"" Writer's Wanderings: July 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cruising - Do You Settle Or Go For Only The Best?

When we do our 108 day world cruise we will not be traveling in a penthouse suite, not even a balcony, although what we are paying for the journey could get us a super suite on other ships. But neither will we be traveling in an inside stateroom. A 108 days without a window would be a claustrophobic catastrophe for me.

We chose Crystal Serenity for its food, service, entertainment value (including the lectures), and the itinerary it presented for our trip.

Crystal Symphony's bathroom
Having cruised with the ship before, we know something of what to expect. The stateroom is one we had on the New York  to Dover, England cruise in May of 2012. The room is not real large and the window looks out on the Promenade Deck but the bathroom has double sinks (marble topped) and is bigger than the usual small closet-sized ones with the barely-turn-around showers where the curtain gets too intimate with you. Its close to the door to the outside deck so its almost like having a large balcony at our disposal.

The Cruise Critic Cruiser's 2014 Choice Awards were given out earlier this year and I checked to see how the Serenity did. For the small ship category it got a 4.6 rating. The top rating went to Seven Seas Navigator with a 5.2.

There were a lot of ships on the list that we've not sailed with mostly because they are all premium lines and the travel budget doesn't allow for that much luxury all the time.

Our room on the Symphony -Serenity's sister ship
So I am back to the question, do you settle or go for only the best?

I think it's all a matter of expectation. Some of the less expensive cruise lines offer great value and good service. Some food is better than others though but that is a matter of personal likes/dislikes. When you choose, look for the cruise that fits your budget, your timeline, your preferred destination, and keep your expectations reasonable. That last one is important. It's why my husband says, "There is no bad cruise."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Couch Surfing, It's Not Just For TV Watchers

There are several alternatives to a hotel and/or a bed and breakfast when you travel according to an article I found at Smart Traveler.com. Most of them are out of my comfort zone but are interesting. Take for instance "couch surfing." Now when I saw that I thought it involved watching TV with a remote in your hand. Nope. It is arranging to stay in a host's home on their couch or in their guest room. While this may be a good way to get to know the locals it's way too adventurous for me.

Some of the other suggestions involve renting a vacation home which we have done. Those are usually homes or condos that are specifically designated as rentals for income for the property owners. That's not a bad way to go. They are stocked with dishes and pans, come with linens most often and offer privacy. VRBO or Dwellable is a good place to search for them.

A unique idea is to rent a dorm room during the summer break. I had no idea that was a possibility. I've stayed in dorm rooms on occasion for a writers conference but didn't know that some colleges actually let you rent them for a week or so. Of course you may not have cooking facilities and in some cases, a private bathroom, and would probably have to supply your own linens but the price might be right. Check out the listings at University Rooms. com. Beware. It may bring back memories of those college days.

A few more ideas are listed in the article at Smart Traveler.com: hostels, home exchanges, night swapping, and camping. Check out the link if you want to
learn more.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fright Night Friday in Columbus, Ohio

No, it's not Halloween yet but this past weekend we headed south for a softball double header "starring" our granddaughter. We wanted to be there on time for the first game so we planned an over-nighter and went out to dinner with Bob's brother and his wife. They had planned an evening at a classic movie showing in one of the downtown theaters and invited us along. What a treat!

The Ohio Theater was absolutely beautiful! It was opened in 1928 as a Loew's movie house that seated over 2700 people. It became home to many other productions and popular on the vaudeville circuit. It thrived as a movie house until the suburban sprawl pulled business away. In 1969, a group formed to save the Ohio from demolition and restore its grandeur. (A similar thing took place in our Cleveland Playhouse Square area.) The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA) owns the theater and it is now home to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Balletmet, and the Broadway Series as well as over a 100 other events including Fright Night Friday.

Before the Fright Night Friday movies began the huge Wurlitzer organ rose from the floor and we enjoyed a half hour of wonderful music from Broadway musicals and old movies. It was worth the price of admission alone ($4).

In the 60s and 70s, Cleveland had its Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson). In the 70s, Columbus had Fritz the Night Owl as host to their classic horror flicks. He was the star attraction before and during the shows. The movies were true classic horror, The Return of the Vampire (1944) starring Bella Lugosi and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) starring Fredric March. We stayed through the first one and smiled at the 1944 version of special effects. Lugosi's face melts as the vampire dies. It was a wax mask of the actor's face. Very effective, though.

I did have a nightmare that night but it wasn't Bella Lugosi who grabbed me. It was the character in the novel I'm writing. Guess I need to get it done and out of my head. There'll be more time to watch classic movies then.

Does your city have a classic movie fest in the summer?

Friday, July 25, 2014

That's A Service Animal On My Plane?

Did you know that the TSA actually has guidelines for taking a service monkey through security? A service monkey? Who knew? But yes, there apparently is such a thing. Some monkeys can be trained to do things for the disabled like grasp things and do manual tasks like open doors or fetch items.

That opened the door to my curious little mind. What other animals might be considered service animals? There seems to be quite a list according to some people. I found pigs and miniature horses trained like assistance dogs. A parrot helps a man with his Bipolar Disorder. Ferrets can help detect the onset of seizures.

The one that truly amazed me (and frightened me) was a man who claimed his boa constrictor could detect the onset of a seizure and would alert him to take his medicine. How? By constricting. He wears the snake around his neck.

So I ask, quaking at the thought of sitting next to a man on a plane with a snake wrapped around his neck, are these allowed on a plane too?

While the TSA does have rules about how to take a service animal through its security, it doesn't list what it will allow. The service animal does have to be certified but that largely depends upon the regulations in the state where the animal resides. If you look at the ADA regulation changed in 2010, it states that only dogs can be recognized as service animals leaving the rest to be called "therapy animals." I'm confused. All I know is, I'm happy for the man with the snake but I don't want to be traveling with it loose on a plane.

Isn't there a movie. . .?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Be Careful What You Ask For

This story made the rounds
a year ago probably while we were diving in Grand Cayman. I'm just now catching up to it. The moral of the story is: be careful what you ask for.

Apparently when you book a room online at the Woodlands Resort and Conference Center there is a box that asks if you need any special service. An enterprising young man with a great sense of humor thought it would be fun and would create a few laughs for the staff if he requested something silly. So he asked to have three red M&Ms placed on the bed. Not a whole package just three. One for him. One for his fiance. And one to split later if they got hungry. Then, just because he likes pictures of bacon (or so he said), he wanted a picture of bacon placed on the pillow.

Much to his surprise, there on the bed when he arrived were the three M&Ms and a picture of bacon. Apparently the staff has a good sense of humor as well.

Dustin Wray, the traveler with the sense of humor, was interviewed on ABC News and said that once his post of what happened went viral, the hotel offered him a free stay. The manager was just happy that he hadn't asked to have the M&Ms wrapped in the bacon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Been There, Done. . .Oh, Oh. . .

There are lists for everything these days. The top five beaches, the top ten World Heritage Sites, the most romantic cities, the list of places to see and the list of places not to see. They are tantalizing barometers for what we might be missing or how much we've checked off the bucket list. So when I saw a list of the 10 must-see places in New Zealand, well, I just had to check. You see we had an extensive visit to New Zealand and went all around both islands. So did we miss anything?

The list, if you'd like to look more closely is at Smart Travel.com  and we visited most of them: Milford Sound, Auckland, Christchurch, Bay of Islands, Queenstown, Rotorua's Geothermal Valley, Franz Josef Glacier and Waitomo Gloworm Caves but apparently a couple slipped by us.

Waiheke Island is one we missed. It is in the Hauraki Gulf and is reached by a 30 minute boat ride from Auckland. It is known for its vineyards and wineries which could be why we passed it up. We say plenty of vineyards and wineries on the main islands that make up NZ.

White Island in the Bay of Plenty in the area near Tauranga and Rotorua is basically a volcano. It's Maori name is Te Puia o Whakaari which means "The Dramatic Volcano" named such because it is very active. The only way to see it is by helicopter (not for me) or scenic flight unless you have the time to take a boat there for scuba diving. Our World Cruise does stop a
t Tauranga and there is an excursion but by helicopter. I guess we'll pass again. There's always hope of seeing it from the ship as we arrive or leave the port.

All in all, there are a lot more than 10 best places to visit on Middle Earth and I think we did a pretty good job of seeing most of them. Still, I wouldn't mind another trip back just to be sure we didn't miss any more.

Monday, July 21, 2014

National Parks Turn 100 Next Year!

Sunrise at Haleaka, Maui, Hawaii
When I volunteer at the Polar Express during the holiday season, I read an introduction to the Polar Express story that has to do with the National Park System and why it came to be. In August of 2016, the NPS will be celebrating 100 years of recreation and conservation in protected park lands across our country. President Woodrow Wilson signed the NPS into law in 1916  "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment … of future generations."

We'll be celebrating a little early with a trip out West to several National Parks this fall. We've already visited quite a few and have a NPS passport book that we are filling up with stamps. Seniors can purchase a great lifetime pass for $10 ($20 if you order it through the mail) that gets you into any National Park for free. There are also lots of other options for visitors like the $80 annual pass that would be valuable if you knew you were making multiple visits.  A pass covers entrance and standard amenity fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free.

Here are just some of the National Parks we've visited so far:
Everglades (Florida)
Denali (Alaska)
Tonto National Forest (Arizona)
Haleakala (Hawaii)
Hawaii Volcanoes (Hawaii)
Acadia (Maine)
Chesapeake Bay (Maryland)
National Mall and Memorial Parks (D.C.)
Lake Mead (Nevada)
Death Valley (Nevada)
Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)
Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial (Ohio)
Gettysburg (Pennsylvania)
Blue Ridge (Virginia)
Olympic (Washington)
San Juan Island (Washington)

Of course some of them we will have to revisit if we want to fill up that passport since we didn't get it until a couple of years ago. Ah, so many places, so little time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

World Cruise - Guest Lecturers

One of the reasons for choosing the Crystal Cruise Line for our 108 days cruise was knowing they would have an excellent lineup of guest lecturers. They have begun to post the names of those on most of the earlier segments of the cruise. (The World Cruise is made up of six segments so some passengers are only there for a segment or two.) So besides being able to take knitting classes, bridge lessons, computer lessons, learn how to make movies on the iPad, art lessons, there are also lecture series to choose from as well. Here's a little peek at what we can expect.

Lectures on World Affairs by Owen Ullmann (senior correspondent at USA Today), Michael Nicholson (a British war correspondent), Robin Oakley (European political editor at CNN)

Historians: Dr. Jay Wolff (a commentator on the History Channel and faculty member at FGCU), Bill Miller (maritime historian-we've heard him before),

Special Interest/Celebrity: Clint Van Zandt (former FBI negotiator who dealt with cult leader David Koresh), Neil Leifer (photographer for LIFE, Time, Sport Illustrated), Dr. Thomas Jones (astronaut and astronomer), Howard Fineman (MSNBC and NBC news), Senator Bob Graham (former senator and governor of Florida).

That's just a taste of what is in store. I haven't listed everyone and the last two segments haven't been published yet. There are several books now after all this research that will go on my to-read list. This is definitely going to be a places-to-go-people-to-see-things-to-do cruise!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Books For The Road - Daisies Are Forever by Liz Tolsma

Daisies Are Forever by Liz Tolsma is a WWII story with an intriguing point of view. The characters include a n escaped British POW, an American of German descent who finds herself caught in the battle to save her family, and several other perspectives of the conflict between the Germans and the Red Army as they advanced into Berlin.

Gisela Cramer must flee the small Prussian town of Heiligenbeil and take with her two young cousins whose mother stays behind with Gisela's  grandfather. Along the way she helps a British POW and collects others, all of whom she is trying to save from the horrors of war. The story intensifies as it moves along culminating in the group finding refuge in the basement of a Berlin apartment building destroyed by the allied bombers.

Tolsma has used the war experiences of two women to tell the story. The escape over a frozen lake with planes shooting the refugees was an actual event in the life of Ruth Sabine Hildegard Lippert when she was seventeen. The second half of her book is based on the stories told by her aunt, Lillian Tolsma. She melds the two women's experiences into one story that is difficult to put down.

This would certainly be a good book to distract you on a long plane flight--especially if you can't sleep on a plane the way my husband can. High on my list of recommended reading.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Are You A Souvenir Shopper?

True confession: I hate shopping. I know. I feel like I'm a traitor to my gender but I've never much cared for shopping of any kind. I joke that I'd rather stay home and clean toilets than go grocery shopping. And shopping for clothes? I hate the trying on and the thumbing through racks of stuff that rarely looks good to me. So when it comes to souvenir shopping, well, I did it as a chore for a while.

I do on occasion buy a souvenir though when we travel. For a while I decided that I should collect something special. After all, everyone else had all sorts of collections--dolls, Lladro figurines, bells, spoons, etc. I was feeling the peer pressure. That was when I decided to combine my love of wood with starting a collection of wooden souvenirs from the places we visited.

Along the way I accumulated enough wooden pieces to get a good bonfire going. I did set limits though. The piece had to be from wood native to the country and made by an artisan of the place. I found a boomerang made by an Aborigine in Australia, a canoe carved by a fellow in Papua New Guinea, two wooden shepherd carvings (one for each trip) from Oberammergau, Germany, a knot of wood that looks like a heron from Mexico, a vase of mahogany from an island in the Caribbean (can't remember which one now) and the list goes on with much less impressive pieces.

I knew I was getting into trouble when in a rush to buy a wooden souvenir from one of the Caribbean islands I found later, when I turned it over, it bore the mark "Made in Costa Rica." A few years later we actually visited Costa Rica. I decided I didn't need a souvenir. Already had one.

Today, I have started discarding some of the less meaningful wooden souvenirs. They were purchased because, well, I had to have a souvenir. Didn't everyone? I no longer buy souvenirs just to have something from each place we visit. I'm not home enough to look at them. I don't need the extra work dusting them off. And since they don't really mean much to my kids, I could envision them starting their own bonfire with them.

Pass the marshmallows, please.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Grand Cayman - The Dive Vacation

The alarm sounds off at 6:30 a.m. This is vacation? Even at home it's only 7:30. My feet hit the tiled floor that feels cold from the A/C and I pad out to the kitchenette to push the button on the coffee maker. I've poured and measured the night before so I can do this with my eyes closed. I find my smart phone and connect to the internet. This will probably be my only chance to check email for the day since my husband and our diving companion, our grandson, will be volleying the connection back and forth between them the rest of the time.

Breakfast is simple. Getting Tyler up is not. I remember when his father was twelve going on sixteen. Bob has readied all of our equipment needs. The first day of diving we take everything to the dive center at Ocean Frontiers. The rest of the time they will set up and rinse our equipment for us. It's a luxury much appreciated when the diving gets serious and the body gets tired.

I look at the beautiful blue sky with its scattered columns of clouds and wonder what makes them so white and so tall. They are much different from our fat clouds at home that form a compressing dome over our heads often times. The morning sun is rapidly warming everything. The afternoon will probably be extremely hot and very humid. We find the dive boat with our equipment on board and settle in. A short introduction, a head count to see if all are here, a check of the equipment, and we are off.

The diving proves to be spectacular all week long. Visibility excellent at almost every site. Critters abound. Snappers, grey angels, squirrel fish, rays, even a few reef sharks and one huge peacock flounder are only a few of the magnificent marine life we enjoy.

Diving is not the most glamorous sport in the world. Strapping twenty pounds or more of equipment and weights on your back and waddling in swim fins to the back of the boat is not graceful at all. And then there's that wonderful indentation in your forehead and cheeks from the squeeze of the mask that seems to last forever. It does distinguish the divers from the beach-goers.

Glamour aside, it is an amazing opportunity which I am grateful to enjoy.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Books For The Road - Island Girls by Nancy Thayer

Nancy Thayer is a new author for me to read. I grabbed Island Girls from the library's digital section to download for our trip to Grand Cayman. It was on the recommended reading list from the staff. The story line was intriguing and so I took a chance. I'm glad I did. It was a good read.

Charming ladies’ man Rory Randall dies with one last trick up his sleeve: His will includes a calculating clause mandating a summer-long reunion for his daughters, all from different marriages—that is, if they hope to inherit his posh Nantucket house. The three have a history and jealousy and rivalry play a part. The characters are nicely developed and the setting, Nantucket Island, was intriguing. To a travel addict, it's like offering another piece of chocolate to a chocoholic.

Even if you can't travel this summer, it would be a good book to take you away to a lovely place and enjoy the company of a couple girls who find they really do have a bond. Definitely a good book for the road or the backyard lounge chair.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Through Bob's Lens - Scuba

These are some of the stills Bob took while we were diving. The Go Pro is fun but not the best for still shots or close ups.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Grand Cayman - The Turtle Farm

Many years ago on one of our first visits to Grand Cayman we took the time to explore the Turtle Farm at its old location. It was rather primitive compared to what it is today at the newer location opened in 2005 after Hurricane Michelle in 2001 and then Hurricane Ivan in 2004 destroyed the old location.

There is quite a history behind the Turtle Farm. It began as a commercial venture in 1968 to raise turtles as a commodity but eventually many countries made it illegal to harvest turtles for consumption and commercial use because they were becoming endangered. After passing through several hands, the Turtle Farm was purchased by the Cayman Government and a private company established to run the farm.

Today the farm is mostly a conservation effort to keep the population of the green sea turtles viable. There are still some raised for local consumption but no product can be exported. A huge herd of breeding turtles occupies the breeding pond that is flanked by an artificial sandy beach where the turtles (and the invading iguanas) bury their eggs. The eggs are harvested and put into incubators in the educational facility where the hatchlings are kept until they are ready to be put in an outdoor tank to grow or be released.

A nice video shows the process and gives you a bit of a break in wandering the facility as you sit in air conditioned comfort to watch. In the educational building, you can also see an example of what the eggs look like when they are buried. The turtle digs in the sand down to about two and a half feet or more, deposits the eggs, covers them and returns to the sea. In the wild, the hatchlings actually dig their way to the top of the sand in order to make their way to the sea.

We purchased tickets to view the tanks and the educational building only. For a bit more, you can get to swim with the turtles (we were doing that while diving) and enjoy a lagoon area, see the aviary, walk a nature trail, view examples of old architectural buildings, and play on a water slide. There is also an underwater view of the predator tank (translated: sharks!).

The Turtle Farm is a very nice attraction and an opportunity to take a break from the beach or the dive boat. It is north of Seven Mile Beach. Since it is inland, you may want to plan an early morning visit when it's not so hot. The facility opens at 8 a.m. The lagoon closes at 2:30 and the water slide at 4. Check out theTurtle Farm website for more information.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Arrrrgh! It's a Pirate's Cave!

For years now we have made an annual dive trip to the East End of Grand Cayman. We have driven past the Pirates Cave in Boddentown countless times and always say with a chuckle, "We should stop and see the cave," but continue driving. Last year, we really did stop. We had our grandson with us and thought it would be a fun thing to do with him. Unfortunately, they were closed for renovation. Can you renovate a cave? Apparently so.

This year we made it a priority to get to the cave and on a hot afternoon, drove to Boddentown for our excursion. We had heard it was a hokey tourist attraction but, hey, once in a while those can be fun. As we got out of the car, I noticed a subtitle on the Pirates Cave sign. Small letters said it was the Boddentown Zoo as well.

Inside as we went to purchase tickets, the gal at the desk scrutinized our grandson. "He's awfully big for 12," she said appraisingly.

"He doesn't turn 13 until September," I replied.

"Hokay," she said in a musical Caribbean accent and rang up our tickets (adults $10 USD, kids $6.25 USD).

We got a preview of what we were to see, a small flashlight, and a paper map that had some interesting facts on the back of it. According to Caymanian folklore the first settler on the island was a man named Walters and his companion named Bawden or Bodden who arrived in 1658 after serving in Oliver Cromwell's army in Jamaica. The first recorded permanent resident was Isaac Bodden who was born on Grand Cayman around 1700 and was the grandson of the orginal settler named Bodden. Other settlers included pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors and slaves.

The Pirates Caves attraction was founded by a local man, Spencer Bodden, in the early 1980s. After doing some research it was discovered that the caves on his parents' property were used by pirates of the Caribbean.

This was no Disney ride however. We started out by walking around the nature trail and looking at a large variety of chickens in cages as well as some huge iguanas (some in cages and some not). A couple of goats were disappointed we hadn't purchased food for them. It grew hotter as the trees and buildings cut off the ocean breeze. We headed for the cave.

Down a few steps we found a small cave that was adorned with some manufactured pirate leftovers. The best part though was finding the bats. As we ventured a few feet beyond the exit stairway, our grandson used the flashlight to illuminate the back part of the cave. As he did, shadows of flying bats played on the opposite wall. We all decided we'd gone far enough.

It was a fun visit. Now as we pass by we can say, "Been there. Done that." and chuckle.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Be Careful What You Say With Your Hands!

Gestures are something most of us are familiar with. We use them all the time and often unconsciously. They are second nature. Want someone to come to you? Crook a finger and motion to them. Order two drinks? Hold up two fingers in a V. See a cute kid? Pat them on the head. Unfortunately a lot of these gestures in another country could get you in trouble or at least make you seem very rude.

Buddhists believe the spirit lives in the head thereby making it the most sacred part of the body. Touching it is demeaning to that person and frowned upon. Don't pat the head of a child in Thailand.

Believe it or not in countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland, ordering two drinks with your fingers in a V and your palm pointed toward you could signal trouble. It's the equivalent of our middle finger raised.

Thumbs up in Afghanistan, Iran, and parts of Italy and Greece is not a good message. Wonder how you hitchhike in those countries?

The okay sign, thumb touching index finger, is far from okay in France, Turkey, Venezuela, and Brazil. In fact, it's quite vulgar.

Crooking a finger to motion "come here" is only used for dogs in the Philippines and in Singapore and Japan it signifies the icy finger of death beckoning.

Now that last one I wonder about. In fact sometimes I wonder about a lot of things I gather from the web. I need to check with my Japanese daughter-n-law and other Japanese friends. It's quite possible though you see, in Japan the number four is like our number 13. And there are several other superstitions that to us may seem strange. (I particularly like the one that says if you lie down after eating you will become a cow. Makes sense.)

Hopefully if you are travelling and you use the wrong gesture the locals will just shrug and say, "Tourists!" and gesture to you. Of course we might not know what's behind the gesture. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

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