"" Writer's Wanderings: August 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

It's Embarkation Day! What to do?

The long awaited day has arrived and you set foot on the deck of the ship that will be your home for the next week, ten days, two weeks. What do you do to get your cruise started off on the right foot? We have been on 52 cruises as I write this and in doing so have pretty much established a routine. You may not want to do what we do but here are some suggestions you might want to consider.

If you board any time before one in the afternoon, chances are your stateroom will not be ready. Most likely you will be directed to the buffet which will be the busiest place on the ship. A good alternative is to look for the grill or the place where the pizza is made. It will be less crazy and you can relax with your lunch usually on a back deck or next to the pool.

Beware of the fancy drinks in the souvenir glasses. You're paying extra for the glass and you really don't want to have to pack that baby when there are so many other nice souvenirs to get along the way. Instead get yourself something to drink you know you will enjoy or try the fancy drink in a less fancy glass. It is available if you insist.

As soon as you can get to your room to drop your carry-ons, take a picture of your room while it's still pristine and check out the day's activities you will find on the ship's newsletter that should be on your bed or desk in your room. Then take some time to explore the ship. We like to start at the top (taking the elevator up) and then walking the length of the ship on each deck with public areas and going down the steps to the next. I look at it as using up calories to justify dessert at dinner.

If you are going to want a night or two in the specialty restaurants and haven't already booked ahead online, do so now. It's easier to cancel than it is to try to get a reservation once the ship is on its way. The same applies to those spa and beauty appointments you might want.

You will almost certainly be inundated with opportunities to buy a soda card, a wine package, and perhaps a coffee card if the ship has a special coffee shop. They can be good bargains if you consume enough. We have always found that the soda card doesn't work for us. There's no way we can drink enough diet Coke to justify the cost. Some, especially those with children on board may find it feasible for them.

Take time to find the internet lab and look at the packages available to you. Many cruise lines offer sail away specials. Be sure to check out my post on using the internet efficiently. And while we are on the topic, you might want to turn off your data roaming on your phone or you may find your next bill higher than you like.

Don't miss the emergency drill. It is mandatory on all ships no matter how many times you have sailed. It has gotten a little nicer now that most cruise lines don't require you to wear your life jacket to the drill. Too many people were tripping on the straps after taking them off to return to their rooms.

The first night is always casual in the dining room so unless you really need a lot of time to get ready for dinner, watch the sail away and enjoy the party. Fort Lauderdale is an especially fun sail away. As you pass the high rise condos along the channel people wave arms and flags from balconies and blow air horns.

That sounds like a lot but really doesn't take all that long. Chose what you think will help you but don't stress out trying to do it all. This is supposed to be relaxing. So relax! I remember the first cruise we took. We thought we had to do it all and came home more tired than
when we left. We've learned to chill--a lot.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Inside Stateroom, Ocean View, Veranda? How To Choose

Ocean View Stateroom
Probably the most important factor that determines which stateroom you choose is your cruise trip budget. If you don't cruise often, you may decide to spend a little more and choose a veranda room. If you are lured by the ridiculously low priced fares offered on occassion (often way less than $100/night) for an inside stateroom, you might book that and hope for an upgrade or a low priced incentive to upgrade. Here are some insights from our cruise experience ( 52 and counting).

When we first started cruising, we opted for the inside staterooms. Our budget didn't stretch far enough for the higher priced. We thoroughly enjoyed those cruises. After all, what's not to like about a cruise? We enjoyed all the amenities that everyone else did on the ship and never felt deprived of services. Those days we spent little time in our room and more time out on excursions or enjoying the activities on deck. I remember one Alaska cruise we booked an inside stateroom but felt like we had a private balcony because on our end of the hall was a door to an outside deck in front where we could slip in and out quickly to see things along the way. Nowadays, there is always a TV channel that is closed circuit showing the scene in front of the ship thus giving you an outside view albeit through the miracle of a television monitor.
  • If you are budget conscious, the cruise is ten days or less and does not include a lot of scenic cruise days where you might enjoy a view more, go for an inside stateroom and use the money you save for the next cruise or excursions or well, a little pampering in the spa.
Now along the way, we got upgraded (when you accumulate enough loyalty points you get slight upgrades). We found ourselves in a room with a small ocean view window. It was lower in the ship which had some advantages when we hit rough waters. The lower and more centered you are on a ship, the less roll. It was delightful to wake to the morning sun. (In the inside stateroom we had to rely on a wake up call). And I enjoyed being able to see out without having to rely on the TV. The room was not any bigger than an inside stateroom but felt more open because of the window.
  • If you fear claustrophobia, this might be the way to go. A little more expensive but still a good buy especially if you are doing something like a trans-oceanic crossing. You wouldn't spend a lot of time out on a veranda especially crossing the Atlantic. 
Veranda View, Norway
Well, then along came the opportunity to have a veranda. I must admit it came very close to spoiling me entirely. But then, our travel had changed a bit. We were taking longer cruises and many were in areas where a balcony would be well used. I loved waking up in the French Polynesian islands and having breakfast on the balcony while taking in the spectacular views. I remember another cruise where we were anchored in a Norwegian fjord and I spent the afternoon enjoying a book on my lap, a spectacular view in front of me, fresh air and quiet (many were on excursions). I did a lot of smiling and deep sighing and will never forget that experience.

  • If you are going on a cruise where you know there will be spectacular views to take in, lots of scenic cruising and the veranda fits in with your budget, then go for it. I know some who have even calculated which side of the ship might be better for the view (a cruise travel agent might be handy there). On some ships there may be some extra perks with the stateroom like an afternoon plate of goodies but again those come with a little more cost. Check out what you are paying for and if you would really want it. 

We have been upgraded a time or two to a lower priced suite which is just more like a larger room with a veranda. Not so spectacular that I would pay the extra for it but certainly wouldn't turn it down if offered as an upgrade. Of course as you work your way up the ladder or rather the ship, you'll find more amenities, like a butler and maybe your own hot tub, and you'll climb up to a higher deck. Now that last bit amazes me. The priciest suites are on the uppermost decks on most ships. Remember what I said about the roll of a ship? The higher you go, the more you will roll. Why would I pay to get seasick?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Books For The Road - Street Lady by Lois D. Carlson

It could happen to anyone. Sudden loss of income. Catastrophic loss of savings, maybe through illness. All of it leading to loss of home and security. Have you ever wondered, what if it happened to me? What if I found myself homeless? Lois D. Carlson takes the what if and turns it into a tender story of survival in Street Lady.

Left destitute by the death of her husband, Ella Martin must find a way to make it on her own. Milton, her deceased spouse, accrued his wealth at the expense of unsuspecting investors and then lost it all amid charges of fraud and deceit. Ella now must cope with the loss of her home, her possessions, most of her devoted friends, and her only son, from whom she has been estranged for several years. Living on the street and having to find a way to survive, she must confront her fears and draw upon her inner resources. Chance encounters along the way bring new hope and unexpected outcomes for her seemingly impossible dilemma.

There is only a little woe-is-me in this story. While Ella may feel sorry for herself at times, Carlson has let Ella's inner strength show through as the story moves along. Not only is Ella helped by others, even one who appears to be a guardian angel, she reaches out to those in her path and extends a helping hand as well. Just for flavor, Carlson has also added a bit of a mystery where Ella's son is concerned and in the end, mother and son have both discovered courage they didn't know they had.

A nice story. Good ending. And a book you might want to pack along for the road.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Through My Lens - Twas A Fair Day

There are tons of fairs taking place all over the state of Ohio. This was our day at the Cuyahoga County Fair.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Old Grist Mill And Velvet Ice Cream

Visitor's centers are to the travel addict like candy stores are to the candy lover. We happened to stop to peruse one as we waited to meet family for lunch halfway between our place and theirs. I picked up several pamphlets of attractions and things to do in the area. I live in Ohio but I am still discovering new places to see. One of the pamphlets showed an old grist mill with an ice cream factory. A little history and a great treat. What better combination?

On our way to Columbus that next week, we decided to stop off and check out the grist mill and factory. We'd been to the Mount Vernon area often but never traveled Route 13 further south than that. It was beautiful countryside on a clear and sunny day. The grist mill turnoff was well marked near Utica just past the Route 62 junction. We pulled in and found we had arrived just in time for a factory tour.

Our energetic guide took us out of the shelter where a video of the history of Velvet Ice Cream usually plays and suggested that she give us the information herself since we seemed to be invaded by some pesky wasps. She did a great job of filling us in as we sat on a stone wall and enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine.

In 1914, Joseph Dager began Velvet Ice Cream in the basement of a confectionery shop in Utica, Ohio, using a hand cranked ice cream maker. He would make just enough to quickly run out and sell it before it melted. Finding a supply of ice eventually led to a wider distribution and the business began to grow. In the 1930s a small factory was built behind the confectionery and Dager expanded even further reaching groceries and restaurants as far away as Columbus.

When they needed to expand, the next generation of Dagers found an old 1817 grist mill near Utica that fit their company's reputation of old fashioned goodness and moved their factory next to it. It became their trademark.

Our guide took us into the viewing area of the factory where we watched as ice cream was put into containers, capped and sent off to an instant freezer that freezes the mixture within minutes.

We stopped in the restaurant and enjoyed terrific trail bologna sandwiches being careful to save room for ice cream. I tried the sweet and salty caramel flavor that was heavenly. As we enjoyed our cones, we wandered through the small display of old ice cream makers.

All in all a perfect oasis for a summertime outing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cleveland's Goodtime III

One of the staples of sightseeing in Cleveland for many years has been the Goodtime ships. They began touring the Cuyahoga River and the lakefront back in 1958. My first experience was with the Goodtime II. The ships have done lots of educational tours with local school groups and I was room mother the year that my fourth grade twins were to take their field trip.

I remember the effort it took to keep several school groups quiet enough to be able to hear the commentary as we cruised up the Cuyahoga River past Collision Bend--almost a 90 degree turn that ore boats and freighters have to make to navigate the "crooked river." As we passed by and under several different kinds of bridges, the mechanics and history of each was explained. There are all sorts of different bridges along the Cuyahoga many of them dating back to the early to mid 1900s. Some swing. Others lift. All are fascinating.

You also get to pass by where Moses Cleaveland first set foot in 1796 in what was to become the place where a city would bloom and be called by his name. He was sent with a contingency of 50 others to survey what was then a part of the Connecticut Western Reserve. A spelling error on the surveyor's map left the a out of Cleaveland and thus the city became known as Cleveland.

We thought it would be a fascinating trip to take when our soon to be ten year old granddaughter visited/ After all she would be the same age as her dad when he first made the trip. Of course now the ship is called the Goodtime III. It replaced the II in 1990.

Unfortunately we discovered too late that one of the bridges along the river past Collision Bend was frozen in place and we wouldn't be able to make the usual trip. Instead our cruise turned around at Collision Bend and went down another branch of the river that is even more industrial and does not have the variety of bridges.

We did get to go back outside the breakwall that protects Cleveland's harbor and cruise along for an hour for a delightful refreshing trip that gave us beautiful views of the skyline and a great pass by the lighthouses that flank the entrance to the harbor and the river.

Oh, and our granddaughter enjoyed my iPhone games when she got bored. A ten year old can only take so much relaxing.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Put In Bay's Butterfly House

Put In Bay on South Bass Island in Ohio was a big part of my childhood and the place where I met my husband. I made pizza and he drove the old cabs--but that was a whole generation ago. Lots of things have come and gone but one that I hope is here to stay for a long time is the Butterfly House at Perry's Cave. It's always a treat and on our last visit, it was extraordinary.

It is a 4,000 square foot aviary, nicely landscaped and filled with hundreds of butterflies of all sizes and colors. There are at least 50 different varieties. The younger kids usually let out a squeal when they first enter. It is fascinating to see so many butterflies in one place.

Lots of walkways take you past beautiful flowering plants and bushes. At any given time there are about 900 butterflies, the attendant told us, with about 200 new ones being released each week of the season.

If you wear bright colored clothing or like one lady, carry a shocking pink tote bag, you will end up with hitchhikers. The butterflies are attracted to the bright colors.

We visited the Butterfly House with our granddaughter who loves to hatch butterflies during the summer. She and her mom plant milkweed and flowers known to attract butterflies and when they find caterpillars, they put them inside a hatchery that keeps them safe from the backyard birds. They feed them and watch the miraculous transformation as the caterpillars form their cocoon and eventually emerge as a butterfly. Needless to say, she thoroughly enjoyed lingering in the Butterfly House.

[A heads up for those of you close to this area or wanting to travel to it soon: There is a big celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie with a reenactment to happen in early September. Check it out at the Bicentennial website.]

Friday, August 16, 2013

Books For The Road - War Horse

A couple of months ago we had the privilege of seeing War Horse while it was on national tour and stopped in Cleveland. The puppetry was amazing and the story touching. The play comes from the book War Horse by Michael Murpurgo. I was curious to know what the book might be like so I downloaded a Kindle version. When I saw it was published by Scholastic and suggested for grades 5-8, I wondered if I would enjoy it. I needn't have worried. It was as strong a story as the play version--more so.

The story is told from the first person view of the horse, Joey, who is bought and used as a farm horse even though he wasn't bred for that work. From the time he reaches the farm, he is cared for and loved by the farmer's son, Albert. At the beginning of World War 1, Joey is sold by the farmer as a war horse. Albert, too young to join up and take care of Joey, is devastated. Joey goes on to become a prisoner of war and is used by the Germans to pull ammunition wagons. He returns to the English side by luck of a coin toss and ends up in the veterinary hospital where Albert who has finally been able to enlist finds him again.

Murpurgo has used the historical significance of the war horses in WWI to tell a compelling story. Horses were enlisted in the cavalry of both the English and Germans. Cavalry attacks were still one of the preferred methods of warfare. Eventually though trench warfare became more popular with the use of machine guns and that, along with the laying of barbed wire, led to disastrous effects on horse and rider. In one cavalry attack it was said that out of 150 horses only four survived.

War horse tells the story of bravery and survival, loyalty and love. It's a great read for the road for preteens, teens and adults.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Through My Lens - Singapore's Orchids

The Botanic Garden of Singapore has spectacular orchids. Unfortunately we visited back in 2007 before I had a really good camera. Still, the beauty of the orchids speaks through and past the quality of the camera.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

From My Travel Journal - Singapore

Friday, November 16, 2007--Singapore

            Singapore is like a return to civilization as we know it. The country is mostly English speaking. All the signs are in English. There are recognizable stores and food places. And, what’s this? An automatic flush toilet! We have to pay ten cents each to enter but oh, is it worth it!

            All of this however is countered with a guide who is inconsiderate of her tour group. She forges ahead before the last person is off the bus and starts her commentary before everyone is gathered together. The driver rushes through the city so fast I think I am going to get whip lash from turning my head to see things.

            We visit Mount Faber for a bird’s eye view of the city. The guide points outward in one direction and says, “Malaysia” and in another direction, “Indonesia.” The other islands are so close it is difficult to distinguish between Singapore and the other countries. Singapore is so near to Indonesia that they complain to the Indonesian government about the smog that is created and floats their way from them burning trees to make fertilizer.

            There is a big distinction between poor housing and the wealthy homes. Still the poor here look better off than what we have seen on our prior stops this trip.

            The city is neat and cosmopolitan. There are lots of green areas and everything is decorated for Christmas—compliments of Hitachi. Their advertising is all over it.

            We stop in Chinatown long enough to see a Hindu temple. Unfortunately our guide is done with her talk by the time our half of the bus arrives. I feel uncomfortable. This temple is very busy with worshippers who are kneeling and praying. There are fires burning in pots and whatever is burning smells bad and is creating a lot of smoke. For three dollars, we can take pictures. We decline and leave. Outside we take pictures of the temple’s roof which is dotted with statues of white cows.

            We wander through a side street full of vendors’ stalls but not seeing anything of interest, we return to the bus. Unfortunately we do not have time to explore some of the other streets in Chinatown which look interesting with older historical buildings that date back to the 1820s according to our ship’s information sheet.

            Our final stop is the botanical gardens where we wander down paths lined with graceful orchids of all sizes and colors. The garden is known for its hybridization of orchids. There are many plants dedicated to world leaders and celebrities. I stop to take a picture of a pure white delicate orchid dedicated to the princess of Japan. I know Aya will be interested in that.

            We opt to leave the bus at the Duty One Plaza where the shuttles leave for the ship. There is plenty of time to wander on our own. We find an upscale shopping mall in a tall building and locate an ATM to get some Singapore dollars for a McDonald’s lunch—a taste of home and a reminder that our cruise will soon be done. 

After another walkabout (as the Auzzies say) we return to the mall area and a McCafe that is selling lattes and cappuccinos. We enjoy two large cappuccinos in the sidewalk cafĂ© and watch the traffic. When we are finished, the attendant is quick to take our cups and napkins. There are large fines for littering in Singapore and gum chewing is not allowed. That’s what keeps the city so clean.

            The air conditioning on the ship is a welcome relief from the heat and humidity. The temperature is only 88 but the humidity makes the air heavy. Singapore is one degree north of the equator. Whew! No wonder it’s so hot!

Monday, August 12, 2013

From My Travel Journal - Vung Tau, (Ho Chi Minh), Viet Nam

Wednesday, November 14, 2007—Vung Tau, (Ho Chi Minh), Viet Nam

Reunification Palace
            Vung Tau. Our “tender” this morning turns out to be a hydrofoil jet boat that holds about 250 people. In ten minutes, we are ashore. The ship’s tenders we are told, take almost a half hour.
On our two-and-a-half hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we get a smattering of history. France and Japan occupied Viet Nam for years. In 1954, the country was divided into South and North Viet Nam. President Diem of South 
Viet Nam was murdered along with his brother just 21 days before Kennedy was assassinated. It is questionable whether Kennedy was responsible for the murder of the brothers. (No wonder there were so many conspiracy theories in Dallas.)

            If you look beyond the clutter and shoddy buildings, the countryside is truly beautiful. We pass some nice looking apartments and what appears to be a resort.

            More history: The war ended in 1975 and on April 28, 1986, the door opened to the outside world. In 1994, the USA lifted the embargo and in 1995, the US embassy opened in Hanoi. President Clinton was the first president to visit (2000) after the war.

The roads appear in good condition. There are few cars but quite a contingency of scooters!

We pass a tree farm. Something is made from the sap—latex?

Education is not compulsory. People have to pay for their children to go to school. Eighty percent receive an education.

 Our guide gives us the most profound statement of our whole trip: “Some people think Viet Nam is a war but actually it is a country.” I will remember that for a long time to come.

Hanoi is the political capital of Viet Nam and Ho Chi Minh is the economic capital.

The Reunification Palace is our first stop in HCM. It was first built in 1861 and perhaps rebuilt or redesigned in the 1960s (I don’t understand what he says here). The president of South Viet Nam stayed here during the war. It was bombed again then and had to be rebuilt. The North Vietnamese plane that bombed it sits in the park outside along with some tanks from the war.

The “palace” is more like a huge meeting center with rooms full of tables and microphones and one large room set up with chairs and a podium behind which a large bust of Ho Chi Minh sits. The basement is the area where the South Vietnamese leaders were bunkered for the war. It has heavy walls like a bomb shelter. 

There are old radios and desks in some rooms, a large kitchen/dining area, a room where we are told President Diem slept, and a map room with a large poster listing the number of troops from foreign countries involved in the war. The guide points to the top of the list and says that is the United States number. It is larger than all the rest.

We drive through the city and marvel at the pretty parks that are dotted throughout. At the Notre Dame Cathedral, we stop for pictures and the opportunity to run across the street to purchase stamps from the huge post office. It resembles a large train station and reminds me of Grand Central in New York City. The stamps we buy are very nice—blue with a whale on them—and cheap.

After another photo shoot at the city hall, we stop at a temple. This one has unusual incense burning but similar to what we have seen in China and Japan, a wish/prayer is tied to the top of a cone shaped spiral of incense. The cone is about two feet high and a foot across at the base. It is lit at the base and as it burns, I guess it sends the prayer to heaven. I’m thinking your answer must come when it burns to the very top. We have to be careful of pieces of incense ash falling on our heads. 

In a small side room sits the god of good fortune and while we are admiring the artwork, one of the locals is feverishly praying and bowing with some sort of sheave of grain in his hands.

Lunch is a buffet of delights at a five star hotel. It was very nice with local spring rolls and unique pineapple fritters with chocolate sauce. Some of the other food was considered “international” but I didn’t recognize it. Still it was a delicious meal and there was no lazy susan.

We finish eating early and slip out to get a cup of coffee at the coffee shop in the lobby. It is a little bit of Western civilization and a welcome reprieve from all the noise and shuffling of a large group of tourists.

Followed closely by vendors, we stop at a lacquer factory. Workers sit along a trough of water and sand the lacquer ware with fine emery. As usual on the “factory” tours, we don’t learn a whole lot about the process but we do get a whole lot of opportunity to shop. We buy a small lacquered screen inlaid with mother of pearl for my dresser at home.

Outside, Bob enjoys an exchange with a street vendor over a lacquered box he wants for his mother. He gets the price down to $1 but when another group of tourists join him, the price suddenly jumps up to $3 again. We learn that if you get the vendors alone, the price will be lower but they won’t admit selling that low to a group of people.

Finally we arrive at the history museum for the primary reason we have come on this tour—to see the water puppets. We sit around a large square pool of water. At one end, there is a “stage” with three green screens hanging down into the water. Behind it is where the puppeteers stand.  We suspect the puppets must be on long poles. They fly through the water and perform their dance and tell their story. There are pyrotechnics when the dragon appears. It is amazing the control they have with all of their puppets. After the show, the puppeteers appear. There are six of them and I am even more amazed that so many could work in the small area behind the screen with all that equipment.

            We walk through the rest of the museum, are fascinated by a mummy, and then dash for the bus just before it begins to rain.

            This evening we have dinner in the personal choice restaurant with Molly and Fred. I like the atmosphere better than the main dining room. It feels more like you’ve gone out to eat at a nice restaurant. 

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