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Saturday, August 30, 2008


Alaska is certainly getting a lot of press these days. But Rob and I are excited because we've booked a Princess cruise for next August. This trip was on the "MUST" list. Friends, Jane and Bob went recently, and this is what they had to say:

"Alaska was beautiful !! We enjoyed Denali and the cruise on Celebrity-also our friends Pat & Larry and Dan & Elaine. Got to see the mountain ( Denali) as well as the Hubbard Glacier, killer and humpback whales, lynx, grizzlies, dolphins, eagles and also Vancouver, B.C."


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Our second port-of-call on our Panama Canal cruise is Cartegena, Columbia, a very intriguing city. This is the first year it is a stopping point for cruise ships, and indeed, there will be only one more ship entering this harbor this season. As with Northern Ireland, Colombia was considered far too dangerous for a stop, and so Columbians are still developing ways to handle cruise ship tourists. That is a massive undertaking. Cartegena is a beautiful city, a glorious mixture of old and new—and also of old and new world. We’ve booked an onshore excursion here. Its title offers something very new and different: Mangrove Tunnels & “Old City” Stroll.

Colombia is our first venture into South America, so right away that’s cool. But “cool” is not a word easily used in Cartegnea. We are only 12° from the Equator. The temperature at 9:00 AM is already in the mid 80s, and the humidity is hovering around 70%. No wonder we are warned to bring plenty of sunscreen and water on this tour. Despite the oppressive heat, the day is beautiful and the sky is a rich blue.

Our tour bus, thankfully air conditioned, takes us along the coast on the packed sand road past fishing huts, dwellings that can only be described as hovels but also past some nice residential neighborhoods. On the beaches, swimmers sit under cabana-type structures as safeguard from the sun. In fact as we drive past the one remaining wall of this once-walled city, there are people sitting in all the cannon holes where the stones offer a bit of cool space. We pass fishermen carrying their nets and children playing in the sand. Our guide, Raphael, speaking adequate English, points out many of the sights along the way.

Upon our arrival at the Mangrove area in the eastern part of Cartagena, we board canoes built for four passengers and the Columbian poler. Mangroves are trees that grow in the water, their reaching roots forming beautiful patterns at their bases and their leaves, green and fluttering reflect in the water and form a green canopy overhead. I’ve never been in this kind of environment before. Off we go, a long procession of canoes and polers in their yellow or green shirts and orange baseball caps.
The lake is shallow, and all along our route, small, poor children stand begging or seeking to sell us seashells for $1.00. Very sad.

The mangrove tunnels are cut through the dense mangrove trees, so we wind around in a quiet, green coolness. We marvel at the density of the trees as we skim the water under this canopy of green leaves. It’s cool in here. Our polers maneuver through the narrow cuts, and everything takes on a green tint. We emerge from the mangroves to a large shallow lake, and after a bit, the polers turn the canoes around and we re-enter the mangrove forest for the ride back. This is a totally different world. What an experience!

This ride is a lovely bit of eco-tourism. We become part of nature and enter its private areas with minimal disturbance.

As our polers beach our canoes and help us back to dry land, we are greeted with freshly cut coconuts. Straws jut from the holes in their tops. Here for many of the cruisers is the first taste of coconut milk. We are also treated to a folkloric dance show, vibrant with enthusiastic movement. This is a lovely way to spend part of our day, but there is more to see in Cartagena.

After a bumpy ride back to the city, we take some time in the colorful shops filled with linens, dolls, and many native crafts.

Next is a walking tour of some important areas of the old walled city. Our guide, Raphael, works very hard to explain the history of some of the buildings, and it is most interesting to walk and admire the Spanish colonial architecture and the vivid colors. Some of the buildings are original, and some have been painstakingly restored.

Cartegena’s history involves pirate attacks and assaults by the British—Sir Francis Drake for instance, and so a 12 ft. wall taking 197 years to complete was built around the city. There were 23 bastions (guard towers) along the wall, and 16 still stand. It is a city that mixes the old and the new, and it struggles to find its way in an era of visitors and expansion. As we walk through the city we are barraged by street vendors who don’t want to take no for an answer. We also receive a “coin” at the end of the tour with a telephone number—a timeshare offering. Yes, definitely a mixture of the old and the new.

One aspect of the tour did make a remarkable impression. We were never without police or military escort. Two officers were in the mangroves with us, and although we had been advised to stay with the group when we walked through the city, at the rear of the group were two uniformed officers. Raphael at the front and the officers in the rear. We never felt unsafe, but the guards near us and the soldiers on the street give one pause. But let me reiterate, we never felt unsafe, and I am very happy that we had a chance to visit Cartegena and to explore a bit. It will be interesting to come back to see how their tourist industry develops.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


More than 5,000 fans of the The Hudson Valley Renegades, an affiliate team of the Tampa Rays, agree that minor league baseball is great. That’s the attendance at the game we saw, and that’s the kind of attendance the Renegades draw to Dutchess Stadium right across the Newburgh Beacon Bridge in Wappinger Falls, New York, just five minutes off Rt. 84.

Dutchess Stadium, built in just 71 days in 1994, is a good facility, intimate and friendly. There’s not a bad seat in the house, and between these guys playing their hearts out to make it to the next level and the enthusiastic crowds, this is a field of dreams.

My Red Hat friends and I get to at least one game a year. Last year a bunch of us went to “Bill Murray Bobble-head Doll Night”, and Bill was there (part owner of the team) signing bobble-head doll boxes and being a great guy to his fans. This is one friendly atmosphere!

This year, five friends and I took advantage of the “Leo Dinner.” Each night one table is set and six people are served an Italian dinner by Leo’s Italian Restaurant—actually located diagonally across the street from the stadium. Let me tell you about it.

We arrived about half an hour before the game. We found our “Leo” section with the boxes. The table was set for six, and our server, Matt, was there to greet us and explain how things work. We had a full Italian dinner served family style including salad, pasta, entrée, and dessert. There was a cooler full of drinks—water, soda, beer, wine coolers, etc. for us. We each received a Renegades cap, and Matt served us throughout the game.

After Matt served us drinks, we placed our order. We chose linguini with broccoli and oil as our pasta dish, and chicken marsala as our entrée.

Our salad course came first, a huge bowl of fresh, crisp, mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes and tons of purple onions. Dressing on the side.
Fresh Italian bread. We heaped our plates, but there was enough for seconds. We took our time, and stopped to watch the Renegades score, participate in the hand waving at an inning’s success, and jabber, jabber, jabber, as we tend to do whenever we get together!

When we all finished our salads and Matt cleared the table, we relaxed as the pasta was delivered, hot and tempting. Once again, it arrived in a huge bowl, the linguini shimmering in the oil, and the chunks of garlic warning us that once this course ended, we better keep our distance. Ha Ha ☺

The game continued. We got our Renegades caps and a visit from Rascal Raccoon the Renegade Mascot. Nice photo op! We began to wonder where there would be room for the food yet to come. We walked around, continued the constant jabber, and Matt called for the Chicken Marsala which arrived hot and plentiful, a platter filled with filets smothered in mushrooms and the rich marsala sauce. Amazingly, each of us DID find room for this tasty entrée.

It must have been a “James Bond” night, for there was Rascal dancing with 007.

Finally, after 9 PM and around the needed 7th inning stretch and “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” dessert arrived. Canolis with the subtlest hint of cinnamon. Honestly—most of us sampled, but few finished. Not because they weren’t great but because our two-hour + dinner left us all quite full.

We said goodbye to Matt and his helper who left us with more to drink and returned to the restaurant. But our evening wasn’t over!

For charity, we bought five tennis balls for a contest after the game. AND on Friday nights there are fireworks after the game! How great is that!

The fireworks were wonderful. It was a long display with a lot of variety. As far as the tennis ball toss, I threw them out but did not get one to finish in one of the hoops scattered on the infield. But it was fun anyway.

We all had a great evening, and Eileen said we should book this again next year. Works for me!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Joseph Ellis’ His Excellency George Washington has the wonderful historical perspective I look for. I visit historic places, and I want to know more. Virginia, the birthplaces/homes of eight presidents and of the ideas that founded America always piques my curiosity. Monticello, Mt. Vernon, Montpellier…. I begin reading about the founding fathers and the Revolutionary period, and I’m ensnared. I just keep going.

Visiting Mt. Vernon, ( Washington’s magnificent home with its splendid panoramic view of the Potomac and hearing about Washington as farmer made me anxious to know more. We’ve also visited Mary Washington’s home in Fredericksburg, VA where Washington spent his youth. ( Combine these with a reading journey in David McCullough’s 1776 and impressions of Washington as he appears in other places. Even a recent trip to Portland, Maine and a visit to poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s childhood home included a Washington portrait as well as a painting of Washington ascending to heaven. Why were they there? Longfellow’s grandfather served with Washington during the Revolution and admired him so.

I began His Excellency George Washington wanting to know if this GW was different from the other versions I’d read. Joseph Ellis’ book is far more than a history. It delves, based on Ellis’ study of Washington’s many papers, into the man, his personality, his motivations, and his own views of himself, his situation and his times. There are no apologies or excuses for his mistakes nor is there any downplaying of his accomplishments. That makes for an incredibly exciting and enlightening read.

We see Washington as a young man out to make his fortune. His early mistakes often turn into triumphs by circumstance. He quickly develops an ability to repress his emotions in order to achieve long-term goals. Humbled by his lack of formal education, he relies on instinct, becomes offended when he doesn’t receive his due, and seeks the power and independence fame and fortune brings even if sacrifices are to be made. Ellis introduces us to a multi-faceted individual with whom we can identify, quickly debunking the ridiculous mythical “I can never tell a lie” cherry tree chopper.

As a man, Washington’s military leadership becomes more poignant and more identifiable. What he learns from the Revolution shapes his attitude toward a strong federal government in such areas as banking and taxes, for instance, while also leaving states control of other areas.

As a president, we see him shun the trappings of a monarch and feel his way into a new kind of leader intent on guiding our country beyond its fragile infancy. He navigates his way as the legislative and judicial branches evolve. That means compromising and placing important items like slavery on the back burner for a generation because he realizes that issue will quickly destroy the country before it can even find solid footing to continue the path set in the Constitution. He sets the precedent of a president leaving office after two terms.

Ellis explains the complications of Washington’s own feelings about slavery in such a way that we can see the intricacies of the dilemma he faces. It’s interesting to follow Washington’s actions for both our government and his own private life.

Ellis’ style, though not as fluid as McCullough’s, is almost conversational as he picks his way though the dry history and shows us the human being that is often lost in our studies of Washington. Ellis even deals with Washington’s poorly fitting false teeth! The result is fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable, so it is no problem to suggest it as a great book for a vacation read.

Fortunately, or unfortunately for me, I enjoyed His Excellency George Washington so much that I am placing Ellis’ Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation and American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson on my reading list.

Friday, August 15, 2008


I’ve got two great products to recommend. I’m always looking for new, cool stuff that makes traveling more enjoyable. Here are two cuties!

1. Go to to find sandals with a drawer in the heel big enough for a credit card or a room key. The model is called, of course, STASH. They’re attractive, waterproof, available in different colors, and even have an arch support. I think they’re going with me next time we head to the beach!

2. For this, go to the map people at The product is a fabMap. It’s a handkerchief sized, micro-fiber map that needs no folding, is tear-proof and waterproof, and you can use it to wipe your glasses or sunglasses. Major points of interest are clearly marked, and they’re available for places of interest: Pike Street Market in Seattle, Riverwalk in San Antonio, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Washington D.C. Mall, Manhattan’s midtown Theater District to name just a few. It's really handy, and it is a great present if you know someone traveling to one of the mapped locations.

Monday, August 04, 2008


By the time we reach Aruba, the first port on our Panama Canal cruise aboard Princess’ Coral Princess, we are two days at sea, relaxing and enjoying the out-of-our-ordinary environment. Because we arrived in Florida two days before the cruise’s sailing date, we do feel we’ve been away from home quite a while, and we have shifted easily into cruise mode. Laid back and relaxed.

We are traveling with friends Sue and Marty, and that’s great. On a cruise it’s so easy to be together and also to follow our own whims. All four of us are in cruise mode. We’re using “Anytime Dining” rather than a set dinner hour, and it seems to be working just fine. This is definitely a cruise for Third Agers like us. I am told (by the grandmother of some) that there are only ten kids aboard. Works for us. There also is no trouble finding deck chairs; a lot of Third Agers are in the shadier parts of the deck. The pool is great. People are in and out of it and the three surrounding hot tubs, and there’s always conversation. We haven’t gone to the pool with the retractable roof yet because the weather has been too spectacular.

In the evening, we’ve gone to the 10:15 shows, and we haven’t had trouble finding seats. The ship winds down after that. That’s also Third Age. On the other hand, at the first “formal night,” there were a lot of gowns and tuxedos. That’s also Third Age. I think the formal nights are lovely, and I’m looking forward to the next two formal nights.

Early this morning we docked in Aruba. Sue and Marty are off on a shore tour. Rob and I are heading off to see Oranjestad.

Aruba is an interesting island because it’s only 19.6 miles long and 6 miles wide. That's only about 74 square miles. It boasts a population of 105,600 but 30,600 live in Oranjestad. While it does not have the tropical rain forests found on other Caribbean islands, and really very few places of interest to visit, it is known for its beautiful beaches and its excellent scuba and snorkeling. We have friends who visit every year and love it.

Rob and I spent our time ashore just walking around, popping into a few shops, visiting Queen Wilhelmina Park with its beautiful flowers and palm trees, and then heading to the beach where colorful boats sat lined up in a row in front of a thatched hut for picnickers. There we also photographed iguanas—those big lizards that under normal circumstances would scare me to death. They were all over the rocks near the water’s edge.

Our stroll through Oranjestad took us past colorful homes and government buildings. Greens and oranges dominate, and the colors add a happy tone to the island. We also visited Fort Zoutman, or what remains of it. I did some shopping—not for the diamonds, etc. that are offered, but for a new Del Sol shirt and some Del Sol nail polish. I love those shirts that change color in the sun, and I have something Del Sol from many of the places we visit. They’re pure fun, and frankly I am not the kind of tourist ports of call crave, although I’m sorry I forgot to get some Aruba Aloe (as we passed stands I thought they were selling sunscreen) because aloe is a major industry of the island. I like to have things that reflect what I’ve actually seen. Rob and I would like to come back to stay for a weeks’ beach vacation.

Here's a little of what we saw in Oranjestad.

Click to play Oranjestad, Aruba
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Back on the ship we have lunch and then to the pool. Life is good.