officials began to charge $1500 for a license for the saloons. Many were forced to close but the owners of the Mascot were able to come up with the money.

The Mascot offered a cigar stand, a club room, locally brewed pilsner beer and free lunches of spareribs and enchiladas. The saloon continued to prosper even after the gold rush but when prohibition and stiff laws kept them from selling liquor, the saloon eventually closed leaving behind a colorful history that was often documented in the Daily News.

Yes, there is much more to Skagway that I'm sure we didn't uncover. Guess we will have to put it on our list of to redo.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Port of Call - Skagway, Alaska

Skagway in 1897 was filled with throngs of gold seekers. It began as just a jumble of tents but eventually by the turn of the century became a bustling town. While the Klondike Gold Rush only lasted a few years, it was a time for Skagway to blossom. It was a rough town and boasted 80 brothels the most famous of which was the Red Onion Saloon, a place you can visit today and hear the stories of old.

While there are lots of old looking new buildings there are still a lot of the historic sites left standing. One such is the Arctic Brotherhood Hall built in 1899 and the only remaining example of turn-of-the-century Alaska driftwood architecture.

If you are like us and have done the White Pass and Yukon Railway to the summit of White Pass and the bike ride down the mountain, you have a few other choices to explore that I hadn't remembered from before. There is an opportunity to visit the Yukon wilderness, travel to nearby Haines to see the bald eagles, check out the gold rush history and learn to pan for gold and enjoy some of the other outdoor adventures like horseback riding, hiking, river rafting, etc.

With another beautiful weather day at hand, we opted to just stroll around Skagway and were rewarded with a view of a stream full of salmon still trying to get up it. We found several historical markers and ventured into the Mascot Saloon, a part of the National Park there in Skagway. The Saloon was restored to what it looked like in the early 1900s. There are some interesting museum pieces on display of supplies and tools back in the late 1800s when the gold rush was on.

Skagway also has a small museum linked to its town hall. I was very impressed with the area's obvious push to preserve its history and share it with visitors. Next to the museum we noticed an old chimney standing in among a small grove of trees. Not far from it along the trail was a historical marker telling of its significance.

Harriet Pullen was the wife of a fur trader. She left her husband and four children in the state of Washington and ventured north for the gold rush to make her fortune. She arrived at Skagway with $7 in her pocket and took a job cooking for a crew of men for $3/day. She capitalized on her cooking talents and creativity pounding tin cans into pie tins to make pies to sell. Eventually she made enough money to buy a small cabin and send for her family.

When she fell and broke her arm, her gold prospecting dream ended but not her courage. She sent for the horses she'd left in Washington and used them to haul freight over the White Pass Trail. When the gold rush subsided, she opened a small boarding house.

Harriet met every tourist ship that docked in Skagway, entertained her guests with stories of the north and overwhelmed them with her motherly ways so much that she was dubbed "Mother of the North." With the help of her son and granddaughter, she kept the Pullen House open until her death in 1947. The house was eventually demolished in 1991 but the chimney still stands on the historic property.

Hats off to Harriet! She earned her money without opening a brothel.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Port of Call - Juneau, Alaska

Juneau was probably the Alaskan port that had changed more than any other from what I remembered in previous trips. The port was teeming with people from five cruise ships. It was reminiscent of the Caribbean in the prevalent commercialism. Booths lined the walkway from the ships with every tour opportunity imaginable and then as we meandered into the main part of town, we weaved our way through crowded sidewalks to find jewelry store after jewelry store each touting the best deals.

Originally we had planned to take the Mt. Roberts tram up to the top and have a look around. There are several trails up there and some views of surrounding mountains as well as downtown Juneau. When we saw the packed cabins as they ascended and descended over our heads and then measured the cost ($31/adult) against how much interest we really had in it, we opted to go on in search of a good cup of coffee.

Juneau, being the capital of Alaska, was almost certain to have a McDonald's we thought. We like McDonald's coffee and it would be a pleasant change from the awful coffee our ship served. We trudged on past the jewelry stores and stood a moment to look at the information on the billboards outside the Red Dog Saloon. The line was outside the door to get in. The saloon dates back to the old mining days and now offers lunch and dinner along with some great entertainment. It certainly looked like a popular place.

Sandwiched between a couple of jewelry stores, we found a popcorn store that was pumping wonderful smells out of its door. They also claimed to have good coffee. Everything lived up to the claims. We had found heaven. Caramel corn and wonderful drip coffee. We sat and munched through a whole bag of caramel corn and drank two cups of coffee.

Feeling satisfied with our outing, we started back through the crowded streets toward the ship. Stopping once again to watch the sardine-packed tram raise and lower its passengers. The weather had been beautiful all day. The air fresh. The breeze sweet. Not at all a bad day anyway you looked at it.

If you visit Juneau and don't want to put up with the crowds, there are plenty of opportunities to get out of town. Mendenhall Glacier is a great place to visit although with so many cruise ships in, you may find it a bit crowded as well. Still it is a sight to see. There are whale watching opportunities, a salmon hatchery that is very interesting, and a chance to learn more about dog sledding. And if you are truly adventuresome and don't mind helicopters this was the port from which Bob and his mother flew to land on a glacier.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Scenic Cruising - Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska

A misty pre dawn sky greeted us at 6 a.m. as we quickly dressed to go find some coffee and be awake for our scenic cruise up into the Tracy Arm Fjord. In the past, we had explored College Fjord and Glacier By National Park but this would be our first foray into Tracy Arm. I wondered if the Sawyer Glacier would be as spectacular as the Hubbard.

Cruising up a fjord to see a glacier is an exciting adventure. The Tracy Arm did not disappoint us as the morning progressed. The misty clouds dissipated and the sun began to grace the mountain tops surrounding us. It is amazing to see how a large cruise ship fits into a fjord. Part of the reason they can cruise a fjord is because a fjord is u-shaped, carved out millions of years ago by much larger glaciers than any we see today. The sides of the fjord go straight down so there are few shallow areas to navigate.

The stone face of the sides of the fjord showed the scarring of ages past from glaciers and weather. Several places were tinged with colors of minerals in the rock perhaps some of it iron which gave it a rusty look.

Anticipation grew as we rounded another bend and began to see more and larger chunks of ice. The closer we got to our end destination, the South Sawyer Glacier, the more ice floated by. Finally we could see up ahead the cool deep blue of the glacier where it met the water. Our ship got relatively close although distance is hard to estimate by sight when everything is on such a large scale.

While the Sawyer Glacier was not as large as the Hubbard, it was still very impressive. The ship barely made a sound as it slowed to almost a stop and allowed for a few minutes of viewing the glacier straight on from the port side. People spoke in hushed tones as they stood in awe of the natural marvel.

All too soon we needed to turn and begin our trip back out. The Star Princess was due to arrive shortly after us. We hurried to the back of the ship and watched the glacier disappear around a bend. We had seen only one small piece calve as we watched but it was still amazing to behold.

Shortly back up the fjord, we watched the Star Princess round a bend. Caught in the sunlight with the dramatic scenery surrounding it we felt that we were seeing a live travel poster for Alaska. Shouts echoed off the walls of the fjord as each ship greeted the other with cheers.

Lunch was had on the Lido deck in the Horizon Court so that we could continue to enjoy our passage through Tracy Arms. In a few hours, we would be making a right turn and heading for our next port of call in the afternoon, Juneau.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ketchikan's Totem Poles

Chief Kyan Totem Pole
As you wander the streets and guided trails of Ketchikan, Alaska, you will find yourself face to face with several totem poles. Each has a unique story behind it. And remember the old saying, "Low man on the totem pole?" It was actually a place of honor rather than what the saying suggests. So what is the story behind these works of art?

Totem poles were carved for several reasons: to honor deceased ancestors, record history, social events and oral traditions. They were never objects of worship.

One of my pictures shows the Chief Kyan Totem Pole. It is actually a replica of the original which was carved in the late 1800s. The figures on the totem pole are the Crane which represents the chief's wife, the Thunderbird representing his wife's clan, and the Brown Bear which was the crest of Chief George Kyan. His Tlingil name was Yaansein and he was a member of the Wolf Clan and the Tantakwaan Tribe. The chief sold 160 acres to Mike Martin whose fish camp and other business ventures led to the incorporation of Ketchikan.

Chief Johnson Totem Pole
Near the entrance to Creek Street is the Chief Johnson totem pole which stands 55 feet tall and is carved from a single western red cedar. It depicts the legend of Fog Woman and the creation of salmon. You can find the story at the website of Israel Shotridge who has done many of the replica carvings displayed outdoors in Ketchikan.

To view some of the original totem poles, you need to go the to Totem Heritage Center. There are also pictures there of the villages from which the originals were retrieved and now are preserved in climate controlled displays.

So next time someone tries to tell you that you're low man on the totem pole take it as a compliment. The most honored place is there for many reasons. It's the beginning of the story. It's the place where people get the best view of the carving. The master carver always did the bottom leaving his apprentices to work on the top carvings. And in my opinion, it's a place of strength. After all the low man is holding up the rest of the pole.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Port of Call - Ketchikan, Alaska

It was a sunny morning in Ketchikan, the salmon capital of the world. The town is nestled into the mountainside and colorful houses and buildings give a picture postcard feeling to the scene. Alaska is one of those places where the weather can be good one minute and overcast and rainy the next. With the sea and the mountains, clouds can form and appear to be caught by the pine trees that grace the steep hillsides.

Fortunately for us, none of that was happening as we began our walk through the town of Ketchikan. We headed for Creek Street where we knew we would see the Ketchikan Creek where so many salmon swim each year in their quest to find their spawning grounds. As we neared the beginning of the street, we could see the river/creek full of salmon. If you could have walked on their backs, you could have crossed the 20-30 foot width of the creek without ever getting your feet wet.
Further up Creek Street, there is a salmon ladder which if chosen by the salmon is a much easier way up the creek than by jumping the frothy rapids. The ladder is actually a series of chutes that the salmon can swim up through without expending as much energy and risking life and limb against the rocks. Still many were trying the traditional route, jumping up stream. We didn’t see any make it while we were watching.

The salmon are what originally attracted the Tingit people to this area where they established a summer fishing camp. In 1883 a man known as Snow opened the first salmon saltery and as they say, the rest is history.
In the late 19th century, gold and copper were discovered in the surrounding mountains and Ketchikan flourished as a place to replenish supplies. A timber industry was also established in the area and Ketchikan continued to grow to become Alaska’s sixth largest city.

There is an abundance of things to see and do in the area including floatplane tours (we sat and watched them take off and land all afternoon), fishing, kayaking, hiking, the Totem Bight Stat Park where you can glimpse the Tingit and Haida Indian cultures and learn about totem poles, Saxman Native Village-another place to see the Indian culture and art, the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, the Misty Fjords National Monument, the Great American Lumberjack Show, the George Inlet Lodge where you can learn about the salmon, and of course Creek Street. 
One last thing about Creek Street. It was infamous for its thirty or more brothels. Dolly’s House was one of them and is now a museum.  There is supposed to be a sign that indicated that man and salmon both headed in the same direction to spawn but somehow I missed it. Maybe on our next visit I’ll find it.

[Note: One of the things we discovered is that the port of calls in Alaska have all become much more commercialized than we remember. If you don’t get an excursion booked from your ship, there will be plenty of chances on shore.]


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Alaska Bound – Day At Sea

Approximately an hour from our departure at pier 91 in Seattle on board the Golden Princess, we began to see a thick white fog forming on the water’s surface. It wasn’t but a few minutes later that we were enveloped in white fog. The fog horn on the ship sounded ominously predicting a night of the mournful sound, a warning to other ships that we were here in the thick murky cloud.  Thankfully the next morning about an hour after sunrise, the fog began to lift and we even saw the promise of blue skies to come.

A relaxing day at sea is a great way to start any adventure. It’s a day to catch up on time changes and rest from the anxiety of airplane flights and get acquainted with the surroundings that will serve as home for the week. While we didn’t have a lot of that to work through since we had relaxed with family for three days in Seattle, we still were eager to explore the ship more and take part in activities.
Unfortunately, the ship’s activities were geared more to having a great shopping experience. The lectures were all about best buys and where to shop in the ports as well as on board the ship. If you were up for great sales, there were lots of end of the Alaska season sales going on.

The one bright spot we had looked for was an introductory lecture by the guest naturalist, a lady who grew up in Alaska and had been a teacher. She’d written a book about glaciers and Alaska but after hearing her first talk, we decided it wasn’t exactly what we were interested in. There were few facts and much more quoting of poetry. A little more history or science of the areas where we were to travel would have captured our attention.
When the sun came out, I took advantage of the Promenade deck to try to keep up with my walking regimen. About the fourth time around the ship, I suddenly spotted something in the water. Dolphins or porpoise, I wasn’t sure which but so many that it looked like the water was boiling. They were playing in the wake of the ship on the starboard side. Later, we would meet with our friends from the Cruise Critic forum and have the opportunity to see a pod of whales behind the ship. Wildlife already and it was just our first day!

We ended our evening with a great dinner at the specialty restaurant, Sabatini, and then a very nice show in the theater and went to bed early, eager to rise in the morning to our first port of call, Ketchikan.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Aboard The Golden Princess

When you combine the facts, it was a no-brainer to choose to take an Alaskan cruise this month. First off, the price was right starting at $799 for an 8 night cruise. Next, it was roundtrip from Seattle where we could spend time before and after with our grandkids (and their parents of course). Lastly, it was about to be our 45th wedding anniversary. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves aboard the Golden Princess and Alaska bound.

After three wonderful days in the Seattle area with our family, we drove down to the cruise terminal where the Golden Princess and the Oosterdam were docked and taking on passengers. The kids were excited to see the huge “boat” that we were to take to Alaska in order to find a baby black bear to bring back to them. More to come on that later. They spent the afternoon in Seattle and found a little park where they could watch our ship pull out of port at four.
Prepared with a pool towel of blue and white stripes and the number of the life boat we were standing under, we messaged them to watch for us. Unfortunately the sun was behind us and at such an angle that they really couldn’t see us. I could see them though through my camera lens and snapped at shot of them waving from the shore. We did garner some attention from other passengers as we waved our pool towel—knowing smiles from other grandparents as we explained.

This was our first time on the Golden Princess although we have sailed aboard many other Princess ships. We had upgraded to a mini suite which has a nice balcony and is a little larger room. After all, it was our anniversary trip. It comes with two TVs, one behind the other on the center console. One points at the bed and the other the sitting area. We knew from past experience that you have to be careful how you point the remote or you will turn one off and the other on and it can become a vicious cycle.
While in many ways the Golden Princess is like other Princess ships, there are a few changes to note. For one, we were amazed at how small the library is. The internet café takes up most of the space. There are no chairs for reading and very few books. I wondered if it was because so many people have eReaders now?
The Skywalkers Lounge/Nightclub is truly unique. It is the highest point on the ship for passengers. There is a glassed walkway leading to it with a moving sidewalk in the center which was not operational for some reason. Once in the lounge area however, you have a wonderful view off the back of the ship. While we were there our first day at sea meeting with Cruise Critic friends, we were able to see some whales. And then there were the dolphins. But I’ll save that story for the next post.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Glacier Walking--Or Is It Floating?

One of the most memorable excursions taken during our second Alaskan trip was a helicopter ride to a glacier. Okay, now here is where I have to admit that I chickened out. I have no fear of flying. I have a great fear of helicopters. So I passed on the opportunity but Bob and his mother shared the great experience.

They flew over some beautiful countryside and observed several glaciers from the air. Then the helicopter pilot, a female younger than our children, landed on one of the glaciers and the passengers were able to explore the surface on foot.

We had gotten close to a glacier on our way to the ship. The Worthington Glacier was on our bus route during our pre cruise land tour and we had stopped there to walk right up to it and touch it. But this was so much better--as I was told over and over. I'm sure it was and my favorite picture was taken of Bob and his mother by the helicopter pilot. They look like they are walking on water. Oh wait! They were. Frozen water.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Alaska Bound!

When the price is right and the port of embarkation holds the opportunity to visit with grandchildren, another trip to Alaska just feels right. Besides, we needed an opportunity to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. Alaska is one of our favorite cruise destinations. We have done two previous cruises, one in June and one in August. I prefer August. The colors of the tundra are beautiful much like the autumn colors of the trees in our area of the world.

On previous occasions we have taken a pre-cruise land tour. We prefer doing a land tour before a cruise because it gives us time to rest and relax on board the ship. Each of the land tours started in Fairbanks. There were always several options for exploring the area with the cruise company (for Alaska, we've always gone with Princess).

Our first land tour took us to the Eldorado Gold Mine in Fairbanks where we learned about the Gold Rush and how to pan for gold. We also took a river boat ride which introduced us to some of the local Indian culture and the late four time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher's champion sled dogs that are still raised there.

 Upon our return several years later, we opted for a trip to the Arctic Circle. This trip was the one we took in June. Who would have guessed that it would be 88 F at the Arctic Circle! It was a fun trip that included a stop to see the pipeline and of course the opportunity to step across the Circle's line of latitude and say we'd been to the Arctic.

Both land tours included time at Denali National Park--a not to be missed opportunity if you've never been there. The park does not allow vehicles unless you have a special camping permit so you tour the park on an old school bus. Lots to see including caribou, grizzlies, Dahl sheep, eagles, foxes, and a slew of other critters. If you get really lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Mt. McKinley. The mountain, also called Denali, has its own unique weather system and is shrouded in clouds and mist a good part of the time. On our last trip, we were privileged to see it as the clouds parted for a while and the sun shone brightly on the snow capped majesty.

The cruise of course is outstanding as well. It takes you in and out of several places to see glaciers and stops in intriguing places such as Skagway, Ketchikan, and Juneau. This trip we will just be doing the cruise portion since our pre-cruise tour is seeing the grandkids. While I like the wild life in Denali, the hugs and kisses from the grands are sweeter.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

America's Early Travel Writers

“The attention of a traveler, should be particularly turned, in the first place, to the various works of Nature, to mark the distinctions of the climates he may explore, and to offer such useful observations on the different productions as may occur.” William Bartram, Travels, 1791

Travel and travel writing in the 1700s was quite a bit different than it is today. A while ago, I ran across an account by Mark Twain of his transatlantic cruise and touring of Europe in the 1860s. It was truly interesting to read about crossing the Atlantic in a side wheeler. A few weeks ago I received our Colonial Williamsburg Journal and found a great article on early American travel writers (Seeing America First by Anthony Aveni, Summer 2013). The article gave me new insight into what those first travel writers were interested in reporting.

The article mentions Thomas Jefferson and William Bartram whose observations and meticulous note taking helped to establish the beginnings of American botany, geology, meteorology, etc. Bartram started collecting specimens at a young age probably to impress his father and help with the establishment of the first botanical garden in America in Philadelphia. Bartram’s travels through the colonies are chronicled in Travels through North and South, Georgia, East and West Florida published in 1791.

Aveni shares a quote from Bartram that shows how he viewed the world: “a glorious apartment of the boundless palace of the sovereign Creator, who furnished it with an infinite variety of animated muted scenes, inexpressibly beautiful and pleasing, equally free to the inspection and enjoyment of all his creatures.” How very different from Darwin’s perspective on his travels just a couple generations later.

Depending upon how you view Thomas Jefferson, you can see his intellectual side as well as the scientific side in his writings about his travels. His Notes on the State of Virginia written during the Revolution not only speak of the geological area but also of natural phenomena and nature’s species he found in exploring the area.

What a contrast these two are to today’s travel writers who talk more of adventure, unusual people, and of course the places to go and see and stay and, let us not forget, to eat.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Books For The Road - A Rating System For Books?

I read. A lot. By the end of this year I will probably have read well over 50 books. My goal is always a book a week. Sometimes I make it. Sometimes I don't. A lot depends upon the length of the books and the amount of travel time I have to fill on planes and in
airports where a lot of my reading gets done. If I were to count the books that I start and don't finish, the list would probably be much longer and I will have met my goal for the year by the end of summer. Why start and not finish? Because there are some books that just set my teeth on edge with their language, violence, graphic descriptions, and sex scenes which often don't have anything to lend to the story but sensationalism.

Movies have helped viewers to choose what they want to see with their ratings of G, PG, PG13, and R. X is not on the table for discussion. Not only do they have the general rating but now they explain briefly why the movie earned the rating so you can choose to put up with bad language or sexual innuendo or references to drugs. It surely helps.

Books are a whole different ballgame though. While the online stores allow you to take a peek inside and the brick and mortar stores allow for browsing, there is not a good way to tell what you might discover midway through or in one case, as I discovered, almost to the end. I was reading what was a good mystery and all of a sudden the author decided that some graphic sex scenes were needed. They had nothing to do with the mystery or even the characters' relationships. I ended up returning the borrowed ebook to the library thankful that I hadn't spent money on it.

What do you think? Should books have a rating system to help us choose what to read? Would it be effective? Or would it be considered censorship?

How do you choose your books for the road?

Friday, September 06, 2013

Fall Foliage Time - Tour Ideas

A few days ago I posted some pictures of a couple of places where I could already see leaves beginning to take on some fall color. While peak season in Ohio won't come until the first week or two of October, other places where autumn reigns supreme will begin to show the glorious golds, reds, and oranges a little sooner.

A few years ago we did a driving tour late September into the first week of October. We began in Massachusetts, flew in and rented a car, then drove up the coast toward Maine. The trees were becoming quite colorful at that point and we enjoyed the seaside and the Maine lobster. But when we turned inward toward Vermont and New Hampshire we were astounded at the magnificent displays of autumn. Each state and area had different types of trees which painted the countryside with a variety of color. The colors were so brilliant when we reached the mountains in New Hampshire that they were still a sight to behold even in the rain.

If you decide to do a drive, be sure to have your reservations made ahead. It's probably the most popular time to visit the area and you may find yourself sleeping in the car if you don't plan ahead. I found a great site that has several driving tours mapped out of the Northeast for fall foliage viewing. It's called Yankee Foliage .com.  There are also maps that show peak times for viewing.

Another way to enjoy the colors of autumn is with a cruise up the coast and into Canada. Many of the mainstream cruise lines offer cruises in late September and into October that will get you into some great colorful areas and you can leave the driving. . .make that the sailing to them.

New Hampshire has some fall foliage train tours that look interesting. I'm not fond of travel by train but for those who enjoy a train ride through scenic areas, this could be for you.

If you've never had the opportunity to see the autumn colors, plan to take some travel time to experience the fall foliage, the smell of autumn leaves, the taste of apple cider, crisp fresh air and the sighting of an occasional moose.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

What Is A World Heritage Site?

Iguazu Falls, A World Heritage Site
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, had its beginnings in the mid 1940s.  Shortly after the United Nations officially came into existence,a conference was held with 44 participating countries whose delegates decided to create an organization that would promote a culture of peace, establish an "intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind," and prevent another world war. When the conference ended on November 16, 1945, 37 of the participating countries founded UNESCO.

UNESCO operates with several themes one of which involves the World Heritage Center which identifies sites to be protected all over the world in an effort to promote the maintenance of cultural, historic and/or natural heritage in those places for others to see. Examples are the Pyramids of Giza, Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Peru's Machu Picchu.

In all there are 981 sites that the World Heritage Committee has deemed to have outstanding universal value. Among other criteria, World Heritage Sites must exhibit significant historical value, or represent a masterpiece of creative human genius, or be an outstanding representation of a natural phenomenon. Countries that have signed the World Heritage Convention, pledging to protect and preserve their sites may nominate sites for consideration by the committee. Once a year, the members meet and go over the nominations and either approve or defer selection for further study.

Dubrovnik, Croatia
When an area is threatened due to nature or progress or whatever else man may instill, the Heritage Site is put on a danger list and monies are given to help promote restoration and preservation. Venice seems to be an ongoing project since the site is so prone to flooding. One of the places we have visited that has been a success story is the Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia. The ‘pearl of the Adriatic’, dotted with beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings had withstood the passage of centuries and survived several earthquakes. It was put on the List of World Heritage in Danger when heavy artillery fire seriously damaged it in late 1991. With UNESCO providing technical advice and financial assistance, the Croatian Government restored the facades of the Franciscan and Dominican cloisters, repaired roofs and rebuilt palaces. By December 1998, it became possible to remove the city from the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Nothing is more disturbing than to visit places with a history where evidence of historical significance has been wiped out because of uprisings, natural disasters, war, etc. We can only hope that this effort to preserve our history will continue to provide generations to come with our story.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Travel Prep - Lighten Up!

In addition to the number of bags you carry on your trip you also need to be conscious of how heavy those bags are. Generally travel within the U.S. limits the weight of each piece of luggage to 50 pounds or less. Anything more and you could be charged $200 for the overage. Overseas travel is a little more lenient but check with your airline to be sure.

Aside from the overweight charges you don't really want to be lugging around a heavy suitcase especially if you are traveling on your own. Trust me. Moving from one place to another on Europe's trains or subways is more of a challenge than you might want to take on if you are dragging a heavy suitcase. Many stations have long sets of steps up and down and very few elevators or even escalators.

So, lighten up! Here are a few ideas:

  • Wear your heavy shoes. Those are usually your walking shoes anyway. 
  • While those toiletry organizers are lovely, they also can add a lot of extra weight. Ziploc bags work well and are a lot lighter.
  • Buy sample sized toiletries or plan to use what the hotels/ B&Bs offer you instead of packing shampoo and conditioner and lotion. 
  • A reading device such as Kindle, Nook, iPad or Surface will be a better choice than carrying three or four books for your reading along the way. 
  • Plan to pack less clothes and do laundry or hand washing along the way.
  • If you think you will need some warmer outerwear, either plan on wearing layers or find some lightweight outerwear that will serve you well and not weigh you down.
  • If you are a souvenir shopper see if you can't keep from accumulating too many to carry by using FedEx, UPS, or a postal service to ship those souvenirs home. Often the places you purchase from will offer to ship for you.
And the handiest gadget we have found for our travels is a luggage scale. Online or at a AAA travel store, you will find handheld luggage scales that clip onto the handle of your suitcase and when you lift, it will give you the weight of your packed suitcase. The gadget weighs very little and packs away into the corner of your suitcase. I've seen them cost anywhere from $15 to $45.
It has saved us more times than not from having to redistribute weight from one suitcase to another at the check in counter in the airport.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Travel Prep - Oh, Those To-Pack Lists!

Several years ago Bob and I were standing in line behind another couple about our age who were obviously about to go on a cruise. Their luggage had cruise tags on them for the cruise line that would take them from baggage claim to the ship. Each had a suitcase that was medium sized, probably 25 inchers. Bob and I looked at each other and the three suitcases we were toting. We were proud that we'd gotten our cruise stuff into three suitcases instead of four.

Finally Bob could stand it no longer and he asked, "How did you manage to get all your stuff for a cruise into two suitcases?"

"It took a while," the gentleman answered. "We've done quite a few cruises and finally took to putting a safety pin on each item that we packed. Each time we wore something we took the pin off. Anything we took home with a safety pin still on it we knew to leave at home the next time."

It made sense! While we never tried the safety pin method, we have learned that we can survive with a lot less--even on an extended travel itinerary. Believe it or not there are plenty of places to do laundry and/or get it done. Considering the cost of extra bags charged by the airlines, it works out to be a lot cheaper to take less and spend a little time doing laundry. Check out my post from when we were planning our Australia trip.

To stream line our packing which usually gets done a day before we leave, I have several different lists for the different types of trips we take. One list is for cruising. Another for warm weather travel and another for colder climates. Cruising calls for some nicer outfits for dinner but for other trips, we can get by with one smart casual outfit for those occasions where we may find ourselves wanting to catch dinner at a nicer restaurant.

If you'd like your own list, Independent Traveler has a great place to start with an interactive packing list you can customize it to your own needs. There is a lot more on their list than you may need but as you consider your preferences, you can pare it down to something a bit more workable. Remember that many of the places you stay will provide toiletries and some of those gadgets that you just think you absolutely can't get along without will
be extra baggage. After all, this is time to enjoy the destination the video games can wait until you get home.

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