"" Writer's Wanderings: May 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

What's Lurking At Your Beach?

The picture this past Memorial Day weekend of beach-goers on Lake Superior brought a smile. It punctuated the urgency to put this bad winter behind us. Lots of people roamed the beach and one brave soul waded spritely into the water only to rush out again. You see the water was full of little icebergs, leftovers that were still melting and keeping the water temperature down to hypothermic levels. Aside from hypothermia from exposure to low water temperatures, there are many things we should be wary of when planning our beach trips.

Rip tides. These dangerous undertows and currents can occur in lakes and oceans. Check for the posted warnings and if you should find yourself being carried out from the shore, remember to swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current and then swim at an angle back to the shore. Whatever you do, don't panic. You'll tire yourself out quicker.

Dangerous trash in the sand. If you are at a beach that is groomed daily this isn't as much of a problem but there are beaches where broken glass, needles, and other objects that can send you to the nearest ER lurk beneath the upper layer of sand. Best defense is to wear something on your feet. Try some thick soled flip flops, Crocs, or water shoes. Your feet will thank you for not putting them directly on the hot sand as well.

Danger in the water. Fresh water doesn't offer quite as much danger as do some parts of the ocean but often fresh water sandy beaches turn into rocky areas as you enter the water. Again, foot protection with some water shoes helps out there. If it's an area where people fish, you may also need that protection from hooks caught in the rocks. In the ocean, be aware that there could be sea urchins, more painful than a pin cushion if stepped on. Sharks are always a possibility and stingrays in some areas can be dangerous. Best to swim where there are lifeguards if you think that might be a problem. Their eyes are on the water for such things as well as swimmers in trouble.

Jellyfish. These critters come in all shapes and sizes. In Australia, the government warns swimmers to stay out of the water during Stinger Season October through May. This is when the large box jellyfish is prevalent along the beaches. These monsters come with a lethal sting that can cause a person to stop breathing if not treated at a hospital quickly. We were told within 30 minutes. While there are other species of jellyfish that are relatively harmless, they can cause an irritating sting. Some are so tiny that you don't even realize they are there until you feel the prickly sensation on your skin. The easiest treatment is a little vinegar on the affected area. If it turns ugly, see a doctor quickly.

Sun or Shade? If you choose sun, USE THAT SUN BLOCK!! Use at least 30 SPF and spray often. We sat all day on a beach at St. Maartin's Sunset Beach to watch planes fly low over the beach to land at the airport (I know, crazy, but fun) and we were concerned about not having any shade. We sprayed every half hour just to be sure we were protected and didn't have a problem. If you seek out the shade, which is what we usually do, be sure that shade doesn't come with coconuts overhead. One good thud on the head can put you out of commission for the rest of vacation if not, well, forever.

Vegetation. In and out of the water, there are often things in the area to be aware of that are harmful. Algal blooms, poisonous plants, etc. Best to ask the locals and/or the people at your accommodation. They'll be helpful. They want you to come back.

Don't let all this keep you away from the beach. It seems like a lot but for the most part, with a little common sense and some awareness of your surroundings, you will be able to shake off that horrible winter and enjoy some summertime adventure.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

In My Backyard - Teddy, The Bullfrog

Somehow spring has just gotten away from me and I find myself breathlessly trying to catch up with it. Having an injured wrist put off lots of gardening chores and has certainly slowed down the ones I've started on but now the yard is beginning to look less weedy and there are some flowers planted. Of course that will sound the dinner bell for the deer and rabbits.

The chipmunks have been merrily excavating in the flower beds digging up rocks that are obviously from the original construction of our house. They can't undermine the foundation can they?

To my delight and entertainment, however, Teddy, the bullfrog is back or his counterpart is, bellowing and bulging at the throat and apparently trying to attract attention from the females in the area. Remember last year? I posted the Great Frog Take Down where three frogs were inhabiting the pond and two wrestled for the privilege of keeping the territory and I'm sure, the female frog.

What amazed me as I worked in the yard this year was the tenacity of Teddy. Fearless, he squatted on a rock across the pond from me about eight feet away and wasn't the least bit intimidated by my movements when I got within three feet of him. The next day, he even jumped closer to me to see what I was doing. That bellow made me drop my trowel as I was startled by the sudden unexpected sound so near.

Ah, Teddy, there's a story here I'm sure. If I were a children's book author I'd make you the main character but alas, I don't write for kids. There is that character, Annie Pickels, though who is a kid at heart and I'm thinking that Teddy just might get a spot in the sequel to In A Pickle. Patience. I have to finish Ruby first. By then though Teddy will probably have quite a family. He doesn't seem the bachelor type.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Handy Dandy Travel Helper - Zip Top Bags

Without zip top bags my suitcase and backpack would be a disaster. I use them in all sizes to organize and keep things from getting lost in the shuffle of bags from place to place. You know what I mean. Remember that old gorilla baggage handler commercial for American Tourister? We start out packing so neatly and everything shifts. Not only does it shift but it settles as well just from the weight of the clothes or the other bags on top of yours. Here's the way I use those handy dandy helpers.

The 3-1-1 Bag - Most of us are now familiar with this bag. Liquids you intend to carry-on must only be 3 ounces put together into 1 quart sized clear zip top bag and you are allowed only 1 such bag. I don't normally carry toiletries in a carry-on but I do stick my lipstick, lip gloss, hand cream, sanitizer, etc. in one bag--even my chewing gum (unchewed of course).

Medications - Both my husband and I count out our prescription meds that we will need for the trip plus an extra few days in case we get delayed in flights or weather conditions on the road. We put the first week into our pill holders and then the rest in a small plastic snack bag that zips. All of that goes into a larger quart sized zip top bag and I can easily pull it out of my backpack in transit if I need them.

Power cords - Ever get to your destination and have to untangle the power cords from each other or items in your suitcase? If you put them in a zip top bag there will be less hassle because they won't move around as much. If you are so inclined, you could even get a separate bag for each power cord.

Liquids - All right. Yes. My natural color is now gray but I'll never reveal it as long as I can keep coloring the roots. I do not want those liquids floating around my suitcase though. Even though it's not a liquid, I also put my hair spray, spray-on sunblock, or any other aerosol into a zip top bag. I double check to be sure they are zipped tight.

Delicate items - Okay, now this is getting into the area of TMI (Too Much Information) but I personally hate the idea of someone doing a security check of my suitcase and rifling through my underwear. All of that gets put into a zip top bag so that simply by feeling the outside of it and looking through the clear plastic, an inspector can tell there's nothing hidden inside that would be a security risk. Sure, it's just my quirkiness but I feel better doing that.

Vacuum pack - If you have a clothing item that is made from material that is slippery, silk for instance, you might want to put it into a little larger zip top bag and work the air out of it before you seal it. This will help it to lay flatter in the suitcase and not slip between other things to crease and wrinkle.

That takes care of all the areas I can think of. If you have some more tricks for packing with zip top bags, please share them in a comment below.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Books For The Road - Finding Me by Michelle Knight

Living in the Cleveland area, I was saddened when I heard of several young girls who disappeared from their neighborhoods. Ten years later, I rejoiced with everyone in this area to find that those girls were alive and suddenly freed from a nightmare of captivity. Michelle Knight was the third victim and one no one really knew about until the Cleveland Three were freed. Finding Me is her story about captivity but more so about survival and finding her own identity.

Knight and her writer/contributor, Michelle Burford, have done well portraying the story of a young woman who spent eleven years living and almost dying as day after day she had to face the terror of the man she calls "The Dude." It is not written graphically but in such a way that it doesn't take much to imagine what horror Knight went through.

Today we often see Knight on the news as she has attended several community celebrations and has made it her mission to help others who have been traumatized by similar situations and to give hope to families of missing persons. She's a tough little character and I wish her well. I'm sure there's a lot to still work out in her life. She's living proof that the human spirit is resilient and even in the deepest darkest hours God answers.

This may not be a really good book for the road. It is a bit intense when you consider that all of this truly did happen so if you are looking for a fluffy read, you need to pick something else to tuck into the suitcase.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Travel Photographer In Most Of Us - The Artsy Details

Long ago on a college campus in an old ROTC building where the freshman art students met, a professor challenged this freshman art student to go out and capture the details in a sketch. His directive was that we find a patch of turf, focus our view on a 6x6 inch area and draw what we saw. His objective was to make us more aware of the details in our surroundings, the little things often overlooked. It was a good lesson in many ways.

Today as I take camera in hand, I often think back to that lesson and look for subjects that show more detail in my pictures and of course still lend to the understanding of the place I'm visiting. For example bicycles were the preferred mode of transportation in Amsterdam and I snapped the picture here with flowers growing up through the wheels of one parked in a bike rack. A much prettier way to remember all the bikes.

Most cameras as well as smartphones and tablets will allow you to zoom in on the details you want to capture. It makes for some nice compositions. And if you don't get it right when you snap the picture, you have a second chance with your computer software to crop, enlarge, zoom, etc. Did I mention I love digital pictures?

The next time you have some free time on a trip try sitting in one spot a few minutes and look around you. Look for the details instead of the big picture. What story will your picture tell about the place you are visiting?

Before I leave the artsy part of this I have one more suggestion. When photographing people it is sometimes better to make the picture black and white. Black and white photography often tells a story more dramatically than color. Your eye goes to the story in the picture rather than the pretty colors. While cameras often allow that option when you snap the picture, I would suggest taking it in color and then playing with the black and white or even sepia color on your computer software.

Now go, capture, make something beautiful and tell the story. You can do it!

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Travel Photographer In Most Of Us - Recording The Culture

Every country has a culture of its own and even regions of a country will differ in cultural habits and traditions. These are great opportunities to learn and remember and share with others through pictures. What things give you the cultural flavor of where you visit?

People, their dress, their faces, their daily activity, their celebrations. 

It's not always easy to capture people unless they are actually performing for you on a tour or trying to sell you something like this beautiful little girl in Quito, Ecuador. I gave her a dollar and asked her mom if it was all right to photograph her. She nodded yes when she saw me gesture with my camera. After the picture, I bought several of those colorful scarves you see in the background. The hat, I think is significant of the region the ladies selling the scarves came from but I was never able to confirm that. Mom had on a green hat which leads me to believe that it either meant she was an adult or that she was a merchandiser.

I have been knows to hold the camera at my side or in front of me and click several times hoping to catch a picture of some of the colorful characters or quiet people who pass us by in some places where it wouldn't be possible to stop and ask. Whatever you do though, respect the people of that country by checking with your tour guide or concierge in the hotel to see if picture taking of locals is okay. In Dubai, we were asked specifically not to take pictures of people. I ended up taking pictures of some manikins who were modeling local clothing at a shop.

Homes are an expression of culture and condition.

I remember the first time I visited the Caribbean islands and saw some of the poor conditions of the homes. I had to chuckle though because no matter how ramshackle, they each had a beautifully carved mahogany wood door that would cost a fortune in the States.

In China we actually had the privilege of visiting the home of a farmer and got to see how sparsely they lived. The home was actually part of a small compound where his children lived as well. They were surrounded by fields of cotton and their yards were planted with vegetables which they used for food. It was in stark contrast to the homes we saw in the south of France and in Monaco--make that yachts in Monte Carlo.

Places of worship.

Churches, temples, mosques, etc. are all a reflection of the culture of the area as well. I was getting bored visiting so many churches in France until one guide explained that the reason they were so ornately decorated with stained glass and statues and frescoes and the like was because back in the day, that was the way history and Bible stories were taught.

In Dubai, we had the privilege of visiting a mosque and hearing about some of the practices of Muslim. The tour was led by two ladies from Great Britain who had married Muslim men and converted. It was all very interesting and certainly a great picture taking opportunity to capture the culture.


 From the high speed Autobahn in Germany to the bicycles in Amsterdam. Bullet trains in Japan to camels in Egypt. Transportation is usually quite mixed into the culture of the country. China had mostly bikes at one time but now bikes fight with car, truck and bus traffic in Beijing. Motorcycles are the main mode of transportation in Viet Nam and you see herds of them on the road.

The most unusual scene I captured however was when we were waiting for our tour bus to pick us up at a hotel in Egypt where we'd spent the afternoon. We were waiting under the canopy and suddenly realized a young man was galloping down the street on a camel in the midst of all the motorized traffic!

Vive La Difference!

That's probably not good French but how wonderful this world of ours is with such a diversity of people and cultures. If only we could learn to appreciate our differences instead of fight over them.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Travel Photographer In Most Of Us - Capturing The Place

In all truthfulness capturing the place is my main objective when I have camera in hand. There is something very satisfying in framing pieces of what I see and capturing it for future viewing.

What is the history?

Many of the places we visit are quite historical. I live in a country whose history is relatively new when compared to Europe, the Baltic, or the Far East. The ruins of Rome were particularly amazing. At the Coliseum the most striking moment I captured was as we first entered and saw a cross in front of us. From there the story unfolded.

The outdoor shots are easier to capture than indoors mainly because of the condition and age of the artifacts you find in museums or places such as the palaces in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately too many people have not learned how to take pictures without a flash and have made it necessary for all the rest of us to replace the lens cap and just view with our eyes. If you are afforded the opportunity to take pictures of artifacts, be sure that you know how to turn off that flash. There is an off switch on smartphones and tablets too. The bright flashes of so many tourist cameras truly do fade colors and affect the preservation of these gems of history (as does reaching out and touching--another pet peeve but I digress).

Capture the facts.

I can not retain all the information that is given on a tour or even available to read as we explore places. Often I will take pictures of the commentary that is available on posted boards that explain what you are seeing or the history of the place where you stand. Later I can use my software to enlarge the pictures and gather the information I need or want to remember. I love digital photography!

Ah, the beauty!

Of course some places you visit simply because they are beautiful, scenic, amazing, spectacular, etc. A lot of that cannot be captured in pictures completely but at least a picture will remind you of it. Landscapes of immense size are often difficult to realistically portray. A good idea is to put something into the foreground that will give you a point of reference. The same is true for large objects. Try to get something into the picture that will help to show the size of the object.

If you are adept at some camera settings, take more than one shot and try some different settings. It will take a little more time sorting them out later but one of the group might give you a better color or shadowing or clarity. The professor of my photography class used to say "If it's worth one shot, it's worth six." And that was before digital! He was always telling us this day would come.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder is so true in photography. Do you have any tricks for capturing the places you visit?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Travel Photographer In Most Of Us - Personal Documentation

Some people journal their travel adventures in a notebook. Some use their cameras or now their smartphones or tablets to capture the special moments. I do a little of both but probably more photography that writing. The pictures help me remember the trip a little better. I guess that's why they say "a picture is worth. . ." well, you know the rest.

Still, I like journaling a bit too. Pictures don't always capture the emotions I'm feeling about what I'm seeing. I've talked about journaling your travels through writing but today I'd like to offer some suggestions for the inner photographer in you.

I was there! Really. See?

There are those who need to show that they really were where they said they were. Those are the people who love the selfies or to have someone take a picture of them in the places they visit. We aren't like that although we do get the occasional portrait when it's a spectacular backdrop (we always need something for the Christmas card) or it's a major accomplishment like a climb up a huge pile of rocks to see a glacier.

Someone once offered to take our picture while we were on a tour and I laughingly said, "No thanks, we really don't want the kids to know where we're spending their inheritance." The guy turned a bit pink and walked away. By the time I realized he probably thought we weren't married and each had children whom we didn't want to know we were together, he was gone.

Trusting strangers with your equipment.

Before I go any farther, remember to not hand your camera, phone or tablet to strangers unless you can run really fast and tackle hard. Trust a tour guide or another person on your tour if you need some help. If you're single, selfies are the way to go. Practice taking good ones. You can even get an "arm extender" for most small cameras or phones. It's a stick that adds a couple feet to your reach for that selfie. Search online and I'm sure you'll find them.

What's in a background?

While standing in front of a sign certainly shows location, it can't be nearly as nice as the place you are visiting. Would you just go and see the sign without seeing what it represents? Instead find an iconic spot and use that as your background for the personal portrait. And instead of having your travel companion or yourself just standing still, try a little action. Maybe smell a flower, touch a rock, strike a contemplative pose.

Now there are places where you just gotta have fun. The leaning tower of Pisa is one. While we visited the area, we suddenly noticed all these people standing on the grassy grounds with their hands in the air to one side of their bodies. It took a moment to realize they were posing as though they were holding up the leaning tower.

Centering on your subject.

Remember that while you are documenting your presence in a certain spot, you also want to make that spot important in your picture. Offset your personal subject to one side or the other so that the viewer of your picture can actually tell what a wonderful place it was that you visited.

The people you meet.

There are often great local people you meet along the way in your travels and that's also a nice way to make your personal documentation. There is a shot I wish I could go back and take. I missed an opportunity in Turkey to get a shot of Bob with one of the locals who was sitting outside his shop and had asked us if we were German or American. Bob engaged him in conversation and it was one of the highlights of our visit to that city. I was so enamored with the conversation that I forgot to put the camera to my eye and take a shot.

Well, I could go on I suppose but I'm sure there are some ideas you have about taking pictures of you and your travel companions. What do you line up in your viewer?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In My Backyard - The Canal Exploration Center

Near us is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park through which the Ohio and Erie Canal runs. This past weekend we were invited along with other volunteers who are connected to the park in some way (we are with the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad) to get a sneak peek at the new Canal Exploration Center at the corner of Hillside and Canal Roads. Before this it was known as the Visitor Information Center. Before that, Hell's Little Half Acre or Gleason's.

Gleason's as it was known in the heyday of the canal served both locals and canal travelers and dates back to the late 1830s. Located at Lock 38, passengers would get off the canal boat and go into Gleason's to eat, rest, and catch up on the news. They also stocked needles, thread, razors, clay pipes, tobacco, sugar and coffee. They served meals and any delay in proceeding through the lock meant an increase in profits. 

Like most taverns in the Canal Era, Gleason's was often a hot spot for those who imbibed and earned it's nickname of Hell's Little Half Acre during the 1920s when it was purported to be part of a bootlegging operation.

The new Canal Exploration Center is full of hands on exhibits which are rich in information about the canal and the era when it served as a main connection for shipping and industry. The story of building the canal will intrigue engineers and yet is easy enough for the kids to understand as well. It is well worth a look-see before or after strolling the towpath or taking a train ride through the Valley. 
Join in the welcome for this new center on Saturday, May 17, 2014, as they have the grand opening. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Through My Lens - Spring, Better Late Than Never

Hooray! Not only for spring but for my wrist healed enough to hold a camera again!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Merry Old England - Robin's Tights and Arthur's Sword

Camelot? For real? 
And Sherwood Forest does exist? 
But what about King Arthur and Robin Hood? 

As we have done in the past with trips to Ireland and New Zealand, our future travel plans include a round-the-country trip to England. While perusing several sites to add to that itinerary, I found an article on Smarter Travel.com that listed several mythical places to visit including Camelot and Sherwood Forest. Let's start with Camelot.

In Shropshire, England, you can follow the King Arthur Trail. The fourth largest city of Roman times in Great Britain, Virconium at Wroxeter is thought to be the site of Camelot. You see, researchers have discovered that there was a King Arthur. He was king of the Votadini tribe and he married a lady named Ganhumara. So, okay, that's close to Guinevere, right? Apparently if you follow the trail, the legendary pieces will all fit into place. It should be very interesting.

Now Robin Hood, according to legend, roamed with his merry band in Sherwood Forest. There really is such a place in Nottinghamshire. It was once a large forested area where royalty hunted deer. Perfect for the tales of Robin Hood, right? But wait! Tracing the personage of Robin Hood actually puts him in a different area.

The first known literary reference to Robin Hood was in 1377 and puts his birthplace as Lockersley in Yorkshire in 1160. Unfortunately there is no Lockersley in Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire for that matter but there is a Loxley in Staffordshire. Then too, there are other men who seem to fit the legendary figure of Robin Hood (none of them resembling Errol Flynn, I'm sure) and show up in other accounts. It all seems very confusing but then we are talking about men in tights.

Whatever the case, we would enjoy seeing Sherwood Forest and imaging the merry men and fantasizing about a perfect place called Camelot. Great Britain is a beautiful country with quite a historic past--legendary or not.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Zippers Gone Wild (Or Why You Pack Duct Tape)

Back in 1851, Elias Howe who invented the sewing machine applied for a patent on a device he called "Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure." His sewing machine was so successful however that he didn't pursue marketing his idea. Along came Whitcomb Judson in 1893 with a "Clasp Locker" that was a complicated hook and eye closure that had little success. He was however considered the inventor of the zipper because of his attempt at marketing his idea through the company he formed with Colonel Lewis Walker, the Universal Fastener Company. But credit for the more modern design we are familiar with goes to Gideon Sundback, an electrical engineer hired by the company who also married the manager's daughter. By 1913, he had designed a more workable unit and the rest as they say is history.

Zippers hold much of our world together and have long been the fastener of choice on the modern day suitcase. Considering what our suitcases go through--over packing, tossing, rain, bearing the weight of twenty more stacked on top, it is amazing that they hold up so well. But on occasion, they don't.

It was on a trip to Europe with Bob's brother and sister-in-law that we saw what happens when a zipper gives in transit. Dick's suitcase came sliding down the luggage rack with duct tape wrapped around it. After determining they hadn't lost anything, Dick managed to fix the zipper and it worked for the rest of the trip.

So, what do you do if your suitcase zipper fails, gets stuck, or goes off the track? Here are some suggestions.

1. If it gets stuck, try some Vaseline, lip balm, or soap on the teeth to get the clasp to slide again.

2. If the teeth don't want to stay closed it usually means there's a bent tooth. Borrow some pliers if you don't carry your own and find the tooth, apply a bit of pressure to straighten it and it should work okay.

3. Zipper tab lost from the slide? Buy a cheap souvenir key chain and attach it to the slide. You'll also have a unique way to identify your luggage.

If everything is totally out of whack with the zipper, there is a way to remove the bottom metal bar, pull the slide all the way off, realign the teeth, put slide back on and sew the end of the zipper together where the metal bar was. But that's a lot of work and I'm thinking at that point duct tape wrapped around the piece of luggage just might do a better job. And, it's available now in designer patterns and colors!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Little Known National Parks

Whenever I see an article that challenges me with "little known" or "out of the way" places I always need to check it out and see if we've been there. That was the case when I ran across an article at Smarter Travel.com that challenged me with National Parks I might not have known existed. I was surprised to find that I've been to one three times and didn't realize it was a park. St. John's Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands is mostly the Virgin Islands National Park.

St. John is one of the places we escape to when we cruise the Caribbean and want to avoid the traffic mess and crowds on St. Thomas. You need to have enough time to get there and back before your ship sails though so there are times when we don't chance it. A ferry is the only way to get there but once there, plenty of options are available to you.

One time we went to Trunk Bay and snorkeled the underwater trail. Another time we climbed aboard an open air truck and took a tour of the historical aspects of the island. I don't remember being told that the National Park takes up most of the island--but then, it was the Caribbean, it was warm, and I was relaxing. Perhaps next time we can walk some of the park trails.

Out of the ten parks listed in the article, I'd only been to one. I need to print out a list of the others. I'm sure Bob will want to add them to his National Parks passport that he likes to get stamped. There's even one in American Samoa! Do I see another dive trip in our future?

Monday, May 05, 2014

World Cruise - Caribbean and Colombian Excursions

Now that we have our African Safari excursion booked, we are looking into other ports of call for our 108 day world cruise.. After departing Miami, we spend a little time in the Caribbean, a place we have been to often. Some places are worth getting off the ship for and others are better spent staying on board and enjoying the ship's venues.

Our first port is Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. We've been there twice and agree that this trip we will stay on board the ship and enjoy it from a distance. At this point in time, Crystal has not even offered any excursions for that port. We can always leave the option of taking one if something unusual comes up.

The next port of call is Willemstad, Curacao. This is a beautiful little town and is easily walked from the pier. We have been there many times and once on New Year's Eve. The town really celebrates the New Year. Fireworks went off regularly, mostly in the form of huge strings of firecrackers. The cruise ships are all taller than the buildings and we could look out over the town and see curls of smoke going up where there was a new noisy explosion of crackers.

Curacao is Dutch (since 1634) and their heritage is reflected in the colorful buildings of the town. Willemstad dates back to the mid to late 1600s. The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. St. Anna Bay divides the city into two districts that are connected by a bridge that floats on the water and swings back and forth to allow ships and boats into the bay. It's a neat place and we will enjoy a leisurely stroll along its streets, a snack at a waterside cafe, and maybe a little shopping.

Next up is Santa Marta, Columbia, a port that is new to us and not a frequent stop for most cruise lines. Our research into the port included searching Tripadvisor and the Cruise Critic Boards, our two most reliable sources of information. From the Cruise Critic forum, I learned that the port is not one of the safest. Still, there many people who had said they had no problem. Others told stories of stolen property and one of crew members being attacked. It's always a tough call on stories since you don't know if common sense was used in all cases. The best advice came in one post that said they stayed together as a group of ten to explore on their own.

There are some interesting sights in the area including the Tayrona National Park which was highly recommended as a ship's excursion (mainly to be sure you got back in time to sail). Guests said there were beautiful scenic views. There is also a little fishing village nearby called Taganga but that would require your own transportation unless an excursion is offered. Simon Bolivar lived out his life in Santa Marta and his mansion is open to tours. He was a great military and political leader who influenced the independence of Latin America from Spain. And lastly, there is the Gold Museum, said to be within walking distance of the pier but not in a great section of town. Common sense will prevail here and we will choose an excursion. Most likely the panoramic drive that goes through Taranga and takes in other sites in Santa Marta--all from an air conditioned motor coach.

Cartagena, Columbia, is a place we've visited several times. The first visit was not so good but our second stop a few years later found much improvement in the city. In exploring the options available, I came across several posts in the forum that mentioned a wonderful tour given by Friends For Columbia, a non-profit foundation that is helping the Colombian people in that area. The tours sound like a wonderful opportunity to interact with people and perhaps build bridges of friendship and encourage those we meet. I think it will be high on our list.

Now it's off to research the ports of Ecuador.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Grandma's Journal

Do you keep a journal? Journaling is one of those things that I toy with now and then. I used to be a diary-keeper when I was a teen and young adult but life got busy with five kids and I fell out of the habit. Now, with all the writing I do I find that I have a kaleidoscopic journal that is in colorful pieces here and there. I keep a blog and journal on many of my trips. We're in the habit of making a photo book when we get home of our best pictures.

Here and there in my writing I am influenced by my grandchildren. Usually it is because they have provided a good laugh. Case in point: One night we got a 1-800-Grandma call from our oldest grandson, Tyler. It went something like this:

"Tee-hee. Grandma? Can you come and give my Daddy a spanking? Tee-hee-hee."

"A spanking? Why? What's Daddy doing?"

"Well, he's your son and he keeps teasing me."

"Yes, he's my son, but what's he doing?"

"He flipped me with his sock. And it smelled, Grandma! Tee-hee-hee."

"Tyler, is this a 1-800-Grandma call?"

"A what?"

"Never mind. But if your Daddy needs a spanking, you better call 1-800-Grandpa."

Guess I still subscribe to the just-wait-until-your-father-gets-home threat. Tee-hee-hee.

And then there was the time when Kotomi, who was about four, walked up to Cinderella at the Disney World Castle and asked, “So, where’s the prince?”

I could go on but then I’d just be taking advantage of your listening ear—or make that reading eye. The point is that these are precious memories worth noting somewhere because along the way, they are often forgotten and too soon these little people will be grown up with little people of their own. What fun to be able to share the memories of their young lives with each other and their parents who may not have the time to write it down. And what a precious treasure for the future generations.

Journals come in all sizes, shapes, and price-points. When I was younger, I used a diary with the lock that had a one-key-fit-all to open it. Then I advanced to a seventy-nine cent spiral notebook when I figured out anyone could get into the locked diary.

Whatever type of journal you may choose, a clothbound fancy parchment-papered book with a raffia ribbon or a spiral notebook, put it in a place where you will see it often and remember to record those warm fuzzy moments with grands. And even if they aren’t so fuzzy, it may help you to see them in a different light. A journal is a map of a journey. Not necessarily where you are going but where you have been. It’s nice to look back once in a while.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Trip Budget - Make It, Take It, Stick To It

A budget is our friend. It's almost been a motto with us through the years. In the beginning it was the best way to be sure ends met and that we'd have a roof over our heads and food on the table. It got a little looser through the years but we've always had one to work within. A trip budget is like a budget within the overall budget and is a great planning tool. 
Independent Traveler.com has a budget calculator that can help you out. It starts out with having you list airfare and the incidentals that go along with that. It has a spot for airport parking but I would suggest you call the local cab company who can give you an estimate of a trip to the airport from your home. Depending upon the length of the trip, it may be cheaper to take a cab than to park your car. Of course the best money saver is a friend or family member who will take you and pick you up.

Other areas that are calculated for you list room costs, meals, and transportation at the spot of your vacation. Some of the cost of transportation can be estimated more easily by going to the websites of the places you will visit to see what kind of transportation is available and the cost. 

Of course you can budget for tours--again check them out online and leave a little wiggle room for something better that might come along. 

There is a cruise section with all sorts of things you can budget for. It lists fitness classes there. I'm not fond of spending my cruising time going to fitness classes but if that's your idea of vacation, go for it. Just be sure to budget it in and know that it will be more expensive than the same ones at home.

Some other areas that are included are pet/child care (not at the same place, I hope), visas, internet charges, etc. There may be some other things you think of as well and there's space to add them. With a click you can get a total. If it's sticker shock, go back and see where you can cut. Maybe those spa treatments can wait or you can give each other a massage. 

Print out your budget and take it with you. It might be helpful to go over it once in a while and note the changes you make. It could help you stick to it and/or plan the next trip better. A budget can be a good travel companion if you use it.
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