"" Writer's Wanderings: October 2019

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Japan Visit -- Start With Sushi

The good news--our bid to upgrade our flight to Tokyo was accepted. The bad news--our credit card company wouldn't let the charge go through because it thought it was fraudulent. We lost the upgrade. The good news--when Bob went to check in, an upgrade was offered for $50 less than what we'd bid. Yay!

Our flight from Toronto to Tokyo was in Air Canada premium economy. It was a cheap version of first class. Yes, there was more leg room but we were against the bulkhead which meant we couldn't stow anything under a seat. And we were in the middle section of seats. The odd thing was people who wanted to get from one aisle to the other would step over our feet to cross to the other side. Thankfully it didn't happen too often. My only other complaint was that the bathroom was really bad. The toilet bowl looked ancient and corroded. (Turned out it wasn't any better on the return flight even though it was a different plane.)

When you are traveling to see grandkids you haven't seen in a year, all of the discomfort takes a back seat to the anticipation of being with them. We were due to meet up in Tokyo on the day after our arrival as they arrived from Sapporo. Our son met us at the Haneda airport and we all traveled to our hotel, the Shinagawa Prince. We had stayed there once before when we came to Tokyo for his wedding.

We decided on sushi for dinner and our son who has lived in Tokyo for four years now knew a great place. It was a tiny little restaurant but very nice and I regret not remembering the name. I'll blame it on jet lag. The sushi arrived in several courses, each more beautifully presented than the previous. It was artistry as well as pure delight in taste. I even ate part of my oyster which was the largest I've ever seen and was said to come from Hokkaido. My favorite was the eel that was flavored with a Japanese BBQ sauce. I was sorry there was only one piece of it.

Dessert was a small scoop of ice cream sprinkled with green tea and accompanied by a spoonful of fruit.

It was probably the most expensive meal we've had in a long time though: $400 for the three of us. Hard to complain when the experience and the food was absolutely topnotch. What a great start to our trip.

We went straight back to our hotel after dinner and climbed into bed hoping our body clocks would readjust quickly.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Books For The Road - The Plaza by Julie Satow

Non-fiction books are usually not top on my list for reading but I was intrigued by an interview I heard about the writing of The Plaza: The Secret Life Of America's Most Famous Hotel. I downloaded the read and, to be honest, it took me a while to get through it. Part of the reason was a busy schedule but it was also not my usual got-to-find-out-the-ending kind of read. It was interesting however and I learned a lot.

The story takes you from the very beginnings of the Plaza and introduces you to many of the unique and quirky characters that were involved over the years. While many may not realize it, the Plaza was not just a hotel but a home to many who rented apartments there. In the early years there was a group of widows who inhabited several floors.

Romances, scandals and the evolution of the work force that manned the services of the Plaza kept me reading through even though sometimes the details were a bit slow to read through. One of the time periods I enjoyed reading about most was the WWII days. During that time, many women became bellhops and the luggage cart came into being because it was thought the women couldn't handle the heavy luggage as well as men.

The Trump era was interesting to read about as were the foreign owners who bought into the hotel as well.

If you enjoy non-fiction and a historical account of a travel destination you'll enjoy this read. And who knows, maybe you can read it in one of the beds in the Plaza on your next trip to New York City.

Monday, October 28, 2019

More Standing Stones - Stornoway, Scotland

The first thing that comes up on many of the sites featuring Stornoway is another ring of standing stones. This one is called the Calanais Standing Stones. They are said to be older than the Pyramids of Gaza.

Stornoway is located in the Outer Hebrides which is another group of islands. I guess I didn't realize that Scotland had so many island groups. The Lewis and Harris Island is the most inhabited but there are more than 50 islands in the chain that are uninhabited.

One of the most popular attractions is Lews Castle which overlooks the harbor. The beginnings of the castle date back to the 1600s. When Sir James Matheson bought the property in 1844, he commissioned a famous architect, Charles Wilson, to build the castle. The castle and grounds stayed in the family until 1917 when they were forced to sell it. In 1923, Lord Leverhulme gifted the property to the community to be used civic purposes. During the war years, the castle became a naval hospital. In 1953, the Castle became a college and continued until 1988 when it reverted to the community once again.

I found some references to wildlife and bird life in the area but I couldn't nail down how we would go about seeing it, at least not on our own. Here is where we might have to rely on the cruise ship's excursions for the area.or just explore on foot the town which according to one website has charming shops and cafes. This port might take a lot more investigating online.

Friday, October 25, 2019

More Scottish Islands - Kirkwall

After visiting the Shetlands, our cruise heads south to the Orkney Islands. We will stop at Kirkwall. This looks like a port we might be exploring on our own unless there is an excursion that piques our interest from the cruise ship offerings.

A Cruise Critic list of excursion suggestions sounds interesting. Among the spots to visit are two places over 5,000 years old. One is a village, Skara Brae, that was discovered when a howling storm blew away the dunes that were covering it. Another is Maes Howe which is a 5,000 year old chambered tomb.

Another place that is mentioned sounds almost like a Stonehenge. It's called Ring of Brodgar, a ring of stones. Twenty-seven of the original stones are still standing.

There is St. Magnus Cathedral, Highland Park (a distillery) and the Italian Chapel built from Quonset huts, barbed wire, concrete and other odds and ends by Italian prisoners during WWII.

Near the St. Magnus Cathedral is the Bishop's Palace. which dates back to the 1200s. Apparently before becoming a part of Scotland, Kirkwall and the Orkney Islands were a part of Norway. Those Vikings really got around.

I'm thinking by this time we might be ready for a walking tour rather than a bus tour. It sounds like there could be quite a crowd at some of the more popular sites and I think we might be bus weary. There are some tours that can be booked online that sound good for touring the old town.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Shetland Islands Stop - Puffins?

Okay, the more I look at the ports and places to visit on this trip around Scotland coming up next year, the more excited I get. Just take a look at the teaser the cruise site offered for the Shetland Islands:

Enjoy a taste of the Highlands here in the rugged landscape and heathered moors, the ruined castles, steep cliffs and sea air. Drive through beautiful valleys and flower-filled meadows with romping Shetland ponies to quaint villages like Scalloway with its ruinded castle or explore the fascinating Jarlshof prehistoric site, occupied for more than 4,000 years.

It sounds beautiful. The Shetland Islands are in the far north of the British Isles. It is made up of 100 islands, 15 of which are inhabited. While there are several ports of call in the islands, ours will be at Lerwick, the capital.

Lots of opportunities to see many different attractions one of which is the cliffs of Eshaness. The pictures I looked at remind me of the Cliff of Moher in Ireland. They were formed from volcanic action and make a rugged coastline that looks spectacular.

An 1870s thatched roof house/museum looks interesting as well. While the Croft house looks like a farm, the inhabitants were actually fishermen and whalers. It was inhabited up until the 1960s.

Oh, oh! There might be puffins. So far every place we have visited has always been at the wrong time for finding what to us, has been the elusive bird. There is a nature preserve nearby. Checking the Hermaness Nature Reserve blog shows that it's possible the puffins will be taking care of their young around the time of our visit. Fingers crossed. There is also a place called Sumburgh Head Lighthouse that is said to be another place to see the puffins. Okay, that does it. Museums and castles and old houses aside. I want to see puffins.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Will We See Nessie?

As we cruise around Scotland, one of our ports will be in the Scottish Highlands. The port of Invergordon is said to be a small town with a big heart for cruise ships. It is home to several castles and golf courses. It is also traveling distance to Loch Ness.

A site that advertises a half day tour to Loch Ness also includes Castle Urquhart which over looks Loch Ness. I think that would be a great way to get to see the countryside and who knows maybe even Nessie, the Loch Ness monster.

The coastal area is home to bottle nosed dolphins, always a fun experience to see them but another trip that was mentioned was to the Black Isle Peninsula where there is a 17th century village. Sounds quaint and again another opportunity to get out into the countryside.

If there is enough time when we return from a half day tour, I'd love to take the hop on hop off bus around Inverness, a city just across the river from our port of Invergordon. We've always enjoyed those bus rides.

Of course it's all predicated on when we arrive and leave and what excursions we might take. Okay, I'm getting excited.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Calling On Edinburgh, Scotland, The Castle

Every time you hear about a trip to Edinburgh, you hear about the castle. Now there are a lot more other historic places, castles included to visit but if we're only going once, I want to see THE castle. Its history invites you.

The castle is one of the oldest fortified places in Europe. It's long history includes a royal residence, military garrison, prison and fortress. It started with the Iron Age people building a fortress on the hill. Throughout the centuries it suffered many sieges and changed hands several times. In 1457, one of the greatest medieval cannons was given to King James II. You know the cannon has to be great when they name it, Mons Meg.

The castle was the residence to many queens and kings from its early beginnings. Queen Margaret died there in 1093. It was also home to Mary, Queen of Scots whose son took the throne when he was 13 months old.

The crown jewels, the Honours of Scotland, are the oldest crown jewels in Britain. They were first used in a coronation of a monarch in 1543. The Stone of Destiny was used for years to inaugurate monarchs and is said to be on display in the Crown Room. It is basically a 700 pound red sandstone block. A small piece of paper inserted into a tube in the stone was said to prove its authenticity. It was apparently a part of the throne upon which the monarchs sat to be crowned. There is quite a story of it being stolen and returned to Scotland.

Military prisoners were kept there often, the first being French privateers caught in 1758. While it was said that many monarchs complained about drafts in the castle, it was probably a whole lot worse for the prisoners.

There is a whole lot more to the history I'm sure but that's enough to whet the appetite. I'm really a bit more interested in the ambiance and the structure and the scenery. History was never my strong suit.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Calling On Edinburgh, Scotland, The Food

Haggis, neeps and tatties
Scotland is one of the countries we have not yet visited so I'm eager to get a taste of it on the cruise we take next year. Edinburgh is the capital and I'm told a must see place. So here I go exploring the internet to get some ideas on what to see.

Let's start with food. While we'll be eating mainly on the cruise ship (Bob always hates to not eat a meal he's already paid for), I'd like to taste some of the foods unique to Scotland. Haggis was the first to come up on a list. The picture reminded me a bit of the rice sausage that was a Bohemian favorite with my grandfather. It's not anything like that though from the description. It's made of sheep's pluck (liver, lungs and heart) and minced with spices, salt, oatmeal, suet and onion and stuffed in, of course, intestine. Nowadays though the lining might be artificial.

Next up and often served with haggis is neeps and tatties. Neeps are turnips and tatties are potatoes. If you add butter and chives to the mix, you get clapshot. I'm not making this up.

The salmon in Scotland is said to be the best. It is prime breeding ground for the fish and I assume is very fresh.

Porridge is popular but is made with salt not sugar. Sounds like it could be a very lumpy texture as well. Pass.

A full Scottish breakfast is similar to a full English breakfast. Eggs, tomato, meats, English muffin, and usually haggis and/or black pudding ( a type of blood sausage). There will also be some tattie scones said to taste better with some butter lathered on them.

Now I'm sure if we're out and about we'll get a chance to try Scottish tablet. It's a confectionery made of crystallized sugar, condensed milk and butter. Some are said to have a wee bit of whiskey added.

Shortbread is one I can say I'm familiar with. Scottish shortbread is even sold in some places in the states. And then there's battered and deep fried Mars bars. Bet you thought only the US carnival and fairs did that.

Scotch pie looks a bit like the meat pies you get in Australia. Maybe Scotland sent some of its criminals over there as well. Just joking.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Cruise Stop--Newcastle UK

If I can't be on a ship cruising port to port, I can at least be on the internet surfing port to port. One of the ports I looked into was Newcastle in the norther part of England. It is our first stop on a cruise we booked for next year. Of course I always manage to find bunny trails to travel down and a description of Newcastle on one site included the information that it has a distinct regional dialect called Geordie. Of course I was off and checking it out.

Geordie (pronounced Jordy) refers to the people who live in the Newcastle and Tyneside area in Northeast England. It is said to be the most difficult dialect to understand. Hmmm. I thought Cockney was difficult. The Geordie dialect is not just a distinct accent. It actually has its own vocabulary and not just the usual differences we see between our American words vs. English words (think sweater = jumper). There are several interesting words I found.

  • bait - food or a snack taken to work
  • bobby dazzler - someone who is conceited and a show off
  • breeks - trousers
  • gan - to go (C'mon we'll gan doon the pub.)
  • monkey's blood - raspberry sauce for ice cream
  • wazzock - imbecile or jerk
  • whisht - hush
Hoyahamma owaheah is not a Japanese company but "throw a hammer over here."

A stottie is a dense doughy bread.

Looks like we could have quite a time should we get lost and need direction. It reminds me of our trip to Ireland where we ended up in an area that is trying to preserve the old Irish Gaelic and many of the residents only speak that language/dialect. We had an old gentleman tip his hat to us as we sipped tea at a small cafe. He stopped, rattled off his Gaelic, smiled at us and went on his way. We smiled back and nodded our heads. I have no idea what was said or if our response was even appropriate. Ah, the fun of traveling.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Smart Water Bottles?

Hydrating is important in so many ways. Dehydration leads to some nasty effects like dizziness, rapid heartbeat and breathing, fainting, etc. None of which is desired when traveling. Airplanes tend to have much less humidity than even your home in winter. So when you get off the plane after a long flight you might experience some effects like being tired, having a stuffy head, or more, if you haven't taken time to drink plenty of water.

It is suggested that you drink 8 ounces of water every hour on a long flight. That's not always easy to do if you are planning to sleep. One way to combat that is to drink water with electrolytes added. If you don't want to buy smartwater or Propel or another brand that adds electrolytes you might want to take an empty water travel bottle with you and a ziplock bag of sliced lemons. Once through security, you can fill your bottle and add a few lemon slices which are a natural electrolyte.

And then there's the smart water bottle. A smart water bottle will glow when it's time to drink more. Some of them even connect to your smart devices. You can take it through security empty, fill it before boarding and refill while in flight by asking your flight attendant for water. I only hope the smart water bottle isn't as smart as our TV which seems too smart for its own good sometimes.

Be smart. Drink more water, not alcohol. Avoid the salty foods and land with a better feeling of well-being.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Cruising Through The Movies

Yes, the TV series, Love Boat, made cruising a definite bucket list item for me way before Bucket List, the movie, made that phrase popular. I loved the characters and the setting of the ship. Fast forward to our first cruise. We boarded the Celebrity Horizon (since sold) and were directed to the buffet area. We gathered our food and went to the back of the deck to eat at a table there. I looked around in wonder. I was really there. On a ship. About to cruise. Wow. Twenty-five years later, we are still cruising.

There has not been another series set on a cruise ship to my knowledge but there have been through the years many movies. As I read through a list provided in an article, 20 Cruise Movies That Will Make You Want To Sail, I was surprised by some of the years the movies were made, 1931, 1937, 1948. I'd love to sit and watch some of the old ones to see what their perspective of cruising was.

I don't know that I'd feel compelled to sail after watching Speed 2: Cruise Control although it is a good movie. Does Sandra Bullock make a bad one? And what about Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten? There is no way I would watch that, cruise or no cruise.

The article is quite interesting and gives a short synopsis of each movie they list. Guess I see some movie watching in my future. Of course that will just make me want to cruise more.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Choosing Cruise Itineraries

It's time to get back to posting here. I've spent some time concentrating on finishing up a book that will be published next month. So perusing some of my saved newsletters from Cruise Critic, I came upon an article that listed the writer's 7 Worst Cruise Ports for a Repeat Visit. There were actually a couple we've never been to yet, Halifax (on the bucket list), Bahrain, and Flam. My list would be much different.

We have sailed the usual Caribbean itineraries so much over our more than 25 years of traveling that there are some ports where we don't even get off the ship. Cozumel is one. We sometimes just get off to walk a bit and then remember why we don't like it, cheap stores, questionable restaurants and well, just nothing that interests us. Now if you're a beach person, you might escape to one of those.

Another port that we have found an alternative to is St. Thomas. We take a water taxi to Water Island where you can catch a shuttle to Honeymoon Beach or even walk to it. There are two places there that offer light food fare and drinks and its a beautiful beach. Unfortunately many others have discovered it too but it's still not too crowded. It beats the traffic in Charlotte Amalie. It's a little tougher to do though if your ship is docked at Havensight. In that case, we stay on board and enjoy a quieter ship and its amenities.

Grand Turk is another that we have visited much too often. There is little to do outside the port which is built specifically for the ships. Again, a little walk around for some exercise and we are back on board. Occasionally we will park by the pool for a bit but the pool area fills up quickly and the ship usually provides the quiet and the view we're looking for.

The article mentioned Monte Carlo as a dull repeat visit. With that I disagree. It all depends upon what you are looking for. If you are a bit adventurous, you can take a bus trip to a little place called the Village of Eze. It is quaint, picturesque and has some neat little shops and restaurants. Besides that, in Monte Carlo there is a wonderful park you can walk through or if you are a people watcher, you can sit and enjoy the luxury cars and exotic people who come and go to the casino.

I could go on but it all comes down to what do you want to see and do when you choose an itinerary. Some of the cruise lines are varying their itineraries so that while you may have been to some of the ports  there are new ones added. Then there are times where the ports are not as important as just relaxing and enjoying the pampering of a cruise.

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