"" Writer's Wanderings: February 2016

Monday, February 29, 2016

Are Florida Sunsets Better?

In our travels, we have seen some pretty spectacular sunsets but there's something about the sunsets in Florida that make you want to be sure you don't miss a one.

Is it the way it's reflected on the water? When you are on the shore, the sky is not the only thing changing color. The water reflects the colors and softens them or makes them sparkle depending upon the weather, the angle of the sun and the texture of the water's surface. 

Is it in the infinite variety of clouds that dot the sky? The clouds form colored patterns in the sky as the sun sets and they move across. Sometimes the best sunsets are when there is a little more cloud activity and the sun has already dipped below the horizon. There are times when the rays reach the clouds with a post sunset splash of color that lights everything up overhead as if the clouds were a canvas for a great painting.

And then there's always the suspense. Will there be a green flash? While the green flash is usually not a flash but rather a slash of green color just as the last of the sun disappears, it is always a fascination.

In our condo complex, as with many other areas in Florida, people gather to watch the sunset, enjoy the glorious colors and come together to end the end the day. It's a great tradition. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Fishing Expedition

Our Florida grandson is a fishing enthusiast to say the least. The first visit to our condo this year was not satisfying since the weather didn't cooperate. When it was time to visit again, we planned for a better day and a trip out on a party fishing boat.

We checked the weather the day before we were to go out and it looked good so we made our reservations online. The boat was certified to hold 49 passengers and by the time we were ready to start out, I'm sure there were at least that many on board.

While the temps and sunshine were great, the wind had changed direction on us and by the time we were out of the channel, I knew it was going to be a challenging day. Thankfully I'd taken my meds the night before and I knew Bob and our grandson would be okay with it.

There were not enough rods in all the appropriate holes where they were kept. Actually, I don't know that there were enough holes on the side of the railing for 49 rods. Extra rods were handed out and bait boxes placed strategically among us.

While we were to yell, "fish on," if we caught one, there was no offer to bait hooks which Bob had counted on. He took a deep breath and plunged in, baiting his hook well enough to be the one to catch the first fish in our threesome. Of course when he yelled "fish on," I was the only one around to take it off. So between taking fish off for him and helping my grandson bait his hook and taking the fish off for another lady who kept catching them left and right, I didn't get a whole lot of line in the water time.

Oh, did I mention the wave action? I was sure my middle was going to be black and blue from bouncing against the railing. It was difficult to hold on to the railing and the pole. I was amazed that my grandson did so well.

And did I mention that when we went from one spot to another, the waves splashed against the boat so badly that I was soaked head to toe? Bob and my grandson went inside a crowded space where others had taken refuge but it was at the back of the boat where the crew had told those who were feeling ill to sit. It was less distance over the side to the water if you were sick and downwind. There were quite a few "passed out" on the benches. It did entertain our grandson though who felt a bit smug to know he had an iron stomach.

The four hours passed quickly but being tossed about, wet, and elbow to elbow with people, rods, reels, and hooks, I was ready to hit the shore.

There were eight pieces. I didn't get a picture soon enough.
Back at the condo, I went online got a Florida fishing license and my grandson and I sat on the dock and fished together the rest of the afternoon and the next morning. We caught lots more fish and had a great time watching the pelican watch us hoping we'd toss a fish their way. We managed to save four grunts and I filleted them for lunch. They weren't very big but at least there was enough to say we ate our catch.

It's all in the memories.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Terrifying Roads

For Amerian drivers who are used to driving on the right side of the road, nothing could me more terrifying than learning to drive on the left. Our first encounters with this were years ago when we used to take a long weekend in the fall and go to the Grand Bahamas where, thanks to British heritage,you have to drive on the left side of the road. We giggled a lot about the big label pasted on the dashboard that said "Keep Left!" but it was a good reminder.

Since those early days we've learned to navigate from the other side of the road in Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. There were however, some terrifying moments. Our first trip up the mountainside just outside of Cairns, Australia, to get to the village of Kuranda in the rainforest was from my view in the passenger's seat, death-defying.

Actually the trip up wasn't bad. We were mostly on the inside part of the road with trees and forest. We explored the village, enjoyed the Aboriginal exhibits, got our souvenirs and headed back down. By that time the light was fading and shaded by the rainforest canopy. This time my view was a sheer cliff most of the time that rose above the valley below--way below. Every time we rounded a curve Bob would give a little space in case a car was coming from the other direction and I would give a little scream because I was sure we were going over the edge.

Several years later we made the trip again. This time I made sure we planned to be back before the light faded. If we were going over the edge, I wanted some daylight for the rescue party.

Curiously, an article on Smarter Travel.com lists ten roads they consider terrifying and Kuranda didn't make the list. There were a couple mentioned in China and while we never traveled those, I would think that many roads in China would be terrifying in that there is so much traffic and hundreds of bicycles with whole families perched on them navigating through the cars, trucks, and buses. A sight to see. And at the least, frightening.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Nostalgic Train Travel

Few people do not know what the Orient Express was especially if they are fond of murder mysteries but did you know that it still operates. It is one of many nostalgic train rides you can still take. The Orient Express has been upgraded to work on modern day rail lines but they still use the vintage coaches. You can take two to four day trips on the old line during certain times of the year. A great travel experience for Agatha Christie fans.

We once took a train from Alice Springs to Adelaide that was vintage. It was the Ghan Railway. What an experience! I was glad it was only one night. It was a little like trying to sleep while riding in the back of a pickup truck. We were going over tracks that were heated by the searing sun in the day and cooled down at night and I think that may have contributed to the rough ride. You can read about our trip on my post: Australia's Ghan Railway.  The cars were vintage and the dining was exquisite and along the way there was a narrator pointing out historic spots.

There are several trains mentioned in an article at Smart Traveler.com if you are interested in trains and travel. Besides the Orient Express they mention one through Siberia, another in South Africa, the cross country run in Canada, a rail trip in India, and the list goes on. Lots to enjoy for the adventurous nostalgic train lover. Who knows? Maybe there's a mystery novel somewhere in all of that.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Travel Bags - Clutch, Purse or Satchel?

When the lines are long at the TSA you have lots of time to look around and see what people are traveling with. When I'm going through security and traveling by plane, I put everything in my back pack. No extra over the shoulder stuff or something extra to clutch in my hand that I may set down and forget. But I've noticed that a lot of women are toting huge purses that are more like satchels and passing them through the x-ray machine. I can't help but wonder if they use that purse all the time and if it's been made ready for security clearance.

I had to carry a big diaper bag around when the kids were tiny and I hated it. Maybe that's why today I don't like the huge purses that seem to be so popular and certainly not for traveling. When we are out and about at our destination I rely on my little cross-body purse that I found at a street market in Pisa, Italy. It was advertised as leather and I think it is considering how long I've had it and how it has worn so well. And it was only $10! I can carry basics: a cruise card, a credit card, an ID, a Chapstick, pack of tissue, small Purell and of course my iPhone. If I open the large compartment I can also use it to carry a water bottle easily.

Recently I saw a clutch advertised that was made specifically for a smartphone and with enough extra room for a couple of credit cards and some cash. It was a bit pricey though- $30-40 and the cross body strap was extra.

The point in all this is to say that unless you are packing to go to the beach with towels, sun block, water, books, etc. why would you want to carry a big heavy purse? Leave the satchel at home and downsize. Your shoulders and back will appreciate it.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Why Are The Vultures Circling?

Everywhere you look here in Key Largo you see vultures circling in the sky. We have been fascinated by how they can use the thermals and the winds and actually just stay in one place for a long time soaring with wings spread.

There are black vultures and turkey vultures in Florida. It's hard to tell the difference from the ground looking up as they circle in the skies. The turkey vultures are larger but again, unless you have something to compare size to it is difficult to tell.

They have great vision like the eagle or hawk and can spot food from quite a distance. The difference is that the eagle and hawk are looking for live prey. The vultures are looking for the dead and decaying.

We play at tennis quite a bit. Actually we call it "wack-a-ball" rather than tennis. No score. No pressure. Two or three bounces is okay. Several times as we play we've notice a few vultures overhead soaring and just pausing in the wind and hanging out. Is there something they are waiting on? What do they know that we don't? At our age you begin to wonder.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Crocodile Hunters

The Florida Bay was calmer than we'd seen in a long time. The winds this year have been mostly out of the North and Northwest which makes it a bit choppy and chilly with the cooler temps. But this day was almost perfect--sunny, calm seas and we were feeling ambitious. Bob hoisted our inflatable kayak on his shoulder and we maneuvered the stairs from our second floor condo and made it down to the water.

With a plop the kayak went into the water and we gently and carefully fit our bottoms into the seats. Congratulating ourselves on yet another boarding without upsetting the kayak and landing in the water we set out. There was still a slight breeze out of the south but we headed north anyway even though the return trip would mean a little extra energy on the paddles. We liked the route which would take us past several patches of mangroves that usually held iguanas especially on a sunny day and then into a marina where there were almost always manatees to be seen and played with.

We were not disappointed. A huge colorful iguana was perched in a mangrove sunning himself and wasn't bothered by us coming near for a picture. I'm guessing he didn't want to give up his spot in the sun. He'd been waiting a few days for a chance to warm his leathery hide.

Inside the marina we spotted a single manatee and then three together. The single looked like a young one by his size and seemed to be hanging at the surface perhaps like the iguana, enjoying the sun. I was amazed at how long he held his breath when submerged. We waited long periods for him to surface. The other three were in an a couple of empty slips in the marina and we paddled around watching them. A friend arrived with his daughter and son-in-law and we gave our space to them since this was the first time his daughter had seen the manatees close up.

Outside the marina, Bob said, "Let's head right and into the canal." I knew what he wanted. The great crocodile hunter wanted to see if he could spot the crocodile that was gaining quite a reputation. A couple of years ago we had seen a large one back there that at first we thought was a statue. Turns out it wasn't. This year's croc though is much smaller in size.

Sure enough we found him sunning himself on the shore and we eased the kayak closer for some good shots. He seemed to be sleeping but I'm sure there was a little slit in those eyelids keeping on eye on us. And yes, the thought that we were in an inflatable boat and the crocodile has teeth did cross my mind--several times.

We got our pictures without disturbing him and paddled away all the while keeping an eye out. After all, if there was a little crocodile there had to be a Momma around somewhere and Momma would be a whole lot bigger with a whole lot more teeth.

I exhaled with relief once we were back out in the Bay. We began our paddling toward home cutting across open water a bit to shorten the trip. As we got nearer to shore we were startled by a huge school of what I think was snapper. They were leaping out of the water and running for their life. The pelicans were having a feast with them as it continued for a couple of minutes and they must have traveled a couple hundred feet.

The question came to mind: What's chasing them?

I paddled a little harder.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mini Cruise Disasters

No, none of them involve the sinking of a ship. Anyone who has traveled has experienced the realization at one time or another that you've forgotten something. It's inconvenient at the least but when you're cruising it gets much more challenging. For instance, the first day of the cruise is usually at sea and there's no guarantee that the ships sundries shop will have what you need especially if it is something unusual, specific to your needs, a prescription.

An article on Cruise Critic, 17 Epic Cruise Fails, brought a chuckle here and there learning about other peoples woes. My own panicked experience on one cruise was that I'd discovered my mistake in not packing a new set of contacts to replace the ones I was wearing in a couple of weeks when they needed to be changed. Luckily the first several days of our cruise was along the East Coast of the USA and I was able to find a place that faxed my eye doctor for my prescription. They offered me a sample pair they had on hand. It wasn't my prescription exactly but it was close enough to get me through without having to resort to using my glasses for the end of the cruise. And they didn't charge me!

My other epic fail was on the first day again of another cruise. Bob brings some adapters for the 220 volt outlet in the stateroom in order to charge electronics. I knew that I needed a special converter for the hair dryer. I just wasn't thinking until I plugged into one of the adapters and turned on my hair dryer/curling iron. It was a lovely blue flash, an ugly smell, and I spent the rest of the cruise using the brush from my dryer and trying to style my hair with the ship's dryer. Ah, the lessons we learn.

Check out that article at Cruise Critic. It'll bring some smiles if not some laughs. Maybe even a been-there-done-that moment.

Monday, February 15, 2016

You've Won A Vacation!

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Good philosophy and one my hubby sticks to. Ever get one of those phone calls where they tell you that you have won a free vacation? It's usually in the Bahamas. Sounds good but. . .

We had some friends who took the bait. What the "free vacation" caller didn't say was that you had to find your own way down there. When you got there, you were bombarded with sales pitches for the property's time shares, etc. Not terribly relaxing and the travel cost them more than a booked getaway would have through a travel agent.

We have sat through time share talks. If you have time to kill and would like a free dinner or some other perk it's okay. The time shares all start out sounding really good until you do some checking. The fees are a killer and if you can't find renters to fill in between your stays then you are paying a whole lot more for what you are getting. Go online and check out how many are for sale. There's a reason so many are trying to get rid of them.

Now we have some family and friends who have some time shares and have learned to use them really well. It takes a lot of researching, calculating, and smart planning to get your money out of them.

Maybe it's the wanderlust in me but I'd rather go where I want to go, when I want to go, and have the freedom of more choices.

If you're still curious about whether or not a time share is right for you, here's an article from the Federal Trade Commission about looking into buying one.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Day is for Sweet Hearts

Valentine's Day is primarily considered as the day for sweethearts to express their love for each other. Today I would challenge you to look at it in another way. How about making the day a time for sweet hearts? I know. It's a play on words but stay with me.

A sweet heart doesn't necessarily need a "significant other" as a special love interest is called in today's terms. A sweet heart reaches out to others rather than looking for what will be received from others. Look around you today and see where a sweet heart might brighten another's day. Is there a shut-in nearby? A family member or friend who's lost a spouse? A neighbor who could use a helping hand or just a reminder that they are cared for?

The receiving is in the giving. Try a random act of kindness or two or more. A sweet heart will enrich your life as well as the lives of others.

There was a reason Jesus said, "Do to others as you would like them to do to you." The thought is not only golden, it's sweet!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Fear of Travel

So many people we meet are awed by our daring to travel to so many distant and unusual places. Many are afraid to travel. With that thought, I figured there must be a name for fear of travel and sure enough, it popped right up in my search engine. At first glance I thought it said hobophobia. The fear of traveling hobos? But no, it is actually hodophobia. Who comes up with all these names?

What keeps people from a great travel adventure? Many times it's the fear of not knowing the language of the region. There's an easy way around that. Stay in the tourist areas. Most people in the tourist areas of a country speak enough English to at least be able to get along. Most speak very well. Many restaurants have menus in different languages including English. And if you happen to be in Japan, you can point to the pictures on the menu or the fake food plates in the display case.

Speaking of eating, if you are leery of getting some bad food, the kind that might make you sick, stick to restaurants in hotels or use TripAdvisor to choose your dining spot. There should be some choices on the menu that are more desirable to the palate of one who doesn't like to experiment with new foods. A simple rule to follow is to never eat raw fruits or vegetables in a place where water quality may be a concern. If they are washed in the water they could have contaminates. Cooked foods should be hot. Cold types of food cold. Simple rules that you would follow at home. Also be sure to wipe the bottle of water you purchase before drinking from it especially if it's been in a tub of ice.

Of course one of the greatest impediments to setting out on a travel adventure might be the fear of flying. There are some professionals who can use therapy techniques to help you overcome that but there are still lots of places to go without having to fly or even some clever ways around it. We met a couple recently who cruise to the places they want to go and since there are ports on the East and West coast, they can get from one side of the country to the other with a little ingenuity and a good travel agent.

In this day and age of terrorism I'm sure there are many who will use that excuse not to venture out. Remember that even in our own neighborhoods the potential for danger is present. Keeping inside our homes and not venturing out (I think that's called agoraphobia) is truly not a great option. Using common sense at home for your safety is the best way to cope and is the best advice for when you travel. Don't go out alone at night in places you are not familiar with. Pay attention to your surroundings. Don't leave your hotel door ajar to run to the ice machine. Keep your wallet in your front pocket or money in a security pouch in your waistband. If you have a fear of traveling to some areas of the world, don't. But do enjoy the areas that you feel more secure in exploring.

And then there was the cruise where one of our tablemates cried every night because she couldn't connect with her grandchildren each day. Today she might have been better off since internet connections and wireless phone connections are so much improved. So if you fear not being connected, take heart. We've facetimed with family several times on trips to sing happy birthday to grandkids. It may be a little slow in some places but chances are you will be able to stay connected and post all those great pictures to Facebook.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Coastal Birds - Roseate Spoonbill

The Florida Wild Bird Center is just down the road from where we are spending the season as they call it here. That's January through March when the area is populated with the species called "snow birds." We stopped in again this year for a walk about and were treated to an up close view of the beautiful Roseate Spoonbill.

The last time we visited, the spoonbill that hangs out there was in the middle of a salty pond and hard to see. This time he was fishing one of the creeks that runs through the preserve. The pink and salmon colors of his plumage are beautiful especially in the sunlight.

His bill from which he derives his name is handy for finding the tidbits he likes to dine on. He walks along and moves his bill from side to side to scoop up his meal. While he likes to dine on crustaceans he also enjoys little bait fish which were plentiful in the creek he was wading through.

The spoonbill is found in marshes often where there is brackish water and lots of mangrove trees. He is common in Florida as well as in parts of Texas and Louisiana. He's related to the iconic Florida ibis. The University of Miami chose the ibis over the spoonbill. It probably was a good idea. A football team dressed in pink might not be the best choice.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Books For The Road - Peony by Pearl S. Buck

Once in a while I get out of my mystery-suspense-detective mode and switch to something a little more literary. Peony by Pearl S. Buck popped up in recommended reading on my library page and I decided to give it a go. So glad I did.

Peony is set in Kaifeng, China, in the 1850s. My first surprise was that the prologue pointed out that while the story was fiction, there actually were colonies of Jews that had settled in China after fleeing persecution in their own land. Peony is actually a bond servant (read slave) in the household of some very wealthy Jews who make their living by bringing foreign goods into China for sale and trade. As the story progresses you are introduced the the conflict of trying to keep true to their religion and yet blend with the Chinese culture.

Peony is sort of caught in the middle and we see the conflicts of culture and religion through her eyes. She is attracted to the son in the home with whom she has known since they were both children growing up together. Her love for him is as pure as it can be despite her deep desire to be his wife or concubine. And when David discovers his feelings for her the love conflict deepens.

It is an amazing story told by an author who has a sensitivity for the culture of China since she spent so many years there. It's a great book for the road and a lot of food for thought.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Those Hotel Booking Challenges

When our son is on the road heading to our house or his in-laws, he loves the challenge of using Priceline for booking his night's stay. Thank goodness his family is adventuresome because they pull into the parking lot and go online on his smartphone to book. They have gotten some great deals and some not so great. Bob and I, on the other hand, are not quite so adventurous when it comes time to where we are going to put our heads to rest for the night.

If you are a plan-ahead type one of the best ways to assure a good room is to join the chain's loyalty program. When you book on their website and use your loyalty card you usually get a better choice of rooms. One article I read said that the Priceline and other low price sites to book through get the "ice machine" rooms or basically whatever is left. With our booking we have even been able a couple of times to choose our own room. Of course that's not always best if you don't know what side the freeway is on. Just sayin'.

If you have any special requests or concerns, you can always call before arriving to be sure your room is what you expect. For example the king size bed rather than two doubles and certainly a smoking/non-smoking preference.

Use a credit card rather than debit or cash. You have a lot more recourse if you are wrongly charged for something. Besides, the right credit card can earn you points toward more travel.

Double, make that triple check that you have the right hotel in the right place when you are booking online. For that matter make sure you have the correct date as well. We booked the wrong night once and arrived to find we did not have a room reserved until the next night. Luckily there was a room available but it had us scurrying to check the rest of our reservations for that trip.

And probably something I should have started with is to check reviews and compare prices of different hotels in the same area. Reviews are especially important. Those online pictures may show some wonderful amenities and property views but the tale is told best in the reviews you can find online at places like TripAdvisor.

While booking on the fly night by night might be a great adventure, I prefer to know where I'm getting my Zzzzzs ahead of time.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Staying Healthy And Active While Traveling

We joke about the freshman ten pounds when our kids go off to college but what about the vacation ten pounds that looms up as we kick back to enjoy some time exploring this great world of ours? Here are some tips for getting around that and maybe staying a little healthier while we're at it.

Road trip? Either pack a cooler or  buy a soft sided cooler bag at the local grocery when you arrive at your starting point. A few zip lock plastic bags for ice which can be had at hotel ice machines will keep items fresh for you during the day's journey. Stop at a local grocery for finger food like carrots, celery sticks, cheese bits, fruit and nuts. Eating light by snacking on these will keep you more comfortable on the road. Often times there are healthy choice sandwiches you can pack along as well for lunch and avoid the burgers and fries with all the salt and grease.

Be sure to make a stop midday that allows some time to get out and walk for twenty to thirty minutes even if it's just around a parking lot. A little research ahead of time usually yields some good spots to stop along the way.

Plane ride? A short plane ride as well as a long one can be even more uncomfortable if you grab greasy fast food to eat on the way or before you board. Avoid carbonated beverages as well unless you enjoy feeling like a giant balloon. Water is preferred over alcoholic drinks but I know some people feel they need a drink to get through their flight. I've read that fasting 16 hours before a flight helps with jet lag but I'm not a "faster" so I'll leave you to decide that.

If you can't get out of your seat to walk a bit, be sure to do a little exercise by flexing your feet at the ankles. Try to flex the calf muscles several times and if you are able maybe even draw your knee up a few times just to keep blood circulating. The plane's magazine usually has some exercises outlined in it.

Cruising? Ah, now here's where the rubber meets the road. Not a good metaphor but you get my meaning. Oh, those food opportunities. The key here is to plan ahead. Love those dinner choices? Eat light for lunch. Stick to the fruit or salad choices at the buffet or eat in the main dining room and only order a light meal. No matter how much that waiter pouts, if you've had enough and are trying to save calories, do..not..order..dessert. If you must, stick to a fruit plate. Or if you want dessert, plan ahead and don't have an appetizer. Make good choices.

All ships have some kind of gym but one of the best exercises is to skip the elevators when you are moving about the ship and use the steps. Can't do steps? Find that promenade deck and circle it a few times. There's always a sign somewhere that tells you how many times around are a mile. Go for it! Every day!

No matter where you are traveling, it's all about good food choices and finding a way to get a little exercise. Walking is almost always an option. As one of the local Florida Keys restaurants says, "Eat well, Laugh Often, Live Long!"
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