Thursday, January 29, 2009

This blog update will not be posted until tomorrow when we are in Ushuaia, which is called “fin del mundo” or end of the world. Today is Elaine’s 62nd birthday. We stayed out late last night, partying and dancing with Joe & Carla and some of our new friends from this cruise, so we were able to celebrate her birthday starting at midnight. This means we both are definitely feeling our age today! Tonight Joe & Carla, Madelyn & George are going to treat us to a special dinner at Chops, one of the upscale restaurants on board (for which there is a cover charge), as a wedding present and birthday celebration.
What a memorable day to have a birthday – we are rounding Cape Horn at about 3 PM today. I was trying to remember where I was on my 62nd birthday and Elaine reminded me that we were on a flight to Istanbul, another memorable day. Yesterday we attended a lecture about rounding the Horn and the guy showed a video made by a man who sailed around the Horn on a big 4 masted sailboat in 1929. It was a huge ship with hundreds of sailors on board and some of his pictures were incredible, especially the ones where water was washing over the deck in huge waves and they had to have rope nets stretched above the railings to catch the men that were washed over. Even with that, they still lost several. He described sleeping in wet clothes because there was no place to dry them. I’m glad we are having a much more comfy trip than his!
The weather has turned much colder and when we were doing the morning walk-a-mile I was wearing my lined leather jacket, gloves, and a knitted hat and I was comfortable until the wind really picked up. Quite a change from just a short time ago when we were sweating and wishing for cooler weather when we were in Montevideo and Buenos Aires. So far the seas are pretty calm, and we are hoping they stay that way. Everyone on board is interested in every little detail about this cruise, even the crew, as this ship has never done this route before. The ship is being moved from the Caribbean to the west coast for the first time and it is too big to go through the Panama Canal, thus this repositioning cruise. In fact, when we were in Buenos Aires, there was much excitement there about our arrival because it is the biggest ship that has ever docked there. As we went up river on the Rio de la Plata towards Buenos Aires, we had to go very slowly because there was only about 3 feet of water under the keel. The water also looked very brown, and there were lots of ships in the channel. As we left the shipping channel on our way out, we saw the Queen Mary 2 waiting for us to leave so she could enter. It was just too narrow for 2 huge ships like these to pass each other. The large size of this ship will also be a factor tomorrow because we will have to be tendered into Ushuaia instead of docking there.
Elaine and I were here before. In 2001 when we were poking around South America in our VW van, we drove down here with our friends Wolfie & Ilona Ogorek, from Germany. They are still traveling all over South America and we sent them our schedule, so we are hoping that they will surprise us by showing up tomorrow. We have already set up a meeting tomorrow with Rick & Kathy Howe, a couple from the World Wide Travelers BOF, in the Escapees RV Club. They have been traveling through Central and South America in their small RV for over a year and we have been enjoying their travel reports. We have not met them in person before although we feel like we know them because of internet contacts. They asked us to bring enchilada sauce and butter rum lifesavers. Kind of interesting to see what people miss from the USA that can’t be obtained down here.
Life on the ship for the past 4 days has been very pleasant. We have had a chance to recover from the hectic days in port and also get caught up on laundry. Additionally, we have returned to our exercise routine, now that Elaine is almost 100% recovered from her respiratory illness. That illness has been sweeping through our group, and also the entire ship, judging by the amount of coughing we hear when we go to a lecture or the theater. Because a lot of our group members bought antibiotics in Uruguay and started taking them early in their illnesses, almost everyone has recovered quickly. Unfortunately, Pierre, from Park Sierra, has been down and out for about 4 days now and we are quite concerned about him as he is 80. Only his wife, Barbara, and myself, have escaped getting this and we are working hard to keep it that way. Hopefully we will learn that he is doing better today.
One pleasant development has been that we have acquired a whole new group of friends because our status as Diamond members of the Crown and Anchor Society allows us to go to the Lotus Lounge every evening between 5 and 8 for appetizers and cocktails free of charge. It started out as a group of Gay guys and us sitting together and mushroomed into a diverse group of gay and straight, young and old, American and European all schmoozing together. We are also meeting a lot of people at the exercise classes we attend every day and on the walk-a-mile twice a day.
I’ll close for now and give you another report from Valparaiso, Chile in a few days. Hoping that all is going well for all of you “back home”.
UPdate: It is now 1-29-09 and we are in Ushuaia. Elaine had a wonderful BD dinner and is looking younger than ever, as she is almost 100 percent recovered from her illness. Pierre is also recovering but now Barbara is sick. Mary Fountain had to go on IV antibiotics at the ship infirmary and is now much better too. We are going to hit a pharmacy today to try to get more antibiotics, just in case!
When we arrived here it was sunny and beautiful and within an hour it was raining. We met Rick & Kathy Howe, the RVers who are down here and saw their RV and had a nice visit. Last night, as we were sailing here through the Beagle Channel there were gorgeous views the whole time, right from our dinner table. Ken said he could see penguins on lots of the little islands. We just saw the white guano! More later from Valparaiso.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This will be only a verbal blog entry with no pictures, as I don’t have much time and I am going to the internet place in the terminal and hope that it works today. We are in Buenos Aires, and we leave today at 5:30, so I would hate to miss the ship! We arrived about 11 AM yesterday and spent some time in the downtown shopping area, the rather upscale Recoleta area, and the Evita Museum. There was a big fiasco with trying to change money without a passport (because they keep them on the ship), and this ate up a bunch of our time. Today we went with Joe & Carla and started out on the Metro. There are about 5 subway lines which are cheap and easy to use, as well as safe. We tried 4 of the lines because they each have different types of cars (some are ancient) and different decorative tiles in the stations. Then we took a taxi to an old port area called La Boca, which used to be where the Italian immigrants lived. It has been renovated and the buildings are painted so many bright colors, and there is lots of life on the streets. Today there was an outdoor market. Of course, we stopped at an outdoor café and tried a local beer called Quilmes. It was good. I also had a dulce de leche ice ceam – practically the national flavor. That also was good. We had some trouble catching a taxi back to the ship because they all wanted a set price of $10 and refused to use their meters. We walked a few blocks and finally got a taxi back and the price was about $6, using the meter. We hate it when tourists are exploited and we refuse to perpetuate it.
Of course, coming into the port yesterday brought back many memories of 2001 when we stayed in a nearby park here in our VW camper van and arranged to have it shipped back to the USA. Then we drove it to this port and put it in a container and moved to a hotel and arranged a flight to La Paz, Bolivia. While waiting to fly out, we had several days of enjoyable exploring of Buenos Aires, which seems very European in many ways. Because of our time here then, we didn’t feel a lot of pressure to rush around this time to see everything.
Before we arrived here, we had a day in Montevideo, Uruguay. What a delightful little colonial town that was! They have made it very easy to see because they supply everyone with good maps and a nice walking tour, and have tourist police on every corner ready to protect and assist. We walked around and took tons of pictures, visited a Gaucho museum in a wonderful old mansion, Joe got a haircut for $4, we had a tour of the renovated theater called Teatro Solis, and tried a local beer with some pizza. Later we wish we had waited and eaten at the Mercado not too far from the terminal because it reminded us a lot of the mercados in Mexico and Central America and the food was always good and usually cheap there. There are beautiful parks and fabulous buildings and the people were friendly and happy to have us there.
Today the terminal here in Buenos Aires is totally impacted with people because 2 cruise ships came in and emptied out and now they are filling them back up again and it is CHAOS. In a few minutes I have to go over there to the internet place to try to send this. Once we leave here today, we will have 5 days of cruising before we arrive in Ushuaia, so don’t expect to hear from us until then. We will be recovering from 3 straight port days and hopefully having some restful sea days. Elaine has been sick with the respiratory crap that has been affecting about 75% of the people on the ship, but she is getting better now after buying some antibiotics in Uruguay. Surprisingly, you can buy them there with no problem but here in Argentina you have to have a prescription. I am planning to remain 100% healthy this whole trip.
If you have e-mailed us and we haven’t answered it is because we don’t have time but we will catch up once we get back to CA. Please forgive us. Adios Amigos until Ushuaia.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 21, 2009
Again we are at sea, well on our way to Montevideo, Uruguay where we will dock tomorrow at about 9 AM. This is our second sea day, after a wonderful day exploring Rio de Janeiro. The most wonderful part was actually the afternoon we sailed in. It was a beautiful, sunny day and our captain took the ship right straight towards the city and the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, having the mountain of Corcovado with the statue of Christ the Redeemer on top to the left, and the granite peak called Sugarloaf on the right.


Then he swung the ship to the right and glided us past the beaches and around most of the city to the port area. We could see the unique way that this city is built with granite peaks called morros scattered throughout, beautiful beaches with high rise buildings behind them, and slums called favelas built up the hillsides in the background.

After we docked, quite a few people went off to have dinner and see a show in the city, but we elected to stay on board, knowing that we had a full day tour scheduled for the next day.
At 8AM we were met by our tour guides, Neyla and Jerry, who took us in 2 groups of 10 in 2 air conditioned and comfortable vans. Unfortunately, the day started out being rather overcast, and we had changeable weather all day. First we went to Sugarloaf mountain, which involved taking 2 cable cars as it is about 1300 feet high.

Once we got up there, we waited a while to see if it might clear so that we could see the city spread out below us. Eventually, that is what happened, although it was never as totally clear as it had been as we were sailing in the day before. We took lots of pictures of the views, and also saw one very large iguana and lots of smaller lizards running all over the slopes below us. Because this day was a holiday, the traffic was a lot less than normal, which made it nice for driving around. But it also meant that lots of Brazilians were also visiting the places that we wanted to see. When we arrived at the cog railway station to catch the train up Corcovado to see Christ the Redeemer, there were hundreds of people there already! Neyla got the tickets and we all waited about an hour before we were able to catch the train. It goes through a rainforest park, Tijuca National Park, on the way which has beautiful trees and flowers, and probably lots of animals as well, but not when the trains are running. Here we are on the train with Ken & Carolyn, Joe & Carla.

It is the largest national park within a city in the world. At the top, we had to take an elevator and 2 escalators to the bottom of the statue, where again, there were hundreds of people. Also, the sun had disappeared and it was overcast; but we still managed to get a few good pictures. The statue is so big (100 feet tall), that I had to lay down on the pavement and shoot up at it with Carla, Joe and Elaine standing right near me in order to get them in the picture with the statue.

The views of the city should have been fabulous from there, but the mist was floating in and out, obscuring our views. Then we had to wait in line again in order to get the train back down.
Our guides had planned for a large Brazilian buffet lunch, but after all the huge meals we have been having on the ship, and after learning that the cost would be about $35 per person, we opted out. So they took us to a hill where there were some overlooks of the beaches and the city. Here we are with Joe & Carla at the viewpoint:

Neyla also bought a jackfruit, and opened it up for all of us to taste. It grows very well here, and we saw lots of fruits on the trees as we took the train up to Corcovado. Then they drove all along Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana Beaches and dropped us off at Leme beach. We could see that there were thousands of beach goers wearing rather brief suits, and even a few really fantastic sand castles.

We found a shady area where we could buy a local beer and take in the beach, the people, and the high rise apartments and hotels lining the beach. Then our guides returned us to the ship. Overall, it had been a most interesting day because we also saw a lot of the city while driving between the various venues we visited. It was a warm evening as we pulled away from the dock and sailed out of Guanabara Bay with the lights of the city sparkling in the distance. We were happy that there would be 2 sea days to get to Montevideo because we all needed a rest!
Yesterday Elaine woke up with the respiratory illness that has been clobbering our group, so she hasn’t been going to any exercise classes and we mostly rested the past 2 days, with just a little walking up on deck today. We want to be in tip top shape for walking around the old city part of Montevideo tomorrow. Last night was another formal night and we enjoyed having Madelyn and George with us at our table, now that they have joined our group for the second and third legs. Of course, we miss Dwayne and Dorothy, Charlie and Marla, and Susan and Clay, all of whom have returned to Houston. The ship is much busier now that about 600 Brazilians have come on board in Rio. Apparently the late dinner seating is quite boisterous as they like to eat very late in these South American countries, and stay up late partying afterwards.
Today at sea we have had calm waters and sunny skies. This is quite a change after yesterday, when we had gale force winds and huge waves which were bashing the ship and making loud banging sounds. We kind of expected that this might happen once we get down by the tip near Ushuaia, but not here, where we have been having fairly hot and humid weather and only small waves. The prediction is for mid-80’s tomorrow and we hope that is true. The 2 days after that will be spent in Buenos Aires. Elaine and I spent about a week here in 2001 when we were arranging to have our VW van shipped back to the USA after our 8 month exploration of South America. It will be interesting to see it again, and perhaps explore areas we missed then. Don’t know when the next travel report will be posted because of all these port days, but keep checking because I promise it will eventually appear.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hello from the somewhere between Salvador de Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Yesterday we were in port in Bahia and it was nice to be back on land after 5 days at sea. Of course, there was no time to be bored on those 5 sea days because there always are so many activities going on as well as nice places such as the pool deck or solarium where some rest and relaxation can take place.
It was interesting as we approached Bahia because we started to see birds near the ship, then we could see buildings on the distant shore, as well as lots of small fishing boats. Once we started to go into the bay, there were many boats and ships of every size, but no other cruise ships, which was a first for this trip. Always there have been other cruise ships at each port. It is also interesting to see the layout of the town and the different areas as we get closer and closer to the dock. Bahia is a huge city of about 3 million, but the main tourist part is the old city, or Cidade Alta. It is called this because it is high on a cliff, with the lower city, or Cidade Baxia below it. This is the scruffier area that we had to go through to get to the old (and high) city. Unfortunately, both the guidebooks and some of the so-called experts on board all gave grave warnings about the dangers of being mugged or having your pocket picked, told how dangerous walking the streets is, etc. so most of the people on the ship booked tours. We however, always feel comfortable walking around these places since it is broad daylight, and we know enough to take the proper precautions, such as wearing no jewelry and using a money belt under our clothes for valuables. Actually, we just took very little money with us, and we made sure to go in a group. Ten of us walked through the port area together and took the Lacerda Elevator to the upper city. It is a huge elevator tower with at least 4 big elevators in it which carries people between the two parts of town at a very rapid rate. Because it is primarily there for the regular population, it was very cheap to use at .05 Reals per ride. There are 2.5 Reals per dollar. Once we all reached the top, Joe and Carla went with Elaine and me, while the 6 Houston friends all went off together. It is just too cumbersome to explore anywhere in a group bigger than 4. And we hate traveling by “committee”!
Many of the tour groups from the ship were there ahead of us so we went to an internet place for 30 minutes to clean out our mailbox and real e-mails while the crowds cleared. The internet places were also cheap at 2 Reals per 30 minutes. Thanks everyone who sent us a newsy e-mail. We enjoyed them all although there was no time for individual responses. It was nice that the internet place was somewhat air conditioned, as it was a hot and humid day, with plenty of sun. We all were sweating copiously after only a short time away from the air conditioned ship. Elaine and I enjoy the warm and humid weather better than everyone else does. It makes our skin look younger and I even have thicker looking hair with some curl in it!
Then we explored some of the places of historical interest. There are about 166 churches here, but we only went into 3 of them and those only because they had been highly recommended in the guidebooks. One of them had the most fantastic ceiling which had largely been covered in gold leaf, and also some impressive side altars as well as the sacristy. Another had a front façade of sandstone carved in a mix of rococo and churrigueresque. (I’m sure I am misspelling that but it is an architectural style that we have seen in Mexico and which is very distinctive).

Inside this church, which was the Church of St. Francisco, there were many blue tiles from the 17th and 18th century with scenes on them of not only Bahia in the past but also Lisbon from before the devastating earthquake there in 1755.

Of course, Brazil is a former Portuguese colony, everyone here speaks that language, and we noticed many similarities to Portugal in Bahia.
There is so much more to Bahia than just the churches. There are many other colonial buildings in the upper city and they have been delightfully painted in pastel colors and many have cornices with ferns or other plants on them.

The streets are mostly cobblestone and as we strolled along, enjoying all the life on the streets and the vibrancy of the place, we felt right at home because there were so many street artists and vendors with all their wares such as we are used to from Mexico and Central America. The art is so colorful and innovative; we were sorry we couldn’t buy a lot of it – so we took pictures.

The people are also interesting as this was the biggest slave port in Brazil and Bahia has the highest percentage of Africans in Brazil, as well as mixed race people. There is a lot of African culture mixed into the Portuguese culture here and it is easily seen in the costumes, food, handicrafts, dancing, etc. We stopped to try one of the local beers and it was excellent. It was so much fun just to walk around in the streets!

On our way back to the ship, we took the elevator back down to the lower level and stopped to see the huge Mercado Modelo. This had a lot of small stalls with handicrafts as well as cheap food places, a produce section, etc. We also bought some soft drinks in a local store to take back to the ship. Everywhere the people were helpful and friendly. In this part of the city there were a lot of areas of broken up cobblestones, graffiti on the buildings, litter, and areas where there was a strong urine smell. This really influenced how a lot of people from the ship felt about this town, since we heard a lot of negative reports when we were back on the ship. We four had a wonderful day and thought the town was worth coming back to, since we missed a few places we wanted to see.
Tonight is the last formal dinner of this leg of the trip, and we are hoping it is also lobster night. Tomorrow we will arrive in Rio at about 3 in the afternoon, and the next day is the day our Houston friends will be leaving us, as they are only doing the first leg. The rest of us will be taking an all day tour, which has been arranged ahead of time by Tom & Rocki Blair. That is also the day that many of us are supposed to move to a different cabin, so we will have to be packed and our room stewards will move our stuff while we are touring. It will be interesting to see how they handle all the associated paperwork, change of Sea Pass cards, etc. Also, there will be nearly a thousand more passengers on this leg, which starts in Rio and ends in Valparaiso, Chile, going around the Horn. It has been nice having a ship that isn’t full, as it is easier to use the exercise room, get food in the Windjammer, etc. Hopefully, all the changes coming up won’t be negative ones!
I will post another report after our tour of Rio, and after we have been established in our new room and at our new dining tables. Until then, we hope that all is going well for all of you back home and we are sending you big hugs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blog Update 1/11/09
Hello from the Mariner of the Seas somewhere between Barbados and Brazil, our next destination. It is day 8 of our cruise, and we are enjoying it immensely. The weather has been sunny, warm, and somewhat humid, but enjoyable. Today there is a rather strong wind blowing across the upper deck where we walk for exercise, so we are doing most of that inside. The exercise and weight room is large and well-equipped and we have been using it a lot on days when we are at sea. Of course, on port days we have enjoyed exploring the islands, places that we have never visited before.
Our first day on board was busy because we were reconnecting with our friends and getting established in our rooms. Of course, our dining table assignments had been all screwed up by CruCon, the agency that most of us booked with. So although we have 22 people in our group on board, only 10 were assigned to the same table for dinner, and the rest of us were scattered all over. Elaine and I visited the man in charge of seating 3 times before we managed to arrange another table for the leftover 12. Luckily we got a wonderful gal as our waiter and the assistant is good too, and we have been periodically exchanging a few people between our 2 tables, so that everyone can get to know each other. Next we have to make sure that they give us two tables together for the next leg of the cruise, which starts in Rio on Jan. 19.
Another thing CruCon messed up was the room assignments. Most of us have been assigned to three different rooms for the 3 legs of this 46 day cruise, so we will have to move twice. Pretty inconvenient. So we are recommending that no one EVER books with CruCon ever again. The price of the cruises dropped twice between the time we booked and when we sailed, and we insisted on a refund each time, so they are probably doing it as punishment. Next time we will wait until the last minute to book, expecting the prices to drop, and also book directly with Royal Caribbean.
The first port of call we had, after leaving Port Canaveral, was a private island in the Bahamas, owned by Royal Caribbean, called Coco Cay. It is really very well set up, with beautiful coves for swimming and snorkeling, lots of lounges to sunbathe on, a nice area with covered tables for eating lunch, a sand volleyball court, a Straw Market where natives sell local stuff, and a nature trail of about 1 ½ miles. The barbeque lunch was delicious, and we really enjoyed it after walking the nature trail both ways. The weather was perfect too – sunny and warm. The water in the Caribbean is always such a beautiful blue, it is hard to imagine not having a good time at such a place.
Our second port of call was St. Maarten, a small island which is the name of the Dutch side of the island where we docked. Phillipsburg had many nice shops and services, but was pretty touristy and we didn’t want to spend all our time there. So we went with Joe and Carla Calwell on the public bus (which was actually a van), over to the French side, to Marigot. Here we walked around and enjoyed the different architecture and better ambiance, especially near the waterfront. Then we took another minivan to an even smaller French town called Grand Case. This was quiet and scenic and we liked it a lot. There were small BBQ restaurants called LowLows near the beach, where we ate chicken and tried the local beer: Carib, and liked it a lot. When we first arrived on this island, we wondered why Joe & Carla’s son and his wife had selected it for their honeymoon. After enjoying the French side so much, and finding the smaller towns, we agreed with their choice!
St Kitts was our next island the next day and here there was a lot of British influence, although the island is now independent. Basseterre was the town a short stroll from our pier. Because we were only going to be there until 3PM, we again went with Joe & Carla and this time we contracted a minivan driver and tour guide named Jim to take us around the island. Jim was such an interesting and intelligent man who told us so much about the island and his price was very reasonable at $20 per person for about a 4 hour tour. We drove by the sights in Basseterre and then he showed us some Carib petroglyphs which happened to be located right near the place where Jim was born and raised. These were about 4100 years old, so the island has been inhabited for a very long time. Unfortunately, the native Indians were killed in a bloody battle between them and the Europeans who were fighting over the island, and those that weren’t killed were removed. Our next stop was Romney Manor, which used to be owned by Thomas Jefferson’s great, great, great grandfather. Joe and Carla told us that Alexander Hamilton also had history in the islands, as he was originally from Nevis. I wonder how many other plantation owners important at the time of our nation’s beginnings were transplanted from other Caribbean islands, where they no doubt also owned plantations. Romney Manor house no longer exists but the grounds were extensive with many beautiful plants and an African Saman tree that is so old and large that it covers over ½ acre. There is a big Batik factory and saleroom there now and we had a brief look at the process and the beautiful results. We didn’t buy anything, as we were hurrying to move along on the island tour, but even I (the non-shopper) now wish that we had stayed a bit longer there as the goods were absolutely beautiful and not overly expensive. Next we drove up a very steep road to a tall hill where Brimstone Hill Fortress is now a national park and a UNESCO world heritage site. The fort, which was started in 1690, has been beautifully restored and has well-done and interesting displays about life in the fort, medical care, the soldiers, the history of it, etc., as well as stunning views from the top. There are lots of cannon that have also been restored and returned to the fort. It was well worth the $8 entry fee. As we rounded the island, Jim showed us an area of unusual black volcanic rock formations and also the place where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic. You can tell because the waves come in at about a 45 degree angle from each other. The Atlantic waters are rougher when they hit the shore too. The last place we drove around was the expensive area near Frigate Beach. Here there are huge houses and estates, a 900 room hotel, several golf courses, and was in great contrast to the way people live all over the rest of the island. Jim told us so many things about the way of life of the majority of the people and we were happy we had taken his tour. You can probably find his services on line as his company is called Rose and Jim’s, and I had previously read about him on the Cruise Critic website.
Yesterday we were in Barbados, which is a larger island and also does not have the towering mountains of the other islands. We stayed in Bridgetown, a large city near the port. Nine of us from our group rented a taxi which took us to a heritage house which used to be owned by an early plantation family which was also active in the politics and government. The house was very open and airy and had lots of interesting antiques and photographs. Outside there were examples of slave huts, a chattel house, outhouse, rum house, blacksmith shop, and a few other small support buildings. After being dropped back in the city, Carla, Joe, Elaine and I enjoyed seeing the very old Anglican church, Parliament buildings, and the restored marina area along the river. Of course, we had to try the local beer here, which is Banks beer. We liked Carib beer better.
Today is the first of 5 straight sea days and we are glad to have them. Three straight port days was physically exhausting. On sea days we enjoy working out, soaking in the hot tub, visiting with friends over meals, and many of the other activities such as lectures, dance lessons, mini-golf, etc. Last night instead of the usual live entertainment in the theater after dinner, we went to the first ice show. It was really well done and so much better than the ones on the Navigator of the Seas trip we did in November. The food is much better on this ship as well. Tonight will be the second formal night at dinner. We will also use these sea days to catch up on laundry and do some research for the next port, which will be Salvador de Bahia, our first Brazil port.
We have checked e-mail once for messages from family and friends and I will be posting this entry from the ship’s internet service. At 55 cents a minute, I hope it doesn’t take long! We will also do the internet in Salvador, so please feel free to send us a newsy message! Look for another blog update after we arrive there.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

1/4/09 Happy New Year, Blog Readers! This posting is being written in Cocoa Beach, FL where we are mostly packed for our cruise, which starts later today. Our ship leaves from Port Canaveral, Fl, which is nearby. Ken & Carolyn are going to spend the day at the Kennedy Space Center, which is also nearby. We have been there before and enjoyed it very much. We are going to explore the area a bit and go on the ship early so we can workout in the gym. Since we have been in FL we haven't had a chance to work out but we have been walking every day.
In our last post, we mentioned that we were hoping that we wouldn't have any weather problems in Chicago, when our flight stopped there briefly. Guess what - the problem was in San Diego, of all places! We arrived the night before our flight and all flights coming in were canceled because of fog. So, although there was no fog the morning we were leaving, our flight was delayed over 2 hours because we had to wait for a plane to come into the San Diego airport! We arrived in Orlando about 7PM, got our rental car, found our motel, and had a very late meal at the nearby IHop. Even though we were so close to Disney World that we could have seen the midnight fireworks from there, we were so tired that we slept through them!
The next 2 days we spent visiting our friends, Milt and Beth Bourassa, in Lady Lake, FL. They are retired and Beth is a volunteer docent at the Carriage Museum, which is a private museum owned by Carol Austin, who made a fortune by co-founding Paychex. There are over 160 carriages there, most of them beautifully restored, and we enjoyed several hours browsing through there.

Mary, Beth and Elaine near a horse sculpture at the museum.
The grounds are also extensive and beautiful, since Mrs. Austin believes the the carriages should be functional and she uses them to give carriage rides on the property. So she also has over 20 horses there. Upon arrival, we went over to the nearby fenced field where Gracie, the miniature horse, was pulling a very small carriage with a child in it having a driving lesson. Here is a picture showing how small the horse is compared to the trainer!

Inside the museum, the carriages are beautifully presented, along with many of the accoutrements, such as the tack, costumes of the footmen and drivers, picnic baskets, photos of the restoration process, etc. The most impressive carriage was one of only 2 built for and used by Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. Mrs. Austin even had replicas of the horses especially made for this carriage.

Another interesting exhibit was the one on carriages and horses used by fire fighting companies. The horses were trained to react immediately to the fire bell and they would go to their assigned places where their harnesses and tack were suspended so they could be quickly hitched up. Their hitch-up time was often under a minute! There were also wagons and carriages from wild west days, an ice wagon, a produce wagon, a traveling salesman wagon, and many other types of commercial wagons.

After the carriage museum, we took Beth and Milt out to lunch in a nearby town to thank them for their hospitality. Beth selected a restaurant called the Cotillion, which features Southern cooking, and which was full of delightful antiques and old time ambiance. The food was abundant and really delicious. Here is a picture of Milt, Beth and Elaine inside the restaurant:

Yesterday we left Lady Lake and drove here to Cocoa Beach, stopping in Orlando to do a little shopping. Last night we had dinner with Joe & Carla Calwell when they arrived. By coincidence, when we booked a hotel using Priceline and ended up at the Holiday Inn, right across the street from the La Quinta, where they were staying! Of course, later today we will be seeing all of the friends who have booked this cruise, when we meet for dinner on the ship. So this will be the last post until we find an internet cafe at one of our ports. Bon Voyage!