"" Writer's Wanderings: 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016

When A Girl's Gotta Go

Long ago when I was just a young whipper-snapper we made some long car rides. (Whippersnapper by the way is not a term of endearment according to Merriam Webster). There were no McDonald's along the way and few rest stops. There was always the empty coffee can on the floor in the back seat. I knew what it was for. My brother could just stand by the car if necessary when nature called but I was relegated to using the coffee can. I tried hard not to have to avail myself of such relief.

We have often joked about me having to use an empty to-go coffee cup but have always managed to find a rest area or appropriate restroom along our route even if it meant buying another cup of coffee or other foodstuff to avail ourselves of the facilities. I thought I had blogged once before about a device called "stand by your man" but I couldn't find it in the archives. That was quite some time ago when we were planning a trip to China and I knew there would be squat toilets. The idea for devices to help women in troubled times must have caught on since then because now there are quite a few products for women who love to camp or travel where facilities are not ideal or few and far between.

The devices are called female urination devices. Go Girl seems to be one of the most popular or is advertised better. Basically they are funnel type devices that can eliminate that need to squat and hopefully will direct a stream away from legs and clothing much like a male who can naturally do that. It certainly would have come in handy when we climbed Mt. Fuji and I made my own device from a discarded beverage cup. Had I only known. . .

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Finding A Place To Rest Your Head At Night

There is no way I will venture out on a trip unless I'm sure there are reservations made for each night's stay. Why? Because we tried taking a chance once and it ended up with us sleeping in the station wagon with three kids and trying to keep warm by covering up with beach towels. Take my word for it, you do not want to travel I-90 to Niagara Falls without reservations.

It was a Friday night, we left in the evening, a day earlier than our scheduled trip with the intention of finding a place along the way and arriving earlier at the Falls than planned. Between a large car show and several other events there were no rooms between Cleveland and Erie, PA. A van beat us to the last room at the Holiday Inn in Erie. We started back toward home and gave up at the state line, pulled into a rest stop and sandwiched between semis, settled in for the night. Needless to say the first day at the Falls found us struggling to keep our feet moving.

We once met a couple from the UK who were touring Australia and they had booked their first and last night of their trip but all the rest were a matter of pulling in somewhere and finding a room. I still like to know where my head will rest each night rather than chance a Niagara Falls experience.

Knowing my feelings on the matter Bob books our stays ahead of time. Sometimes he uses an online travel site but mostly he deals directly with the hotel or B&B. When you are dealing with an unfamiliar area and an unfamiliar hotel or hotel chain, you can't always count on getting the best room for the money with an online site.

The deals, you say. Well, yes there are great deals on online sites but sometimes there are hidden costs. Be sure to look for "additional fees may apply." There may be resort fees, cleaning fees, pool fees, the list goes on. By checking directly with the hotel, you can ask up front about additional fees.

It doesn't cost anything to join a loyalty program for a hotel and it can get you some extras like free WiFi, a better room, or as we found one time, an upgrade and a warm welcome with a sign and all because Bob was chosen as the customer of the day. It was fun.

Always use a credit card to book your room. It will save you a lot of trouble if you have a problem. Using cash or debit will not be so easily refunded if you find yourself in an unsolvable situation.

And be sure if you are booking an overseas trip that takes you over the international dateline that you have booked for the correct night. It's embarrassing to show up at your hotel and discover that you were a day early or late.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Does the Bucket List Ever Get Shorter?

I hope not!! There are still so many places to go and things to see. We haven't covered many of the places in our own country that need to be explored. The more people say it's a small world (ha! there it's in your head) the more I realize it's truly a big world and there is more to explore.

2017's big bucket list item is the European Christmas Markets. We chose to book a river cruise that begins in Vienna and cruises the Danube to several stops in Austria, Germany and Slovakia. Decorated booths and displays of arts and crafts, food and beverages will abound in the towns and cities we stop in. I'm not a big shopper but I'm great at looking and taking in the culture of the area through their Christmas tradition. We have begun to book some of our side tours including the Lippinzaner Stallions.

Our trip home from Florida this year will include a stop in Sarasota to check out the circus history of the city and the museums there. Further north we are planning to stop and check in on a young cousin who has begun a job as curator of education at the Old Governor's Mansion Museum in Milledgeville, GA. The mansion dates back to 1839 and is rich in history.

There's the annual scuba trip with our grandson and the hope of actually getting to check off the last dive site on our list to earn our green shorts.

There are a few niches in the calendar year that could hold several possibilities for travel to some of the states we have yet to check off our list--maybe Oregon or Colorado or a couple more of the big national parks we haven't been to.

Of course there are still things even in our backyard that have yet to be discovered and explored or experienced. No, the bucket list never gets shorter.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Essays on Life - End of the Year Reflections

The house is quiet. Family has left for home. The echoed chatter of grandkids is fading. Thankfully the warm memories won't. The week between Christmas and New Year's Day always seems to be a time of reflection. If you turn on the television that is pretty much what you are going to see. It's kind of like your life flashing before you as the year ends.

Ours was quite a year. Travelwise, we stayed warm in Florida a few months, went scuba diving in Grand Cayman, climbed Mount Fuji on our visit to Tokyo, drove all the way around Iceland and visited Italy and Spain with a transatlantic crossing to Fort Lauderdale. More importantly we got to spend time with family, made some new friends, grew deeper relationships with other friends and continued on in this glorious partnership we call marriage.

We once had a sailboat named Silver Reflections, The name was chosen for two reasons. One, it was a silvery color as it was a silver anniversary edition of the 30' O'day so its reflection in the water would be silver. The second reason was even more important. We knew we would be making wonderful memories of our time sailing--silver reflections, so to speak.

While I can look back on the wonderful adventures of 2016, I can also hope for the opportunity to journey further on, to make each day count as we look forward in the coming year to making silver reflections that will soon be turning to gold.

No matter what the past year has held for you the reflection will change. It always does as you sail through the waters of life. May your journey be smooth.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Picturing Christmas

Our travels have circumnavigated the globe. It's an amazing thought. As we have visited so many different places and I have written about our travels, I have struggled to clearly picture in words how those areas and people appeared to me. Think about the most glorious sunset you've ever seen and then try to put it into words. Once you are past the oranges, reds, purples, pinks, etc. it gets more difficult and it is impossible to capture the magnificence of the moment and the emotion it evokes.

Taking a photo or even a video of the experience does not do it justice either. There may be some beautiful pictures as a result, but it will still not equal that one stunning scene that will be embedded in the archives of your mind.

Now imagine the miracle of Christmas. In our heads, we see what others have told us. We see images others have painted--and those mostly as an impression of the words used to describe the scene. Scripture does not recall a donkey (exactly) for Mary to ride on. Nowhere does it say that there was an innkeeper but we insist on that as part of the story. The three kings were three wise men--but wait! Now we don't even know that there were three. There could have been more since the Bible doesn't really give a number. And they didn't arrive until Jesus was around two years old.

In our joy, in our desire to celebrate this great miracle, we have tried to picture what we were not there to experience. In doing so, we have created lovely pictures on cavases and in words that have come to symbolize our Christmas story. While every detail may not be exact, the truth still remains. God sent his only Son so that whoever would believe in Him could have eternal life.

In my mind, I have a picture of heaven. It's based on several places in the Bible where heaven is described. I'm sure the real thing will look nothing like what I've pictured. It will probably be much more glorious than I could ever describe. Does it diminish what God has prepared? No. It just gives me something to look forward to.

However you picture your Christmas story, a stable or a cave, a donkey or a cart, three wisemen or a dozen, may you focus on the one thing we all know to be true: God's promise fulfilled in His Son, Jesus.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Silent Night

There is a lovely legend that surrounds this carol sung in many churches on Christmas Eve while candles are lit to celebrate the Christ child's birth. The song originates in Austria and was originally written in German by Fr. Joseph Mohr and put to music by Franz Xaver Gruber, a music teacher.

As the story goes, Fr Mohr wanted a children's choir to sing the song he had written in 1816 at a Christmas Eve Mass in 1818, but unfortunately, the organ broke down. Fr Mohr knew how to play a guitar so he asked Gruber to compose music for the guitar. That night it was performed for the very first time by the choir accompanied by the guitar.

The legend continues that an organ repair man actually circulated the song that soon became very popular. There is no record of there ever being a children's choir, or of the organ being broken. There is, however, an original copy of the music and words written down in 1820 by Fr. Mohr and crediting Franz Gruber with the music. It is displayed in the Carolino Augusteum Museum in Salzburg.

May this carol bring you the stillness that will allow the holiness of this wonderful night to fill you with the wonder of the miracle and the gift God gave.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Crachit's Christmas Goose

In Dicken's A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is shown the Crachit's Christmas celebration by the ghost of Christmas present. They have what appears to Scrooge to be a pitiful stuffed goose. In that day it probably was the poor man's dinner. When Scrooge is finally through his visits and awakes on Christmas morning he insists on buying a large turkey for the Crachits.

Today the goose is probably a more unusual and even gourmet meal. We used to have a Christmas goose almost every year. Baked to a golden brown the wonderful smell of our goose dinner filled the house. Here's a recipe if you are ready for a Crachit Christmas goose.

1 domestic goose (10-12 lb)
salt and pepper
1 apple cored and quartered
1 orange peeled and quartered
1 lemon peeled and quartered
1 cup hot water

Sprinkle the goose with salt and pepper. Place fruit in empty cavity and place goose in shallow baking pan breast side up. Pierce skin with a fork near the thighs and wings. It allows excess fat to drain as it cooks. Pour water into pan.

Bake uncovered at 350 for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until thermometer reaches 180. You may want to drain some of the fat from the pan if there is too much.

Let stand for about 20 minutes and remove fruit and discard before carving.

We always liked sauerkraut and dumplings seasoned a bit with the goose drippings but being English, I'm sure the Crachits had more traditional "puddings" and potatoes with other vegetables.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Clogs

While many of us are scurrying around thinking of gift ideas and readying those stockings to hang "from the chimney with care," the Dutch children have already received their gifts. December 6 in the Netherlands is St. Nicholas Day and the evening before (December 5) the children put out their wooden shoes in hope of receiving sweets and presents from Sinter Klaas.

Instead of cookies, the Dutch children put hay and carrots in their shoes as a treat for Sinter Klaas' white horse that he rides through town. The children's treats are replaced with presents to be enjoyed on St. Nicholas Day.

There are often parties on St. Nicholas Eve and anonymous presents are exchanged with poems or sayings that give a clue to the giver.

For the most part, Christmas Day is a quieter holiday with church services and a family meal. Some children believe that Santa Claus (not to be confused with Sinter Klaas) who lives in Lapland in Finland comes on Christmas Eve to bring a small gift of a book or orange or biscuits.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Japanese Christmas Cake

Along with their KFC meal on Christmas Eve in Japan, people also have a Christmas cake or kurisumasu keki. It is basically a sponge cake (angel cake) with whipped cream for frosting and strawberries.

I searched for recipes for sponge cake and they all looked like more work than I was willing to do. So I went to my man the Pillsbury guy and found an angel food cake mix. (Actually many brands of cake mixes have a sponge or angel food mix.) So here is the "recipe".

Japanese Christmas Cake

Angel Food Cake Mix
Make according to directions on package. Bake in two round cake pans and set aside to cool


2 cup heavy whipping cream
4 TB of sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
About 20 strawberries

Use a large cold bowl and make sure your whipping cream is cold. With a hand whip or mixer, whip the cream, sugar and vanilla together until soft peaks form. Put half of whipped cream in another bowl and add about 10 thinly sliced strawberries to one bowl.

Spread frosting with strawberries on one layer of cake and set second layer on top. Use the rest of the frosting to cover the top and sides of cake. Decorate top of cake with whole strawberries.

If this all sounds good but you don't want to do the work, seek out a Chinese/Asian bakery and they will usually have a cake for purchase.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Meri Kurisumasu

On our visit to Epcot at Christmas time last year, we stopped by the Japanese venue. The storyteller there was talking about the New Year's celebration rather than Christmas. That's because since there is only about 1% of the population that observes Christmas it is not an officially recognized holiday in Japan. Yet, there are seasonal decorations in the shopping areas and the Japanese have begun to exchange cards and presents. And Santa is seen on occasion.

The really big tradition is to eat fried chicken on Christmas--all thanks to a successful marketing campaign back in the 1970s by Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now KFCs in Japan have lines streaming around the block as customers wait to pick up their chicken orders which range in price from $40-80.

The New Year's celebration however lasts for four days. The storyteller at Epcot was cast as a Daruma doll sales person. The doll is almost egg shaped, made of paper mache and weighted on the bottom so it doesn't fall over. The eyes are blank. You paint in one eye, make a wish and when the wish is fulfilled you can paint the other eye in.

The dolls are also considered a symbol of perseverance and good luck. They can be a gift of encouragement if instead of a wish, a goal is set by one eye and the other eye painted when the goal is achieved.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Norwegian Cookies - Kokosmakroner

Basically Kokosmakroner, Norwegian Christmas cookies, are coconut macaroons, something my husband loves so I guess after I post this recipe I'll be off to make some for him. If you are a chocolate lover, once you bake the macaroons, melt some semi sweet morsels and dip half of each cookie in the chocolate. Set them on some waxed paper until they harden.

Coconut Macaroons

2/3 cup flour
5 1/2 cups flaked coconut
1/4 tsp salt
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
2 tsps vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. In large bowl mix together the flour, coconut and salt. Stir in vanilla and sweetened condensed milk. Use your hands to blend it well. An ice cream scoop or tablespoon can be used to drop the dough onto the cookie sheets.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until coconut is toasted.

Okay, now my mouth is watering.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Gledelig Jul!

Clever and full of energy was the elf at the center of the venue at Norway in Epcot. The Julenissen is derived from the Nisse or the barn elf that looks out for the livestock on Norwegian farms. Julenissen is the "barn Santa". He had some magical powers that included being invisible--at least to the lady beside him.

Across the countryside children on farms leave a bowl of porridge in the barn for Julenissen to thank him for taking care of the animals and watching over the family. Farm animals are treated to the finest oats and barley and special sheaves of grain are placed on poles for the birds.

Julenissen visits on Christmas Eve with the greeting, "Are there any good children here?" Of course he brings presents and will sometimes make the children sing a song, "Pa Laven Sitter Nissen" (In the barn sits the elf).

There is also another song, Musevisa (The Mouse Song) that tells of a mouse family getting ready for Christmas and Mother and Father Mouse warning their children to stay away from mouse traps.

And of course as everywhere, there is a Christmas feast--pork or mutton served with red cabbage and potatoes. A special cake, Julekake, and rice porridge are favorites as well.

Friday, December 09, 2016

First The Antipasti

Christmas meals in Italy are varied by region but one thing they have in common is the antipasti. Well, at least the general idea of the dish or platter. It is basically a platter with all sorts of cold meats, cheeses, condiments and vegetables arranged beautifully to create an invitation to begin dining.

I chose this item as a part of my reflection on Christmas in Italy because it is so adaptable to any Christmas celebration. Here is a list of things you might choose from for a more authentic antipasti, which by the way means "before food or before the meal."

Cold cuts sliced thin:
mortadella with pistachio
mild coppa

Marinated vegetables such as artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini, and mushrooms.

chunks of parmigiana
thin slices of asiago, provolone and fontina

Breads like Grissini bread strips, focaccia, ciabatta, and other varieties of artisan breads.

All sorts of gourmet olives

You can also add deviled eggs, grilled veggies, figs or melon (wrap the melon in prosciutto).

Antipasti make a great addition to any buffet table and informal gathering.


Thursday, December 08, 2016

Buon Natale!

No matter what country that celebrates Christmas with a figure of generosity, there is always a reward to children for good behavior. Even if it is a witch! La Befana is the witch that during the Christmas season will go house to house rewarding good children with a special treat. She was featured at the Italian venue in Epcot when we visited. Let me tell you about the legend and how she got started.

La Befana predates Santa Claus who gained recognition around WWII. La Befana dates back to the 13th century. She is pictured as an old witch lady with a large red nose, hunched back, dressed in a jacket of colorful patches and with a broom in hand. The legend says that on the 12th night of Christmas (January 5) the three wise men set out to find the baby Jesus. La Befana was asked to join them in their search but she declined. She said she had too much housework to do. Later she changed her mind and went out to find them but never did.

Every year on January 5, La Befana travels on her magic broom, still searching for the baby Jesus. She climbs down chimneys and leaves candy and fruit for the good children and coal, onions or garlic to the naughty ones. Children leave out stockings or shoes to be filled hopefully with sweet treats. After her visit of course there is feasting with family and friends.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Yule Log Cake

Yesterday I posted about Pere Noel and some French traditions at Christmas. One of the most important is the Yule Log Cake. There are lots of versions of the Yule Log Cake as people have taken recipes and tailored them to their own tastes. Basically the cake is a jelly roll so you can make different fillings. There are all sorts of recipes that are super easy to super hard but here is one I think even I could tackle.

Yule Log Cake

6 eggs
1 box Devil's food cake mix
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 TB powdered sugar

Heat oven to 375. Line a jelly roll pan (10X15X1) with wax paper or foil. Spray with a baking spray (one that has flour in it).

In large bowl beat eggs with mixer on high speed until they are lemony color, about 5 minutes. Add cake mix, water, and oil and beat on low speed until mixed and then on medium for 1 minute. Scrap bowl often.

Pour 3 1/2 cups of the batter into the jelly roll pan. (The rest will make 6-8 cupcakes if you like)

Bake 14-16 minutes until cake is springy to the touch. Now comes the tricky part. Run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it. Sprinkle the powdered sugar on a kitchen towel (don't use terry cloth) and turn the cake upside down onto the towel. Remove the foil. While cake is still hot, roll the towel and cake into a log from the narrow end. Cool on wire rack for 1 hour.

While you wait, make your filling:
1 1/2 cups cold whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and beat until cream is stiff.

Unroll cooled cake and spread filling on top. Roll again without the towel and place on dish to frost. Use canned frosting or make this creamy rich frosting:

Microwave a 1/2 cup whipping cream in a medium bowl for about a minute or just to the boiling point. Stir in 1 cup chocolate cups and 1 TB corn syrup. Let set 3 minutes then use wire whisk to gently beat until smooth. Beat in 1/4 tsp vanilla. Refrigerate for 1 hour stirring every 15 minutes.

Drag a fork the length of the log to make it look like roughened bark. Decorate with a few sprigs of artificial holly or pine.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Joyeux Noel!

Last year's visit to Disney on our way south took us, through the magic of Epcot, to several different countries to see their Christmas customs or traditions of the season. I'll start with France and Pere Noel.

The character came into the French pavilion area in a beautiful red and white coat and sported a soft white beard. He was very similar to Santa in his attire but much more conscious of his weight obviously. He told of how he would bring the good children gifts at Christmas time.

What wasn't mentioned (or at least I don't recall it) was that at times he can be seen with his traveling companion, Pere Fouettard, who is said to frighten the children who have been bad.

Just like for Santa, children set out either socks or shoes to be filled with goodies from Pere Noel. They also set out treats for Pere Noel and his reindeer or donkey that take him from house to house.

After Christmas mass the tradition is to have the reveillon, the feast that includes the traditional Yule Log Cake. Some families start their Yule Log burning and it burns from Christmas Eve until New Year's. Must be a big log.

You can usually find nativities in each home on display and as throughout much of the world, the season is celebrated as a time for festivities with family and friends.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Polar Express Time!

For the last five or six years, Bob and I have volunteered at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad as Trainman and Elf for the Polar Express runs. We have a great time doing it. I started out as a train elf but found that a little too much to handle and last year switched to the North Pole.

The North Pole is a little less hectic and still a lot of fun. North Pole elves arrive at the "Pole" around 7 PM and sign in. We're out ready to greet the first train by 7:15 as it pulls in from Akron. The train pulls through so all the cars can see the North Pole lights and the elves. Then it backs up and stops and Santa in a John Deere version of the Polar Express train drives down the parallel road and waves to all the kids.

On his way back Santa boards the train and then magically makes his way through all the cars by the time the train has returned to its starting point. Of course each child gets a Polar Express bell and as long as they believe, they can hear it ring.

Meanwhile the elves at the North Pole are welcoming the second train from the Independence station. It does the same procedure as we elves wave and greet the little faces at the windows. And magically, Santa is there for them too!

This year I chose to be a baker again but expanded my costume to a chef's jacket and new red hat. I kind of like the look and someone told me I look like the movie part. If you look closely at the picture, you can see that someone stole a bite of one of my cookies. I walk along the stopped train and try to find the culprit. There are a lot of suspects *smile*.

If you are in the area and would like to volunteer to have some seasonal fun, go to the CVSR website for volunteer information. The North Pole furnishes costumes if you don't want to make your own and you can even be a tree or Rudolph or Frosty if they are available. I'll be looking for you.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Christmas 2015 Remembered

Last year we left early for our snowbird escape to the south. Being the kids that we are, we planned a couple of days at Disney World in Orlando. Our first day was spent at Magic Kingdom. If you have never had the opportunity to do the Disney parks without kids, give it a try. It will bring out the kid in you.

We rode our favorite rides: Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain and yes, It's A Small World (there, now it's stuck in our heads again). We flew with Peter Pan and stomped our feet with the Bear Jamboree. Hopefully we left the hitchhiking ghosts at the Haunted Mansion.

The light parade would not be held that night--at least not for us. If you bought an extra ticket you could have stayed later that night and watched it. We did however get to see the lighting of the Cinderella castle. It became the Frozen castle as the magic of Disney made it an icy glow. It was amazing and eased the disappointment of not seeing the light parade.

This year my resident illumination expert will turn our house into a bit of magic with his new led lights. While it won't look like Cinderella's castle it will be heartwarming and magical.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Books For The Road - The Muralist

One of the books I finished reading on our transatlantic crossing was The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro. I grabbed it from a list of suggested readings from the library and was pleasantly surprised to find an excellent read.

Danielle Abrams working at Christie's auction house in the art department discovers what she believes to be pieces of her great aunt's work from the late 1930s. The aunt, Alizee Benoit, mysteriously disappeared in 1940. The book goes back and forth between the present and the past creating the mystery by detailing the life of Benoit as she worked as a muralist for the government works project during the Great Depression. A Jew with family in France that she discovers have become victims of the Nazi invasion.

While the reader agonizes with Alizee over her struggle to get her relatives visas to come to the USA, you also see the struggle of Danielle to solve the mystery of what happened to her aunt and get her work recognized.

I loved the insight into the work of those making murals for government buildings as well as seeing the evolution of the modern art movement in the States. While there are real life characters in the novel such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackson Pollock the author, Shapiro, has done a great job of integrating the fictional characters into the historical background and weaving all the characters together.

Definitely consider this a great book for the road.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sea Daze

It takes six or seven days to cross the Atlantic on a cruise ship. Sometimes I wonder if it might be less if the revenue garnered aboard ship was not so good. People have more time to think about buying extras and on the new Koningsdam ship, the opportunities to spend money were readily available.

Yes, the usual was there--the extra beverages, the casino, the shops, the spa, the specialty restaurants.And let's not forget bingo! But now there were other opportunities. Several of the specialty restaurants offered extra menu items that had an added cost to them over and above the extra cost to eat there. In the Pinnacle restaurant you could order a lobster tail for $20 extra. Of course if you waited, you could get one in the dining room on one of the gala evenings for no extra cost. I'm guessing those in the dining room were not as large.

Another restaurant, a new one, the Sel de Mer which is a seafood/grill venue is all ala carte. You don't pay extra to eat there but you pick your ala carte dishes and pay accordingly. The Dutch Cafe was a new venue as well and while the food was not an extra charge (they had a wonderful pea soup!) the coffee and drinks were.

The Culinary Arts venue while not new in concept on HAL is a new adventure in dining as well. For a fee you can eat in the arts center and watch your meal being prepared by the chef.

Add water. Finger towel!
Our transatlantic journey was the first for the Koningsdam. It had already spent time in the Mediterranean and was now on its way to its first season in the Caribbean. In some respects it was a maiden voyage, the symbolism of which was not lost on Titanic enthusiasts. It didn't bother me until one night while we were still in the Mediterranean the captain explained that we were late to port because of some unscheduled maintenance on one of the pods (they control thrust). Not without a sense of humor, the captain in a later announcement also called the aft of the ship the blunt end as opposed to the other end which was the pointy one.

The weather cooperated for the week of the crossing. We had a little rain now and then but we managed to avoid a couple of lows to the north of us and skirted the systems. After the first day, everything seems to settle into a routine. Two lectures a day, time in the gym for Bob, my two miles a day around the promenade deck, breakfast, lunch, dinner followed by the evening entertainment. Intersperse all that with a couple of movies, some reading, some writing and a little people watching (I'm so easily entertained).

In seven days we had to turn back the clocks five times to catch up with the time zone changes and then the Daylight Savings Time change. It's certainly easier to go east to west but it still plays with your sleep patterns. And it beats jet lag where you get all that time change in one big lump.

No it's not upside down. Sometimes there would be
flowers in the stems of the amaryllis. 
One of the things I enjoyed most about the ship was the artistry of the on board florist. The arrangements were unique and always beautiful as well as refreshed. Quite a job to keep up with all of it as there were large fresh arrangements almost everywhere you went in the public areas of the ship.

By the time we reached Fort Lauderdale, I was ready to go home. Thanksgiving and Christmas lay ahead and we would be with family for that and Bob had already booked our next cruise. It's a rule, you know. The wife doesn't get off the ship unless she knows the next cruise is planned. Life has to have some rules.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Port of Call - Funchal, Madeira

Leaving Cadiz, Spain, we faced a day at sea. I was ready for a break from an up to now port intensive cruise. A little reading, a little writing, a little eating--make that a lot of eating. It was an interesting day since it was also Halloween. By the time evening came, there were quite a few unusual and clever costumes.

After our day of rest at sea, we were ready to face a new adventure in Funchal, Madeira, which is a part of Portugal even though it is an island that sets out in the Atlantic. All I could remember from our previous visit to Funchal was hazy since I’d been ill that day and filled with decongestant and/or antihistamines. As luck would have it, there was another HOHO bus. We didn’t hesitate.

Unfortunately, while they sold tickets for the HOHO bus on the dock, we had a good fifteen minute walk in the sun that was warming up quickly to where the first bus stop was. Once aboard, we delighted in one of the best HOHO rides we’d had. For one thing, the ear buds worked well and the narrator was easy to hear and understand as well as having some nice local music playing in between the narrations.

The plan had been to take the bus around and then come back to the point near where we started to catch a ride on the gondola to the village of Monte 1800 feet above us. The top of the mountain didn’t look inviting however with dark clouds shrouding it. Optimistic, we thought by the time we were done with our ride perhaps the dark clouds would move on.

Our tour took us on a long loop around Funchal and to some very picturesque places. One spot, Camara de Lobos, was where our narrator said Churchill came to paint. Some of the vistas reminded me of a painting we bought on a cruise, not because we knew where it came from but because we just liked it and it was the right size for over our mantel. Now I was beginning to wonder if perhaps the artist had painted one of these views.

A fleet of colorful fishing boats were all pulled into the shore. This day was All Saints Day and as such was a holiday here. That probably explained a lot of the locals we saw gathered in groups either around a small table or just a ledge of a walkway playing a card game—probably with a little side wager, I’m sure.

There were lots of hotels and resorts in Funchal. It must be a popular place with Europeans for their warm holidays on the beach. Far outnumbering the resort areas however were the acres and acres of banana trees. They stretched up and down the terraced hillsides. We actually saw only one small place where there was a grapevine so apparently the grapes grown for their famous Madeira wines must be on the other side of the island. The bananas were said to be their second largest export going mostly to European markets.

One of the things that caught my eye were the beautiful orange tulip trees. I think they may be call African tulip trees. I seem to remember that from some other trip. We passed a wall full of painted “graffiti” that was a collection of art resembling some famous works.

 When we got back to our starting point, we decided to forego the trip in the gondola. The bus ride had taken us to such beautiful vistas that we couldn’t imagine it being any better from Monte. Besides, it looked like it was still raining up there. We headed back to the ship.

That afternoon as we pulled out of our last port to head across the Atlantic to Fort Lauderdale, I watched the pilot from the port get picked up from our ship. Each port requires a ship to have a local pilot on board as they enter and leave the port. It’s for legal and safety reasons. A local pilot will know the quirks of the currents and the lay of the land below the water level and stays on the bridge with the captain until the ship is out of the harbor. It always amazes me though how they manage to jump onto the pilot boat and never miss. At least I’ve never heard of one of them missing. This pilot made it safely as well and waved to the many watchers on the decks of our ship.
As we sailed farther away from Madeira I marveled at the homes and buildings lining the hills and mountains and cliffs. It is amazing to think about how some of them could possibly have been built before there were modern cranes and building materials.

Seven days at sea lay ahead. Hopefully they would be calm and uneventful weather-wise.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Port of Call - Cadiz, Spain

Sadly we would be passing Gibraltor Island in the dark again. Only once have we passed it during the day to get a look at it but that day had been foggy and rainy and there wasn’t much to see. To visit the island is still on the bucket list. Yes, there is still a bucket list of things to see even with all of the traveling we’ve done.

Cadiz was a port we had visited once in the past. I couldn’t remember much about it though except that I was sick with a really nasty cold and medicating which is probably why the memory part was bad. I did remember an old city (it is said to be the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe dating back to 1100 BC) and sitting at a cafĂ© and sipping tea or coffee. I was eager to see what I’d missed.

We found another HOHO and boarded for our tour. The complete ride was a little over an hour and skirted the old city. It took us past beautiful beaches and the amazing Cathedral. With all the beaches, it was easy to see why so many northern Europeans go to Spain for a warm winter holiday.

Once we were back to the starting point, we opted to cross over the main street and enter the pedestrian area of the old town. It wasn’t anything like I remembered. For one thing, I didn’t remember all the people but this was a Sunday so perhaps we’d been there on a day when locals were at work.

Sundays in ports are sort of iffy for restaurants and shops but usually there are plenty of eager merchants who know when a cruise ship is in port it’s to their advantage to open up shop for at least a short while. The shoppers were not disappointed and those of us wanting a flavor of the city were not either. Several vendors were set up with carts full of oysters. Not my favorite but always intriguing. 

In the large old Plaza de la Catedral in front of the cathedral were several groups of people exhibiting talents but the one that was most popular was the flamenco dancer who had placed a small wooden platform on the cobbled stone pavement and was entertaining the crowds of locals as well as cruisers asking only for a few Euros in the hat that her husband held out.

We  enjoyed several other small narrow streets, looking in the windows at bakery and candy and other products of the area. We found a candy shop that advertised toffee and Bob and I indulged in a bag of toffee with chocolate centers. We had no idea how big a ¼ kilogram was though. The bag of toffee was sure to last us through the rest of our cruise.

Then it was back to the ship. Remember, Bob never misses a meal on a cruise. After all, he paid for all of them.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Port of Call - Malaga, Spain

Malaga was another port that was new to us. Turns out, Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso! I guess that was another one of those art history classes I slept through in college. Never schedule art history or music appreciation at 8 AM when you are in college. He was born at No. 15< Plaza de la Merced in 1881. The place is now a museum.

And there was another HOHO Bus! We took the entire ride without getting off just to see what we might want to go back and visit. There was a castle on a hill, the Castle of Gibralfaro, which dates back to the Phoenicians but we passed on going through it. I didn’t care to see any more old churches and our other choices were pretty much just museums of art or archeology and history. 

It was too beautiful a day to spend indoors but a little chilly for a beach day although some of the beautiful beaches of Malaga were beginning to get busy. Malaga is one of the towns where Northern Europeans come to spend some days in warm weather—a little like our Florida.

We passed by a bull ring though that was intriguing. The Plaza de Toros can seet up to 15,000 spectators. In Alicante, I’d seen what at first I thought might be a Roman theater and took a picture of it from the fort above the town but didn’t discover until later that it was actually a bull ring. I wanted a closer look at this one in Malaga and I thought I had caught sight of a gated door that you could see through into the arena.

Bob and I got off the HOHO near where we had begun and walked through the lovely Parque de Malaga that had shady paths and lots of unusual trees and plants. Up in one of the large palm trees, were several green parrots chattering away. I tried to get a picture of them but they blended in so well with the green palm leaves that they are virtually invisible in the pictures. 

We managed to figure out where we were when we emerged from the park and finally found the bull ring. We walked entirely around it but didn’t see an open gate. If I had seen one when we passed, it was now closed. 

It was a bit disappointing but the bull ring was unusual in its architecture and I did get a nice shot of a poster advertising a bull fight we had missed by several days. I wouldn’t have wanted to see it but maybe just a little of the pageantry would have been nice. 

Bull fighting dates back to 711 AD and was originally a sport of the aristocracy and was fought on horses. Later King Felipe V banned the aristocracy from the bullfights. The common people took it up but had no horses so they developed a method of fighting that we are familiar with today--dodging the bull on foot with a red cape. 

On our way back to the ship, we passed the colorful cube of the Pompidou Center, a place that has rotating exhibitions of art and the lighthouse. It was a bit of a walk out to the ship but the sun was warm and a breeze was refreshing and this day my feet didn't seem to mind the walk. 

As we neared our ship, we noticed there was another in port. The shape of it and the name caught my attention. Could it be? Celebrity Cruise Line had a sister ship of our favorite cruising vessel, the Horizon, the one we took our first cruise on. Zenith was its sister ship. The hull was painted a deep blue instead of black but as we examined it further, we could still see the old X that marks the Celebrity ships. It was behind the new owner's emblem. 

Old ships never die. They just get repurposed?

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