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Thursday, February 21, 2013


Motorcycle Dog
I saw this wonderful combo as we drove along a Texas highway. 
Does that pooch look concerned?  Nah!
He has his shades and his fur is blowin' in the wind.


The Divi Phoenix from out on the jetty
 Aruba’s charm is irresistible.  For many tourists, the introduction is simply a day stop on a Southern Caribbean cruise—a day of shore excursions to the beaches or a tour around the island, a walk  around historic Oranjestad where homes are painted in soothing pastels, a visit to the vibrant, colorful markets, or a meal in one of the excellent dining establishments the island has to offer.  Almost inevitably, the seed is planted to return to this sliver of paradise tucked warmly in the Caribbean.  And so you do.  So we did.

Rob and I stayed at the Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort, a condominium type hotel and timeshare (I surmise the new term is “vacation ownership”) in the high-rise section of hotels.  More on Aruba’s hotel areas in a later post.

There are five Divi hotels in Aruba: Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort, Divi Village Golf and Beach Resort, Divi Dutch Village Resort, and two all inclusives, Divi and Tamarijn Aruba.  Vacation ownership is available in all, and full ownership is available at the Residences at Divi Village Golf and Beach Resort.  This is just one company.  Think of any major hotel chain, and it is represented in Aruba in a big way.

We also saw building going on for permanent residences intended for foreign retirees.  Perhaps that is the next step for this country.

You know Rob and I are fans of timeshares, and the Divi Phoenix is a pleasure.  Our suite is big and comfortable and very nicely appointed.  In the living room there hangs a glass sculpture reminiscent of Chihuly, but made in Aruba and called Terrafuse.  The Terrafuse studio, by the way, offers classes and tours if one is here long enough, and the work is quite marvelous.  We met a man who had taken classes there and loved it.

ArubaArubaOur one bedroom suite is lovely and painted in the relaxing, happy shades of teals and beige with the same colors incorporated in the artwork on the walls.  It is nicely decorated with comfortable furniture, a sofa, wicker chairs, and a coffee table in the living room, more than ample dresser and closet space in the bedroom and hallway in addition to the comfortable king size bed, a fully stocked kitchen, and two complete bathrooms, one with a whirlpool bath and a separate glass shower, and the other with a glass shower.   A louvered utility closet houses a washer/dryer.  There are televisions in the living room and bedroom.  The living room couch is a convertible should there be up to four in a party. There is a small dining area with room for four, and a kitchen island with bar seating for four. 

What a beautiful way to start an evening.
The balcony overlooks the central part of the resort, the pools toward one side, over palm trees to the ocean in the center, and to the beach and ocean on the other side.  Just sitting on the balcony, cocktail in hand, watching the sun set over the ocean is one of the most wonderful parts of the day.  The sun set around 6:15 PM during our visit, and we make sure to be on the balcony or in some picturesque location each evening so we can savor the beauty. 

from our balcony
At night colored lights fill the pools gently changing hues and creating a delectably romantic atmosphere.

The first night we arrive, we enjoy dinner in the hotel at the Pure Beach restaurant.  It was the finest Mahi Mahi I’d ever eaten, but more specifics on Pure Beach in a later post.

The Divi Phoenix has two freshwater pools, one with a swim up bar (need you ask if we swam up?), but we were not here for swimming pools.  There’s a smaller pool in another section for water games.  Each morning I join a terrific water aerobics class that actually has men attending as well as women!  Most unusual.  I like these and participate each morning while Rob walks.  He’s not into water aerobics.

No problem relaxing here--and plenty of shade. 
Make sure you use a strong sunscreen.
The beach is fantastic.  There are ample palm trees and palapas to provide shade, and though there are the usual idiots who bring some item down before sunrise to “reserve” their space under a palapa, there are ample lounges and space in the shade for everyone.  Hammocks stretch between trees, but Rob and I have no problem snoozing on our lounges.

The sand is cool under foot, the trade winds belie the heat, and the water is a perfect temperature with an easy slope and sand bottom.  People float around on Swimways Spring Floats or rented floats.   It’s heavenly!

One important word of warning.  You need a good sunscreen.  The trade winds may make you feel cool, but you are very close to the equator.  The sun’s rays are very direct here, and I saw several people resembling lobsters.  Don’t be one of them.

If there is one negative aspect to spending a week in this kind of setting is that it has spoiled us for hotels which usually lack enough comfortable seating, and unless it’s a suite hotel, you have only one room. These days, I feel cramped!  I think I am spoiled.

Some people complain that there is the hard sell when you stay at a timeshare.  Sometimes that is true, and you just say no to invitations to tour.  In Aruba it was very different.  It was so low-key even we were surprised.

I think it all fits in with the Happy Island idea.  It works. 

We flew United, and when we boarded the plane, we were handed a big, Oprah-style magazine called Destination Aruba.  It was filled with history, information about transportation, money, post offices, medical facilities, prominent people, restaurants, festivals, duty-free shopping etc.  There were lots of advertisements for just about everything imaginable.  I read it cover to cover on the trip down, learned a lot, and altered some of the plans I already had in my head.  We hit the Aruban ground running.

As we headed to pick up our luggage at the airport, we passed a big Divi table, and people were handing out free Divi bags (similar to but bigger than the recyclable grocery bags) to everyone regardless of their hotel destination.  Inside was a slim brochure on the different Divi resorts, but outside was stamped the Divi logo.  Each tourist became a walking advertisement, but there was no attempt to do anything more.  I saw these bags all over the island.  They were light, folded, and big enough to carry many things.

At the Divi Phoenix we never received the usual “breakfast or lunch invitation plus tour,” but we were invited to meet a hotel concierge.  We did that, and he simply checked that everything in our accommodations were all right, helped us with suggestions for restaurants serving authentic Aruban cuisine, and answered our questions about the supermarket shopping and festivals.  Not once did he suggest a tour of Divi property or anything vaguely resembling a sales pitch.  If we were interested, apparently it was up to us to ask.  We weren’t, so we didn’t.

The welcome party with music, drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and
a lot of friendly folk.

A friendly staff is always
  On Monday evening there is a welcome party—drinks, hors d’oeuvres, music.  No sales pitch, but a lot of information about resort activities, getting around the hotel strip, etc.  I had already become acquainted with Balashi Beer, the island brew, so I was quite content and enjoyed meeting some of the other guests.

No pressure—just relaxation, beach, and water.  Aruba is One Happy Island.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Aruba sunset
Isn't this sunset in Aruba breathtaking?  We enjoyed this view from our balcony.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Ala Moana, Oahu
Is this the Hawaii of your imagination?
 In a previous post, I talked about the different stretches of the 1.5 mile long beach known collectively by tourists as Waikiki Beach but known by locals by other names.  If you have to ask directions, it’s best to know those other names as they break down sections of Waikiki Beach. 

The maps you will get in guidebooks or in tourist information pamphlets will break down the sections for you, and they are easy to find.  You may want one section for your daytime activities and another section for your nightlife where you can begin with a stroll along the beach, stop for a drink and a view of a magnificent sunset over the ocean, or an oceanside dinner or evening’s entertainment.  As always, you can wander in from the beach to some of the hotels, and you can enjoy their bars and beachside dining. Walking is the best way to discover the differences.

If you’re traveling with children, you may consider Kuhio Beach next to the Moana Surfrider Hotel which is right past the center of Waikiki Beach where I took photos of the outrigger canoes and surfers. (  This is the point of quickest access to Waikiki Beach. What’s nice about Kuhio Beach is that there are concrete walls forming two separate and vary calm swimming areas where children might feel safer.  

The area where Rob and I spent the day, in front of the beautiful pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel, is known as Grey’s Beach.  It’s canted so it catches the sun’s rays perfectly!

But our favorite Honolulu beach lies outside the Waikiki area.  It is Ala Moana Beach, a town beach lying between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu.  Ala Moana, by the way, means “by the sea,” and you will see these words used all over the islands.  Ala Moana is approximately a mile long, so there is plenty of space to enjoy.

Coney Island Beach
This photo by Luna Park Coney Island was taken on
June 23, 2012 in Coney Island, New York.
This might be considered crowded by some,
but this is early in the season.  There is still room
to walk!
 Many of the guide books warn about crowded beaches in Honolulu.  Nowhere we went did we experience what we would term “crowded conditions.”  This, of course, brings me back to my theory of travel relativity.  As I grew up in New York City, I was used to Orchard Beach and Coney Island where we sometimes had to hop over other beachgoer’s blankets in search of a free spot.  That’s how I define crowd.  Waikiki Beach was certainly not empty, but there was plenty of room for everyone. I saw nothing even remotely resembling a crowd on Oahu—not even in Honolulu which is a city.  But if the pictures of Waikiki ( seemed crowded with people to you, look at these photos of Ala Moana. 

Ala Moana, Oahu
Diamondhead watches over this beach too--and the lifeguard stand.
Might things be different in different seasons or on weekends?  Certainly the possibility exists, but seeking out the differences is all part of the travel adventure.

Ala Moana can be reached by The Bus, but we had a car.  There was ample parking facilities as well as street parking.  A road runs along the beach separating it from the other areas of the park.  There are bathhouses and bathroom facilities, gardens and lawns for picnicking, palm trees and magnificent banyan trees with their twisted contours providing shade and a beautiful wide beach.  There is also a music pavilion and concessions. We did not use all the amenities of this 73 acre park, but they include playgrounds, a lagoon, tennis courts, and a yacht harbor.  It’s lovely. 
Ala Moana, Oahu

People in need of special sand navigating wheel chairs can borrow them making this beach accessible to everyone—a wonderful and important aspect of thoughtfulness.  If you’ve ever traveled with someone who had given up the beach and ocean because of the impossibility of walking on the sand, you would see how marvelous these vehicles are.  Additionally there are beach mats leading right to the water.  Follow this link to take a look at these:

Ala Moana, Oahu
Fishing and just enjoying the sun.
Everyone is happy.

Ala Moana, Oahu
Paddleboarders and swimmers
enjoy this ocean here.

Ala Moana, Oahu Ala Moana is actually a man-made beach “by the sea.” It is wide and beautiful.  The sand is not hot beneath our feet.  The atmosphere enhanced by the palm trees close to the streetside border is incredibly inviting and relaxing.  The water is calm almost the entire year because of a lava rock reef set out in the ocean.  But at certain times of the year, the area near the reef is perfect for surfers.   People like to do long distance swimming here in a deep water channel. There is enough ripple for people to stand-up paddleboard, swim, or just float around. 

Some people say this beach is the ideal spot to watch the sun set over the ocean. 

How great is this place?

Saturday, February 09, 2013


The view after what I hope will be the last snow storm of the season
Doesn't look like it, but we just about a foot of snow.
NEMO  February 8-9, 2013


Waikiki Beach
Waikiki is a slender crescent beach.
Diamondhead crater looms high above the far end.
 Hawaii doesn’t bill itself as Paradise without reason.  The beaches and beautiful waters offer more than a cool-off dunking.  Brochures advertise the splendid vistas, the spectacular snorkeling and scuba diving, and, of course, the monstrous waves that make Hawaii the surfer’s dream-come-true.  A lot of that is totally true.  If you’re the tourist here for the beaches, there is no way to sample all Oahu has to offer in one vacation. All beaches in Hawaii are open to the public.  Not all beaches are the same.  Once again, the “know thyself” advice I offered earlier ( comes into play.  What are you really here for?

Beaches in Hawaii have names and personalities.  For instance, you might be luxuriating in the calmest, swimming-friendly section of beach while looking at surfers riding waves just a short distance away. 

You can leave your hotel in Honolulu, head to the ocean, face in either direction, begin walking, and you will pass through beaches with individual names and personalities.  You might not even know it.  That’s not the way to do it.  It's better to know what to look for, and I will give you some hints as I talk about the beaches.

In Honolulu if you really want to, you can walk from the Hilton Hawaiian Village at one end of Waikiki (as a neighborhood) all the way to Kapiolani Park at the other end. There are very few places where you have to leave the sand and then only for short distances.   Granted that is a long walk, but for the avid beachgoer, that may be just what you are looking for.  Though the sand remains fundamentally unbroken, sections of beach have their own names.

Chances are you’ll want to begin with one of the most famous beaches in the world—Waikiki. Every generation has an imaginary link to this beach gleaned from some incredible picture, book, movie, or even by playing with a hula hoop, and no matter what you’re looking for, don’t pass up the opportunity to spend some time on Waikiki beach and swim in the Pacific here.  Even if it’s just to say you’ve done it—DO IT!

Honolulu, Hawaii
in front of the Royal Hawaiian

If you speak with friends who have been to Hawaii over the years, you will hear that Waikiki is not what it used to be.  It used to be much wider; it used to be less crowded, etc. etc.  All well and good, but the “used to be-s” should not distress you.  The crescent that stretches out beneath the looming presence of Diamondhead is still exciting and beautiful, and you can spread out the straw rollup mat you picked up as a freebie gift or in the local market to soak in some of what the sun and surf have to offer. 

Honolulu, Hawaii
the koi pond at the Sheraton
 The hotels that line Waikiki Beach are beautiful and picturesque.  There are public accesses to the beach, but you might as well thread your way through one of the hotels if you’re not already staying there.  On the one hand, this maneuvering is truly annoying; on the other hand, you might as well enjoy the art, the koi ponds, the luxurious stores, and the beachside bars and dining.  Roll with the punches, and don’t carry too much with you. 

Honolulu, Hawaii
Yes, here we're in front of the famous "pink hotel," the Royal Hawaiian

The umbrellas and lounges that border the hotels are, of course, for their guests, but there is plenty of room in front of them, and it’s very nice to be close to the water.  There are also beach walks in front of the hotels, so you can walk on those, rinse your feet in their showers when you leave, and generally not be concerned as you stroll from hotel to hotel.  There is the Spirit of Aloha to remember, and you will fit right into that laid-back state of mind. 

Honolulu, Hawaii
Here is the view from the beach walk in front of the hotels. 
Flowers, palm trees, and alohas from the people we pass.

I was surprised that Waikiki Beach did not fit into the picture my imagination had created, and initially I was a little disappointed.  But there is such a nice feeling on that beach.  The water is exquisite.  The first time we went in the water, Rob and I stayed for about 45 minutes, floating, talking, and observing.  It’s so calm we were able to really swim without fighting waves or currents as we so often do in ocean swimming.

Honolulu, Hawaii
Almost any kind of water fun is available on Waikiki
Everywhere we look, people are enjoying themselves.  Not only are there swimmers but also surfers (although from our hotel balcony we learn that there are certain times of the day and evening when the surf is better and there are many more surfers out there), paddle boarders of all ages, boogie boarders, and wind surfers. Different double-hulled catamarans, smaller Hoby Cats, and other “tourist” vessels like outrigger canoes come to shore boarding or disembarking passengers, joggers trot along the fringe, and there are any variety of other beach activities going on.  All of this activity marks Waikiki Beach as ideal for people watching as well.  It is the hub or Honolulu, and there is always something interesting going on.  It is quite lovely. 

Frankly, although we were only two blocks from the beach, we didn’t enjoy carrying our things and weaving through the hotels with them, and with so many other beaches available, we found more user-friendly ones with no problem at all.  This was the only day we spent on Waikiki Beach, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  And we came back on several evenings for a sunset libation and a very peaceful end of the day.

Monday, February 04, 2013


I’m a fan of Anne Tyler’s quirky but very human characters who stumble their way over life’s hurdles, so it is no surprise that I added The Beginner’s Goodbye to The Accidental Tourist and Breathing Lessons as novels I have smiled and winced through.  I always recognize Tyler’s lifelike characters and their struggles, and they move me.

Tyler sets the hook quickly.  Her opening sentence,

 “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.”

 misled me to thinking Beginner’s Goodbye would be another Harvey.  How silly of me!  Tyler doesn’t imitate.  She explores new realms in age-old problems somehow bringing to the surface the conflicts and truths that seem hard for most of us to recognize.  She does it in a remarkably easy flowing style that makes for quick and enjoyable reading.  I read Beginner’s Goodbye in two days.  I didn’t want to put it down.  We were on vacation.  In the right circumstance at home, I would have made myself comfortable and read it in one sitting.  It’s easy to see why.

Aaron Woolcott sees his deceased wife, Dorothy, in various spots around his Baltimore neighborhood.  She didn’t come back immediately after dying but almost a year later after Aaron moved back with his sister, Nandina, sent all the necessary thank-you notes for the food and niceties left by his neighbors, fell into some new routines, and still wondered if he could ever handle the hole in him caused by Dorothy’s death.  Perhaps in her re-appearance lies the answer, but how to find that answer lies the problem.

Anne Tyler introduces us to a host of characters, each quirky in some way and with some self-imposed shield of protection from life.  Even deceased Dorothy, by profession a doctor, is named after Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz and is not your usual MD. 

Quirky but also very human.  Aaron’s neighbors demonstrate something universal about how we feel when someone we know loses a loved one.  What are we to say?  Do we talk about that person or do we avoid talking about that person?  How do we act as time passes? 

Aaron knows he has to live through this, but he explains it so succinctly:

“That was one of the worst things about losing your wife, I found: your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with.”  What the “all” is doesn’t matter; all is everything.

The intriguing twists and turns of Anne Tyler’s plot kept me reading.  I got to know the characters well and could picture each one in all his/her strangeness.  I smiled, even laughed aloud on a few occasions.  I got choked up and even teary-eyed at other spots.  I wanted them all to find the way through their tribulations.

Because it is a fast read and a good one, it works well as a travel book, and I did Kindle it from our public library.  Oh yes, and it is a positive book about life and love and change.  You might want to look into that. 

Saturday, February 02, 2013


Ships in Aruba
I thought his made for an eerie juxtaposition in the waning light of day in Aruba. 
What a lovely island.