"" Writer's Wanderings: April 2016

Friday, April 29, 2016

Missing the Boat

First of all when you are cruising it's a ship not a boat. Recently there was an incident reported of a woman who missed the ship's sailing time. The media played on the fact that her children were still on board the ship. As you can see in the Inside Edition report the children were just fine. It was decided when the woman did not show up at sailing time that the husband would leave the kids with an uncle and go ashore with passports in hand and try to find the woman who apparently was shopping. The ship waited a half hour past departure time and then left with the woman and her husband frantically running down the dock.

We often stand and watch as the ship departs the port. There is always someone running at the last minute to catch their ride before the gangway is pulled in. We have even seen some captains go above and beyond. One pulled back the few feet that the ship had moved. Another dropped one of the small boats the crew uses to paint and repair around the ship's exterior and picked up a passenger. Her name was mentioned every day for the rest of the cruise when the captain or cruise director reminded people of departure time. We suspect she was charged for the extra service.

Another time we watched two men run for the ship. Their passports had been pulled and sent ashore with shore authorities and as we pulled away we could see the authorities hand them the passports. They threw their hands in the air in despair as they were told to meet us in the next port.

Unless you like to live on the edge, you need to be aware of the time all passengers are expected back on board. It is always a half hour before departure. A ship will usually wait a short period of time for a missing passenger but they have a schedule to keep and I suspect they get charged for being at the pier longer than scheduled. After all, the dock workers have to be paid for extra time, port authorities have to hang around, etc.

Be sure to check your watch against local time. Make sure you are operating in the same time zone as the ship which is always the local time on shore.

Anyone on a ship's excursion is guaranteed to make it back to the ship before it sails. The ship will wait for a delayed ship's excursion. But if you are off on your own excursion, better be sure that you allow for time to return. Some ports like Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas have horrendous traffic jams made more difficult when there are several ships in port and everyone is trying to get back at the same time.

Plan wisely Grasshopper and don't be like the White Rabbit--Late!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cleveland's Countdown to RNC - Words and Phrases to Know

Pop not soda.
People used to claim my father had a Cleveland accent. I never could figure that out but there are some unique to Cleveland and Ohio words and phrases that might be helpful to the visitor.

Let's start with "Wait 30 minutes and the weather will change." We are located on the shores of Lake Erie. It does strange things to our weather sometimes. In winter we get the "lake effect snow" which usually means that open water on the lake in winter will insure that the eastern suburbs get an extra measure of snow. Of course if the wind direction changes a bit all of the rest of us will be under its influence. In July you won't have to worry about snow but weather can get very cool or very hot. It will be a different temperature along the shore than further inland--usually cooler. If it starts to rain, well, wait 30 minutes. It will likely change.

One of the more distinctive differences in our language is the term "pop" when we mean soda. If you ask for a soda someone will want to know what kind of ice cream you want in it. A soda to us is ice cream, chocolate (or other flavoring) syrup, and carbonated water with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

All of the action for the main part of the convention will take place at the Q. That's short for Quicken Loans Arena where King James reigns (Lebron James). When the Cavaliers aren't playing, the Monsters (our hockey team) or the Gladiators (our indoor football team) play. We used to call the ballpark the Jake (Jacobs Field) but Progressive Insurance bought naming rights and no one has been able to come up with a clever nickname since. The Tribe is the nickname for the Indians baseball team.

If you are wearing Nikes, Adidas, New Balance, or any other brand for that matter, someone may compliment you on your tennis shoes rather than sneakers.

A sweeper is another name for vacuum cleaner.

The RTA usually refers to a bus. If someone says take the Rapid, it means one of the east-west Rapid Transit trains that run into town and end at the Terminal Tower which was originally called the Cleveland Union Terminal. Don't ask for the subway. It's a sore subject.

The Mall
There's the Flats, an area down by the river with restaurants and bars and the Mall, which is a big outdoor area centered around the Fountain of Eternal Life which is supposed to be a memorial to veterans and a sculpture to celebrate peace.

The Emerald Necklace refers to our MetroParks system, park land that surrounds the city.

While some may call it the burning river, the name Cuyahoga actually means crooked river. Just behind the Tower City complex is Collision Bend. Have a look and try to image (if there are none there at the time) large ore freighters making that turn.

Another bend that's a bit dangerous is Dead Man's Curve on I-90 on the east side of town. No worries. It's much more dangerous in the winter than in July.

There's no mistaking this city on the lake. It is oddly wonderful.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cleveland's Countdown to RNC - Freebies And Discounts

The Cleveland area is rolling out the red carpet. Not only is the city sprucing up and gearing up for the immense challenge of security, transportation and communication but local businesses and organizations are preparing attractive options for delegates who have a little extra time or can extend their stay past the convention to enjoy some of our area's great restaurants, museums, activities and neighborhoods.

While there are a lot of things like many of the museums that are normally free several other sights and activities are dropping their normal admission charges for the week of the RNC. The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame will be free to the public between the hours of 10 and 3. The Hall will be closing early during that week for other scheduled convention events.

One of my favorite places, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, will be free to credentialed delegates. And ready for viewing is the new Tiger exhibit.

The Cleveland 2016 Host Committee has a list of 25 free things to do in Cleveland. Have a look. There promises to be a whole lot more like some summer concerts on Edgewater Beach. Just be careful. You might overdose on hospitality. It will be in abundance.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Cleveland's Countdown to RNC - Cleveland-gelical?

Meet Cleveland-gelicals at the Information Center.
Getting to a city and getting around in it are two of the major concerns of visitors. Luckily Cleveland isn't all that complicated. You always know where North is. When you can see Lake Erie, you're looking North. Just turn 180 and you are looking South to where the steel mills used to pour out sooty black smoke. I'll leave you to figure out East and West just don't get drawn into the argument over which side of the city is better--east or west. Try them all.

The Cleveland 2016 Host Committee has lots of maps and information on its site for planning your visit. Even if you are not coming for the convention but want to plan a trip to the area, it is a great place for information. There are links to the Official Venue Guide, the Official Visitors Guide, a Dining Guide and a Shopping Guide. You can view them there or request a printed copy.

If you'd like something a little more personal, there is an Information Center at 334 Euclid Avenue which is just a short walk from Public Square. According to the Host Committee site, the Information Center is the place to meet Cleveland-gelicals. Definition? People who truly know the city and can help you plan to make the most of your time in the area. And if I know my Clevelanders, there will probably be plenty of stories to tell you if you have the time to listen.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Books For The Road - Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin

Writing is called a craft. When it is done well it will draw you in with wonderful characters, a great story line, a fantastic plot. And then if you make it a mystery, you have me hooked. Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin had my Kindle glued to my hands. I hated to put it down for anything.

This was a book that was suggested for me on our library's online list. I checked the description and thought I would give it a try. So glad I did. The story begins with the main character, Tommie McCloud receiving a letter just days after her father's funeral that suggests she may not be who she thinks she is. As she begins to unravel mysterious goings-on in her family history, she becomes involved in a dangerous game that threatens those she loves most and takes her on journey into the past to discover her roots.

Heaberlin has crafted this story well. It is an easy read but that doesn't mean it will not suck you in and keep you reading until the surprising and thankfully satisfying ending. This would be a good read for a long travel day. I'd be careful reading it on the beach. You might get so involved in the story that the tide will be sloshing at your feet and your stay in the sun may have made you a lobster before you realize the time has passed. Great read!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Knowing The Rules Of The Road

There have been several road trips in our travel history and not all of them in the United States. We've driven on the right side and the left side of the road, had to learn to navigate turnabouts, and even experienced the high speeds of the Autobahn in Germany. Generally the car rental place will give you some warning of any rules of the road specific to that country that you might commonly encounter but there are some that are a little weird and likely not to be mentioned.

Take for instance the one in France that says drivers must carry a breathalyzer. This is so you can test yourself before you start the car and drive off if you've been drinking. Sure I can see that working. No impaired judgement there.

Apparently in Spain parking is allowed on the street but what side of the street you park on depends upon what day of the week it is. Reading that one reminded me of the way we were told Beijing was going to relieve the traffic during the Olympics there. Odd numbered license plates were only allowed into the city on odd numbered days. Even numbers on even days. Hopefully that worked.

And on that Autobahn you had better be sure you have a full tank of gas because pulling over to the side because you ran out is considered an unnecessary stop. It could have been avoided. There is no allowance for any unnecessary stopping on the Autobahn. Believe me, you wouldn't want to slow down and stop. Those cars would be on you in an instant.

Now we may think there are some strange driving laws in other countries including the one in Costa Rica that says you can drink while you drive but you can't drive while you're drunk. The truth is we have a few weird ones here in the States. In Kansas you are not allowed to screech your tires. In Montana it's illegal to leave a sheep unescorted in a truck. In Georgia you can spit from a truck but not a car or bus.

The real gem I found though is in Alabama. No matter how well you may know your way around, it is illegal to drive blindfolded.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Summer Shoes To Go

Shoes and chocolate. Hard for me to pass up but when it comes to packing for a summer getaway, you can't take a closet full of shoes with you and you do have to be careful your chocolate doesn't melt. Your shoe choices have to be made on the basis of what you've planned for your travel. The guys have it easy. My husband wears a pair of brown shoes and packs a pair of sneakers and a pair of sandals. Me, I have to worry about dressing up, being nicely casual, getting shoes for the water/beach/pool, walking shoes, exercise shoes, etc. What's a girl to do?

I ran across an article at Smarter Travel that offered lots of suggestions for different types of shoes that pack well because they either fold up, flatten, or are light weight. Some of the suggestions were good but several were a little pricey for me. When one link showed me that Oprah loved the shoes, I knew they were out of my price range.

So how do you pack for summer fun? A pair of ballet flats work well for occasions where you want to be a little dressy or resort casual at dinner. Sandals that can take getting wet are great for the pool or beach (I like Tevas). Of course if you're a flip-flop wearer that problem is solved. A pair of shoes that you can exercise in are usually good as walking shoes too. Find some that are made of a breathable material and they'll be lighter to pack.

Now that sounds easy. But wait! Those cute little sandals will look great with that pair of slacks and I really need a brown and black pair of ballet shoes and a white pair just because it's summer. And. . .and. . . This is where I need to dial it back. And of course if I really, really need that extra pair, well, it's a shopping opportunity. Right?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Plane Sleep

This year we will be taking a couple of long flights. It's always a struggle for me to sleep on the plane. I usually just assume I won't and take a good book or two. If I decide I'm going to read and I sit back and relax there's a good chance I just might doze. Which is better than not sleeping at all since I am relaxing. Bob on the other hand, takes two Tylenol PM and is out like a light. Just doesn't work for me.

Always on the lookout for suggestions to how to sleep on a plane, I found a few things that might help. First, be careful what you eat. Too much salt and carbonated beverages coupled with the change in pressure and the inactivity for so many hours can lead to bloating and discomfort which is a sure bet to keep you awake.

Wear comfortable clothing. While pajamas for those over age ten are discouraged, a pair of pants with a little roominess could be helpful and certainly shoes that slip off and on easily. Those are good for getting through TSA a little more quickly as well.

I have a hard time sleeping with headphones on but a comfortable pair of earbuds with some soothing music is more conducive to dozing or sleeping. I pass on the inflatable neck pillows that make me feel like I'm in traction. Instead I opt for a soft sweater rolled up under my head. That head usually leans against the side of the plane as I try to get a window seat whenever I can.

Sleep masks might work for some people but I found a suggestion that sunglasses might feel more comfortable to some.

How are you at plane sleeping?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

In The Hollow Of His Hand

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” Psalm 16:1 (NIV)

             The words of a song, “Hold me fast, let me stand, In the hollow of thy hand. Keep me safe, ‘Til the storm passes by,” took on a deeper meaning as I remembered a sailing adventure.
            Our family was sailing from Cleveland to Port Huron, Michigan. As we started across Lake St. Clair, the skies were cloudy. An hour later, they were ominous, threatening a storm. There was no where to run for shelter. A sailboat does not get anywhere in a hurry and, in the shallow waters of St. Clair, we could not risk straying from the shipping channel.
            “If worse comes to worse,” said Bob, “we’ll anchor and ride it out.” We donned rain gear. Neither of us mentioned our greatest fear, the 45 foot “lightning rod” holding up the sail.
            Skies darkened. Thunder surrounded us. Suddenly the wind died. We lowered the sails as rain began to pour straight down. We motored, expecting the wind and waves to get stronger. Visibility was cut down to a mile and we had difficulty seeing the next channel marker. Silently, we prayed.
            The wind never grew stronger. The seas remained tranquil. In the midst of the storm, we continued to move on, in a peace and calm that only God could have provided. We were truly in the hollow of His hand.

            In all the storms of life, take refuge in Him and he will bring peace.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Lost In Translation - Or Not

Church signs can be lots of fun to read and I love the humor behind many of them. For instance one I passed this week: Come back! He's still alive! Obviously a call to those who only go to church on Christmas and Easter. As we travel to countries where English is not the everyday language and signs need to be translated for English speaking travelers they can get quite humorous as well. Here are a few I found reported by other travelers.

At a Budapest zoo: Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard.

Information on a hotel air conditioner in Japan: Cooles and heates. If you want condition of warm air in your room please control yourself.

Advertisement from a Hong Kong dentist: Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.

On the box of a clockwork toy made in China: Guaranteed to work throughout its useful life.

But my favorite sign, even though I think it translated well, was the one we found in Turkey that was over a table full of wristwatches. The sign read: Fake Watches! Ah, finally. Truth in advertising.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cleveland's Countdown to RNC - Public Square

New hotels. New Restaurants. And a new Public Square. Cleveland is getting spruced up for its anticipated visitors.

Public Square was originally laid out in Moses Cleaveland's survey as the center of the Connecticut Land Company's plan for the city. In 1856 the first fountain was constructed on the square followed by several monuments that earned it the name of Monumental Park. The familiar monument that still stands today even with all the renovations is the 125 foot tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument dedicated in 1894.

The square became a transit hub and eventually downtown streets bisected the square dividing it into quadrants. Over the years stagecoaches, streetcars and buses have all been a part of the scene in the center of the city. When the Cleveland Union Terminal (known locally as the Terminal Tower) opened in 1930 becoming the tallest building in the world outside of New York City, some renovation was done to the square to make it more an open space of green lawn.

Proposed renovation.
The return of Civil War troops, World War I and II troops, the display of the caskets of President Lincoln and President Garfield, and demonstrations against the Viet Nam War are all a part of its history. While 1936 brought the Republican Convention as well as the Great Lakes Exposition to Cleveland there was no mention of a major renovation of the square for the events. It was after all during the Great Depression but the two events did a lot to help Cleveland's economy at the time. It didn't do much for the candidate, Alfred Landon, who lost heartily to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The 1940s and 50s brought lots of talk about a subway system but nothing ever came of it. Other plans since then have come and gone. Some replantings and a few new things have been added along the way but not until 2002 did the city begin to seriously consider again a complete renovation of the square.

When the RNC was awarded to Cleveland, the Group Plan Commission that had been formed to look into improving Public Square approved the plans of James Corner who has done work in New York City. The planned renovation that has been underway now since last year is for a reunited square, removing Ontario Street that divided it and making a butterfly shaped walkway that will allow a stroll through the beautified green area soon to be splashed with the color of beautiful gardens. The Soldier and Sailors Monument will still stand and will be joined by a statue of Moses Cleaveland and an early 20th century mayor, Tom Johnson.

Public Square will certainly be a spot that says, "Welcome to Cleveland."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hotel Booking? Beware

Several travel adventures are planned for our upcoming year. While just going and finding places to stay along the way with no planning ahead might sound adventurous, it's not in my DNA. I need to know where I'm placing my head on a pillow each night. When we book our stays, we consider quite a few things besides price and availability starting with the reviews on TripAdvisor. Look at the good and bad reviews and the dates they were posted. Things may have changed since the most recent review listed there.

Beware of those pictures on the hotel website that are just really too good to be true. You can make anything look really good with the right angle, lighting and a little computer magic. Check out the photos on TripAdvisor that have been taken by people who actually stayed there. They'll be a lot more realistic.

When the place we want to stay is in an area we are really not familiar with, we drop one of those little yellow men that Google has on its Google Maps page in a spot where we can look around and see what the neighborhood looks like. It's been helpful too when we arrive especially if we are on foot and dragging luggage. A few landmarks as seen on Google Maps makes us feel a little more secure about finding our hotel without getting lost. It certainly would have been helpful years ago when we booked a hotel that was nice enough but in the middle of a bunch of car factories in a German city.

An email to confirm or even a phone call will help to verify the kind of service you can expect. If your accommodations are in a foreign country it also helps to know that they can respond in English if necessary.

And if you are really paranoid about bed bugs, you might want to check the bed bug registry. It's a place where you can check to see if there was ever a problem with bed bugs that was reported. I don't know how reliable it is. There are some really nice hotels on the list and some of the reports are very old. Best advice is to check the TripAdvisor reviews and then always check the bed before you drop your suitcases. Here's a link to a USA Today article on how to check.

A little careful planning helps keep that travel adventure memorable in a good way.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Through My Lens - April Snowfall

As it often does in the Northeast Ohio Area, we got a winter wonderland in spring just as the blossoms on the trees were about to burst open with their flowers. The daffodils have all disappeared under a blanket of 5 inches of snow. They're hardy stock though. Maybe they will perk up again. Here is some of what it looked like on Saturday.

Pretty? Sure. But give me my flowers back. It is spring.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Post Sunset

twi·light the time just after sunset when the light is half faded but the world is not yet totally dark.

My picture files are full of sunsets. They are fascinating. Beautiful. Stunning. So many more adjectives apply but one evening. I sat by the water's edge and just enjoyed the peace. While the sunset was long over, there was still a magnificent sky reflected in the water. Even when the lights started coming on, there was a a lot of color left on God's palette.

I thought I would share twilight with you.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Osprey Teenagers

On our way home from Key Largo last week we made one more stop at the osprey nest that we've been watching all winter from the Overseas Highway. The little ones aren't so little any more. They're more like teenagers. I'm sure Mom Osprey is kept busy trying to keep them fed. Anyone with a teenager knows how much they eat! Here's the last of our pictures. Can't wait to see what the nest will hold next year.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

"Fireflies" of the Florida Bay Waters

The first time we saw this phenomenon during our stay in Key Largo  was in January as we were walking in the evening after dark and I noticed something that looked shiny in the water. I thought it was a reflection of something or a piece of foil in the water. It went out and then returned a few minutes later and I realized that between a few strands of floating sea grass there was a small worm-like creature wiggling and glowing a bright green. 

Curiosity aroused, I began asking around about the glowing worm and no one seemed to know what it was. In the Bahamas some years back, we saw glowing jelly fish in the water but this was not a jelly fish. It was definitely a worm or very thin fish.

As time went on, we didn't see any more. Then someone else began asking about the glowing worms in the water. At least I knew now I wasn't the only who had seen them but when we returned to look again at dark we found nothing.

Finally one of our new friends found a link to a study about Bermuda fire worms. The description fit what we had seen. It said that the glowing, or bio luminescence, had to do with the mating that took place every month just after the full moon. When we discovered the date of the next full moon, there was quite a group of us gathered on the dock to see the fire worms.

The peek time is three days after the full moon and 57 minutes after the sun has set. The female rises to the surface and emits a bright green mucus that attracts the male who also emits a glowing mucus. The mucus apparently contains the cells necessary for reproduction. The phenomenon lasts only about thirty minutes and then the worms disappear again. 

On the peek night in March, the waters were calm and we could see little worms lighting up all over the place--sort of like the fireflies of summer at home.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Mini Cruise - Great Stirrup Cay

As usual we were up and ready to go ashore before most of the rest of the Norwegian Sky’s passengers. If I had been on spring break I wouldn’t have wanted to get out of bed too early either. The private beach at Great Stirrup Cay was reached by tender and since they expected the heaviest traffic to start around 10 in the morning there was no problem getting on the large tender that had met the ship from shore. Within a few minutes we were on our way through a choppy sea. We were curious to see what this beach would be like. Would it compare to our favorite, Holland America’s Half Moon Cay.

There was a nice entry walk to the major part of the beach. The musicians were already tuning up ready for a blast of music to get the party going. We stopped for a moment at an information booth, asked for a non-existent map and were pointed in the direction of an area called the Blue Lagoon. The captain in his morning greeting and commentary on the port we were in had said that the Blue Lagoon area was further away from the noisy part of the beach.

We passed the food area and walked along the sand and stone shore. There is a rocky shoreline here mostly covered by sand. I don’t think we made it quite to the Lagoon but felt we were far enough away from the music that had already started blasting and asked the attendant to set up a clam shell (a sun protector for two) for us. There were only a few people on the beach with us for most of the morning and we enjoyed watching some of the younger families trying out the paddle boarding and floating mats.

Closer to noon, more young people began moving into our area of the beach. We headed up to the food area and enjoyed great hamburgers and salads. Another half hour on the beach and another dip in the water and we were ready to return to the ship.

All in all we enjoyed the beach as much as we do any beach but we both felt that Half Moon Cay was still a bit prettier than this one.

After a relaxing rest of the afternoon, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at another specialty restaurant called Le Bistro. A French restaurant meant escargot and duck. The escargot was some of the best we’ve ever had and the duck was delicious with a different kind of sauce than la orange. Of course when you ended it with a chocolate fondue, it couldn’t have been more perfect—well, a sunset view might have been more perfect but we were on the wrong side of the ship.

Another wonderful production show featured some golden oldies albeit with a little different beat which was very enjoyable.

Our disembarkation was easy enough since we carried our bags off and then found our ride to the parking garage quickly after getting off the ship. It was only four days but it was a lovely four days and even though we had to share our cruise with so many college students, we found that the ship’s crew handled everything quite well. They had to be exhausted though trying to keep up with everything and keep everyone happy. It was nice enough that we’d like to try another NCL cruise—something a little longer.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Mini Cruise - Nassau, Bahama

Nassau is always looked at as a premium destination and in some ways it is. Of course the biggest attraction is Atlantis which is a great place to spend the day if you want to spend the bucks. They charge for you to use their beach and stroll around their lagoons that contain sharks, rays, turtles and a variety of other marine animals. There is also a large aquarium that you can see for a fee. It is amazing. We've been through it before.

We'd never taken the ferry over to Paradise Island where the Atlantis and several other nice hotels, restaurants and shops are so we set off to try something new. Of course we forgot we were in the Caribbean. Nothing moves quickly in the Caribbean. The signs all said that the ferry began its runs at 9:30 AM but when we inquired at the ticket booth we were told to wander around a bit because they weren't ready. We weren't about to wander around the area. It didn't look terribly savory as we looked down the road. But we walked along the water's edge a bit and came back. It turned out they were waiting for a group from a ship (there were four in port) and if there was room, we could hop aboard. They weren't sure when they were leaving though. Finally one of the guys hailed a taxi for us and it turned out that the taxi wasn't any more expensive than the ferry. Our driver gave us a pleasant ride over to Atlantis.

 We wandered around the shops and the casino and peeked into the lagoons that we could see. Atlantis hotel is not cheap. There is a room that is in the arch between the two towers of the hotel that goes for a couple of thousand a night. I've always heard that Oprah Winfrey reserves it when she's there. Other rooms go for $400 to $700 so it surprised me to see college students there with luggage. Perhaps there was a special for them at the resort.

Back on the ship in time for lunch, I enjoyed a quiet afternoon on a lounge chair with a book while Bob had fun at the fitness center. Dinner in the evening was in one of the specialty restaurants, Il Adagio. It is Italian and the sauce and pasta was really good but the meatballs were mostly breading. Disappointing. The comedian for the evening show though was a highlight of the evening. He had recovered from the disastrous first night and was very funny, engaging the audience whenever he could and even involving the stage hand.

A quick walk through the pool area just to sense a little of the energy of youth emanating from all the college spring breakers and we were off to bed with the expectation of a great beach day to follow.

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