"" Writer's Wanderings: January 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

Flashback Friday - Where Was I A Year Ago?

Facebook always reminds you of things from the past and I thought it would be fun to look at where we were last year on this day. The World Cruise had us in Columbia and here are some of the pictures I posted from then. Sigh, nice time.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Vacation Mail Woes

Last year when we did our 108 day World Cruise, we had our mail forwarded to a post office box at home and had a friend pick it up once in a while, check it for anything that looked really important, and save it. That went pretty smoothly and didn't cost an enormous amount of money.

This year we thought we had it all set in place but the glitches began with our arrival in Key Largo. Bob had arranged for our mail to be forwarded to the Key Largo Post Office and then sent a hold mail card so that they would keep our mail until we arrived after our two week cruise.

Upon arrival, we asked for a key to the mailbox for the condo. Added to all the other "surprises" we found at the condo (see my post) the owner said that it was somewhere around the condo but he couldn't remember where he'd stuck it. When we couldn't find it, he suggested we have the complex manager change the lock on the mailbox and we were to tell him that he'd pay for it.

After the manager arrived back from a short time off, he refused to change locks because the last time he did it for this owner, he didn't pay for it. We were back to square one with our mail on hold at the local PO.

Meanwhile there was no mail showing up for them to hold. Phone calls to our home PO revealed that they'd never got the information from the online request Bob had made. Luckily he'd kept all the reference numbers and they finally found it and released the mail they were holding to forward. They thought it was strange because our carrier had brought the mail into the office and said there was something wrong. We have a great mail carrier and he knows we travel a lot so at least he didn't call the police to break in and see if we were dead.

Well, the mail got forwarded but now Bob had to change the forwarding address to the PO box. He did it online again. As weeks went by and there was nothing showing up in the mailbox and the hold on our mail at the Key Largo PO was about to run out, he called home again. Now here it got even more confusing. The mail gets sent to someplace, I think Bob said Michigan, and then it gets the forwarding sticker put on and gets sent on its way.

Bottom line: By the time this all gets straightened out it'll be time to come home. Yikes! Next year we need to work on lining this up a little more efficiently. Like just getting a PO box right away which can be reserved online and having the mail forwarded there. No holds barred.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Where Was Star Wars The Force Awakens Filmed?

Good question and I was curious. We've been to Hobbiton where the Hobbit movies were filmed and we explored the Warner Bros. studio just outside of London where the Harry Potter movies were made. I had no idea where, outside of a graphic arts computer program, the scenes in Star Wars might be shot. Thanks to Smarter Travel.com I found out.

While you cannot go in, the Pinewood Studios just outside London is where a lot of the magic takes place.

Skellig Michael, Ireland is another place that crews were seen shooting part of the movie. I'm guessing it was probably the last scenes. I won't give that away. This is a popular tourist place in Ireland that will probably become more so once word gets out to fans of the Force.

Desert lands always seem to play a part in the Star Wars movie and they do so again. It is said that the sand dunes outside of Abu Dhabi is where they got the landscaping for the scenes that featured a dry arid planet.

Near the royals' Windsor Castle more staging took place and was revealed as a Star Wars set when a drone caught pictures of a Millennium Falcon and some costumed extras. The spot is in Berkshire, England.

Two other places are rumored to be shooting locations. One in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England, where filming for the Return Of The Jedi took place. Another is Iceland. Maybe by the time we get to Iceland this fall they'll be on the tourist map.

Monday, January 25, 2016

If The TSA Agents Ever Write A Book

Many of us have done it. Forgotten a water bottle in our carry-on. Didn't take those sewing scissors out of the bag. Or, like me, forgot a brand new bottle of cologne was in my carry on when I left the cruise ship for the airport. That cost me.

But there are lots of other strange things that get noticed in security and an article on Smarter Travel.com lists ten of them. Among them is a boomerang. Now we brought a boomerang home from Australia years ago but in our checked luggage thankfully. I had no idea it was listed as a deadly weapon.

Another one that people tried to get by the airlines was a dead body. Several instances are reported in the article. Like Weekend At Bernie's, they tried to disguise the dead passenger with sunglasses, etc., to make him appear as though sleeping. We have seen that sort of thing done once. On our first cruise to Russia it was reported that one of the excursion buses was late getting started because a family traveling with an elderly gentleman who had a heart attack and passed was "walked" back on to the ship to save all the red tape. Of course we can't be certain that it happened quite that way but it makes a good story.

Beware of those souvenirs. I remember the warnings of taking wooden souvenirs from Papua New Guinea into Australia. All sorts of nasty insects can hide or have eggs buried in the wood. All wooden souvenirs had to be inspected. Thankfully ours passed. Now in the article it is reported that one family was bringing clay objects into the country. When they were inspected it turned out that there were fragments of human bones in the clay. The souvenirs were confiscated as evidence in a murder. Now that's scary!

There are several other items of interest--dead snakes, samurai swords, etc. It's kind of interesting. Can you imagine the book of stories that could be published if all these security people got together and wrote about their experiences?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

10 Odds N Ends Travel Tips

Here are some of the travel tips I've collected from here and there. Maybe one or two will be helpful to you.

  1. If you don't have a fancy travel jewelry case, try stringing your fine necklace chains through straws to keep them from tangling.
  2. When I have to hand wash delicates on the road, I use the hotel shampoo. If you don't want to chance it with their brand, pack a little baby shampoo to wash those dainties.
  3. Fill those shoes with socks or belts or other smaller items you need to pack.
  4. Avoid junk foods before and during flights. Instead make some wholesome snacks at home and take them along to eat on the plane. No liquids please.
  5. Use a scarf, sweater, or airplane blanket to support your back in the airplane. Those seats are not made for the human body.
  6. Dryer sheets tucked into your shoes, your dirty clothes bag, or just in a few corners of your suitcase will keep things fresher. They can also be used to reduce static cling by rubbing them against the item that is clingy. (Hairspray works too. Spray lightly inside the item.)
  7. Many of your favorite toiletries come in sample sizes at your local pharmacy/drugstore. They save room when packing.
  8. A small roll of duct tape or even masking tape will help in removing lint from clothes. Wrap around your hand, sticky side out and roll across the lint. No tape? Use that sticky side of your airplane luggage tag.
  9. Pack a pillow case to use for keeping dirty laundry separate in your suitcase. A large Ziploc bag keeps a damp bathing suit from the dry clothes.
  10. Use your smartphone to take a picture of any dings in your rental car when you get it. Then if there's a question later, you have the proof that you didn't do it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Lure of the Northern Lights

Alaska has been one of our favorite places to visit. Unfortunately it's always been during the summer when we have visited and during the summer, the days are very long and the nights short and not very dark. Not the ideal conditions for observing the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.

The phenomenon is a light display that dances in the sky. It has something to do with the magnetosphere and solar influence and charged neutrons and protons. I don't understand it all but I would love to see it for myself. Besides Alaska, there are several other popular places for observing the lights--one of them being Iceland. As I've already posted, we are planning a trip to Iceland and hope to experience the Northern Lights at some point in our travels.

The farther north you are the more apt you are to see them. Countries like Iceland, Norway, Finland, Russia, Denmark, Sweden and Northern Canada are some of the best places to visit if you are looking for the Northern Lights.

Fairbanks, Ketchikan, and Anchorage offer lots of different ways to search for the lights. You can take an Arctic Cruise, fly over the Arctic Circle or soak in the hot springs near Fairbanks while you watch them. When I was researching a while back I remember running across a place where you can stay and someone on Northern Lights watch will call you when they appear and you can observe them from a windowed shelter.

In Lapland in the northernmost part of Finland, the lights are called fox fire after the local legend that claims a fox's tail caught fire and swished through the sky causing the lights.

Sweden seems to offer quite a few options including Tornetrask Lake where its unique microclimate offers clear skies for viewing.

Tromso is the most popular spot for viewing in Norway. I remember seeing a lot of literature there advertising Northern Lights tours when we stopped there during a cruise.

Smarter Travel .com has an article that lists many of the spots for viewing the Northern Lights if you are interested in picking out a spot. Not sure I'd want to watch them in Russia but the other places all sound good. If we strike out in Iceland, we'll have to try again somewhere else. After all, the Northern Lights are on the bucket list. We'll even brave the cold to see them.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Is A Cold Rainy Florida An Oxymoron?

Even the pelicans are hunkered down.
We have spent two weeks now in our snow bird stay in Key Largo. Out of those two weeks over half of them have been windy, chilly to cold, and rainy. I can hear the sympathy from the northerners. Yup. A collective moan followed by a sarcastic, "Gee, that's too bad."

When you're counting on good weather for your activity and entertainment, it is a bit depressing.  Since our condo did not come with a kayak for our use this year, we asked around and found a fellow who recommended buying an inflatable from Amazon. He showed us his and when Bob looked at the price, he found it reasonable--especially since he had Amazon gift cards that would almost cover the cost.

It arrived on a cold, windy and rainy day. We took it into the condo to inflate it and check it out. It looks pretty good. All we need to do now as someone commented on Facebook, is to add water.  Unfortunately because of the wind and waves due to a north wind, we haven't been able to add the water yet.

Morning walks have been successful with only a minimum of raindrops and once in a while we can whack a tennis ball around the court (we're not good enough to play a game) so life is good mostly and we have made some new friends. As they say, misery loves company.

So as soon as the weather breaks, we're off to find the manatees and hopefully not the nurse shark or the alligator some have reported seeing. After all, we're in an inflatable and the patch kit that came with it isn't very big.

Friday, January 15, 2016

My Word for 2016 - Celebrate!

Seems I'm a little late here on this choose a word for the year thing. Everyone else seems to have come up with one quickly and posted on Facebook. Not only am I late but I'm using the same word I did last year. I can do that since I didn't officially declare it my word for the year. I don't usually choose a word for the year. But here I am joining the pack.

My word for the year is CELEBRATE. It came to me last year when I was having a hard time coping with some things and suddenly realized that I was spending too much energy on woe-is-me stuff. The song, Celebrate Good Times - Come On! was playing on the radio and it stuck in my head. You know how those things can just run around and around in there sometimes.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that it's not a bad plan of action, philosophy, or whatever else you want to call it. Here I was wallowing way too often in things that were making me sad, mad, and felling bad when I really should be celebrating life.

Our lives have been blessed with so much and when I let myself wallow, well, it doesn't make me the thankful person I should be. So now when I find myself an the verge of wallowing, I say a little prayer of praise and then start the song in my head again. It works!

So join me. Adopt the word CELEBRATE for the year and the next time things threaten to get you down remember the blessings and start singing that song. Come on!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How Not To Find A Vacation Rental

In a few words: through a friend of a friend of a friend who you really don't know that well to start with whose friend didn't want to rent it in the first place. Could'a asked why. Would'a asked why if we weren't so glad to have found a place. Should'a asked why.

There were signs and a feeling in my gut but we couldn't find any other place available where we wanted to stay. So with a little fear and trembling we put the key in the lock and opened the door.
We weren't expecting the Ritz. We weren't even expecting it to be as nice as the condo we had rented several years in a row before going on a world cruise and losing our spot to other renters. And we kept telling ourselves at least we are in the gated community where we wanted to be.

We decided not to unload things from the car until we inspected. I always like to take pictures so that if there is any question as to the condition of the rental place when we leave, I have pictures to show of what it looked like when we arrived.

It was said that the condo was cleaned just a few days before we were to arrive but it was obvious from trash in several places and an empty paper coffee cup on the table that someone had been there since if it had been cleaned.

The bathrooms looked okay except for used bath products in the tub/shower and on the sink including a bar of soap with hair on it and a tube of toothpaste that was almost empty. I shuddered.

Okay, I thought. We can clean things up. Then we looked in the refrigerator. It had all sorts of half eaten, half used items in it. I shuddered again. Then I tried to open the freezer. The door wouldn't budge. It took Bob sitting on the floor with his foot against the bottom and all his strength to open the door. Once open it was obvious this hadn't been defrosted in a long time. I fought off tears.

Undaunted my wonderful husband volunteered to clean it out while I took care of some of the other things. It took us a couple of hours to feel we could actually spend the night and a week of cleaning, trying to get WiFi and a mailbox key, buying and installing a new shower head, getting a toaster and several other little details that cropped up.
Still haven't figured out why all the pillows are stuffed
 between the headboard and wall.

There was little response from the owner and when he suggested we get the office for the development to replace the lock on the mailbox because he couldn't find the key, they told us no because he hadn't paid for the last lock they changed for him. At that point we knew that there wouldn't be much help coming.

It has garnered us some sympathy from others who have experienced the same thing in years past and were wise enough not to rent that unit again. And now we're experienced. There will be no more friend of a friend of a friend suggestions to follow up on. We're sticking with VRBO and other rental agencies where we can get feedback and reviews. Lesson learned.

By the way our worst fear, lingering cigarette smoke smell, was not realized. Sometimes you just have to celebrate the little things in life.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Books For The Road - Lost In The Fjord

In anticipation of the trip to Iceland we are planning, I was perusing one of the travel books on Iceland and found that the town of Akureyri has three authors from there. The most famous of which is Jon Sveinsson, author of the Nonni books. There is a series of Nonni (the main character) stories but I was only able to find one, Lost In The Fjord. Perhaps the others haven't been translated to English or are a bit more obscure.

Lost In The Fjord while said to be a children's story is written much like Heidi or The Little Prince. Not like the storybooks we find today for kids. The story is of a boy and his brother who venture out into the fjord near their home in Akureyri and against advice and warnings from their mother as well as several others, they row too far out into the fjord and are swept out into the ocean. They have a great adventure and in doing so also make a vow to God to help bring others to faith.

I thought the story was entirely fiction but in reading the notes at the end discovered that there really was a Nonni and a Mani and they were the author and his brother who kept their vow and joined the Jesuits.

It's a charming story and gives a little glimpse of life in the early 1900s in Iceland. A nice read before going on the road again to travel Iceland.

Monday, January 11, 2016

628 Days On A Ship

But not all at once!

We keep a log of all our trips, the length, destination, cruise or land, etc. When people discover that we've done 55 cruises, they always ask what cruise line we like the best. My answer is always the one going where we want to go at the best price. Just out of curiosity though I decided to add up all our cruising days. The total is 628. Almost two years of my life spent on a cruise ship. So which cruise line did we use the most?

The tally was fairly even. Celebrity came out on top with 144 days. It was the first cruise line we used and fell in love with it. There was a time however just after they were purchased by Royal Caribbean that things went a little crazy and they got away from what defined them. It was during that period that we tried the waters with some other lines. Eventually Celebrity decided that it was losing loyalty with the changes and went back to most of what made it so great. Of course Royal Caribbean melded the loyalty points across their cruise lines so ours rose considerably because of some of the RC cruises  (52 days) we took .

Second on our list is Crystal Cruise Line with 136 days but not because we did a lot of cruises with them. There were only three but one of them was our World Cruise of 108 days. We are very tempted to increase those days with another world cruise.

Coming in third is Holland America with 127 days. If we hadn't had such a horrible experience on our very first cruise with them, we might have done more. It took a long time to give them another chance but when we did, we thoroughly enjoyed cruising with them.

Not to be forgotten are the wonderful cruises we took with Cunard, Princess, and one with Radisson (our very first Christmas Cruise on the Paul Gauguin). And then there were those two river cruises. . .

Ah, the memories.

My point in all of this (I usually have one) is that there is no one size fits all cruise line. Everyone finds different things to like with different cruise lines and it changes as the lines evolve, change their market focus and make changes to keep things interesting. Just like a good dessert buffet don't be afraid to try a variety. And if it's your first cruise, talk to your travel agent about what you enjoy on a vacation--entertainment, food, etc. A good TA will be able to match you to a great cruise.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

His Majesty

My friends and coauthors of several books, the Word Quilters, are a patient group. Since we are scattered all over the country, we communicate often through emails. Sometimes the question is asked of me, “Where are you now?” Since our children are all grown, my husband retired, we travel even more than we did before. Our feet have touched on all seven continents and completely circumnavigated the globe. It is quite a masterpiece our God has created and we have enjoyed every little corner we have found to explore.

More than that, God has opened my eyes to His majesty. High on a mountainside in Alaska, I was reminded of the strength and peace He brings. On a dive trip to Papua New Guinea, I observed a little fish dart in and out of a strong current to seek shelter in a rock just as I seek shelter in my Rock. Amid the red desert sands of Australia, we paused to learn how the Desert Oak sends a tap root into the earth to seek life giving water. How like us who need to tap into the Living Water.

The most touching experience we had however was on our trip to China. It was one I didn’t want to take but bent to my husband’s desire for his “trip of a lifetime.” We spent eight days on a land tour that took us from Beijing to Xian and the Yangtze River. I prayed that God would show me each day that He was at work in China; that His presence was there and would be felt. That prayer was answered each day in many ways but most dramatically in the middle of a river tour.

 On board a catamaran, we explored a tributary of the Yangtze River in the beautiful Three Gorges area. There were about one hundred twenty-five English speaking tourists on the boat and after our guide was finished telling us about the culture and traditions of the area, it was suggested that we sing a favorite song. In the middle of a river, in the middle of China, over one hundred voices rang out in the most beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace I have ever heard.

Majesty. His majesty is felt everywhere people are willing to let Him into their hearts

Friday, January 08, 2016

Revisiting Costa Maya

Some years ago we made a stop in Costa Maya on another cruise. I remember booking a dive excursion and experiencing one of the more scary dive trips we've had. Not because of what we encountered below the surface but rather what happened along the way. The dive boat didn't have all of their tanks secured and they were rolling around in the bottom of the boat. Add to that instructions difficult to follow and we vowed never to do that again.

We did enjoy the crazy little fishing village that we explored after the dive however and on this last cruise decided we would visit there again. The port of Costa Maya has been built by the cruise companies. It has a nice dock, albeit a very long one to keep the ships out of the shallows. There is a nice tram that runs back and forth from the ships to the shopping area.

What a change though! The little shopping area has expanded with restaurants and bars and at least double the shops or more. The one swimming pool has turned into three and an area built right against the sea has several dolphins that you can pay to swim with. Once we began walking through the port area, I began to wonder how our little fishing village had fared in the economic boom that the cruise industry brought.

You guessed it. The changes were amazing. We were corralled onto an open air trailer that seated about 20 people and was pulled by a pickup. We didn't know it would cost $3/person rather than the $2 the taxis charged. But there was a system. Take the trailer to the town. Take the taxi back. It was all explained when we were dropped off.

First up, I noticed that instead of the dirt and gravel roads to the town, everything was paved or cobblestoned. Then as we got to town I was amazed at its growth. The town had lengthened and widened to double its size. The beach was covered with tables and chairs from a slew of restaurants. And of course there were tons of souvenir shops and hawkers with home made gifts moving between all the tables. Endless massage tables lined the boardwalk/street along the beach. I'm guessing the price was right for those who enjoy that.

We lingered long enough to enjoy a cold beverage on the beach under the trees and watch all the activity. Lots of locals were there as well since it was a holiday week and I'm sure they were vacationing.

I'm happy for the economic boom for the area but I kinda miss the sweet little fishing town we first encountered.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Cruising - I Remember When. . .

Cruising, like flying, has changed over the years. Some for the better. Some not. There are certainly more options like the all-inclusive vs. the pay-for-every-little-thing cruise. We've done both and each has its good points. Like Bob always says, "It's impossible to have a bad cruise." There are a couple I think came close though.

One night in the fancy pay-extra dining room for a special dinner, we got to talking about remember when. Here are a few things we came up with.

Remember when

  • there was live music in the dining room to start dinner?
  • a harp played in the top specialty restaurant?
  • they actually flamed the cherries jubilee at your table?
  • they actually flamed anything in any dining room?
  • lobster was a given every formal night?
  • there was a welcome aboard and farewell night with the captain? (some still have this)
  • there was a strictly enforced dress code?
  • you actually had to strap on a life jacket for the drill? (most ships don't require it since they are a tripping hazard)
  • tips were optional and you put your tips in an envelope and actually handed it to the servers and stewards?
I'm sure there are a lot more that we could have come up with. If you think of any, leave a comment. Ah, the good old days.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Oh Those Towel Animals!

On our holiday cruise, our stateroom attendants provided us with a different towel animal every night. I am always amazed at how they can put them together so quickly and still get the room serviced quickly. These two were quite a team.

A couple of the animals needed a little imagination but most of them were cute and each night I would carefully move the animal from the bed to the desk where it would stay until it was replaced the next night with another.

The only one that got moved to the closet however, was the monkey hanging from a pants hanger that was hung over the wall hook next to our bed. As long as the light was on, I could see that it was a towel monkey but my concern was that waking up in the middle of the night and with just a little light coming in under our door to illuminate the white towel, I might imagine it as something a little more demonic. I do have a nasty imagination that works overtime on occasion.

I took it out the next morning and hung it back where it was so they wouldn't know. Thankfully they never make towel snakes.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Books For The Road - The Hunger Games Trilogy

The Hunger Games Trilogy was something I was sure I wouldn’t like but everyone for so long has been praising the series that I thought I should take a look. At least I would read the first book, borrowed from the library, and if I didn’t like it I didn’t lose anything. It didn’t take long to get into it to realize I was not going to put it down and I burned through all three books in less than a week and even watched one of the movies. Thank goodness we were on a cruise or nothing would have gotten done had I any responsibilities.

If you are like me and have avoided the hype, here is a quick summary of what the story line is. Katniss Everdeen is a seventeen year old who lives somewhere in a future world. (That was enough to make me avoid the story for so long—not a sci-fi fan.) In this world there is something called the Hunger Games which is a way for the government to keep their districts in line by showing their power in requiring that a boy and girl from each district be placed in an artificially produced environment and hunt and kill each other until there is only one survivor. Katniss manages to upset the usual outcome of the games and set in motion a rebellion she didn’t even know was in the making.

The three books take you through all the struggles of a young girl and the horrors she has to face as her family and friends she loves are affected by all she does or just by who she is. A lot to place on the shoulders of one so young and Suzanne Collins does a great job of exploring her feelings as well as creating great supporting characters for her story.

I only got to watch the second movie in the series, Catching Fire, since the cruise ship only offered the last two movies. It followed the book very closely with a little deviation here and there in order to make the story move along visually.

All in all, if you are facing some free time and hitting the road, these would be some great books to take along. 

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