"" Writer's Wanderings: April 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

10 Tips For Cruisers - New and Experienced

Already booked or just thinking about it? Whether you are new to cruising or have a couple dozen under your belt, there are always new tips that can help to make your cruise experience a little easier and more fun. Here's ten tips I found.

Do your homework before you cruise. Search online for the ports you will be visiting and find out what there is to see and do. Don't just rely on what the cruise line has to offer for excursions. If you're a seasoned traveler, you may want to make you own way through the port to see things but if not, certainly knowing ahead of time what you might want to do will help you make good choices if you take a ship's excursion.

Plan your own ship tour. Most cruise lines give you a little booklet in your room that shows the layout of the ship. Unfortunately it is usually a cross section of the ship which is really hard (at least for me) to figure out. The deck plans on the cruise line's website can be copied and printed out before you go. Then you can easily chart a tour of your own on your own time during embarkation day.

Pack a disposable rain poncho or two. No one wants to think about a rainy day on vacation but it does happen and you don't want to let a little rain spoil your day in port. Remember also that most excursions from the ship will go rain or shine.

Take along a power strip. Just a small one. It will help you with charging all those electronics. Most staterooms only have a couple of easily accessible outlets.

A thermal mug is a great idea. Often you can buy one of these on the ship as a souvenir. You can buy coffee at the coffee bars and have a lid on your cup but if you want to save some money and carry around your coffee or tea, take along a thermal mug and fill it at the buffet or wherever they have the free coffee set up.

Hate loud music? Pack some earplugs. Either on board entertainment venues are lowering the decibels or my hearing has lessened but rather than take a chance of having to leave the theater (I find it physically painful if it's too loud) I buy some soft earplugs and keep them handy.

Tuck in a yellow highlighter when you pack. Every cruise line has a daily newsletter that is usually delivered in the evening for the next day. It's nice to highlight the things you don't want to miss and then tuck that page into a pocket for reference during the day.

Love the food? Exercise! Walk around the outside deck. Visit the gym. Take the steps instead of the elevator. Move. 'Nuf said.

Pack light. I know. Easy for me to say. Remember you pay extra at the airlines for baggage. It may be more economical and certainly easier to lug less. Some ships have self-serve laundries and all offer laundry services for a fee which may work out to be less than paying for an extra suitcase.

Check on those bar and spa gratuities! Whether you are buying a soft drink or an alcoholic drink, there is always an automatic gratuity. If you want to add more for great service, go ahead but  remember that there is usually 15% automatically added to your tab. That often applies to the spa too. I got caught on that. I didn't pay attention and added my own gratuity which doubled it. The attendant was extremely friendly as I left. Same goes for your room gratuities. They are almost all automatically added nowadays.

Is that ten already? Just one more. Pack a good book like Death Among the Deckchairs.

What your best tip?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Books For The Road - Sycamore Row by John Grisham

John Grisham is known for his legal thrillers. While I wouldn't call Sycamore Row a thriller, it was a good look into the world of last wills and testaments all set against the background of old racial feelings in the South. This story picks up after the case of Carl Lee Hailey in one of his earlier books, A Time To Kill.

Jack Brigance is the young lawyer who successfully defended Hailey and is now involved with a handwritten will mailed to him by another resident of Clanton, Mississippi. Seth Hubbard has written a will revoking a previous one that left his considerable estate to his children and asks that Brigance, at all costs, see that his wishes to leave the bulk of his estate to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang, be carried out. As expected it turns ugly as the children contest the handwritten will.

The story evolves nicely and keeps you reading mainly to ask why would Hubbard do such a thing? The surprising answer comes at the end.

It's a good Grisham read and certainly one that will help to pass the time as you travel the miles.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Fie, Fi, Fo, Fum, Grandma and Grandpa Are Here!

[Here is an article I wrote for my grandparenting column a couple of years ago. I thought it would be fun to share it here.]

This past Christmas we took our biannual holiday cruise and planned it so that we could visit a bit with our Florida grands before the trip and visit with our Seattle grands after the cruise. Everything was going well until our cruise ship was delayed in disembarking passengers in San Diego and we missed our flight to Seattle. We were put on standby and waited through three flights finally getting on the last flight out at midnight. That got us into Seattle at 2 a.m.

Thankfully our son did not have to work the next day and he waited up for us and let us in. The kids were fast asleep and had no idea when we were going to arrive. The next morning our granddaughter got up and announced, “Fie, Fi, Fo, Fum! Grandma and Grandpa are here! I can smell ‘em.”

That sent my husband to wondering if his deodorant wasn’t working any more.

When our son moved his family to Seattle and had the audacity to take our grandkids with him, he and his wife sought a house that had a spare room, an in-law suite of sorts. They planned to ask the grandparents to visit as much as was possible. It’s very nice. We have our own bathroom and it is downstairs away from the main living area so if we need “time out” we can take it.

Our Florida kids are not as fortunate. The depressed housing market has trapped them in a small townhouse that is beginning to bulge at the seams with three kids and a rambunctious dog. When we visit them, we stay at a Hampton Inn that is nearby. It works out well for us because we can bring the grands to the hotel and make use of the pool. They love it and it gives us a chance to give Mom a little free time as well.

The third set of grands don’t live very far from us—about 2 ½ hours drive. But they live in the city where my husband’s family lives as well. We used to go and stay with one or the other but then felt obligated to visit more with the host and felt that we were neglecting the others. We solved it by staying at a Marriott Courtyard that has become “home away from home.” Again, there is a pool that the grands enjoy and we can make the rounds visiting each relative and staying for only a short time so that we can see everyone.

That’s what works for us. What works for you? Perhaps you don’t have a distance problem where it requires an overnight stay but if you do, consider carefully what will work best for all concerned. Depending upon your stamina and patience and budget and available bed space, you may choose to stay at your children’s home. If you do, be aware that your grandkids just might “sniff” you out.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

On The Bucket List - The Northern Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Do You Survive Those Long Flights?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

World Cruise - Choosing Excursions: African Safari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Can You Be Kicked Off A Cruise Ship?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Faster Than A Speeding Nerf Ball

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Books For The Road - Two by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford has captured me. His first book, Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet was good and I wondered if another book would match the sensitivity and depth of that. Songs Of Willow Frost did just that.

Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet is a story that takes place in Seattle mostly during World War II. It is a glimpse into a bit of dark history for our country--the interment of Japanese Americans. Belongings found by the new owner of the Panama Hotel in Seattle's old Japantown send Henry Lee down a path of memories of his childhood and his first love. As the description on Amazon reads, "Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart."

Songs Of Willow Frost is the story of a young orphaned Chinese boy who discovers his mother has not died but left him with an orphanage where he is not apt to find an adoptive family because of his race. The two meet and we glimpse the life of his mother as well as she seeks love and forgiveness from her son. Told against the backdrop of the Great Depression and located in Seattle, Ford also captures the desperate times and the historical descriptions of the locale. Again, another touching story.

Now I am off to see what else he might have written or what may be coming that I can look forward to. There are more opportunities in my future for a good book for the road.

Monday, April 14, 2014

World Cruise - Watering My Plants for 108 Days?

My indoor plants have survived up to five weeks of our absence and a lot of abuse from neglect even when we're home but I'm not sure about three and a half months without a drink of water during a time when the house is even drier because of the furnace running. So I'm on a quest to find the best way to preserve them without having to ask someone in to water them.

I came across all sorts of suggestions online. Some of them quite pricey. The one that would probably work best for the time we're gone is an electronic watering system that waters up to 20 houseplants. Unfortunately it costs anywhere from $75-95 depending upon who you order from. For that amount of money I could replace all my plants.

There are fancy globes that you fill and invert but those only last 3-5 days. Homemade ones can last a little longer if you use a larger plastic bottle and invert it into wet soil but they're not guaranteed to work well either and certainly not for 108 days.

A makeshift greenhouse from a clear plastic bag sounds more reasonable as it would keep moisture in. That would work well for the smaller plants. My large ficus tree would need a plastic bag put around the container rather than the whole tree but still, it's a tough character and survives a lot of neglect although it complains by dropping leaves.

Another suggestion that might be workable is to fold a bath towel length-wise, lay it in the bathtub and place bricks along it. Plants would be set on the bricks and the tub filled with enough water to cover the bricks. Plants would absorb moisture through the holes in the bottom of the pots. For our lengthy absence, I would let the faucet drip to keep water in the tub. Trouble is, my pots don't have drain holes. So I may combine this idea with the next. A water wick.

I've tried this before and it worked but only for a short time since I did it with a bottle of water and a small wick. You place a saturated wick into moist soil at one end and stick the other into a container of water. The water wicks up and into the soil.

Here are two links to some of these suggestions for watering indoor plants while on vacation:

Methods for Watering Indoor Plants While on Vacation

The only thing I can say is, thank goodness I don't have to worry about the container plants outside. They'll probably be covered in snow most of the time. Do you have any other suggestions for watering indoor plants besides having someone stop in?

Friday, April 11, 2014

What Do You Miss Away From Home?

"Don't you miss your own bed?' is a question we often get when people realize how much we travel and for how long. I rarely miss my own bed but what I do miss is my home shower. Like Goldilocks, I stand under the warm steady stream and realize, it's just right.

Showers come in all sizes and methods of delivery. The condo we've rented in Florida several times has a rain shower head that streams water down on you. It's about 10 inched in diameter and while you get the gentle feeling of a rain shower, you don't get the massaging effect of streaming water.

We've had showers that have too little pressure and others that scare you when they start up. Water too hot. Water too cold. Water too soft. Water too hard. Faucets that take an engineer to figure out when it comes to turning them on. (Thankfully I travel with one.) And mechanical boxes that produce hot water as you shower.

There have been huge walk-in showers that could comfortably fit a half dozen people in them and showers so small you could just about turn around in them. Those smaller ones have sometimes had shower curtains that get very intimate with you, clinging to you as if they were a part of your skin.

And speaking of shower curtains. . .Do any of you old enough to have seen Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock still feel creepy in a motel that has a shower curtain? I was twelve when I saw the movie and all that chocolate syrup blood but the images stuck with me forever. Yes, definitely one of the most dramatic moments in movie-making.

So, what do you miss most away from home? What do you come back to that makes you say, "Ah, just right."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Where Will You Rest Your Head Tonight?

On one of our trips to Australia a few years ago we met up with some Brits who were touring on their own for a month as we were. We compared notes and places we'd been and in the process discovered that they were seat-of-the-pants type travelers. They told us that they had made reservations for a room on their first night and for their last night but had decided to chance it on all the other nights of their stay in Australia.

It seems it worked well for them most of the time but they did warn us off of one hotel in Alice Springs where they'd had a rough night. Thankfully we'd already booked somewhere else. As a matter of fact we'd booked all of our nights months before we arrived in Australia. Why? Well, there's a story that goes with that. . .

Years ago while we still had young children--at that point three boys, we set off for Niagara Falls, Canada for a summer holiday. It was a Friday night. We weren't supposed to leave until Saturday but we were feeling adventurous and decided to start driving and stop along the way for the night.

We stopped several places only to be turned away as everything seemed to be filled. There was some kind of big car show and several other activities that filled hotels and motels with people all along I-90 from Cleveland to Erie, PA. We raced a van to the last room left in Erie and lost. Rather than keep driving further, Bob decided to turn around and head back home--about a two drive.

We did find one motel that had a vacancy but it looked like it could have sported a Bates Motel sign. There was no way I was putting my children into something that dilapidated. We drove on.

At the Ohio/Pa border Bob decided it was crazy to drive all the way home so we stopped at a rest stop full of semi trucks. We folded down the back seat, grabbed beach towels to use as blankets and stretched out in the back of our station wagon for a restless night of sleep. The next morning we shared bathroom privileges with the truck drivers and drove bleary eyed the rest of the way to Niagara Falls.

Any time it has been suggested that we take our chances and not book ahead, I just say, "Niagara Falls" and Bob makes the reservations. We did decide we might get out of our comfort zone this last road trip home from Florida. We just made our first night reservation--only to get up the next morning and make reservations for the next place along the way. Our adventurous spirit gave way to our desire to be sure to have a place to rest our heads.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

World Cruise - Around the World in 108 Days

One of our goals in our travel adventure is to completely circumnavigate the globe. We have almost done it with the 53 cruises we've taken so far but there are gaps. That's what made the Crystal Cruises world cruise itinerary so attractive. It completely circumnavigates the globe and all in the southern hemisphere which means not having to pack too many seasonal clothes. Many so called world cruises just concentrate on a large area of the globe but not circumnavigation.

Other things that sold us on this particular cruise is that while we've set foot on the continent of Africa, it was just for a short visit to Tangiers in Morocco. The cruise itinerary has us stopping in several ports on the African coast including Cape Town South Africa. And who wouldn't want to stop at Madagascar and watch the lemurs sing "You got to move it, move it!" Just kidding!!! But we do stop there.

On the bucket list also was a cruise up the Amazon. This cruise will take care of that as well as Pitcairn (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) and Easter Island.

There are many places we stop that we've visited before but it will give us opportunity to do some things we missed. These are the ports of call:
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Santa Marta, Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia
Panama Canal transit
Manta, Ecuador
Guayaquil, Ecuador
Salaverry, Peru
Lima/Callao, Peru
Easter Island, Chile
Pitcairn Island (cruise by)
Papeete, Tahiti
Bora Bora, Society Islands
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Auckland, New Zealand (2 nights)
Tauranga, New Zealand (overnight)
Napier, New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand
Christchurch/Akaroa, New Zealand
Dunedin, New Zealand
Cruising the sounds of New Zealand
Sydney Australia
Melbourne, Australia (overnight)
Adelaide, Australia
Albany, Australia
Perth/Fremantle, Australia (overnight)
Mauritius/Port Louis, Republic of Mauritius
St-Denis, Reunion (actually a part of France)
Ambodifotatra, Madagascar
Taolanaro, Madagascar
Maputo, Mozambique
Richards Bay, South Africa
Durban, South Africa
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa (2 nights)
Montevideo, Uruguay
Buenos Aires, Argentina (overnight)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (overnight)
Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
Macapa, Brazil
Alter do Chao, Brazil
Santrem, Brazil (Amazon river)
Devil's Island, Iles du Salut, French Guiana
Barbados/Bridgetown, British West Indies
Turks & Caicos/Grand Turk
Miami and home. . .

Now between some of those ports are one to six days at sea--time enough to rest up for the next great port and get some laundry done, learn a new language, learn to play bridge or a keyboard, listen to great lecturers and take in some great entertainment.

And now that we have this itinerary and our payments complete, it's time to start booking excursions. To start, an African safari!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Books For The Road - Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

It started in the 1850s when thousands of orphaned and abandoned children roamed the streets of New York City as a means of offering them a better life. Trains full of children were sent by the newly founded Children's Aid Society to areas out in the country as far as Arkansas, Minnesota, and states west to find couples and families who would take them in and raise them as their own. Some children fared well. Others were chosen because they could work the farms much as an indentured servant might. Known as the Orphan Trains, it became quite controversial but still was a way to get the children, many who were very young, off the streets and into places where they would hopefully get a better start in life.

It is with this backdrop that Christina Baker Kline has written her novel, Orphan Train. Here's the back cover blurb:

Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse...

As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

It is a touching tale and fascinating look at this snippet of history. A great book for the road--or the train.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Destination Cleveland, OH -- And Beyond

Neil Zurcher is a familiar name to Clevelanders who have been around for a while. He has been a journalist in the area working mostly on television and his travel reports aptly named One Tank Trips have highlighted much of Ohio's familiar and unfamiliar points of interest. Zurcher has put over a million miles of road under his tires in 25 years of travel reporting and is now blogging about his travels. It's a great resource if you are looking for some interesting places to visit beyond the Cleveland area. Here's some of what I came up with.

To the west of Cleveland are the Lake Erie Islands, a great day trip to either South Bass and the town of Put In Bay or to Kelley's Island. Both are reached by ferries or small plane. Also in the Sandusky area is the large amusement park, Cedar Point, known for its collection of thrilling roller coasters. There are also plenty of places to charter a fishing trip to try your luck at catching some of Lake Erie's favorite walleye and perch.

To the south near Akron is Stan Hywett Hall and Gardens built by the Sieberling family of Goodyear fame and the Football Hall of Fame in Canton. A little further down I-77 and you can exit to Sugarcreek and Millersburg. The area between the two cities is dubbed Amish Country. Actually Holmes County is known for its Amish and Mennonite settlements. Lots of good food and great shopping for all things handmade.

To the east is the Holden Arboretum. Here you will find wonderful blooming gardens most anytime Spring through Fall and beautiful wintry scenes in the cold months. Also out in this direction is Lake Metroparks Farm where you can even milk a cow if you care to.

Okay, enough for now. I've only touched the surface. Here's hoping a few of you catch Cleveland fever, stop by and then stay longer to see the rest of what Ohio has to offer.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Destination Cleveland, OH - Stay the week!

Tuesday I posted an itinerary for a weekend stay in Cleveland. There is so much to do. Why not stay the week? The best directions for exploring more are East, West, and South--unless of course, you want to go to Canada in which case you'd need to find a boat and head North.

To the East:
The University Circle area near Case Western Reserve University is where the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Institute of Music are located along with the Cleveland Botanical Gardens and the Cleveland Children's Museum. Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Glidden House, a mansion built in 1901 by the Glidden family of paint fame. The mansion is a bed and breakfast that would be an attractive place to locate to explore this area.

A little farther out Euclid Ave. you will find the entrance to Lake View Cemetery where President Garfield's tomb and monument are. Climb to the top for a great view of the area. Our visit a while back was on a beautiful spring.

To the West:
If you are craving some outdoor activity, you might try the Rocky River Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks. The Metropark system actually circles the outskirts of the city into the suburbs and forms what is affectionately known as the Emerald Necklace. Or make a visit to our Cleveland Zoo which is also a part of the Metroparks. Our elephant exhibit and the veterinary facilities are especially interesting as well as the Rainforest building where you can step inside to a tropical climate any time of the year.

Looking to shop? Crocker Park in Westlake is a unique development of stores and restaurants and soon to be residential buildings.

To the South:
Right at Cleveland's back door is one of the most visited national parks in the country, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The historic Ohio & Erie Canal runs through the valley and the old towpath where the mules walked to pull the barges up and down the canal has been transformed into a wonderful walking/biking path. There are lots of places to explore along the way between Cleveland and Akron and beautiful scenes to take in along the Cuyahoga river and the canal including wildlife. During the summer, reenactments of the canal locks are done on weekends.

Through the park and the valley between Independence and Akron runs the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. They offer scenic rides as well as themed rides including a wine train and a whodunit adventure. Smile at the trainmen. One of them is my husband. In late November and December up until Christmas, the train becomes the Polar Express. Smile at the elves. One of them is me!

That's only a small part of what is in the area. There are lots more little museums, nature centers, entertainment venues--including many community theaters. Did you know that that Chagrin Valley Little Theater has had many famous actors tread its stage including Tim Conway who grew up in Chagrin Falls? Don't miss out on Little Italy and the other Cleveland neighborhoods that make Cleveland so unique. And if you have a little more time to spend in the area, let me tell you about what's within a 2 hour drive--tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Destination - Cleveland, Ohio, The Weekend

This venture turned out to be a little more difficult than I imagined. There's really too much to do in Cleveland for just a weekend but here's my stab at it.

Where to stay?
For a weekend, I would suggest a downtown hotel. There are lots to choose from to fit most budgets. If it were me, and only a weekend, I'd splurge on something like the Ritz Carlton at the Avenue or the Renaissance right off Public Square. (My husband gasps!) Then there's the Wyndam at Playhouse Square or for more conventional budgets, there is also a Holiday Inn Express and a Hampton Inn among others. Check out Tripadvisor to learn more about pricing and what others thought of the hotels.

Assuming you arrive in the late afternoon plan on a nice dinner at one of our finer restaurants. Some suggestions: Cibreo's (Italian and right across from theaters. Reservations!!), Cowell & Hubbard (French/American), or District (American, Mediterranean, Seafood). All of these are right in the theater district and walking distance to your evening entertainment--a musical or play.

Playhouse Square on Euclid Ave between 14th and 17th Streets is in my opinion Cleveland's gem. It is the nation's second largest theater complex only surpassed by Lincoln Center in NYC and is the world's largest theater restoration project. Five majestic theaters built in the 1920s have all been restored to their grandeur and have created a wonderful entertainment center. A couple of years ago, The Cleveland Playhouse also moved to this area so there are lots of entertainment options to choose from. [FYI George Burns and Gracie Allen were married in the Palace Theater in 1926]

The theaters usually empty out around 10 and if you are still up for some more entertainment or a little after-the-show snacking, there is the Horseshoe Casino located on Public Square or perhaps a visit to the East Fourth Street neighborhood which is a pedestrian area with all sorts of coffee shops, bars, restaurants, comedy entertainment, and live music. This is a great spot during the day too especially if weather permits sitting outside.

If this is the first Saturday of the month, head to Playhouse Square again after breakfast. From 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. tours depart from the State Theater lobby and you will get a look at all the beautiful theaters plus a peek behind the scenes. The tour lasts for 1 1/2 hours, the memories a lifetime. If you don't mind the cost, a private tour can be arranged for any day of the week for $90.

Now you're probably hungry. Head over to another Cleveland gem, the West Side Market on West 25th Street. Here is your chance to sample and see a huge collection of vendors, many of whose families have been there for generations, who sell all sorts of meats, vegetables, pastries, delicacies, ethnic foods, etc. and etc. Sample your way through or get a sandwich or a pastry to try.

From the market, find your way to the Nautica Complex not too far from there along the Cuyahoga River. In the old powerhouse, you will find Cleveland's new aquarium. It takes about an hour to go through the aquarium if you like and you could do that either before or after your Lolly the Trolley City Sight-Seeing tour. The Trolley tour is either a one hour or two and a half hour tour. The longer makes one stop at the Rockefeller Greenhouse. They offer several specialty tours including one that centers around one of our more colorful Cleveland characters, Elliot Ness.

For your evening may I suggest a dinner cruise? We have a couple of choices. The Nautica Queen features a river/lake cruise with a dinner buffet and the Goodtime III has a dinner cruise with dancing.

Another option for the evening is to check what is going on at the Nautica Entertainment Complex or book your evening at the Hilarities 4th Street Theater or the House of Blues. Want something a little more classical and elegant? Check to see what the Cleveland Orchestra has to offer at Severance Hall or out a little south of the city in the open air concerts at Blossom Music Center.

Choose to sleep in or answer the call to worship at either historical St. John's Cathedral that dates back to 1848 or the Old Stone Church near Public Square which dates back to 1838.

Spend the rest of your morning exploring the Rock N roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Then, if it's baseball season, do my favorite thing: take in a ballgame at Progressive Field. It's a great ballpark and the Indians are showing lots of promise.

Maps are available at the Positively Cleveland website and there is an information center in Cleveland's landmark building, the Terminal Tower right on Public Square. There is so much more tucked into nooks and crannies in the city: the Arcade, the Police Museum, the Soldier's Memorial on the Square, Voinivich Park, the Flats, the Warehouse District, First Energy Stadium (Browns), Quicken Loans Arena (Cavaliers), Ohio City. It would take several weekends to cover it all. But if you have more time and want to get out of the downtown area, there is lots more to explore. Stay tuned.

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