"" Writer's Wanderings: May 2015

Friday, May 29, 2015

Exploring the Great Lakes Science Center

Cleveland's Great Lakes Science Center now houses the exhibits from NASA Glenn Space Center and we had not been to see it since it was moved from the airport to downtown. The admission to GLSC covers the Glenn exhibit as well and was the first thing we saw as we entered.

I was amazed at how small the Apollo capsule was. The bottom of it still shows the burned and pockmarked surface from the reentry. Growing up with the space program, it has always been of interest to me. I remember a seventh grade report I did on what men might eat in space. Turned out to be pretty accurate.

Our grandson particularly enjoyed the trip as he is a great observer of the space program. He and his dad watch the NASA channel frequently. When he was quite young, he could name all the stages of the space shuttle as it launched. They even got to see a night time launch once. Sad to see that program stall.

The GLSC is a great place for adults and kids alike. It wasn't crowded the day we went and there was plenty of opportunity to try out all the hands-on stuff.

Entertainment abounded with the Bubble Man who explained what makes bubbles form and showed all sorts of different ways you could make bubbles from soapy water including using a plastic pint container that strawberries come in at the grocery store.

Outside a couple of hours later, two very entertaining ladies showed the Mento and Coke experiment which eventually led to a fountain of Coke about 12 feet high. They tantalized the crowd and built expectations with some liquid nitrogen that eventually led to a huge cloud being formed when they poured warm water into the liquid ice. It was quite a thrilling display.

This was also the first time we'd gone to GSLC in warm weather and the kids got to enjoy the outdoor water displays. What is it with kids and water? They take to it like ducks.

All in all, it was a great morning and afternoon but we left a bit early to make it to our next destination, a submarine!

Girls enjoyed the anti-gravity mirror.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Small Town, USA

Our frequent trips to Columbus, Ohio, usually take us along the interstates but recently we had the opportunity to get off the interstates and cruise through some of the small towns of Ohio.

Marysville sits on the outskirts of Columbus and has a quaint downtown area. We had a wonderful dinner at Hinckley's, a restaurant  in an old brick mansion on East 5th Street. I'm sure there must be some history there but I wasn't able to find it. Another restaurant, Doc Henderson's, was at the site before Hinckley's and was a popular spot that was closed when the owner retired.

We strolled down the street and Bob's ice cream radar found a spot for our dessert. It seems you can always find a good ice cream shop in a small town.

The towns of DeGraff and West Liberty were also a part of the following day and since they have a little of family history attached we enjoyed wandering through them as well.

Small Town America usually holds great antique shops as well and sometimes some surprising museums and always a little bit of great historical stories told best by those who've lived there longest.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Free Museums

For several years we lived near Washington DC. It was a great location for lots of free things to do the best being the Smithsonian Institution located in the center of the city near all the iconic structures: Washington Monument, Capital Building, etc. The museum consists of 19 separate museums and institutions including the National Zoo.

I remember seeing Dorothy's (Judy Garland) ruby red slippers in what is one of my favorite buildings, the Museum of American History. The Air and Space Museum was another favorite and I can't imagine how much more there is there now since our last visit too many years ago. Hmmm. Maybe another trip is in order.

There are lots of free museums in many places around the world. Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, NZ for one. We spent a good part of one very rainy day exploring it and found it fascinating. Others on the list might include the Nicholson in Sydney, Australia, or the British Museum in London which I understand takes several days to wander through to see it all.

Travel Tip: Check out the museums in the area you are going to visit. A free one just might be a good Plan B to a rainy day or a good Plan A for you museum buffs on a budget.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Postcard From Pitcairn

Back on February 8 the Crystal Serenity was anchored just off of Pitcairn Island, settled by the mutineers of the Bounty. All but a couple of the islanders came aboard ship and talked about their history, their life on the island and sold souvenirs. I found the magistrate who also ran the post office and he was selling Pitcairn postage stamps as well as postcards.

There was a beautiful stamp with the Bounty on it that I purchased to send to someone and then I decided it would be fun to send a postcard to us as well. Unfortunately the ship stamps were gone but he sold me some others.

I filled out the two postcards and handed them over to him and he said with a smile, "You know you will be home long before these arrive, don't you?"

He then went on to explain that the supply ship that would collect their mail wouldn't arrive until March and then it would be a while before it would deposit the mail any where near where it could easily make it to the states. I thought with almost three months left of our cruise surely it would get there before we got home.

Our postcard arrived this week. It's world cruise was as long or longer than ours.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Flying Fish

Whenever we cruise the Caribbean I always look for the flying fish. They are like little white bullets that shoot out of the wake of the ship and skim over the water and waves and disappear again. When you first see them you think your eyes are playing tricks but they are real and on our World Cruise I saw them in the Pacific as well.

The fish are anatomically built for flying--so to speak. Their tails are sculpted with over-
sized lower lobes and when in danger, they vibrate it more than 50 beats per second. The vibration propels them out of the water. Once free of the water, they spread over-sized pectoral fins that have been tucked against their sides while underwater. The pectoral fins act as wings when they become airborne.

Flying fish which can reach 18 inches in length and weigh a pound and a half are usually only airborne for two or three seconds but some have been known to stay airborne for as long as 45 seconds and cover a distance of 2,000 feet but do so like a flat stone that's been skipped along the water's surface. If you were being pursued as dinner, you'd learn to run too!

Unfortunately flying fish are pursued not only from below but above as well. Larger fish feed off of them and above the surface they are prey to keen-eyed albatross and frigates. And new to me, it was mentioned by one of the lecturers that flying fish can be found on the menu in some countries.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Zulu

Yes, I admit to being a skeptic especially when it comes to souvenirs. A while ago I was buying wooden objects and my criteria was that they be of native wood and made by a native of that country. I was in a hurry one day and bought something in the Caribbean and got it home, turned it over to see that it was made in China.

In Cape Town, South Africa we strolled through a art and craft pavilion and I fell in love with a beaded necklace. The sales lady said it was made by the Zulu. I really didn't care at the time. I liked the necklace and it looked well made and we bought it. But was it really made by the Zulu? And who are the Zulu? Now that I'm home and have the time and most importantly a good internet connection I thought I would check it out.

The word Zulu means "sky" and according to oral history, Zulu was the name of the ancestor who founded the royal line about 1670. The Zulu make up about 22% of the South African population. The largest concentration is near Durban which is quite a ways from Cape Town. Still, it's quite feasible that the owner of the jewelry booth could have had pieces shipped to her.

Zulu or not, the necklace is my favorite souvenir.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cruising Behind The Scenes

While on our world cruise aboard the Crystal Serenity, we were afforded the opportunity of touring behind the scenes. It was a pretty extensive tour and here is a sampling of what we saw. The amazing part was seeing how many more crew members were working behind the scenes not only for the passengers but for the other crew members as well. 

The bakery. They were giving out samples of soft pretzels and rolls.

The crew's cafeteria.
The crew's disco.
The ship's tailor.
My favorite, the florist. She was in a space the size of a walk-in closet.
Okay, now this was amazing. The sheets and pillowcases go in here . . .

 . . .and come out here, pressed and folded!
The printer was recycling old menus by printing inventory lists on the back.
Behind the stage, the entertainers' wardrobe.
And the entertainers' wigs. No wonder we couldn't figure out if they were blondes or brunettes.
Up in the bridge, Bob found the ship's whistle. Glad he didn't push it.
And of course, upon every sail away this CD of Louis Armstrong's It's a Wonderful World played.
In the Safety Briefing room where crew members learn and review safety procedures, we found this chart of Code Words. Bravo is a universal code word for fire no matter what ship you are on. Interesting, but I wondered why the last two didn't have a code word. Our guide said if it got to that it didn't matter any more what the code word was.

Friday, May 15, 2015

What's New At Our Zoo?

The World Cruise laundry was finished, folded, and put away and spring time had come to Cleveland. Time to check out the zoo and see what was new.

Temperatures were already in the low 80s by the time we arrived mid-morning. This was more than spring weather, this was an early peak at summer. Yellow school buses were already filling up the outer parking lot but there was still room to park cars nearer the gate. We showed our old membership card and said we hadn't received our new one yet. (Actually we'd just paid our dues that came up for renewal while we were gone.) Not a problem. Our hands were stamped and we were off for our cup of coffee for our stroll.

It was interesting to see the rhinos and some of the other animals we'd seen on safari. A lot different to see them in a zoo setting but if I closed my eyes I could still remember the thrill of those encounters on our safari.

New at the zoo and only for summer is a penguin exhibit that is quite nice. Six penguins in a temperature controlled environment. It's nice to see them again at the zoo. I remember when we had a large exhibit in the old bird building. We're still waiting for them to get another hippo too.

As we walked around, we couldn't help but notice a huge crane in the area of the giraffes. Sure enough. There is a major project underway for a new giraffe encounter. The picture looks like it'll be a really nice addition.

It didn't take long for the heat to climb and for us to decide to head for home. A little too much summer too early in spring but we're promised "normal" next week. Normal for Cleveland could be anything. Keeps us on our toes.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

World Cruise - Saying Goodbye

There were two days at sea between St. Thomas and Miami. Plenty of time for goodbyes and enough time for us to pack. We had heard that some started packing the week before but then we only had six suitcases. Some had a lot more including one couple at our dining room table that had eleven.

We decided to give our beach blanket and napkin rings to our cabin stewardess. She was excited to get the blanket. We also gave her our leftover Dove candies and Hershey miniatures we had brought and not eaten since we had so many gifts of chocolate (much better chocolate) from friends and family when we sailed.

A six-pack of peanut butter crackers we’d also brought and not opened we gave to our favorite breakfast waiter along with his extra tip. He always teased us about our Wednesday pancakes, Sunday waffles, Bob’s Tuesday Japanese breakfast, and my orders of peanut butter for my English muffin.

Jorge and Nenad mugging for the camera.
A special program called Serenity Pops was our entertainment one night. Several musicians had joined us in St. Thomas and added to the orchestra we already had on board. The enlarged orchestra was led by the Crystal Cruise’s entertainment director. It started out with some opera offerings from the lead singers and then turned into some hilarious antics and entertainment interspersed with some of the best dancing I’ve seen on any ship.

Our last afternoon found us watching an hour long video of our World Cruise. I think Bob and I popped up once or twice but you had to look quick. We didn’t do a lot of the excursions that the videographers photographed but it did give a good summary of all the entertainment and lecturers and enrichment programs throughout the cruise. It was a gift to all the World Cruisers but I doubt anyone will want to watch it. We probably won’t watch again—well maybe just once.

Michael at tea time.
Pictures with our two waiters, Jorge and Nenad, were crazy selfies. These guys made 108 days very pleasant with their friendliness and good humor as did Michael from the beverage department who not only waited on us at tea time but would always bring us two waters at show time in the Galaxy—one “decaf”, one “caffeine”, delivered with a smile and a chuckle.

Dinner was followed by dancing and then a balloon drop in the ship’s atrium. It was the only time Bob wanted to dance and only because he wanted to be in the middle under the balloons with his toothpick. Not an easy thing to do when you’re getting jostled by all the dance ambassadors doing their fancy steps with the single ladies or those whose husbands won’t dance.

We finished our hugs and goodbyes with our tablemates and others we had grown fond of and went up to our room to change, stuff our “Crystal casual” clothes into the suitcase and change into our comfortable jeans and shirts that we would also wear in the morning. We set our suitcases out in the hall and then went off for one more walk through the ship. We wanted to take a walk around the Promenade Deck but it was wet and rainy and very windy.

Our tablemates for 108 days!
Our time to disembark was early since we had to travel from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and I’m guessing they had quite a time scheduling all the limos for the World Cruisers. We were also supposed to meet our luggage carrier, Luggage Free, at the pier and send off some of our luggage. 

Finding our luggage, we got a porter to load it on a cart and we started out. To my amazement we went through customs behind two carts that were filled with wardrobe shipping cartons from a moving company. What a way to travel!

Our luggage carrier never showed at the appointed time and when Bob finally got a time commitment from them it was an hour later. We stacked our luggage and managed to wheel it over to where the limos were being assigned. The lady in charge graciously found us an SUV that could handle six suitcases for our trip to Ft. Lauderdale.
Early morning in Miami. Moon still out!

Thanks to United dropping their direct flight to Cleveland for our return flight, we ended up getting home by way of Chicago but it all went smoothly and we found two other people from our ship going the same way. We’d met them once at the very beginning of our cruise.

A limo driver met us and helped us with luggage as we arrived in CLE. Home looked good. Bob counted the fish. They were all there. He checked out the new furnace and turned on the hot water. I looked at the six suitcases sitting in the mud room and decided tomorrow was soon enough to start unpacking.

We went off to Bob Evans for dinner—er, make that a breakfast. We both had a taste for fried eggs, sausage, toast (with the crust on) and real hash browns.  And we didn’t have to get dressed up to eat it. Home!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

World Cruise - The Caribbean

A day and a half sail from Devil’s Island found us once again in the Caribbean visiting Barbados. We were a little concerned we might not get to go ashore as there was some talk that Barbados would not let those who had visited Brazil within a certain time period into Barbados unless they had proof of a yellow fever shot. We’d not gotten one since we didn’t think we would be out in the Amazon during the peak hours for mosquitoes and we were concerned over the possible side effects of the shot.

Nothing was ever mentioned about it and once the ship cleared, we went ashore. We’ve been to Barbados several times and have watched it change over the years. The first visit was the usual Caribbean Island hassle but by the second visit we had learned that the government, in an effort to make the island more tourist-friendly, had instituted programs to educate the residents on how to make tourists feel less threatened and more welcome. It worked!

Barbados is an island that you can visit and not be jostled every minute by hawkers of jewelry, hats, and coconut carvings. You will be approached and asked if you want a tour or taxi or would like to take a look around a store but they are not as aggressive as they once were or many of their other Caribbean counterparts are. It makes for a nice visit.

A warm sun and a cool breeze gave us a pleasant walk into town. We took a few pictures, turned down a few offers for tours (been there, done that) and walked back to the ship so Bob could get in some more paddle tennis before the cruise ended in less than a week. I’m afraid he’s addicted to paddle tennis. It would be nice to find a place to play at home.

It was almost the same routine when we arrived at St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands except that here we went through a face-to-face immigration. It was preferable to going through immigration in Miami since there always seems to be a major backup at the cruise terminal there in immigration. That just left us with a customs slip to fill out and hand in as we passed through the customs area.

Our arrival just after noon was earlier than expected and we were the only ship at the pier at 
Havenport, the older of the two cruise areas. Before long, immigration was on board and processing quite quickly—soon enough that even some of the crew were able to go ashore for a short time.

Alternate route to town starts here.
Many world cruisers headed for the local Kmart that was a short walk from the ship. There was a steady stream of people pulling new suitcases behind them returning to the ship. A little too much souvenir shopping perhaps? We’d also received a souvenir from the cruise line on each segment. Some were large like a beach blanket and wooden statue and other were heavy like a set of onyx coasters and a six inch cube of crystal with a globe suspended in the middle. That’s going to make a lot of suitcases overweight. It must weigh at least five pounds.

Route to downtown from Havenport, St. Thomas

We didn’t get to Kmart but we did wander the pier and peek in the shops and discovered a whole new area that you can walk through to get to town. Of course it includes a lot of upscale shops but it’s a nice area and beats walking along the usually busy road.

It was carnival time for some reason and many of the shops in town, we were told, might be closed. That explained why there wasn’t as much traffic as usual. If it was like that all the time, I wouldn’t mind stopping in Charlotte Amalie. We usually plan to go to Water Island or St. John’s for the day when we stop. Our late arrival didn’t allow for that but our late departure did allow for time to see the lights of Charlotte Amalie and a beautiful full moon shining over the Caribbean waters.

Bob and I had dinner in the specialty restaurant, Prego, and then saw the evening entertainment which turned out to be a good comedian.

Afterwards, we wandered around the Promenade Deck until it was time to depart. We wanted to hear Louie sing What A Wonderful World one more time.

Oh Yeeaahh.

Monday, May 11, 2015

World Cruise - Devil's Island, French Guiana

Just off the coast of French Guiana is a cluster of three islands, Ile Royale, Ile Ste-Joseph, and Ile du Diable or Devil’s Island. The most infamous of the three is Devil’s Island made so by the book and movie Papillion. The islands were penal colonies of France and the worst of the criminals, the political criminals were sent to Devil’s Island. The most famous of which was Alfred Dreyfus who was wrongly accused of treason and later released.

The penal colony existed from 1852 when it was instituted by Emperor Napoleon III until 1946 when it was forced to close. Each island served a different purpose. Ile Royale was administrative and for prisoner’s deemed less dangerous. The more hardened criminals were kept on Ile St. Joseph.

Because of the location and the dangerous waters surrounding them, sharks and strong currents, most attempted escapes ended tragically or were quickly ended by capture and return to the islands which earned time in solitary confinement. The most famous escapee, Henri “Papillon” Charriere, claimed to be the only successful escapee but there’s a possibility there were a few others.

Papillon is immortalized in a book and movie that starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. We watched the movie the night before we were to arrive at the islands. It portrays, a bit graphically at times, the horrendous conditions the prison was noted for and the terrible punishments inflicted on unruly convicts or those who did not accomplish the work quota for the day. When Papillon escapes a second time and is caught and sent to solitary for a five year sentence (the first was two years), I heard myself say, “Oh, not again.” At one point, his small cell is completely enclosed so that there is no light except for one small pinhole. Most prisoners went crazy under those conditions.

Solitary confinement building
Out of the 60,000-80,000 prisoners said to have served time there in those years, very few survived and even if there terms ended they were still banished to French Guiana to live out their days and try to survive the hardships that provided.

We arrived and dropped anchor off Ile Royale about one o’clock and Bob and I grabbed our gear and made for the tenders. It was already a hot day and I was thankful that the island had more trees than it had in the days of the penal colony. I guess with no prisoners to cut them down they grew heartily.

The tender unloaded its passengers on a jetty probably in the same spot prisoners were unloaded. We however were not shackled and we made our way off the pier and instead of turning left to visit the buildings immediately, we went right to follow the path that goes around the island. I really wanted a chance to walk for a while on solid ground under some trees and with a fresh ocean breeze blowing.

Around a bend, we found the remains of a tower that had been the base for a cable that ran across to Devil’s Island and was a means of delivering food and people, I think, as well. Devil’s Island has a rugged coast that is hard to approach by boat. Besides, I’m sure that they were also afraid prisoners might band together and commandeer a supply boat.

We were startled when an animal crossed our path that looked like it was carrying a baby in its mouth. A little later we saw another and realized it was a large rodent, one we’d seen in the zoo back home. I think they are called agouti.

Eventually we found our way to the center of the building complex and began exploring what was left of the old cells, the hospital, the chapel, and other buildings. Some we could wander through and others, like the hospital, while still mostly standing were closed to the public.

I was glad we’d taken the time to see the movie. It helped me to visualize and understand better the things I was seeing. Bob took a picture of me behind bars. I was making a face because I didn’t want to pose red faced from the heat and with sweat dripping from my hair. Later our son commented on the FaceBook picture, “Oh my gosh, Mom, what did you do to Dad?” He’ll never know how close I came. (Just kidding, kids.)

On our way around the buildings and ruins, we saw a helicopter pad that I’m sure wasn’t there back when and a fenced in small utility building with some dishes on it. We wondered if that was the tracking facility for the Guiana Space Centre that launches space rockets eastward over the islands.

We heard some people talking about seeing monkeys along the trail and I was sorry we had missed them. When we started back for the tenders though several people were stopped taking pictures of the trees above them and we realized we were in time for the monkeys after all.I’m not sure the variety, maybe capuchins? They weren’t afraid of visitors and were easily enticed by some other guests with a couple of crackers. People passing by were warning that you’d better hang onto your hats. The monkeys were known thieves. Perhaps that’s why they were here. Maybe that’s all that exists of the penal colony residents now. I didn’t wait around to ask. We took our pictures and gladly left for the air conditioned ship and a welcome shower.

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