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23 Search Results for ""winter by the beach""

  • IDW Esperanza Resort IDW Esperanza Resort

    • From: inga-mgl
    • Description:

      We are  IDW Esperanza Hotel -Resort (Small Luxury Hotels of the World), located in  Lithuania,offering exclusive accommodation, real gourmet experience, conference facilities, Healthy Spa-center, water sports & winter sports, plenty of entertainments. We would like to contact with you,to find the possibility to be added in your worldwide hotel list, please contact to the e-mail,wrote in your contact form, and for more information, don't hesitate to contact us, thank you very much! We are delighted to welcome you to a unique ecological resort, IDW Esperanza Resort (Small Luxury Hotels of the World), offering exclusive accommodation, real gourmet experience, conference facilities, Healthy Spa-center, water sports & winter sports, plenty of entertainments.

      IDW Esperanza Resort is blessed by mother-nature, with breathtaking views, extraordinary located into a picturesque landscape surrounded by a beautiful lake near Lithuanian capital - Vilnius. We delivery you a magical & pleasure stay!

      Esperanza Resort — is a stunning masterpiece of work of human hands, with use of the latest technologies. It is build of ecological logs brought from the high mountains of British Columbia (Canada).  The age of logs – from 175 to 400 years!

      IDW Esperanza Resort offers to you,    

              International  top-class service

              34 elegant hotel rooms, fully equipped for your pleasant & exciting stay

              2 restaurant providing a finest gourmet & seasonal kitchen, with best international & regional delicacies, balanced with an outstanding service, will conquest your palate!

              Wine cellar with more than 120 top selected wines from all over the world!

              2 multipurpose conference rooms and business center

              Full set of sports entertainments indoor & outdoor (including tennis, basketball, cycling, fishing, beach volleyball, bowling, pool, baths, sauna…

      • •Healthy SPA offering you a world of  procedures, massages, treatments  which are carried out by our therapists to bringing you body and soul into a balance.

              Free access to WI-FI

      • Complimentary shuttle service

      We are looking forward to you to have a exciting time with us!

      Yours faithfully,

      IDW Esperanza Resort

      +370 613 84 946  office@esperanzaresort.lt

    • Blog post
    • 10 months ago
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  • Seattle Seattle

    • From: hoosierfan1997
    • Description:

      Set between two major mountain ranges, the Olympics and the Cascades, with the Puget Sound's fjord-like waters to the west and massive Lake Washington to the east, Seattle has one of the most dramatic settings of any city in the country.

      The frequent moody cloud cover can hide those jagged mountains but on clear days 14,411-foot (4297 meter) Mount Rainier can be seen from the city. Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a short stay in the northwestern U.S. city.

      6 p.m. - If the clouds have lifted even a bit, there's no better place to watch the sunset over Elliott Bay than from the Seattle Art Museum's nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park on the downtown waterfront. Besides wandering about the 20 sculptures from major artists like Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson and Richard Serra, you can enjoy further views of the changeable bay by strolling along the paved trail through nearby Myrtle Edwards Park.

      7 p.m. - Head up to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and start the weekend with cocktails at Tavern Law, named by GQ Magazine as one of the 25 best bars in America.

      There are plenty of handcrafted cocktails to enjoy in the Prohibition-era surroundings, but celebrate the start of your getaway with a custom champagne cocktail. Peruse the menu. The oxtail banh mi sandwich, based on Vietnamese tradition, will give you a taste of the Pacific Rim influence that figures in so many Seattle menus.

      9 p.m. - Seattle takes its jazz seriously and there's no better spot than Dimitriou's Jazz Alley downtown to hear it. With any luck, a musician like Grammy Award-winning Arturo Sandoval will be holding court. Or maybe you'll catch the funky horn-driven Tower of Power.

      9 a.m. - Fortify yourself for the day ahead with one of the best Mexican breakfasts anywhere at Senor Moose in the lively Ballard neighborhood. The crowded restaurant offers breakfast specialties culled from regions throughout Mexico. Try the outstanding huevos motuleos with black beans inspired by the Yucatan breakfast staple. Even though it's early, go ahead and get an order of the flawless guacamole and chips. It's surprisingly good with a cup of Senor Moose's strong coffee.

      11 a.m. - Get a sense of Ballard's historic status as Seattle's Scandinavian neighborhood at the Nordic Heritage Museum and at stops such as the shop Scandinavian Specialties, where you can pick up house-made cured meats, homemade Swedish meatballs and a bowl of traditional yellow split pea soup.

      Ballard also has a lively shopping scene.  KAVU, a local Seattle clothing and gear company, offers the quintessential Northwest look, with hip interpretations of outdoorsy style clothes. Stop at The Secret Garden Bookshop which has a carefully chosen selection of books for children and adults. For lunch, head to the nearby Ray's Boathouse Cafe with views for which Seattle is famous, along with the seafood.

      3 p.m. - Spend the next two hours absorbing more of Asia's influence on Seattle at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. The museum, which is situated in lovely Volunteer Park, showcases exquisite art from various centuries and numerous counties in Asia.

      5 p.m. - Continue your exploration of Seattle's hot cocktail scene at the Zig Zag Cafe tucked away behind the Pike Place Market. Try the One Legged Duck, a blend of Rye Whiskey, Dubonnet, Mandarine Napoleon and Fernet Branca. Order a plate of marinated olives to go with it, or try the cheese plate. Much of the food on the menu is sourced at the Pike Place Market.

      7 p.m. - Since you're already at Pike Place, head to Matt's in the Market on the third floor of the Corner Market Building, where the food matches the view. Meat lovers can try the Pork Belly Confit with kimchi broth. For those who prefer seafood try the clams with chorizo and cava or order anything with Dungeness crab or perhaps some oysters on the half shell. For a larger plate try the seafood stew.

      9 p.m. - For a great evening head to the Triple Door in the heart of downtown Seattle, which offers music ranging from pop chanteuse crooners to Apple Jam, a group presenting a critically praised tribute to the Beatles.  A great wine list is available, along with excellent cocktails and Southeast Asian inspired plates. The satays are a perennial favorite.



      10 a.m. - For brunch try Salty's at Alki in West Seattle. It can be crowded, but the views and lavish assortment of Northwest foods on offer more than make up for it, including piles of Dungeness crab and smoked salmon, along with brunch staples like Eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles. Afterwards walk for miles along the waterfront through Alki, Seattle's premiere people watching neighborhood and beach scene. Seals often pop their heads up here, and you'll see ferries chugging off to local islands.

      1 p.m. - Seattle is a book lover's town, and readers have many fine bookstores to visit. Seattle Mystery Bookshop in historic Pioneer Square is one of the best and offers both new and used books. Passionate, friendly staff can help you find the perfect read.

      For an excellent general selection, Elliott Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill has the goods, many with staff recommendations, plus a great selection of unique cards. It's easy to lose yourself in the stacks, so keep an eye on the clock if you need catch a flight.




      With booming family-friendly popularity, Seattle is an urban playground with wide open appeal for outdoor lovers. If you enjoy tall emerald forests and city parks, stunning views of distant snow-capped mountains and miles of Puget-Sound open water, you'll love Seattle. While many know Seattle as the rain capital, Seattleites boast their city actually gets less annual rain than New York or Miami. A little drizzle is no reason to miss out on exploring -- especially in summer.


      Most city attractions for kids are clustered at Seattle Center, a 74-acre downtown venue with the Space Needle, Children's Museum, Children's Theatre, Pacific Science Center, Experience Music Project and an indoor-outdoor amusement park. Large event fests are here; make sure to bring strollers for the little ones.

      ·         Pike Place Market. The nine-acre Market, which opened on August 17, 1907 according to its website (http://www.pikeplacemarket.com) is can't- miss for all ages as the city's heart and soul. The Market is a free National Historic District with more than 250 businesses, 100 farmers, 200 arts and craftspeople and open daily. Arrive at 10 a.m. to beat crowds. Mondays and Tuesdays are best for crafts; Wednesday-Sundays showcase amazing fresh produce. Kids love their photo with Rachel, the iconic life-sized bronze piggy. She's under the central Market clock by Pike Place Fish, where singing fishmongers throw fish.

      ·         Space Needle. This symbol of the 1962 World's Fair has an observation tower ("O Deck") at 520 feet high. Kids love scoping out Mount Rainier on free telescopes. SkyQ's interactive experience, with five touch-screen kiosks, entertains all. An often-crowded gift shop sells noteworthy souvenirs. Kids 3 and under free; kids ages 4-13 pay $9, ages 14-64 pay $16 and people over 65 years old pay $14.

      ·         Seattle Aquarium. While gazing into a 120,000-gallon aquarium, kids of all ages are astonished as they also see colorful salmon, rockfish, sea anemones and native Washington marine life. Also, there's storytelling for the youngest. On the waterfront at Pier 59, down a flight of stairs from Pike Place Market. It gets crowded, so arrive at 9:30 a.m. Kids ages 3 and under are admitted for free. Admission for youth (ages 4-12) is $10.50, and admission for adults is $16.

      ·         Pacific Science Center. This hands-on, six-acre facility is great for elementary-aged kids, with interactive exhibits and live science demonstrations. A tropical butterfly area is popular for all ages. Also, IMax movies, laser tag and the Planetarium offer an educational, yet fun way of showing kids information. Prices range from $17-$23 for adults and $10-$13 for kids.

      ·         Woodland Park Zoo. Its naturalistic settings rank the 92-acre Woodland Park among the country's top zoos with appeal to all animal lovers. Chilean flamingos, an African savanna, tropical rain forest, and covered activities such as parakeets feeding provide a full day's entertainment. Bring dollar bills for rides on an old-fashioned carousel (merry-go-round). Admission depends on the time of year. Kids under age 2 are admitted for free; admission for adults (October-April) is $11 and $16.50 during summer months. Admission for kids ages 3 through 12 is $11 during summer months and $8 the rest of the year. Be sure to rent a wagon (near admission entrance).

      ·         Experience Music Project Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. One of the world's largest collections of memorabilia from Seattle icon Jimi Hendrix. EMPSFM appeals to rockers, high school teens and parents who remember Hendrix. It celebrates American popular music genres. Also, a SpinKids Station amuses young kids. Kids ages 4 and under are admitted for free. Admission for youth (ages 5-17) is $12, and admission for adults is $15.

      ·         Tillicum Village & Tours. For a memorable four-hour evening, take a late afternoon cruise to scenic Blake Island State Park, birthplace of Chief Seattle, for a Northwest Coast Native American dance presentation. An all-you-can-eat traditional salmon bake dinner is yummy. Board from downtown waterfront's Pier 55. Kids under 4, free; kids aged 5-12 pay $30 and adults pay $79.95.

      ·         Bainbridge Island. Board a downtown Seattle walk-on ferry (about $7 roundtrip, no reservations) at downtown's Pier 52 for a 35-minute ride to charming 28-square-mile Bainbridge Island. It's a fun day trip for the family. Enjoy ice cream, coffees, lunch or picnic. Bring a stroller.

      ·         Olympic Sculpture Park. This free, downtown nine-acre sculpture park is a great spot to view Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains scenery. A z-shaped path rambles among permanent and rotating sculptures. Great for a picnic lunch with treats picked up from shops at nearby Pike Place Market.

      ·         Alki Beach Park. Kids love this true sandy free beach park, with a 2.5-mile pedestrian walkway. It's where the first white settlers arrived in Seattle in 1851. Catch a Metro Bus (Route 56) a block from Pike Place Market. Water temps average 46 to 56 degrees Fahrenheit.

      ·         University District Farmers market. Washington's largest "farmer's only" market is also Seattle's oldest market, taking place every Saturday throughout the year. Sample local farm foods and watch chef demonstrations. 9 a.m.-2 p.m. near University of Washington.

      ·         Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. Kids love watching salmon climb up a fish ladder or catching a glimpse of a sea lion from a viewing window. Also known as the Ballard Locks, the locks raise and lower boats between fresh and salt water.

      ·         Downtown parking is expensive and is challenging to find. Keep it simple -- walk, ride Metro Buses or take a cab.

      ·         One-way streets and steady construction can cause direction confusion; ask for directions.

      ·         The city's scenic waterfront-area hills are steep. Pack each family member's most comfortable shoes.

      ·         At dusk, avoid historic Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market areas (hangouts for rowdy, alcohol-slugging vagrants).

      ·         During late spring and summer, throngs of visitors and cruise passengers frequent popular spots; arrive early in the morning. Arrange a meeting place if family members get separated.

      ·         Summer air conditioning is scarce, so plan accordingly. November kicks off the cool rainy season. In winter, dusk arrives come late afternoon.


      Other things things you should know

      ·         Seattle's Visitor Center and Concierge Services have free bookings and reservations for dining, tours, and transportation. Open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Washington State Convention & Trade Center's Upper Pike Street lobby, 7th and Pike streets. 206-461-5800.

      ·         Most top children's attractions are conveniently located near Seattle Center, a 74-acre urban park, including the Space Needle, the modernistic 1962 World's Fair landmark.

      ·         Seattle's climate is refreshing from July through September. Pack a light jacket or sweater, but most humidity-free temps range from 50s Fahrenheit to the 80s.

      ·         Dressy attire not required. Seattle is casual and laid-back, with layered comfort a fashion standard.\

      ·         Multiple public parks, with green space for running and hiking (some with beaches) offer kid-friendly places for dissipating energy.

      ·         Caught in a downpour? Cool weather? The towering, downtown flagship REI, billed as the world's premier outdoor gear store, has a 65-foot freestanding indoor climbing wall. (Residents typically shun umbrellas).

      ·         At Pike Place Information Booth, corner of Pike Street and 1st Avenue, buy half-priced concert and play tickets for day of performance.

      ·         While walking downtown, have kids look for Seattle's iconic bronze pigs. Take pictures.

      ·         During the winter, rent a car for the day and take the kids skiing. Crystal Mountain has the state's highest vertical drop, along with scenic chairlift rides, hiking trails and biking trails (www.skicrystal.com). Also, the Summit at Snoqualmie has easy accessibility and lessons, both skiing and snowboarding, for adults and kids (www.summitatsnoqualmie.com).

      ·         Plan picnics after visits to the Pike Place Market area. Fresh fruits, cheese, meats and sweet treat food choices are abundant. Don't miss Beecher's for cheese near the market; kids love the homemade mac and cheese on a cool day.

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    • 2 years ago
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  • Why Costa Rica is not paradise Why Costa Rica is not paradise on the earth anymore?

    • From: sladoja
    • Description:


      Why Costa Rica is not paradise on the earth anymore?

      This Central American country I visited twice.2007 and 2009.First time I was like all the tourists who first saw Costa Rica, I fell in love with nature and people.
      I must admit that the biggest impact on me was my friend who often travels to Costa Rica.He believes that regardless of all the virtues and vices, this destination is still one of the best in the world.
      But consider that he is residing in USA and like all Americans rarely travel.
      Maybe is one reason why we Serbs prefer Latin American mentality, rather than Western European or American.
      At the arrival I was "armed" with two books about Costa Rica.
      Links to authors can be found here:
      For the first time tourists coming to Costa Rica, warmly recommend them.
      Some information about Costa Rica I found there and internet:
      -Costa Rica people can enjoy one of the best climate in the world. (Average temperature in the Central Valley-San Jose is 24C). There are only 2 seasons: dry (high season) and rainy (green season).
      - Costa Rica has more winter sunshine than Hawaii or Florida and fewer people.
      -. Costa Rica is called"the Switzerland of the Americas"by many due to its neutral political status and spectacular mountains.
      - This small country is a paradise for those who love nature, water sports and adventure.
      - 2004 Costa Rica has received a prestigious award as the best country for adventure magazine awarded by the Pacific Business News.
      - Travel Weekly's 2005 Costa Rica declared as the best destination in the world.
      - The Economist in 2005 was ranked San Jose as the second most economical city in Latin America.
      - Costa Rica is a small country and it is possible the morning on the beach, visiting volcanoes afternoon, at night you can dinner somewhere on the mountain in Central Valley near San Jose's.
      To return to the title of my post.
      Is it expensive?
      Yes of course!!!

      Airplane tickets:
      We can not compare the average income Americans with incomes of a Serbian citizens.
      Airline ticket from Belgrade to San Jose is approximately 1000 EUR.For this amount of money can find at least 10 destinations in the world that are interesting and where I spend less money for vacation. Or as foreigners tend to say value for  the money.
      Second time when I visited Costa Rica paid for my ticket from Phoenix to San Jose approximately 350 EUR.

      Value for money on the example of hotels in San Jose located at the airport:
      Average cost is 100 USD.Similar price you can get anywhere in the world.
      I slept in 3 hotels near airport.
      .Only one left an impression on me http://www.ramadaherradura.com/
      The hotel is old certainly more than 20 years but can be seen that the great renovated and qualified staff.

      Hotels on the cost may vary ,it depends what you want.
      I had the luck that I slept private home:
      I do not know if the house rent, but I must admit that was the best accommodation in Costa Rica.
      Leisure time we spent in http://www.clubdelmarcostarica.com/
      The owner is British and the staff are local people.
      A friend with whom I was on vacation in a very good relationship with the owner and would be out of place with my hand to evaluate the work of the hotel and staff.
      Only  I can say that we were treated like kings!!
      Thanks to traditional Serbian hospitality that unreservedly gave  to us Mr. Miro (Serb from Uzice, which is the most famous resident of Jaco), we slept one week at http://www.bahia-azul.com/ .
      In the province of Guanacaste I slept in http://www.grupocasaconde.com/en/ccm/descripcion.aspx
      I must mention that I visited Costa Rica  in October 2007 so-called shoulder season and 2009 in May.Again shoulder season.
      Characteristic of all the places we visited that there was little tourists.
      From friends I've heard that a similar situation in the main season.
      I suppose that prices jumped every year and that tourists are mostly Americans, who otherwise “have a snake in their wallets”, satisfied the beautiful Costa Rica and began to conquer new destination.

      Food and drinks:
      Price for alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks and foods are similar like in USA.
      If you thought that you succeed with little money spent in L. America country, you are wrong.

      Transport and traffic:
      Transport to Puntarenas (Jaco) with private car costs about $ 80.
      Of course you can use the local bus service, which is far more favorable than the private car transport.
      I come from a country where a month at least 10 people killed in traffic accidents.
      Since I know that number at least 3 times bigger in Costa Rica  compared with my country. Without any shame, I declare that we are the” Switzerland of the Balkans”.
      Roads in Costa Rica are terrible and the drivers are the worst i ever seen in my life.

      Real Estate:
      On the Internet you can find houses  to buy for 1 milion  USD and more. Does anyone actually buy these houses?
      Of course not!
      2007 sales were weak and in 2009 I can say that supply and demand do not exist.
      It is best to look at what is one written by locals in December 2008.

      Cost of living:
      Imported goods, such as Cameras, TVs, electrical goods, wine and cars are not cheap.
      Electrical energy is jumped dramatically last year.
      The food can not be said that chep.Maybe is slightly cheaper than in the USA.
      Property taxes are low compared to North American standards. Depending on the area, average two bedroom homes are taxed at a rate of under $350 per year.
      Is it the right time to invest in real estate?
      These days, months, years?
      Not,of course!!

      Sea and beaches:
      It is not clear why the Pacific coast is more visited than the Caribbean coast? White sandy beaches you can not see, the waves are big and swimming is not interesting.
      Of course if you are not a surfer.

      Since most of the time I spent in the Jaco, I can present my impressions.
      Jaco is mainly an interesting destination for surfers and backpakers.
      Drugs can be obtained at every step, very cheap.
      A lot of Americans suspicious past,also.
      Petty theft and various scams are common thing.
      If  you googling "Criminal Costa Rica"  you will get  fresh information`s.
      Costa Rica is currently all but certainly not a paradise on earth.

      I have tried twice believe me.!!

    • Blog post
    • 4 years ago
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  • Saugatuck, MI - Winter on the Saugatuck, MI - Winter on the beach

    • From: soggymlou
    • Description:
    • 4 years ago
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  • Saugatuck, MI - Winter on the Saugatuck, MI - Winter on the beach

    • From: soggymlou
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    • 4 years ago
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  • Taking afternoon off from vaca Taking afternoon off from vacation

    • From: laminarwind
    • Description:

      It is five o’clock in the morning and I am sitting in the lobby of Majestic Elegance resort in Punta Cana with my fully loaded Canon on a tripod and a notepad. I figured that it will be hard to avoid doing some writing about the trip. Pictures may be worth thousands of words but I don’t have confidence in my skills to express what I want to say using captured photons exclusively, I need both.


      I go trough my checklist once again: camera gear is ready, hat, sunglasses, SPF30 lotion, beach towels, Tom Ang’s photography book with his huge bag of tricks is right here on the table… Life is good. Ooops, I forgot to bring tipping money! Oh, well...I remind myself to be on the beach by 6AM since day-night transition happens in few minutes over here. I can’t focus on Tom’s book yet.  I chase away pointless worries about things at home since I can’t do a thing from here. I conclude that it would be more productive to start worrying why do we park on driveways and drive on parkways? (Steven Wright posed that question, I think).

      It would be nice to have a cup of their excellent coffee”, I tell myself. Here at the resort I had best espresso or cappuccino ever. And I think I know my coffee. I studied that topic many times in Italy and France.

      I look around and everything is dead. Guy at the desk is half-sleeping and a janitor is fixing to start his daily chores. The only thing going is background music. Sounds of jazzy, instrumental version of Lennon’s “Imagine” are spreading over the lobby chopped by a light breeze from the ocean.

      I start to outline what I am going to do with my vacation pictures: journal, calendar, photo-book or all of the above? Janitor worked his way to my table and started talking . He launched a rapid barrage of words and I realize that only 100 miles of “Learn Spanish while you drive” is not nearly sufficient preparation for this occasion. I knew enough though to ask him to repeat all that but mas rapido. A grin on his face assured me that that he understood what I said. I guessed that he is wandering why am I here so early, so I pointed to my camera and tried to say that I’d like to take some photos on the beach at dawn and capture sunrise. Success again: he approved the idea and added few more words accompanied by a sarcastic grin. I am sure that that he said: “Great idea! You can never have enough pictures of a sunrise!”. I laughed back and we started to chat in my broken Spanish.

      FranciscoI asked: “Is there any place around the resort where I could get a cup of coffee at this time of day?” I was hoping that these early birds have a coffee maker going somewhere and I could steal a cup. He looked at his watch and another barrage of rapid words that I summarized as “Fat chance” or less poetically: “No”. We went back to our chores and I forgot all about the conversation when suddenly he showed up with a cup of coffee!


      I should write something about local people working in this resort”, I conclude. This place kept surprising me. I must say that this Punta Cana trip was driven by a desire to escape exceptionally long winter in Chicago this year. I like sunny, crispy cold days as much as sunny and hot days. However, I can’t handle extended periods of dreary days. So, my wife and I decided to escape it and jump directly into summer. Dominican Republic was our choice because it was most affordable. I was warned that service in Dominican Republic is not that great and folks at the resort don’t speak English. Well, I was in for a few surprises.

      How do you fit a round peg into a square hole?I knew that this was very unique place immediately upon arrival into my room. Resort designers must have had a kick out of forcing guests to solve “How do you fit a round peg into a square hole” puzzle right away.

      (Hint: Think of a square meal first!)

      Seriously, everything was great: weather, resort, food, pool, crowds,

      Pool at the Majestic ColonialPalm beachSwimup bar









      Great vacation spot in Caribbeans

      entertainment, sailing, sunrises, beach...

      Personable staffRole reversal


      Girl on the left was serving us for 12 days. On the last day I asked for a photo with a role reversal. Then I asked her for a tip!

      Girl on the right is a single mom still working on her education in search for better paid job.


      I expected or at least hoped for all that. Even being served a cup of excellent coffee at 5 AM was far-fetched but conceivable event. What I didn’t expect is his funny comment that he produced on the spot: "You can never have enough pictures of a sunset!" The personnel is trained to be polite, kind, and make every effort to please the guests. It is much harder to be witty, compassionate and resourceful, and from what I have seen, they certainly are all that. If these folks are true representatives of Dominican people, Republica Dominicana has great future, I thought. Later on that day I had a chance do get another point of view.

      In the afternoon I went to tennis courts hoping to pick up a set or two, and I did. Young fellow I was playing turned out to be the manager of a beach photography shop at the resort. After the match we had brief Canon vs. Nikon debate and we started walking back to the main resort area. On the way I complained how I would like to see a bit more of Punta Cana, but I don’t like organized tours for that purpose since they are usually badly staged shows. “Yeah, it’s a waste of money” – he agreed. “Why don’t you go and get your gear and we can go Juan Phelippe & his motorcycle“shooting” in the neighborhood. Needles to say, I was back from my room in a few minutes. We hopped on his motorcycle and a couple of minutes I learned that around here it is more important to avoid potholes than to stick with stupid rules of driving on one side of the street.  And it is understandable since a 2-mile stretch of the road reminded me of streets of Baghdad back in March of 2003.  Eventually we get onto a real road and he said that now I can stop humming Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive”.  Shortly we arrive to Macau, a suburb of Punta Cana.  

      Macau has one modern paved road that leads directly to the beach which locals use, particularly on weekends. And yes, as you can imagine – there was considerable poverty.Scene on a side street of Macau Side roads are dirt roads and you should be prepared to negotiate passage with chicken, pigs and even large animals.  On the main road there was a sign indicating that you may be able to fix a tire there although you could see only few rusty crusty and falling to pieces tools sprinkled all over the backyard under the clotheslines. It looked like a typical Tennessee redneck backyard.

      El BanBu CafeNext to this “shop” was Café where you can get service beyond expectations. There were a couple of girls out on the street and they invited us to get inside to have a cup of coffee on their account. Coffee was indeed excellent. Girls also gave us a sneak preview of other services that are available. They would fit nicely in a part of Belgrade (Serbia) called “Silicone Valley” but the rest of the civilized world usually calls “red light district”. We thank them for the coffee and kind offer and step back out on the street. 

        Mother and daughterOn the street Mother and daughterI run into a real working woman carrying her daughter. Everybody around here likes to be in the picture. As soon they saw a camera there was a pose with smile on a face. Photographer's paradise.


      Felipe calls my attention to a couple of kids walking on the opposite side of the street. We take few shots of them and give them three dollars for modeling effort. Felipe comfortably walked into the yard of a nice looking house.  I follow him through the clotheslines. “This is how trickle-down economy works: few miles away Champaign is overflowing and it ends up here as a puddle of water”Young enterprenuers

      Punta CanaFelipe yelled to a person inside the house that we are in the backyard to take some photos and I realize that he was not walking in his friend’s house – he (and I) was just invading someone’s privacy! He steps towards the window and takes a shot through the blinds of a lady resting on a bed and watching something on a 13”-TV that looked like soap opera. I do to…Oh, well, I am an addicted photographer.

      Felipe chatted with her a bit when she stepped out. House was small and still under the construction but looked great. One odd thing was that she kept her scooter (everybody around here has one) inside her dining area for safety purposes. We thank her for her kindness, and hop back on his bike and we head out towards the beach. He explains that during the weekdays (six-day work week, ouch!) beach is mostly empty, but on Sundays local folks get on the beach for fun. Indeed, there were very few people on the beach. We take a few shots:
      Macau beach




      and get back on the road.

      Bus stopI took a snapshot from the motorcycle of a person on a “bus stop” - what else could he be doing standing by the post in the middle of nowhere like that.














      When we got back to his store I met the rest of his crew that came from beach assignments. As they closed the store, they gave each other hugs and kisses as if this is the last time they will see each other. It was actually pleasant surprise rather than odd or awkward.







      Next morning in the lobby I was reviewing images and I was thinking about yesterday’s experiences.  In was wondering how the resorts manages to recruit so many well-trained, intelligent people when poverty level would suggest that education level is overall rather low. Sounds of “Give peace a chance”  filled the lobby. “Yea, Dominican people deserve a chance, that’s for sure”, I thought. For some reason I asked myself: “What would John Lennon make out of all this?”  At that instant I saw Francisco bringing me a cup of coffee with a big smile. This time I had a dollar for a tip. 



      I thought that John would probably say: Jesus! You are having a blast, man!


      P.S. Sunsets are great for a walk on a beach!


      Sunset on the beach in Macau

    • Blog post
    • 5 years ago
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  • A Weekend in St. Augustine: A A Weekend in St. Augustine: A Historic Gem in Northeastern Florida

    • From: AmyCW
    • Description:

      Before “diving in” (pun intended) to describing my new favorite beach town, I’d like to share the update that several items listed in the “20 Ideas for Saving Money” post qualified as winning ideas for the local contest sponsored by frugal-columnist Ms. Cheap at the Tennessean, Nashville's daily newspaper.  I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Cheap last Monday at a brown bag lunch session where she announced the contest winners, who each happily received a signed copy of her new book, 99 Things to Save Money in Your Household Budget

      Ms. Cheap would certainly have approved of the frugal, excellent long weekend Adam and I took in Florida the weekend before – in which we drove from Nashville, stayed with friends, and avoided the expensive theme parks for two days of sun, swimming, grilling, and exploring (and of course, in my case, preparing homemade nectarine salsa and Carolina cole slaw to add some flair to the cookout).  One of the highlights of the weekend was the day we spent in St. Augustine, meeting friends at Anastasia State Park.  


      This was my second time to St. Augustine, but my first time to this particular beach – a private beach with $8.00 per car fee, but well worth the cost for the natural, clean, and minimal-tourist experience.  The water was warm, the white sand was soft, and the waves were perfect for bodysurfing, football, frisbee-throwing, and catching rays.  The facilities were particularly convenient, with outdoor sand showers, picnic tables, and a convenience store where I was able to find a pair of sunglasses, and Adam a pair of swim shorts, both quite nice, at the last minute and at a decent price.

      IMG_2802 After a day at the beach, we were starving, and headed to the historic downtown St. Augustine to A1A Aleworks Brewery & Restaurant for some local brew and a meal on the second-level patio overlooking Matanzas Bay.  The restaurant, describes itself as a working brewery serving "New World Cuisine featuring Caribbean, Cuban and Floridian influences,” was everything I had anticipated.  We ordered a sampler flight of 2-oz. beers that we happily sipped, watching the sun set, with a basket of warm bread on the house.  Although we were not in lobster country, I was too intrigued by the lobster tacos (off the appetizer menu) which turned out to be amazing.

      Although I’m usually one to plan my vacations meticulously to put together a combination of the absolute best street ambience, restaurants, scenic areas, and quaint architecture, I came upon St. Augustine completely by accident this past April while traveling in Florida for work.  After following up the winter with a particularly draining work schedule, I was yearning for relaxation and the beach, and St. Augustine was the closest to my location.  One evening after work I drove an hour to the coast, and once I entered the historic downtown, I was hooked.  I entered a world of Spanish architectural style, from the Cathedral of St. Augustine, to Flagler College, to the narrow, cobblestoned streets dotted with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants specializing in international dishes ranging from French pastry, to Polish pierogi, to fish and chips, to Mayan cuisine.  Deep into the town were historic structures, beautiful private residences and B&B’s. 

      View Old St. Augustine

      While the gulf-coast beach towns where I spent much of my youth had a laid-back, fishing-village, shanty-town feel (which is a great escape in its own right), St. Augustine offered more of a high-end atmosphere perfect for a more luxurious experience after a sun-drenched day, while having many diversions that were surprisingly affordable.  On my brief evening after work, I was entertained simply enjoying the street life while munching a pastry, peeking inside the Cathedral, and browsing the shops.  I made my only purchase at a store specializing in all things hot sauce, Hot Stuff Mon, I bought some specialty sauce made from locally-grown Datil peppers and an orange-and-Datil Minorcan spice mixture, which we are still enjoying here at home.  IMG_2837

      I topped off my evening with dinner at Casa Maya for authentic Mayan cuisine (from bottom left, clockwise): Pork marinated in sour orange juice and axiote basted in mayan spices, black bean soup, candied plantains, tortillas, and Mayan rice. 

      Returning for a second time in September confirmed my newfound love for this jewel of a town in northeastern Florida, where I hope to return again soon to continue exploring the culinary delights, museums, and historic structures between lazy days at the beach.   



      Where to eat:

      A1A Aleworks Brewery & Restuarant, 1 King Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084, (904) 829-2977

      Casa Maya Organic Mayan Cuisine, 17 Hypolita Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084, (904) 829-3039

      Denoel French Pastry Shop, 212 Charlotte Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084, (904) 829-3974

      What to see and do:

      Anastasia State Park, 200 Anastasia Park Rd, St. Augustine, FL 32080, (904) 461-2033

      Hot Stuff Mon, 34 Treasury Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084, (904) 824-4944

      Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (America’s Oldest Stone Fort), 1 S Castillo Dr, St. Augustine, FL 32084

    • Blog post
    • 5 years ago
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  • Corsica Day 1 Corsica Day 1

    • From: lesleyjames
    • Description:

      September 13-22, 2008

      Corsica truly is the island of beauty but, man, does it take a long time to get there from Seattle. If I ever make the trip again (and I hope I do), I would break the trip up into two parts by spending a night in Paris before making the journey from Paris to one of the four airports on Corsica.

      We chose to power through the entire journey without stopping because we wanted as much time in Corsica as possible and didn’t want to stay a night in a Paris hotel and have to make two airport-hotel transfers. We also chose not to transfer from Charles de Gaulle (where our flight from Seattle arrived) to Orly, which would have allowed us to take a direct flight from Paris to Corsica. Instead, we changed to a flight from CDG to Marseille, then changed again to our flight to Corsica. This took more time and meant an extra take-off and landing, but we were worried about having to cross Paris to the other airport. In the future, I’d consider staying in Paris, even if it would only allow us a little time to enjoy the city and take away from time in Corsica, and I’d take a flight from Orly the next day. Transferring through CDG is almost as stressful as crossing the city anyway!

      Ajaccio shipI would also make sure not to arrive in a provincial French town such as Ajaccio on a Sunday afternoon in desperate need of a hot meal. There were no stores open and no cafés serving anything other than drinks or ice cream so, after stumbling around in a hunger-induced daze, we finally ate a big bowl of ice cream at a waterfront café, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but we were still hungry and the skies were grey and the town felt deserted and we were wondering why we’d come all this way.

      Ajaccio pizza truckAround 6:30 p.m., it was like someone turned Ajaccio back on. The sun came out and sparkled on the water, which would have been enough to make us feel the journey had been worth it, but then the “pizza trucks” that dot the waterfront started opening for business and all was well. We had a freshly-made pizza (at a truck called “Pat’a Pizza”) that was the best thing I’ve ever tasted. That was the first of many times I was to think that during this trip. We were lucky we’d ordered our pizzas early because they could only cook two at a time and there was quite a line by the time we got ours.

      As we walked around on our fruitless search for a hot meal, we saw lots of kids playing on playgrounds. Sunday is clearly a time to hang out with family. But even on other days, we didn’t see many tourists in Ajaccio, but this could have been because of the lateness of the season. We noticed that Corsicans speak more slowly than Parisians and it was easier for us to understand their French. At first, I even thought people were speaking slowly out of consideration for our mediocre language skills, but then we heard them speaking to each other at the same speed.

      Ajaccio hotel 1We picked the Hotel Imperial because we wanted to be right by a beach where we could swim, even though it isn't a resort-type hotel. The beach was indeed on the other side of the road, across a small parking lot, and beyond a stretch of sand where people play bocce. It was a 10-15 minute stroll into the main part of town along a pleasant promenade. This end of town seemed shabby genteel to us. It’s the “Foreigners’ Quarter”—the foreigners being the English who made Ajaccio a winter retreat.

      We were glad we'd been advised to ask for a room with a view of the water on the top floor. There was some noise from the road at night, but we could also hear the waves crashing and we weren't bothered by noise since we were able to keep the windows closed. All of the staff we interacted with were very nice, the room was bright and surprisingly modern, and everything was very clean. The lobby was pleasingly old and European to our American senses.

      Day One: Ajaccio

      Our first impressions of Ajaccio weren’t positive—it seemed kind of empty and drab—but that may have been due to our exhaustion and hunger and the grey drizzly weather. When we woke up the morning of our first full day, however, the weather was gorgeous and sunny. We had quite a few days like this, although it started to get cooler and rainier towards the end of our stay. While we were in Ajaccio, clouds would roll in every afternoon, but then clear up by evening. This might be typical for the time of year.

      Ajaccio promenadeWith the sunnier weather, our impressions of Ajaccio improved. On the plus side, it has a lovely waterfront promenade lined with palm trees, a local food market every morning, and conveniences that smaller towns don’t have, like a good-sized Monoprix. On the minus side, the traffic during rush hour is a nightmare (and it’s not much easier to drive at any time) and giant cruise ships come and go from the port every day. We chose Ajaccio as our starting and stopping point because we could get to other places we wanted to go from there relatively easily.

      Ajaccio buildingWe allowed ourselves a day to recover from jet lag and get acclimatized and Ajaccio was a perfectly nice place to do so. We walked along the Cours Grandval, seeing more of the “foreigners” quarter. We found the Hertz rental office where we’d be getting our car the next day. We enjoyed the market , which wasn’t huge, but was bustling and full of good produce, cheese, and charcuterie. I bought some especially strong honey. Next we walked along rue du Cardinal Fesch, a pedestrian shopping street that had a mixture of shops, ranging from tacky souvenirs to a Comptoir des Cotonniers. The museum was closed for remodeling. We scouted out the train station, which is right in town. It’s easy to find nice sidewalk cafés where you can have something to drink. Corsica has some of the best sparkling mineral water—we liked Orezza, which comes from the mountains just outside Ajaccio. We finished by walking along Cours Napoleon, the main street, and spent some time at the Monoprix since one of our favorite things to do when we travel is go to typical supermarkets.

      Ajaccio old townIt was getting close to lunch time and, although we had some guidebook recommendations, we decided to follow our noses and chose a place called La Serra’s, just off the main street. It was our first real meal of the trip and didn’t disappoint. It was also our first time to have delicious fish soup, made with tomatoes and spices and garnished with bread, grated cheese, and rouille. After lunch, we wandered around the oldest part of town where the streets were narrow and crooked, scouting out places for dinner. These streets turn into outdoor dining areas at night as the restaurants spill outside. We walked by the Citadel, which is closed off because it’s used by the military. At this point, we had pretty much seen all there is to see in Ajaccio. There’s a park (the Bois des Anglais) where there may be some nice walks and you can keep going along the road that goes past our hotel to get to some beautiful islands, but we didn’t explore the area by car.

      The weather was getting darker and cooler, although people were still swimming in the choppy waves. We retreated to our hotel for a siesta, then discovered a small grocery store a few doors down where we were able to buy a box of cookies called oreillettes (little ears) which we ate at a café across the street with cafés crèmes. By early evening, the sun had come back out and we were able to take a dip in the Mediterranean, which was surprisingly warm. The beach was made up of sand so big it was more like small pebbles.

      By 7:30, our American stomachs were more than ready for dinner. Our first choice restaurant, Da Mamma, was full so we made a reservation for the next night. Our second choice was Chez Paulo, where we had a delicious meal (cannelloni au briocciu, the local soft sheep cheese, and chocolate mousse) that took forever to get. We were wondering if this was just how dinner is served in Corsica, but then we noticed that diners who had arrived after us were getting their food. Then we wondered if we’d somehow offended the waitress, although we’re hyper careful about things like that, but we also noticed the manager seemed to be giving her a talking-to so then we decided she was just a really bad waitress. This was our only experience with poor service on the whole trip.

      Walking back to the hotel, we felt very safe. There were other people out strolling, admiring the moon sparkling on the water.

    • Blog post
    • 5 years ago
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  • Paulet Island Paulet Island

    • From: bberwyn
    • Description:

      Sharing the Paulet Island beach with a solitary skua and a fur seal, three guides from the M/V Professor Molchanof stand ankle-deep in pink penguin guano. A pair of Zodiacs cruise through a maze of icebergs back to the ship, just visible in the distance. The Dutch guides had wanted to climb to the summit of the volcanic island, but Russian Captain Nikolai Parfenyuk was concerned about ice closing in, so he ordered the landing party back to the ship.

      The Gentoo penguin colony was gone, but the pungent guano was a reminder of their recent presence. Still, the beach was alive with fur seals, blue-eyed shags (the only member of the Cormorant family to range into Antarctica), and even a few ice-loving Adelie penguins.

      During the landing, we visited the remains of an old stone hut built by Swedish and Norwegian explorers in the early 1900s after their ship was crushed by ice. Twenty men from the Nordenskold expedition spent a long winter on the island eating penguins before being rescued by an Argentine boat the following summer. Only one man died during the winter. His grave, marked by a plain wooden cross and a mound of rocks, is still evident on the beach.

      Our voyage to Antarctica through the Weddell Sea and around the Antarctic Peninsula aboard the Molchanov was in late February and early March 2009. The well-led trip featured landings and hikes every day, including a spectacular walk over a glacier and along the rim of the Deception Island caldera to visit a huge chinstrap penguin colony.

      On the 52-passenger Molchanov, it was easy to get to know fellow passengers and the guides, as well as the friendly Russian crew. Leigh and I highly recommend ship. We organized our trip through Oceanwide Expeditions, online at ://www.oceanwide-expeditions.com/.

      Several passengers on our trip were able to book last-minute passage aboard the Molchanov in Ushuaia, Argentina, just a few days in advance at a significant discount. Of course, there are no guarantees, but several tour operators in Ushuaia said that, late in the season, there often are last-minute berths available.

      Read more about the trip at this Budget Travel journal: http://mybt.budgettravel.com/_Antarctic-adventure/blog/219657/21864.html.


    • 5 years ago
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  • Great journey for Sarasota and Great journey for Sarasota and Ft. Myers

    • From: johnrichard
    • Description:

      Sarasota is a popular city on the Gulf Coast and state of Florida. This city is known for its lively arts community, excellent restaurants, unique shopping, and beautiful beaches, which provide great adventure in your night life. Like that type of city is good choice of traveling. Last year someone advised me to visit there. So for visiting purpose I search cheap sarasota hotels city on Internet and I got numbers of hotels in Sarasota. And I reserve hotel room .I reached that city by airplane at Sarasota/Bradenton International Airports. This airport was good facilities of travel as well as bus, train and taxi. But I hire taxi and reached to my hotel at noon. I put my bags in room and get fresh and take lunch. After lunch I went in hotel and I planned my journey for next day. First day I went to see the Sarasota jungle gardens, which is very nice and beautiful and there are filled with many interesting plants. This is a very attraction in the gardens some animal shows and a chance to see some odd plants. In noon, I take lightly lunch at Ritz Carlton which was very large hotel and nice. After taking lunch I also went to see the midtown of this city which was the culture center and home of museums and galleries. Museum of art which was very nice with latest collections of arts & galleries, and science center which was very nice with many exhibits. In evening I came back to hotel. Second day I went to see the circus museum, which was very famous, the circus museum was the first museum of its kind to document the rich history of the circus. The Museum has a fine collection including uncommon handbills, posters and art prints, circus paper, business records, wardrobe, performing props, as well as all types of circus equipment, including beautifully carved parade wagons. Third day I went to see the historic asolo theater, which was very nice and there are also work of arts in its hold right. The theater was a good performance schedule as well as theatre, dance, film, music, and lectures. After that I went to see the siesta key beach, which is very beautiful atmosphere. Siesta key beach is a great place for families and spring breakers alike. On Sundays at sundown, there is a tourist-heavy drum circle where local hippies play and everyone dances. Fourth day I went to see the landings shopping center, which is very famous center. I bought some clothes, gifts, shoes and chocolates goods. In evening, I went to gator club, which was very popular bar and nightclub with entertainment nightly. I hire taxi and I came back to hotel and I planned my journey for Fort Myers city, where I leave my room and went to airport. Fifth day I reached that Fort Myers city by the southwest Florida international airport. Fort Myers is a successful city with great weather, entertainment and a casual feel in the state of Florida. I found this cheap accommodation from an online reservation hotels site, which gives me a list of cheap ft. myers hotels with all the facilities at discount offer. I called a taxi and reached to my hotel at noon. I put my bags in room and get fresh and I went to lunch after lunch, I am back and I rested the room and I planned my trip for next day. Sixth day I went to see the Edison and ford winter estates, which is very beautiful and interesting museum. This is very nice and latest collection of video theatres, and changing special exhibits. Seventh day I went to see the Minnesota twins spring training. There are given training to play for Baseball. In noon, I went for plakka greek restaurant and I take light food. After lunch I went to see the Florida gulf coast university eagles, which is very good facilities of student. There are also providing distance learning degrees courses can be taken online. In evening I hire taxi and I came back to hotel for leaving this city. As I reached to my hotel first of all I take lunch and then manage memories, packed luggage, and then leave this hotel with some golden moments to which them I got from this city. By getting this city I feel very happy and the moments of this city have a unique place in my heart.


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    • 5 years ago
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  • Antarctic adventure Antarctic adventure

    • From: bberwyn
    • Description:

      Penguins ... but no polar bears!Austral sunrise

      Sipping a Beagle beer at the Banana Bar in Ushuaia,Leigh and I contemplate the trip ahead. If everything we've heard about the Drake Passage is true, we figure this may be our last pint for quite a while. 

      We're about to board the M/V Professor Molchanov for a 10-day adventure cruise to Antarctica, and the formidable weather of the Southern Ocean is on our minds. Unimpeded by land, the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans all mingle in a circumpolar maelstrom of waves, current and wind. It can be rough — very rough, according to the guidebooks and blogs of previous Antarctic voyagers. Nearly everyone gets seasick during the crossing, we read. Alcohol may not be the best idea, but despite the warnings, we chug the last of our brews and head for the pier.

      Ushuaia HuskyOur short stay in Ushuaia has been exceedingly pleasant. Ana, Marcello and the rest of the staff at the Posada del Fin del Mundo have made us feel completely at home. On the first day, we share the cozy breakfast nook with several researchers who just returned from Antarctica. We eagerly listen to their stories, hardly believing that soon we'll be floating among icebergs.

      The gritty little harbor town puts on a clean frock for tourists, dressing up its main street with shiny souvenir stands, electronic shops and internet cafés. But what we enjoy the most is hanging out with the many well-behaved and friendly dogs that each patrol a section of sidewalk. Every morning, there's a parade of canines outside the posada, all wearing collars and purposefully trotting down the street toward some unknown destination or rendezvous. We befriend an especially cute mutt living just down the street for our lodge. He runs the length of his fenced-in yard each time we walk down Rivadavia to reach the waterfront.

      Ushuaia HuskyToothy crags decorated with ice form a dramatic backdrop. There's even a small ski area at the Martial Glacier, near the head of a heavily forested drainage just a few miles from downtown. Lupines, Shasta daisies and rose bushes are still blooming in the surprisingly warm maritime climate. Strolling the commercial district and residential neighborhoods, we find a pleasing hodgepodge of houses, from tiny wooden A-frames reminiscent of Icelandic huts, to new wood-framed homes built with brightly painted corrugated metal. 

      The local history museum tells the story of the early explorers who first traveled these waters in their quest to circumnavigate the globe: Sir Francis Drake, Captain James Cook and Ferdinand Magellan are all among the notables who sailed the maze of fjords and headlands of the archipelago at the tip of South America. 

      After sending a few postcards, we visit a waterfront fishmonger to buy portions of seafood salad studded with chunks of apple. It's made from king crabs. The spiny, long-legged denizens of deep southern ocean waters are starting to move south closer to Antarctic shorelines as currents and water temperatures shift under the influence of climate change. It’s a first taste, literally, of what we’re going to learn about how global warming is affecting Antarctica, and especially the Antarctic Peninsula, where temperatures have warmed five times faster than the rest of the planet during the past few decades.

      Drake PassageWanderer

      Our first day at sea is mellow. We make good speed, heading almost due south and averaging 12 knots, with huge albatrosses and petrels swerving and swooping alongside to keep us company. Trying out a borrowed 300 millimeter lens keeps me busy for hours, as I try to steady myself, while keeping the horizon straight and focusing on the speeding birds at the same time. Finally, I manage to snap a half-way decent shot of a petrel skimming so close to the cobalt-blue water that it's wingtip touches the surface.

      "Mr. Drake is sleeping," says Russian Captain Nikolay Parfenyuk. "He is not hungry today. Mrs. Drake is saying, hello to all of you," the captain jokes. 

      M/V Professor MolchanovThe Molchanov is a Finnish-built ice-hardened vessel previously used by Russia's polar research program. The ship is now leased to Oceanwide Expeditions for tourist expeditions on both ends of the Earth. In most conditions, the bridge is open to passengers, so we're able watch Parfenyuk and his crew of officers plot a course through the Southern Ocean and scan the radar screen for errant icebergs.

      The swell increases during the second night, tossing a few chairs around our cabin. Evelin Lieback, the ship's doctor, hands out motion-sickness patches to several passengers, and a number of places remain empty in the dining room during the evening meal. Leigh and I don't succumb to the dizziness at all. Instead, we enjoy the rocking and rolling in our comfortable berth and take in the exhilarating spray of wind and sea foam as often as we can.Fin whale

      But by noon the next day, it's smooth sailing once again. Just as the kitchen crew starts serving desert, expedition leader Jan Belger says whales have been sighted. We all drop our forks and rush on deck, marveling as the gentle giants flash their dorsals and blow clouds of mist into the gold-tinted sunset. Fin whales are the second-largest cetaceans. Males in the southern hemisphere grow up to 88-feet long and weigh 70 to 80 tons.

      For more information on the ecology of fin whales visit the IUCN Red List web site.

      The Molchanov is full for the voyage, 52 passengers in all, with a large contingent of jolly Dutch. There are a few Germans, a couple of Israelis, a well-traveled couple from South Africa and some Brits. the passel of Americans includes eight from our own home state of Colorado as well as a few Midwesterners. One young traveler from California is making the most of the recent economic malaise, using his severance package to finance a world trip, including the jaunt to Antarctica, booked last-minute in Ushuaia at a significant discount.Two of the experienced guides are Dutch, the third is a French biologist, and our cooks are Malaysian, so the good ship is bit like a floating United Nations. 


      The big milestone for this part of the trip is the Antarctic Convergence, where cold water flowing northward from Antarctica mixes with warmer water from the adjacent oceans. The turbulent upwelling is zone of high biological productivity, where phytoplankton nurtures vast swarms of krill, which in turns is food for whales and seabirds. The convergence is part of a circumpolar current — the world's largest, carrying 130 million cubic meters of water per second, or 100 times the volume of all the world's rivers combined. The current delineates a discrete body of water and a unique ecologic region. In 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization designated the waters south of the current as the Southern Ocean.

      StormyIt's still a productive life zone, but increased solar ultraviolet radiation through the Antarctic ozone hole in recent years has reduced phytoplankton productivity by as much as 15 percent and damaged the DNA of some fish. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing has depleted stocks of some species unique to the area, including Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish, sold commercially as Chilean sea bass.

      There are also concerns about how climate change might affect the circumpolar current, which is known to be important to regulating the world's climate, but those potential impacts are poorly understood.

      Antarctic SoundIce floes

      South of the convergence zone, the sea is still. The ship slows to maneuver between giant ice floes and we awaken to a magical world of icebergs tinged lipstick-pink and tangerine-orange by a spectacular Antarctic sunrise. Only a few passengers are awake and perched on the bow of the Molchanov to watch a group of penguins arch through the water like mini-dolphins. They're powerful swimmers, using their wings to propel themselves under water with flying motions. 

      "They're trying to fly," says  expedition leader Jan Belgers. Even though the birds gave up the sky for the deep sea eons ago, they still have some genetic memory of what it must be like to soar through the air, Belgers explains.

      OrcasLater, we spot a pod of orcas cruising between the fantastically sculpted bergs. Leopard seals lounge on flat floes, looking fat and happy after feasting on this year's crop of penguin chicks.

      Paulet Island

      Our first landing in Antarctica is on Paulet Island, a small circular chunk of volcanic rock that's home to a major adelie penguin colony during the Austral spring and early summer. In early March (late summer in the southern hemisphere) the penguins are mostly gone but the remains of their rookery, in the form of pungent pink guano, was still evident. The acrid smell wafts across the water as we approach the shore in Zodiacs and getting across the beach to the uplands involved a hike through the smelly turf.

      A few straggling adelies remained, along with dozens of fur seals lounging on ice floes and along the beach, along with a group of blue-eyed shags, the only members of the cormorant family to venture to Antarctica proper.Paulet Island

      We hiked to the remains of a stone hut that served as shelter for Captain Carl Anton Larsen and the crew of his ship, the Antarctic. Larsen, a whaler, was exploring the region in 1903 when his ship was trapped and crushed in the ice offshore, leading to one of the many epic stories of polar survival. Part of Larsen's party traveled over the ice by sledge seeking rescue. Eventually, all the men but one were rescued by an Argentine vessel. A simple wooden cross set back from the beach marks the grave of Ole Kristian Wennersgaard, a 22-year-old sailor who died on the island in pursuit of science and exploration.

      Dundee Island

      Although more and more people are visiting Antarctica these days (up to 40,000 annually), it's still a remote tourism location compared to other hot spots on the global travel circuit. Our second stop is at  Petrel Cove along the shore of Dundee Island. It's part of a group of islands known collectively as Graham Land, closer to South America than any other part of Antarctica. It was named by Scottish whalers in 1893 and served as the take-off point for American pilot Lincoln Ellsworth when he made the first trans-Antarctic flight in 1935.

      When we got back to Summit County, I did some research on Petrel Cove to try and find out how many people have been there. A list maintained by a group that monitors environmental impacts shows that, during the past 15 years, only two commercial trips with a total of 107 visitors have landed at the remote site.

      A few metal buildings, painted rust-red, are left over from an Argentinian settlement. Although it was supposedly a science station, our expedition leaders dismissively calls it a political site, established to help the South American country bolster territorial claims in Antarctica. 

      Under existing international law, the continent belongs to nobody and is managed for the purposes of scientific research through a consultative process. Still, several countries, including the United States, maintain that they have the right to exercise those claims in the future. With potential for vast reserves of precious resources, including offshore oil and gas, some observers think it's only a matter of time before some countries try to assert some level of sovereignty.

      Fur sealHundreds of fur seals, along with a few Weddell seals, lounge on a broad beach covered with red seaweed. Clumps of miniature icebergs melt in the warm days of late summer. A large glacier on the island appears to be in retreat, crumbling at our feet. It feels like just a few days since the last ice age ended. 


      Brown Bluff and Deception IslandGentlemen Gentoos

      Setting foot on mainland Antarctica is a big step for some of the Molchanov's passengers, who are visiting their seventh, and final, continent. The brown basalt rocks are part of an unusual geologic formation called a Tuya, formed when a volcano erupts beneath a continental ice sheet. Whether it's our seventh continent or not, we all agree it's the most spectacular site so far. Ice floes fill the bay for as far as we can see, and the curved beach is densely populated by friendly gentoo penguins and ornery fur seals, who protect their turf by grunting and lunging awkwardly when a tourist wanders too close.

      Deception Island, AntarcticaThe next day we visit Deception Island, anchoring in a small cove near the crumbling ruins of a whaling station. The bay is almost completely encircled by glacier-draped ridges, with only a half-mile wide opening to the sea. It's one of the few places in the world where an ocean-going vessel can sail into the water-filled hollow of a caldera, the collapsed center of a volcano. The ice on the slopes is colored black with the ash and soot of the most recent eruption which was just a few decades ago. Geologists keep a close watch on the island to monitor for potential eruptions in the future.

      The rotting sheds and rusted metal tanks that once stored whale oil are grim reminders of a not-so-distant past, when men slaughtered tens of thousands of the giant mammals at sea, then dragged them to the stations to be rendered for oil, flayed for meat and carved up for their by-products, including baleen to make combs and corsets. Thankfully, Antarctic waters have been designated as a refuge for whales. Several species that were hunted to near extinction are making a comeback.

      Ice ArchWe hike up to the rim of the caldera and across the ash-covered glacier to reach a chinstrap penguin colony at Bailey Head. On moss-covered ground, improbably distant from the sea, thousands of the birds are molting. In some places, the feathers have piled so deep it reminds us of drifts of snow back in our hometown of Frisco, Colorado. We're amazed that the waddling birds can climb this far up a steep mountainside. At first glance, they look like precariously balanced bowling pins, but on closer observation, we see that they're sure-footed and steady walkers.

      South Shetlands

      Our last day in Antarctic waters is spent around the South Shetland Islands. In the morning it's drizzly and cold when we stop at Half Moon Island, where fur seals rule the beach. A chinstrap penguin rookery thrives in on the rocky crags above the beach. 

      Penguins are the iconic species of the frozen continent, but the simple and prolific food chain in the Antarctic region is under the gun from global warming. In the last half century, winter temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula — the skinny spit of land sticking up toward South America — have climbed five times faster than the global average. Polar conditions have given way to a moist maritime climate, with huge impacts for the birds and mammals of the region, all of which depend on krill for sustenance.Charts

      Krill, a Norwegian word for "small fry," refers to tiny shrimp-like crustaceans found in great abundance in Antarctic waters. The krill feeds on tiny free-floating plants called phytoplankton. In turn, the krill is eaten in mass quantities by whales, sea birds, seals and penguins. 

      But changing wind patterns linked to global warming are altering the system. Researchers in the area are documenting changes in the distribution and density of phytoplankton in the ocean around the Antarctic Peninsula. In the March 13 edition of the journal Science, Rutgers University biologists reported that those changes may help explain declines of some penguin species in the area. Some of their research is documented in a paper, available online at www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/323/5920/1470.

      Adelie penguin populations, adapted to a colder climate, are declining. Warmer-weather chinstrap penguins have become more numerous and displaced adelies in some parts of the peninsula and on surrounding islands. The research is based on satellite images showing changes in ocean color, temperature, sea ice distribution and wind. It's supported by data collected at surface by University of Hawaii researchers  who are currently working in the seas around the peninsula and maintaining a blog of their voyage at http://uhmanoa-antarctic-research.blogspot.com/.

      Aitcho IslandA final landing on Aitcho Island gives us a glimpse of an elephant seal and a close-up look at hundreds of bleached whale bones littering the beach. A giant petrel is feeding chicks in a nest, and fur seals frolic on mossy ground. Our time in Antarctica is nearly done. Climbing the ladder from the Zodiac on to the Molchanov one last time, we stow our gear and prepare for the voyage home.


      Check out the Posada del Fin del Mundo at www.posadafindelmundo.com.ar/.

      Information on Antarctic voyages with Oceanwide Expeditions is at www.oceanwide-expeditions.com/.

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    • 5 years ago
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  • Paulet Island Paulet Island

    • From: bberwyn
    • Description:

      A pair of Zodiacs cruises away from the beach at Paulet Island, our first Antarctic landing during a recent cruise aboard the M/V Professor Molchanov. The pink tinge to the foreground is penguin guano, Most of the adelie penguins were gone for the season, but a large colony of fur seals remained to greet us. We hiked along the beach to find the remains of an old stone hut built by members of a Swedish Antarctic expedition in 1903. When their ship was trapped and crushed by the ice, the explorers ended up spending the winter on Paulet Island.

    • 5 years ago
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    • From: bobcat812
    • Description:

      Bob and Cathy Smith


      Bob and CathyCathy and I have had to put up with northern Ohio winters for decades, BUT NO MORE!!!  We retired last spring (2008) and so we decided to make a practice of escaping, even if only for several weeks, to a warm climate somewhere.

      We discovered a great travel tool in a website called "Home Away" www.homeaway.com . People rent out their condos, apartments and even homes and the they use this website to provide descriptions, photos, rates and terms.  Some are economical and good bargains.  Some are luxurious.  If you're not already familiar with this site, you should probably go there and explore properties you can rent anywhere in the world.Boca Ciega Resort and Marina

      We found a condo rental in St. Petersburg called Boca Ciega Resort and Marina.  http://www.bocaciegacondohotel.com/ It is a four story property right on Boca Ciega Bay.  Every condo has a full view of the beautiful bay through large patio doors leading to a narrow balcony.  The condo had a living/dining room, full kitchen, washer/dryer, bath and bedroom with queen bed and good closet space. The owners were friendly, helpful and responsive.


      Boca Ciega Bay Sunset

      Tampa / St. Pete and the surrounding area has plenty of places to go and things to do.  Here are some of the things we did:

      St. Petersburg

      Bay Walk is a mall in the center of downtown.  It seems to be on the decline but has a good shoe store and an excellent Italian Restaurant named Gratzzi.  The rest of the downtown area seemed like it could be fun to explore but the day we were there it was raining.  So we headed to the car and went to the Salvadore Dali Museum.  Although I've always been a fan of Dali's surrealistic style, the museum far exceeded my expectations.  Besides being a gallery of his work it is also an expression of Dali's eccentricities.  The gift shop is fun.


      North of Clearwater is the village of Tarpon Springs.  I had been through there as a teenager in 1963 and it was a sleepy, little, unassuming Greek sponge diving village.  46 years later it is a medium-sized, more commercialized Greek sponge diving village.  It is still substantially Greek and you think you're on the set of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding".  You can go out on a sponge dive where a boat goes downriver a little ways and a sponge diver puts on the rubber suit and big metal helmet and goes into the river and retrieves a planted sponge.  They tell you it's planted and that they'd have to go out miles into the gulf to get to where the sponges naturally are.  It was worth watching the guy put on the suit and helmet. In town along the dock area is an interesting shopping area.  About half the shops are truly interesting.  We had a great Greek lunch at a place called Mama's.  Opa!


      There is a string of beach communities on a 22 mile long string of islands from Clearwater Beach on the north to Fort DeSoto on the south.  This Gulf Blvd. Rt. 699 is basically a strip of beach hotels but is peppered with restaurants, places to shop and public beaches.  From the Boca Ciega Condos it is a short drive across the bridge to Madiera Beach.  From there you can go north to Clearwater or south as far as Ft. DeSoto at the tip.

      I'll start at Ft. DeSoto on the southern tip and work north.  Ft. DeSoto is a place to get away.  There is a beach there with dunes and sea oats.  The fort itself has a nice gift shop and you can walk around the remnants of the fort.  Out on that tip of land is also a Pinellas County Park Campground which looked interesting to us. 

      Just to the northwest is the area of Pass-a-Grille which we found veryPhotogenic Posing Pelican peaceful.  Compared to the hotel strips to the north, this is a quiet, residential district with a very small shopping area.  The Hurricane Restaurant is a good place to eat lunch.  The beach is large and pretty and in January warm enough to walk barefoot on the white sand or even bask on a towel.  The peninsula is only two blocks wide so it's easy to get around.  On the east side people fish and pelicans pose for pictures. On the north boundary of Pass-a-Grille is a grand old hotel which you drive past going north called the Don Cesar resort.  It is an historical old place that looked like it would be a fun place to explore and an expensive place to stay.

      The next community north is St. Petersburg Beach.  There, we discoverd a very wide beach which we visited a couple times to sit in the warm sun and visit with shore birds.

      North of there is Madiera Beach and we had fun there exploring John's Pass Village and Boardwalk.  This is a fun, well designed village of shops where we enjoyed a half day of exploration.  There are restaurants on the boardwalk at the north end.  There are boat ride excursions from there as well.  There was enough variety to please the entire family, including kids.  Our favorite shop was a spice shop called the Old Pass Spice Traders which was an adventure in smells!  We brought some awesome spice mixtures home from there.

      At the north end of the islands is Clearwater Beach.  We did a "drive-through" and it could be worth an exploration.  It is mostly a cluster of hotels.  We did a Sunset Dinner Cruise out of there.  The food was okay (marginal), the entertainment was good quality but unbearably loud, the boat trip looping southward in the Intracoastal Waterway was interesting and it is expensive.  We were with dear friends and that made it all worthwhile.


      Tampa is a city with a lot to explore and we made just a short exploration there of the Museum of Science and Industry which was showing the "Body Worlds" exhibition by Gunther van Hagen - a limited time exhibition which is a travelling display of the mechanics of the human body.  While in Tampa we also drove to "Old Town" which is a nice area of shops and restaurants.  We can't say we truly explored much of Tampa but we'll do so on a future trip for sure.


       We spent two wonderful weeks in Tampa / St. Pete and feel like we just skimmed its surface!  We'll definitely go back and make it another winter get-away.  While we were there, the locals were complaining about the cold weather, which was dropping as low as 59 degrees at night!  How horrible!!!  They were wearing hoodies and shivering.  And during the daytime it was only getting into the upper 60s or lower 70s.  We were in shorts and basking in the warmth - compared to home where it was dumping 18" of snow and ice and staying in the single digit temperatures and stormy winds.

      Our only regret was having to come home to shovel and snow blow to dig out our driveway and sidewalks.  The morning after we got back I was peering out our front picture window at the deep snow and asked Cathy what happened to the dolpins we were watching from the big window at Boca Ciega just a few hours ago.

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    • 5 years ago
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  • Nineteen Days on Provo Nineteen Days on Provo

    • From: miranda13
    • Description:

      My mom died three days before my birthday last July.  Two weeks later I lost my job.  My younger brother died four weeks after that, leaving me family-less.  When I wasn't studying for four classes that fall, I was cleaning out the home they shared, selling everything they owned, including presents I'd given them for birthdays and holidays.  By semester's end, I needed a vacation.  A long one.


      Lengthy vacations aren't cheap.  Particularly when you're hell-bent on Hawaii.  Thus, I spent nights and weekends pouring over classifieds advertising condos and timeshares in Budget Travel magazine.  I exhausted every available moment between classes in the library computer lab, manipulating Expedia and Travelocity dropdown boxes, trying to prove to my boyfriend that Hawaii was not too expensive.  Ultimately, it was. 


      That being decided, we e-mailed alternate destinations back and forth, constantly disappointing one another.  "I just went to the Bahamas three years ago.  I'd rather go someplace new."  "I’m not spending 19 days in friggin' Florida."  "Bermuda's too cold in December."  Deane even called the resort I wanted to stay at to have them tell me Bermuda was too cold in December to rent their overwater bungalows.  Incredibly, they did. 


      I pouted; he sulked.  We each daydreamed of our own separate paradise, where I could swim with great white sharks, and he could golf alongside topless beaches. 


      Eventually I discovered the Turks and Caicos on CheapCaribbean.com.  Having never heard of the islands, I googled them.  Wikipedia, turksandcaicostourism.com and Provo.net told me that the Turks are an archipelago comprised of 40 islands and cays – eight of which are inhabited – an hour and twenty minutes southeast of Miami.  During winter, the temperature averages 84 degrees; the turquoise water simmers between 74 and 78.  The sun shines 350 days a year.  I glowered at the fat, gray clouds looming over Chester Avenue and emailed Deane.


      I sent him links to the championship golf course and various seafood restaurants.  I told him that only 22,500 people live on Provo.  "It'll be like our own deserted island," I added, nudging him to fantasize about sandy sex beneath palm trees.                  


      Then, the pièce de résistance:  "A great many of the tourists who visit the Turks and Caicos Islands are Canadian."  Deane and his father venture up to Lions Head every year.  Deane loves Canada.  The clean air, the bacon, the transparent Georgian Bay, the cliffs that turn red at night, the French-speaking strippers. . . 


      He was sold.  He called the Comfort Suites and talked them down to $102 per night -- at the start of high season.  He cashed in OnePass frequent flyer miles.  He printed everything ever written about the islands, which was just enough to annoy me for weeks by planning what he would eat at what restaurant.  As it turns out, I should have paid more attention to the menus he'd printed. 


      - - -


      Circling Provo as our pilot waited for clearance to land, Deane and I leaned close to the oblong window of our tiny plane.  "Wowwwwww," we said.  Drinking in the pools of royal blue and the patches of emerald created by the coral reef, I was grateful not to be in Cleveland, surrounded by Christmas lights, trees and carols goading me to have a holly, jolly Christmas while my mom and brother lay six feet under ground.


      Armed with a month's worth of clothing, golf clubs, two rafts and a cumbersome 6' tube of fishing poles, we barreled out of customs and bombarded our taxi driver with questions:  "Are there any Indian restaurants here?"  "Where can I watch the Bears game Monday night?"  "How far is the golf course from the hotel?"  "Where's the best place to go fishing?"  "Where're the casinos?" 


      Within days, that excitement tapered into contentment for Deane and resentment for me.


      - - -


      Our first night on Provo, we left our screenless window open, preferring the warm tropical breeze and rustling palm leaves to air-conditioning.  We assumed none of the rooms had screens; the prospect of mosquitoes never occurring to either of us until we woke with dozens of itchy, red, fingertip-sized welts.  I had welts on top of welts. 


      Predictably, ours was the only room without a screen.  Though the hotel quickly sent someone up Sunday morning to put one on, each time we opened a drawer or moved aside clothes in the closet for the next two days, mosquitoes ascended in search of a new hiding place.  They continued to devour us as we slept huddled beneath blankets until Deane killed each one with a damp washcloth, leaving the blood-soaked rag on the bathroom floor for housekeeping. 


      To ask us about the remaining 18 days, one would think we took separate vacations.  While we agree that Grace Bay merits its reputation as one of the world's top 10 beaches, beauty only entertains me for so long.  Every day it was the same thing:  blue sky, white sand, turquoise water, blue sky, white sand, turquoise water.  Even the single stream of clouds looked the same from day to day, resembling a pale relative of the smoke monster from "Lost."  Deane, on the other hand, daydreamed about moving there as we sipped rum punch and peach margaritas from Slurpee-sized Styrofoam cups, watching the sun set at 5 p.m.        


      He still gets an erection talking about the golf course.  To me, $550 for five rounds of golf is ludicrous, but it got him out of the room once I'd grown tired of slathering on sunscreen, clogging my pores.  His 8 a.m. tee time allowed me to watch "Tom & Jerry" on Boomerang, the BBC version of "Kitchen Nightmares" and the "Twilight Zone" marathon on New Year's Day.  He'd return shaking his head, unable to understand how I could watch the Travel Channel while vacationing on such a beautiful island when I rarely watch TV at home. 


      "I'm bored," I said.  "If we'd gone to Hawaii, I could have gone to the zoo, the botanical garden, the Dole plantation.  I could have gone shopping.  Here, there's nothing."  Really, I had too much time to sit around and think.  To mourn.  To feel sorry for myself.  Aside from that, I'd visited every store and cultural market on Provo in one afternoon, returning with a $70 dress, a $40 shirt, postcards and a handful of souvenirs that were nowhere near as cool as the shark tooth I'd found at the northwest point of the beach or the paint bucket full of conchs we stashed beneath a bush at Leeward Marina.


      After working with attorneys for nine years, being on a nearly deserted island had seemed like a great idea.  But then one day I wanted a chocolate chip granola bar.  I walked to Grace Bay Pharmacy.  Nothing.  Deane walked further up the road to the gas station.  Nothing.  We took the Gecko – the red shuttle bus named for the little creatures running rampant on the island – to the IGA Graceway.  Nothing.  That was my Eureka-moment.  Everything on an island is imported.  If the handful of places that should have something don't, you're screwed.  There is no driving to Giant Eagle, to Rite-Aid, to Walgreen's.  Thank God I wasn't PMS-ing.  People would've died. 


      Throughout our vacation, Deane dined on grouper, salmon and seafood pasta; his only disappointment being the restaurant he'd looked forward to most:  Da Conch Shack.  I was constantly disappointed.  Expensive international cuisine is not my thing.  One would think that with 43 restaurants on Provo, I'd have found something, but as a vegetarian who doesn't eat fruit or vegetables, my options were even more limited than they are in the U.S.  I tried pizza but nearly vomited when I bit into a long, thin chicken bone.  More often than not, I fed my dinner to stray cats and birds, settling instead for fresh coconut cake, Key Lime pie and three-scoop hot fudge brownie sundaes at the ice cream parlor near our hotel. 


      Providenciales is as much a study in contradiction as our contrasting vacation tales.  On one half of the island – the pretty half facing the coral reef – multi-million dollar condos and luxury hotels pepper the road running parallel with Grace Bay.  Romantic beachfront restaurants dot the shoreline with expansive decks, canvas umbrellas, torches and palm trees decorated with white lights.  Cranes, scaffolds and temporary construction fences reminiscent of Euclid Avenue line Grace Bay Drive as more multi-million dollar condos are erected. 


      Meanwhile, stray dogs called potcakes roam the island.  It's not uncommon to see two or three at a time.  The impoverished locals – many of whom fled Haiti – run the lavish resorts and live in ridiculously small ramshackle homes on the other side of Provo near the desalinization plant.  They collect rainwater in cisterns rather than pay $4 a gallon for drinking water as Deane and I did. 


      In light of the Turks being pummeled recently by both Hurricane Hanna and Ike, Deane feels we should vacation there again this Christmas "to stimulate their economy."  Unfortunately, the few thousand dollars we would spend wouldn't benefit those who need it, and I can't think of any other reason to return.


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    • 5 years ago
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  • The Seventh Continent The Seventh Continent

    • From: skymoose
    • Description:

      Yes, “The Ice” My seventh continent. I just had to do it. Well, it’s not like I haven’t put a serious dent in the other six, right? My friends knew I’d get there eventually.

      First, some facts. It’s the 5th largest continent, and bigger than you’d suspect. It’s almost 1 ½ times bigger than the U.S., and during winter, the sea ice extends out, effectively doubling the entire size of the continent. Antarctica is 98 percent pure ice. There are no cities, no government, no trees and no permanent population. Definitely fits in with my obscure foreign country obsession. The Antarctic “tourist” season is an extremely short window, so we went in February - which is high summer in Antarctica. “Summer” usually means highs of anything between 30 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit which, ironically, isn’t much different than Chicago in February. Statistically, the warmest temperature ever recorded there was 59F and the coldest was -129F (a little colder than Chicago) and thus explains why everyone prefers to visit close to February. In addition, this is the only time of year that the ice breaks up enough for ships to pass through the southern channels.

      Our first stop was Buenos Aires, with a connecting flight to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southern most city in the world. Here, we boarded our ship, the Marco Polo, for a 12 day cruise to Antarctica with a stop in the Falkland Islands.

      We set sail that night for Antarctica. The ship, small by cruise line standards, had about 500 passengers. Surprisingly, (at least to us) the average passenger age onboard our cruise was 69. We know that for a fact because, being that we were two of the apparent 5 people onboard UNDER the age of 40, we started hanging out with the crew. The assistant purser became a particular favorite of ours. The other crew members were all fairly young and we became fast friends. The first two days were spent aboard ship cruising down the Drake Passage. The Drake is where 3 oceans meet and is notoriously turbulent, unpredictable, and often, the roughest seas in the world. Circumpolar winds constantly blow around the Antarctic continent, which generate huge swells. Ships heading both North and South through the passage are often hit broadour shipside by these swells. Thankfully, it was quite smooth on the way down and we experienced no problems. On our third day aboard, we saw Half Moon Island. All landings on the cruise were made in Zodiac boats (motorized rubber rafts). Each cabin was given a random color that signified what time we could board the Zodiacs and the times changed at each landing. A lottery, of sorts. Also, all passengers were given bright red parkas that were required attire off the ship. I thought we resembled our own colony of waddling red penguins. At our first stop, Half Moon Island, we were one of the last groups scheduled to land. We’d heard that the first two groups were immediately surrounded by whales and were forced to cut their engines and wait out the whales. Many of the passengers on ship were fortunate enough to see and photograph this event, but we were still soundlzodiacy asleep at 7am. Unfortunately, right after that, the weather degraded and the boats were forced to return to the ship before making landfall due to 12 foot waves. We tried to wait it out, but the winds got stronger and forced our anchor to drag. We had to set sail before anyone could make a landing. Everyone was disappointed, but were assured this wasn’t unusual.

      The next morning we woke up cruising through the LeMaire Channel. It was incredibly beautiful. Everywhere you looked were snow capped mountains, floating icebergs, and glaciers in all sorts of shapes and hues. The captain said it was the first time all year the channel was open and this was the furthest south the ship had ever made it. We were feeling very blessed. The entire ship was on deck taking photos. This is the area that is most widely photographed and the image you think of when think of Antarctica. As we left the channel, we passed one absolutely huge berg that was too large to photograph, but was completely flat on top as if someone sliced it in half. Interestingly enough, only 1/6 to 1/3 of an actual iceberg is ever above water, so when you see something this large, it is almost impossible to imagine its actual size.

      From there, we seat sail for Deception Island. Here the weather looked more promising. We anchored quite a distance form the island, but with the wind, we could already smell the penguins. Without getting too graphic, there is nothing else in the world that smells like penguin albino penguinguano. Vile stuff. Amazing something so cute can produce something so nasty. We boarded our Zodiac and headed to the island. The penguins were everywhere. We found out that there were 17 different types of penguins-who knew? The colony we were viewing that day was Gentoo. After actually paying attention, the different types were easy to distinguish. We found one of the six known albino penguins in the colony. Amazingly, we also came across a penguin that had just emerged from the water bleeding from what we believe to be an elephant seal bite. We weren’t allowed to approach the penguins, but if you stay still long enough, most will waddle right up next to you for great photos. Ironibloody penguincally enough, there is also a hot tub in Antarctica. There is a narrow strip of shallow water along the beach of this island that has water heated by an active volcano. It’s not for actual swimming, but anyone interested in dipping in this natural hot tub could enjoy the unusual adventure.

      Next stop was civilization. Well, sort of. Port Lockroy (not Port “Lockerbie” as my onboard mistakenly referred to it) actually had a post office and gift shop. Sort of. The gift shop turned out civilizationto be a small orange shed that had about 6 things for sale and all of them looked to have been there since Shackleton’s time. They claimed to have already “sold-out” everything for the season. Strictly for entertainment, I sent myself a postcard to receive mail from Antarctica.

      The area around Port Lockroy was also incredibly beautiful. It had some amazing sights, including a full whale bone carcass laying just ashore. On the way back to the ship, Robin decided she wanted to snare an iceberg to bring aboard to make margaritas with. So, other passengers and myself held her legs as she hung over the side of the Zodiac and trolled for icebergs. After all that effort (and despite the creative effort), we were disappointed to be told by the bartender that he couldn’t actually put iceberg ice in aRobin Iceberg blender--it was twhalebonesoo hard and would break the blades. Go figure. Not one to give up easily, she convinced him to break off chunks with an ice pick and add those to our margaritas. Interestingly enough, the iceberg had still not melted the next day.


      From here it was time to start heading back North, which also meant sailing back through the Drake Passage. The common saying, “If it doesn’t get you on the way down, it’ll get you on the way back” held true for us. The boat was really rocking. Now we never actually saw anyone crawling, but we did spend more and more time in the lounge, drinking and watching the older folks bounce off the walls like ping pong balls. We realize this was cruel and sad, but we did render assistance when needed. At one point, we were sitting in the lounge with the Purser, who had just gotten off duty. Suddenly, we could hear plates crashing and a man sitting in a regular lounge chair at the next table, literally, just toppled over sideways, chair and all. The Purser says, “Oh Man, NOT AGAIN!” and immediately jumps up and rights the man and his chair. The man (either in shock or just plain clueless-hard to tell) didn’t thank him or even acknowledge him, just returned to sipping his drink as if nothing had happened. I’ve seen some strange things, but this event was up there on my list.


      After watching at least 2 dozen movies for onboard entertainment, we decided to start attending lectures. We both fell asleep in the first lecture on penguins so that idea didn’t last long. There were only two lectures that we really found interesting. One was the British Army research tear, who found themselves onboard with us quite by accident. It seems they were hitchhiking their way back to the Falklands and we were the first ship to come into Port Lockroy in days, so they jumped aboard. I first saw one at dinner and because he had black lips and was wearing a kilt, I incorrectly assumed he had to be an actor in the upcoming evening show. It turns out his lips were black because of “an unfortunate misuse of sunscreen” and a kilt was the only clean thing he had to wear to dinner. The Captain coerced them into giving us a lecture in return for the ride. They were very entertaining lecturers, though I suspect that wasn’t their intention. The other fun lecture was by Peter Hillary, Sir Edmund Hillary’s son. He had just completed his ascent of Mt. Vinson, the highest mountain in Antarctica. He told a fascinating story (with photos) of his experience there, as well as K9 and Everest. He said until you actually experience it, you can never understand the vacuum that is the interior of Antarctica. If there is not wine (inland it frequently isn’t) there is NO sound. All you see it white and it is blinding. You can’t smell anything. At one point he said he thought he must be hallucinating because he thought he heard a helicopter and helicopters can’t fly to the interior of the continent. What he was actually hearing was his own heartbeat. After listening to him, I’m really eager to read some of his books.


      After two more days at sea, we reached the Falkland Islands. We were to spend two days here, which I believe was a day and a half too long. Why on Earth there was a war over this place is still a mystery to me. It is hardly anything but rocks, a few people and more penguins. First stop was West Point. No city or town of any kind, we just landed and walked about two miles across the island to a penguin rookery. There was very high grass to navigate and lots of birds. The next day we stopped at Stanley, the only real town in the Falklands. They have 2900 people and 5 pubs, and you can bet we saw all 5. In fact, we organized a real British pub crawl with some of the crew and sampled some awesome fish and chips. The locals were interesting and definitely a bit odd. Then again, I’m sure Robin and I were probably two of the oddest things they had seen in a while as well.

      All in all, we did enjoy the trip even though it was a pretty slow pace. Would we go back? Probably not…UNLESS we could go to South Georgia. We wrongly assumed the island was something like the Falklands but after talking with people and seeing crew photos of the island (which was their favorite stop), it looked amazing.

      Finally, in response to the most commonly asked question about my trip, “How many polar bears did you see?” The answer is NONE. They live at the NORTH pole.


      us in Antarctica

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    • 6 years ago
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  • Christmas Holidays in Bonaire Christmas Holidays in Bonaire

    • From: DebRN
    • Description:

      We took our first winter trip to Bonaire this past December and arrived there a few days before Christmas. It was a pleasant change to step off the plane into the warm tropical breezes, especially after leaving the cold, winter time weather in West Virginia.
      It was almost surreal to realize people were wearing winter coats, gloves and hats at home while we were scuba diving, swimming and generally enjoying the beautiful weather. All around the island we saw decorations such as lights and Christmas trees, but it just didn’t seem to be the same checking out the decorations with warm sun beating down on us. Our friend Franco, owner of The Ribs Factory restaurant, had put up and decorated a real Christmas tree but warm (or hot) weather wasn’t too kind to the poor tree and it showed signs that it would have preferred a little bit cooler climate. Even so, it was nice not having to miss out on traditional Christmas sights.
      Because we had never been there on Christmas day before, we wanted to make sure we had reservations for Christmas dinner so we could be assured of not having to eat a bowl of cereal. We were actually surprised at the amount of restaurants open and serving meals that day. We ended up making reservations at Divi for their Christmas Day buffet.  We had a beautiful view of the Caribbean Sea as we ate a fairly traditional Christmas meal.
      Starting around December 25th, firecrackers are put off by anyone that can get their hands on them. As days went on, more and more people were putting them off, sometimes for hours at a time and late into the evening and night. It seemed like a popular place to set up and put them off was oceanfront along the promenade. Since we were staying in the penthouse at Bonaire Oceanfront apartments, we had a lot of exposure to the sounds and after awhile it seemed like there would never be quiet again.Governor's Christmas Party 2007 142.JPG
      We ate at some of our favorite restaurants but occasionally had trouble finding certain restaurants open. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day appear to be the hardest time to find places to eat. Some of the places we ate during our two weeks there were Cactus Blue, Bistro de Paris, The Ribs Factory, Bobbejan’s, Donna and Giorgio’s, Rumrunner’s, It Rain’s Fishes and more.
      We had a wonderful experience on New Year’s Eve. Franco closed down his restaurant and took us under his wing to celebrate like the locals do. First, we went to the waterfront near Karel’s Bar (in front of Franco’s restaurant) where a string of one million firecrackers was lit. It was quite a sight to see as the smoke filled the area and you could see flashes of light going on and on down the rope. The sound was pretty deafening the closer you were to the discharging firecrackers. After this was complete, Franco took us over to his friend Orlando’s Harley Shop where we stood talking to some of his friends. The owner of the computer shop in back had bought a string of two million firecrackers which was wound around the block. The crowds gathered as the darkness fell and the beginning of the chain was lit. It took several minutes for the entire chain to be lit and the whole thing was quite a thing to see. Sunset in Bonaire
      After leaving Franco for the evening, we returned to our apartment where we watched fireworks being set off across the island. Being in the penthouse put us in a spot that afforded us wonderful views all around. We just kept looking to different locations as new fireworks were set off. This actually went on for hours and was quite a thing to behold. At 5:00a.m. on New Year’s Day, My husband woke up and went out to watch some of the fireworks that were still going off. New Year’s Eve on Bonaire is an experience we will not soon forget!
      One downside to the trip was a small accident I had on January 2nd. We had just had a brief rain shower and I was heading down to the pool for some swimming and sun. My husband and son were already out diving for the day so I was by myself. As I was going down the steps, I hit a slippery spot with my flip-flops and went down on my left hand. (My other hand was holding on to my towel, raft and beach bag). Immediately my hand started to throb and swell but I continued on to the pool. After I was in the pool for several minutes, I noticed that my fingers were rapidly increasing in size so I took off my rings as I was afraid that I would soon not be able to remove them. I started popping Advil for the pain and watched throughout the day as the swelling and bruising and pain continued.
      The next day I was still in a lot of pain and my hand looked terrible so I decided I better have it checked out at the hospital by a doctor. I walked in to the hospital which was only a couple of minute walk from where we were staying. After standing at the information desk for a few minutes, I found someone that spoke English and told her I wanted to see a doctor. She looked back at me with a blank look on her face and asked why. She said doctors are not on staff there and only come in to see the patients. I explained what I needed and she told me that the doctor sees accidents like that across the street in a small building.( It is similar to the walk-in clinics or Docs in a Box like we have in the States).  I walked across the street and even though they weren’t yet open, there was a receptionist there who took my name and told me that the doctor wouldn’t be there until 9:00a.m if he even makes it then. They are never sure when he will be there depending on how busy he is. She told me that I could go have coffee or breakfast and return later.
      I returned around 9:00 and by this time the waiting room was pretty full with local people of all ages. The doctor was not on time and after waiting clsoe to and hour he finally arrived. Thankfully I was the first person seen. My hand was checked and he sent me back over the the hospital for an x-ray and then I was to return to see him. My insurance was not accepted but I was told that I could submit it upon returning home. I just had to pay for everything up front. I didn’t have to wait long at all to register for and then have the x-ray. I was also taken right away when I returned for my follow-up with the doctor. I was told that The x-ray didn’t show a fracture but they weren’t sure because of tall the swelling. He told me to follow up with an orthopedic doctor at home. Overall, I had a very good experience with my first out of country experience with this type of thing. Donkey in Bonaire
      Even considering the accident I had, it was a wonderful experience to spend the holidays on the beautiful island of Bonaire and would love to do it again sometime.


    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
    • Views: 3167
  • Fiji Contest: Thailand, the l Fiji Contest: Thailand, the land of a million smiles.....

    • From: ilprincipe
    • Description:
      I think I slept all the way from LAX to Bangkok, about 16 hours. I only got 2 hours of  sleep the night before leaving due to not being "packed and ready"... Planning is my forte, but I must have slowed down a bit in my mature years...
      I am already in love with Thailand.
      Thailand means literally the land of the free. I would add, the land of the gracious and the land of smiles. They seem to be a happy people in general. They have a great sense of pride in their history and their figurehead king, Rama VII.  Thailand has never been colonised by other nations, unlike her neighbors Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
      Spent a couple of days in Pattaya, a seaside resort about 2 hours ride from Bangkok,  well known for its pornographic services.  
      The Thai people I met, and especially my guide Suri, seem to be proud about their "sex tourism". You have got to be number one at something. This is hard to understand since the country is about 85% Buddhist. Moslems make up most of the rest. This population, in general, is quite conservative socially and quite religious. This is quite puzzling. I guess, when money is involved, it becomes a matter of supply meeting the strong demand, mostly by male tourists looking for everything Thai.
      The Lady-Boy Show, presented by boys who have converted their sex into girls.
      The Vagina Show is no monologue. They demonstrate all kinds of vaginal skills, talents and capabilities I have never imagined were possible.
      It set a new paradigm and bar level when it comes to vaginas.
      And I thought I knew all there was to know about vaginas...
      I missed out on the "Penis Show".... too close to home.... I feel inadequate enough, thank you. What I do not know, will not hurt me....
      Saw a traditional song and dance show that included live elephants.
      A separate Elephant show showed elephants playing basketball, soccer, painting,
      A monkey show where monkeys were allowed to be monkeys.
      A cobra snake show, a prelude to try sell us "snake oil" for medicinal purposes.
      No thank you.
      A Jewelry factory, focused on the use of locally mined rubies and sapphires. Word of advice, to get the best deal on Jewelry, shop at Macy's during a sale. The quality and prices were no better than those in the US.
      Last, but definitely not least, a traditional Thai Massage that lasted 2 full hours was a great experience. It utilizes a lot of stretching, kneading, pushing and pulling, similar to Physical Therapy. All were fully clothed.
      Of course, there are numerous massage parlors, everywhere you look.
      They offer a variety of massages.... full body oil massage, water massage, massages with a happy ending and massages tailored to one's fantasy. All massages are offered at a very reasonable price.
      Every day, at the end of the day, for close to peanuts, I get my
      traditional Thai Massage, which takes away the stress and pain by focusing on
      stretching that is a lot more intense that what I ever got at Physical
      Therapy. It is a great way to unwind, get rid of the stress and pain of sightseeing all day, and provides for a wonderful and deep sleep.
      On the other hand, there is so much culture, arts, traditional music, dance, theatre, beautiful temples. great natural resources, the biggest supplier of orchids to the world. Thailand is also a big exporter of seafood and other food products.
      For fair balance, I did visit a museum, a couple of Buddha
      temples and most importantly the Grand Palace, which used to house the royal
      family. Currently it is the home of the Emerald Buddha, the whole
      sculture made of good green emerald, mined locally. This Buddha has 3 gold
      embroidered robes, for the summer, the winter and the rainy season. Only
      the King, currently, Rama the ninth, can dress up the Buddha. The huge
      palace is full of beautiful traditional architecture which relies
      heavily on gold. Another popular Buddha, is the 4 faced Buddha.
      No, he is not twice double faced as you might have concluded.
      He actually has one head and 4 faces, facing north, south, east
      and west, all in gold.
      This temple is located at a busy square in downtown Bangkok.
      These temples are full of devout Buddhists kneeling , lying prostate,
      burning candles, incence, spraying themselves with holy water, bringing
      food to the monks...
      Bangkok is overcrowded, crammed with traffic and very noisy.
      The best mode of transportation is by bicycle.
      One may use a "Bicycle-Taxi", meaning you ride behind the driver
      and hold on to him for dear life. Don't worry, he has an extra helmet for you.
      A ride for about half an hour is no more than a dollar.
      You may also rent a bicycle or a motorcycle, and appreciate the thrill of danger....
      I spent a day at a coral island, (just off Pattara), where my quest for a formidable tan has just begun. The water was crystal clear and the fish seemed to be enjoying it. The entire length of the beach was full of souvenir shops, peddling pretty much the same merchandise. Lots of stuff with an "Elephant" theme. The elephant is a well revered animal in Thailand. It helped the Thai build their country by doing the heavy lifting. It helped them defend themselves in times of war. It is still being used in the north in the Teak Wood logging industry.
      Bargaining is a part of the fun of shopping, and a strong expectation. The shopkeepers inflate their prices so much that it is quite acceptable to start the bargaining game by offering a quarter or a third of the asking price..... My policy is not to pay more than half the asking price, unless the product is quite unique and I fell in love with it. 
      On to Chiang Mai, a city in the north, an hour flight from Bangkok, that
      used to be the capital of Thailand.
      I attended a beautiful traditional dinner show from various
      tribes in the area. I was asked to get on stage and participate in the
      dance show. I obliged. The dance looked a bit like a Cambodian
      traditional dance I had learnt recently. it is a slow undulating walk ,
      with the couple side by side in harmony,
      around a circle while focusing on hand movement at the wrist and finger positioning.
      Each position of the fingers and the wrists have special sybolic meanings
      such as grace, love, peace, generosity etc.
      Dinner was served on a tray, on the
      carpeted ground, and the food is mostly eaten by hand.
      I saw the old city wall, and a couple of temples and pagodas, on top of
      the mountains overlooking Chiang Mai. One of the tribes in the area
      decided long necks on women is sexy and sophisticated. They train the
      young girls to "grow their necks" long by having them wear metal necklaces.
      They keep adding more and more necklaces until their girls look like
      giraffe. I tried to talk them out of this tradition, but failed. I
      tried to "Free the girls" but was chased out of town.... 
    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
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  • My Staycation in Lower Alabama My Staycation in Lower Alabama

    • From: hmhickox
    • Description:


      OK, times are tough, and we all have to pinch the penny a little tighter.  If most of you are like me, my travel budget for the near future is looking pretty lean.  And, since my real estate skills are obviously not in high demand in this crazy market, I have a little more time on my hands than usual.  So,I wrote a couple of short travel journals about our big trip to Europe this summer, and who knew it would be so much fun?  I don’t just mean the actual travel, but also about writing about travel.  I have always loved to see new places.  I love to go sightseeing.  I love to find great travel deals.  I get a thrill from finding a 5 star hotel at a 3 star price.  I am a self-declared expert at making the most of sky miles and hotel reward points.  I have a few trips that go down in our Family Vacation Hall of Fame.   Now, I have the added enjoyment of writing about those experiences, as well as reading those of fellow travelers.  This being said, it brings me back to the part about the lean travel budget.  What is a travel lover to do?  Well, I am trying to embrace the supposedly new concept of a staycation, a word born of this economy.


      What Exactly Is A Staycation??? 

      A staycation seems to be all about enjoying things close to home…relaxing around the house or taking day trips—all without breaking the bank (Wall Street took care of that).  This is where I really have an advantage… I live in Fairhope, Alabama.  I guess I’ve been doing unstructured staycations for years and didn’t know it.


      Where Exactly is Fairhope, Alabama??? 

      Fairhope is in Lower Alabama, or L.A. as we like to say (tongue in cheek), and sits on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.  We are actually polar opposites from the Hollywood L.A., and all in good ways.  You may not have heard about us, but that’s OK…we don’t have an identity crisis.  Those who know us love us.  There are plenty of stars around here, but they only show up on clear nights over Mobile Bay.  It’s a sight that never gets old.   I love being near the water.  I should say, I NEED to be near the water.  It isn’t a choice. My daughter has inherited this same need.  We are like the sea turtles that are born on land, but have to make their way to the water to survive.  Not any water will do, either.  It has to be BIG water…long vistas, sweeping views.   Fairhope fills this requirement nicely.  The stately live oaks draped with Spanish moss, good food, and friendly folk are all just gravy, which is something we know a lot about in the South.  But Fairhope is so much more than just grits and gravy, y’all.


      DSC02987.JPGFairhope was founded in 1894 as a utopian single tax colony by a group from Iowa.  I’ve been to Iowa in the winter, and I understand the part about wanting to get away from that, but I’m not even going to try and explain the single tax colony part.  (http://www.fairhopesingletax.com ) They were certainly planners, these people from Iowa, and left us with a beautiful downtown, which is now full of quaint shops, galleries, cozy cafes, and lots and lots of flowers.  I’ve heard Fairhope referred to as a resort town, which makes it a great starting point for a staycation in Lower Alabama.


      What To Do On A Staycation in L.A.? 

      Depending on who you talk to, the exact boundaries of our L.A. could vary, but I think we would all agree that it lies south of Interstate 10.  Since I don’t really think a staycation has clear cut parameters either, I’m going to create my own.   I’ll outline what my ideal Lower Alabama version would be, which involves a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  I’ll break it down day by day.  This way, when your budget permits, you could convert my staycation itinerary into your long weekend getaway.



      Sleep in.  Have a light breakfast at home.  Then head to downtown Fairhope to Panini Pete’s for lunch (http://www.paninipetes.com ).  This little eatery was recently featured on the Food Network, and for good reason.   Once you eat the Roast Turkey Panini, your taste buds will never be the same.  Yum.  You can order it with a side of frites, which are skinny little seasoned fries.  Then, walk it off downtown.  Make sure and DSC02998.JPGstop in the shops and art galleries to see what’s new.  When you’re ready for a little respite, grab an ice cream or frozen yogurt from Mr. Gene’s Beans and make your way down to the Fairhope Municipal Pier.  Settle in on one of the many benches and watch the goings-on at this bay front park. 


      Next, take a short drive down Scenic  98 to the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort  (http://www.marriott.com). Now, you simply cannot talk about the Fairhope area without mentioning “The Grand,” as we call it around here.  It would be akin to having a family reunion and forgetting to invite your mama.  Unthinkable.   To experience true, gracious Southern hospitality in an idyllic setting on the bay, this is a must-do item.  I think I’ll splurge and cash in some of my Marriott Reward points and stay the night.  I’m not sure if this little detour bumps my weekend out of the staycation category, but this is my own version, so I’m going with it.  Stop in for a casual dinner at the resort’s Saltwater Grill, and then move outside to one of the waterfront swings to watch the sunset on the bay.  I always feel like I’ve been on vacation after a visit to “The Grand.”



      Sleep in.  Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel.  Explore the grounds until check-out time (for the benefit of you golfers, you could skip the sleep- in portion of the morning, and play a round of golf at one of several courses in the area).   Swing back by the house for lawn chairs, umbrella, and bathing suits…this is beach day…whoo hoo!!  Don’t forget to pack the cooler with plenty of drinks, sandwiches, and snacks.  DSC00023.JPGHead south for approx. 45 minutes to the white sandy beaches and warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Yes, we do have white sandy beaches in Alabama—remember, we’re next door neighbors to Florida.  There are a number of Alabama State Park access points along the beach where you can park for free.  These are equipped with restroom facilities and outdoor showers, but the new Gulf State Park Beach Pavilion is a little more full service.  For a nominal entrance fee, you have access to picnic tables, airDSC02168.JPG conditioned bathrooms, indoor and outdoor showers, and a seasonal concession stand.  Not only that, it looks pretty cool as well.  My daughter took this photo a couple of weeks ago when we were down for my sister's birthday.




      After a full afternoon of fun in the sun, stop by LuLu’s at Homeport Marina on your way home for a bite to eat.  This quirky establishment on the Intracoastal Waterway is owned by Lucy Buffett, Jimmy Buffett’s sister (we embrace quirky in L.A.).  LuLu’s is mostly an open air restaurant/bar/entertainment venue etc., so your “just off the beach” attire will be just fine.  It’s really hard to explain all that is LuLu’s, but there’s always something going on, and it’s always a good time.  Lucy describes it on her website as “… a great escape, a great family spot. We’re all about good food, good folks, good music, and good times.” There you have it…a great ending to “beach day.”   Check out their website before you go. http://lulusathomeport.com/



      Sleep in (are you detecting a pattern here?).  So far, we’ve included some culture, shopping,  R&R, and beach time.  Now it’s time for some history.  After a relaxing morning with a cup of coffee and the paper, we’re headed over to the Causeway to visit the Battleship Memorial Park.  First, I’ll explain the Causeway.  It is, as the name suggests, a series of strips of land connected by bridges across Mobile Bay.  It was, at one time, the only way to get across the bay.  Then the I-10 bridge was built, which we now call the Bayway.   The Causeway sits mostly south of the Bayway (remember, that’s I-10), so it still qualifies for our staycation. Now to the park--the USS Alabama Battleship is the main attraction at the 175-acre park, but there is also a submarine, the USS Drum, an aircraft collection, and an assortment of other military equipment.  According to the website, the USS Alabama saw 37 months of active duty in WWII.  It was saved from the scrapping yard in 1964, and opened to the public in 1965  (http://ussalablama.com ).  I now have a confession to make:  We have been back in Lower Alabama for over 3 years, and I have yet to take my kids to see the Battleship.  Ouch.  Inexcusable.  Well, one great benefit of a staycation is that it makes you take a fresh look at the local gems that are right under your nose.  I will be happy to remedy this situation. 


      After spending several hours working up an appetite at the Battleship Memorial Park, you are nicely positioned for dinner.  Another unique feature of the Causeway is the number of local seafood restaurants located there, most notably, Felix’s Fish Camp (http://felixsfishcamp.com), and Original Oyster House (http://originaloysterhouse.com ).  Felix’s view is more southerly oriented on the bay, while Original Oyster House faces the northern Delta region of the bay.  As you can see, I’m real big on maximizing the view.  You won’t go wrong with either one, but whichever you choose, you need to order an appetizer of fried Blue Crab claws—not to be confused with the big Alaskan king crab legs.  This is a local specialty.IMG_3524.JPG Having seafood on the Causeway on a Sunday afternoon is certainly a Lower Alabama tradition, and a great way to wind down a long staycation weekend.  This is the part where I sigh as the sun goes down, and think how lucky I am to live in L.A.


       It seems that just as I have been extolling the virtues of Lower Alabama, Forbes.com has been doing the same thing.  They love to make lists and rank everything, and our local paper ran a story just this morning that our area made one of those lists.  The Eastern Shore area (all in L.A.) is considered to be the 4th best small town in which to weather an economic recession.  Boy, do I hope they are right.  Maybe I’ll be back flying those friendly skies sooner than I thought.  Well, until then, I have the ultimate Lower Alabama staycation planned, and I can’t wait to take it.  Hope to see you down here soon.   


      Heather Hickox


    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
    • Views: 2839
  • Vive le France!! Vive le France!!

    • From: ekondra
    • Description:

      The Pyramids of the LouvreThe Eiffel Tower at NightFrance is on the top of my list of favorite places I have visited.  What can I say, je suis une francophile!  I love everything about France, the language, the culture, and yes the people.  I've been to France three seperate times, each with a very different experience and area of the country.  My first trip was when I was a Freshman in high school.  I have quite the scrapbook of that trip.  We mostly stayed around Paris and did a lot of touristy things.  I had only taken a half a year of French so mostly I just had to communicate in English.  At this time my eyes were opened to the beauty of France and from then on I have always tried to go back.

      I studied abroad during my Junior year of college and at the end of my stay in the UK I Waves in Nicedecided to travel Europe by myself.  My final stop was the South of France - Nice.  I was able to spend some time on the beach, enjoy a warm beginning to the summer of '05 and drinks lots of wine/eat lots of cheese.  I even got to see the Cannes Film Festival.  After spending 5 months in dreary London it was a huge blessing to see these waves crashing into the rocks while sunbathing.  I took a train from Nice to Paris back to the UK.  A brief stopover in Paris reminded me that I really needed to go back - which I did, nearly 6 months later.

      Fog over TaizeA Little Church in Taize, FranceMy senior year of college I went on a retreat in Taize, France.  Taize is located in the western part of France near Lyon.  Its a little town with this huge monastary that attracts large crowds of young people every year.  We went in the dead of winter but it was so beautiful.  The leaves were iced over and a fog hung over everything.  It created quite a serene environment for reflection and silence, which is what the Taize brothers are all about.  After the retreat, we stopped over in Paris for a couple of days and I was able to see the major sites again, but this time with older eyes.  I appreciated Paris MUCH more the second time around.  Mona Lisa even looked bigger the second time around.  :)

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
    • Views: 866
  • Four Weeks in Costa Rica Four Weeks in Costa Rica

    • From: PhebeSchwartz
    • Description:

      Phebe & Richard’s Adventures in Costa Rica

      7/21/08 – Flew from Miami to San Salvador (where there were four dogs sniffing every piece of luggage!) to San Jose.  We arrived at night, made it through Customs, found the people from the car rental agency, got our car, found our hotel.

      7/22 – Long drive from San Jose to Volcano Arenal (kind of NW from San Jose).  We were booked at the Lake Coter Eco Lodge, which meant driving around the volcano (VERY cool!) and Lake Arenal.  The volcano looked basically like a mountain, but all grey and barren since it’s an active volcano and we were driving around the solidified lava flow.  No red or orange, just grey igneous rock. 

      We arrived at the Eco Lodge, and settled into our room – the upper level of a little cabin, with a picture window facing the lake and volcano.  But clouds blew in, covering everything by sunset – we were truly in the cloud forest! 

      7/23 – Our hotel includes breakfast – tropical fruit, eggs, beans and rice, toast.  Coffee.  The dining room had a bird viewing platform right outside the picture windows, with bananas to attract the birds – we saw blue grey tanagers, red rumped tanagers (really their name!), flycatchers (yellow bellies, black/white striped heads), hummingbirds, bananaquits, red-legged honeycreepers (bright blue), golden hooded tanagers, some bright green birds, maybe emerald tanagers?  And a small black bird with a bright yellow chest and a yellow halo on the front of his head.

      Richard and I hiked around the property – saw black hawks, turkey vultures, swallow-tailed kites, maybe a harpy eagle (very creepy).  And a chameleon!!!  Also lots of orchids.

      We later went to the town of Arenal (where we found an Israeli who owns a restaurant where we had coffee and dessert, a fabulous chocolate thing), and tried to stay warm and dry during a very cold and rainy afternoon.

      By the time we returned to the Eco Lodge, the clouds had lifted and we had a perfect view of Volcano Arenal huffing and puffing and shooting out puffs of steam and ash!!!!!  How exciting!  We sat on our balcony and watched until it was too dark to see the mountain anymore.  We tried and tried to see the lava flow, but I think we were just in the wrong direction.

      7/24 – We bounced our way on dirt and gravel roads to Monteverde, which is in the middle of the cloud forest.    Settled into the Montaña Monteverde Hotel (very nice!) and then hiked in the forest preserve next door – saw an agouti, which looks like a big rabbit with round ears – kind of like a giant guinea pig.  Cute and funny at the same time.  We kept looking for ocelots or monkeys, didn’t see any.  I saw a flash of blue which was probably a blue morpho butterfly, but it was quickly gone.  It was a wild and windy night, cold and rainy, and we made tour arrangements for tomorrow.

      7/25 – Today was the celebration for the annexation of the region of Guanecaste (it used to be part of Nicaragua) – the school children were in traditional clothes and dancing in the school yard, with little boys sporting fake moustaches – I shot several very colorful and very cute photos as we walked around town in early morning.

      I spent 3 hours on the suspension bridges in the cloud forest – Richard didn’t want to do the canopy tour.  There were nine bridges of steel cable and heavy mesh, wide enough for two people to squeak by each other; the longest/highest was 500 feet long and 300 feet above ground in the center – and yes, I froze in the middle and nearly turned around except turning around was worse than continuing on.  Scary and challenging and totally worth it!  Half the time was hiking, the other half on the bridges up in the tree canopy.  It poured rain the entire time, so I never saw any animals, but I’m sure there were plenty of monkeys and sloths watching me and wondering why I was out in that weather.  The cloud forest was green and grey and dripping, with trees and vines and moss, dense and spooky and still.  Very cool!

      After lunch with Richard, I went to a butterfly farm where I got to release a newly hatched butterfly – my butterfly was a blue morpho, I reached my hand into the container and my butterfly climbed onto my pinkie and clung as our group walked through the garden.  People took photos of the morpho on my finger, I talked to it, showed it around the garden – it would turn around and look at me, just holding onto my finger, as we walked around.  This beautiful and amazing butterfly stayed with me for 10 or 15 mintues!!!!  We totally bonded!  Finally, at the end of the garden, I tried to place the butterfly on a branch, but at that point it was ready to fly away.

      I walked back to our hotel, got there in time for our “appointment” at the private hot tub and sauna.  We had a lovely and lazy time watching the sunset as we soaked in the hot water and steamed in the sauna.  And a fabulous Italian dinner at a nearby restaurant (run by Italians, so the food was authentic, not American Italian).

      7/26 – Drove from Monteverde to San Jose, again on rutted dirt/gravel roads that don’t have signs, don’t show up on maps, and are the only way in and out of the area. The one highlight was seeing monkeys in a tree along the road.  Beautiful scenery of green green hills and mountains.  I swear, Costa Rica looks like North and South America are moving together and squishing the land up into ridges and ripples.  You can SEE where the surface of the earth has bunched up between two moving plates.  Or at least it seems as if I could see it.

      Along the Pan American Highway, we stopped in the town of San Ramon for lunch – there was a mall, there were guards in the parking lot, there was a Burger King.  And, apparently, there were thieves.  We got back to the car to find our backpacks missing!  A report to the guards, a report to the police, a report to the car agency since the lock was broken – and basically, while there were a few missing things we could live without such as my iPod shuffle and some costume jewelry, the important things were my asthma meds, Richard’s passport, his rain jacket, glasses, and our house keys.  So we spent part of the afternoon trying to replace meds, some of which are available in CR, some not.  We finally made it back to San Jose, dinner, bed. 

      7/27 – This is a holiday weekend, with Monday being a government holiday – so, since we couldn’t do anything about the passport until Tuesday, we continued with our planned route.  We drove to the Pacific coast, to the town of Puntarenas – a sad beach town that has seen better days, at the end of a long (miles long) sand bar, sticking out into Nicoya Bay.  There were lots and lots of Costa Rican tourists from inland, so everywhere was packed.  We were the last to check in at our hotel, so our room was mediocre.  We spent the evening walking up and down the Paseo de los Turistos, along with everyone else – the road running along the beach, filled with restaurants and bars, benches for family picnics or young couples flirting, groups of young men trying desperately to look cool or macho, young women flirting, the occasional soccer game, cookout, tons of bicycles, ice cream carts – an endless parade of tourists.

      7/28 – A slow lazy day in Puntarenas, exploring and people watching.  Gorgeous sunsets. 

      7/29 – We caught the morning ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula – a very old and rusty ferry that looks as if it won’t make it across the bay.  We see a lot of white ibis over the water, jaibiru storks, and my faves, the flamingos and roseate spoonbills!  Pink birds!  HOW COOL!!!!!

      We drove on roads that vacillated between paving and dirt, roads that wound between the mountains so that we stayed on fairly level land.  We arrived at our hotel, La Laguna del Cocodrilo, at Playa Tamarindo on the Pacific coast – and there were no crocodiles to see in the lagoon, though there is a warning sign.   A sudden thunderstorm directly overhead drove us indoors and to the French bakery for coffee and a chocolate croissant.  Eventually the storm passed so we could walk on the beach for a spectacular sunset.

      7/30 – Richard brought me café au lait and a chocolate croissant to enjoy a breakfast in bed.  I could get used to this.

      We called around for a tour, but were too late.  So we drove up the coast to Playa Grande, the huge beach where the leatherback turtles nest in the late winter and early spring.  The beach is a national park, but there are a few hotels.  The very nice concierge at one hotel called around and made arrangements for us – we were to meet Ruben in an hour at the Bula Bula Hotel, and he’d take us on a boat tour of the estuary and into the lagoon.  We got somewhat lost, and drove on roads that were more puddle than dirt – but eventually got going in the right direction and found the Bula Bula and Ruben.  The boat looked like a tiny version of the African Queen, rusty and barely seaworthy.  And the estuary looked like the Amazon, dark murky brown and green water with green mangrove trees half in the water’s edge, no shore to speak of.  It was high tide when we set of, the only passengers in this rickety little boat.

      Big huge yellow green crocodile basking in the sun – Ruben slows the boat and whispers “Cocodrilo” as PLOP the croc slips into the water.  Soon we see a small crocodile carrying the rotting and bloated carcass of something – so bloated that the croc can’t dive, his prey keeps floating him back up to the surface.  Gross and stinky and the croc won’t let go. 

      Ruben “docks” the boat by tossing the anchor onto a dry bank, and we climb out.  We have a short walk through the forest (bush?) and find a family of mantled howler monkeys in the trees – parent monkeys watch as the babies jump and play, a few hanging upside down to watch us watching them! Ruben makes noises that start the males making their barking howls, and soon we hear neighboring families howling back.  The adults go back to lazing on the branches, the babies continue to stare down trying to understand who/what we are.  After a while, we return to the boat, where Ruben cuts up a pineapple with a machete, and we eat this as we meander back down the estuary.  He takes us back to the dock, and we thank him for an extraordinary day.

      Back at our hotel, the resident crocodile has shown up in the lagoon, a triangle of eyes nose snout peering up out of the brown water.  One waiter comes out with a bowl of raw chicken parts, and the croc lunges up onto the bank and snaps up the chicken, piece by piece, as hotel guests watch and take photos.  Our crocodile is one of 25 babies of the original crocodile, I’m told by our hotel owner  – this one is maybe 5 ft long, olive green grey yellow, striped tail, massive jaws – and I’m standing maybe 6 to 8 feet away!    I go down to the beach for a few sunset photos, come back, and the croc is back for more tourist photos and more chicken parts.  All evening, that little triangular face stayed there, coming whenever the hotel or restaurant staff called, hoping for more and more chicken.

      7/31 – It is so nice to take a break from breakfasts of beans and rice, eggs on the side – I have a croque monsieur, which is basically a French grilled cheese and ham sandwich, but oh so much nicer than it sounds.  And of course café au lait et un croissant de chocolat.

      We skipped the ferry and took the bridge across the skinny part of Nicoya Bay, then made our way to the Pan American and back to San Jose.  At various rest stops along the way, we saw gorgeous butterflies; macaws in the mango trees being chased away by howler monkeys!; baby monkeys climbing over their moms, who were trying to nap in the heat of the day; and macaws flying around squawking and showing off their gorgeous colors.

      Halfway through the trip back to San Jose it began to rain, a driving drenching flooding raid, complete with dark grey skies and obscuring fog and thunder and lightening.  And no matter how we followed the directions to our B&B in San Jose, we couldn’t find it.  The owner tried talking us along the route via cell phone, we were in the neighborhood, but there was one turn we just couldn’t seem to find.  He finally walked the half block to where we were, climbed into the car, and escorted us to his residence.  Casa 69 (#69 25th Street) turned out to be a find, with lovely antiques and huge rooms in two old Costa Rican houses.  This was just what we needed after a long day of driving.

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