Thursday, December 31, 2009

12/31/09 Happy New Year, Blog readers! Sure hope you all have a nice celebration this evening, and a wonderful year in 2010.
We have now left the Everglades National Park and are situated at the Miccosukee Indian Casino on the outskirts of Miami. Not only is this good for free parking, but it is located fairly near the storage yard where we will leave our rig when we go on our upcoming cruises. Tomorrow we will pack and the next day we are off again on the Majesty of the Seas. Probably there will be some events happening here this evening, including fireworks, so we are positioned to take part in whatever happens.
Everglades National Park was quite a pleasant place to be over the Christmas holidays, as the campground was nearly deserted. Here is a picture of our rig in our campsite in the Long Pine Key Campground, which is the one which is closest to the entrance and the Coe Visitor Center.

It was nice to be in that campground because there was no Verizon signal in the campground, but was a short drive to the Visitor Center where we could use the phone and our air card to access the internet. The added benefit was that there were fewer mosquitoes there than in the other campground down by Florida Bay, called Flamingo.
The reason there were so many mosquitoes at this time is because just the week before we went there, the area had a huge amount of rain in a very short time, even causing some flooding in Miami. Usually by this time of the year it is the dry season and mosquitoes are not a problem. Must be another ramification of global warming!!! Because of our Golden Age Pass, the cost was only $8 per night, and there was a nice hiking trail right by the campground. The visitor’s center had some interesting movies about the park which helped educate us about the environment and also helped us decide which activities to sign up for.
The first day we drove down to the Flamingo area which is 38 miles from the entrance. On the way we passed the following sign, which gives you an idea of what the topography of this area is like:

The Everglades is the only area in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist. Down by the Flamingo marina, we saw this alligator, which was out on the bank sunning herself:

Later in the week, on our canoe trip, we saw a 13 foot crocodile. Didn’t get a good picture of it, so I can’t put it here. Part of the reason for that was that we were keeping our distance! This was one of the trips that is offered free by the rangers and they even provide the canoes, life jackets, and paddles. We paddled around 9 Mile Pond, which involved a lot of narrow passages between mangrove areas, and the weather was absolutely perfect while we were out there. Quite a delightful afternoon.

The other really fun excursion we did was a bike hike with a ranger. The bikes, helmets and water were provided for free and the bikes were really good ones, which helped a lot. Part of it was in a heavily wooded area where there were lots of mosquitoes, but the rest was in a more open area where we weren’t so bothered. Here is Elaine on her bike, and me with part of our group:

Crossing the road we biked on was this crawdad:

Further along, there was a small pond with this frog in it:

In the weeds on the side of the pond we saw a cottonmouth, one of the poisonous snakes that live in this park, but it slithered further into the undergrowth and I couldn’t get a picture. There are 4 types of poisonous snakes here, and quite a few non-poisonous ones. Of course, there are LOTS of birds here which can be easily seen in all the shallow small ponds:

There are also numerous short hikes, which are often on boardwalks because they cross such wet and boggy areas. Here is Elaine on the boardwalk leading to the Mahogany Hammock hike. French trappers who used these areas in days gone by called them “hammocks” because they were used as resting places.

There was also a night walk on the Anhinga Trail, another boardwalk trail, which enabled us to see at least 15 alligators, most of which were hanging in the water. There wasn’t enough light to get any good pictures, but enough to see the alligators, gars, and Great Blue Herons that were prevalent.
Now that we are back in areas where we have good internet access, we have been trying to catch up on e-mails and also make some more travel arrangements for upcoming cruises. End of the year paperwork is also taking lots of time. Even though it sounds like we just travel all the time, normal life goes on and we have to deal with it. It makes us wonder, how did we ever handle everything before the internet???!!!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

12/25/09 HAPPY HOLIDAYS 2009

Merry Christmas from the Florida Everglades National Park. This year started with us flying to Florida to catch the Mariner of the Seas, going Around the Horn, and it is ending with us here, having just completed a TransAtlantic cruise back from Barcelona on the Voyager of the Seas. And in this, our 16th year of RVing, there were lots of RV adventures in between. The motivation behind all this travel, as always, is to see and do everything we can while we are still enjoying good health. As the years pass, it seems that more and more of our friends are sidelined by health issues, and our hopes for a rapid recovery go out to all of you currently dealing with these concerns.
Some of you have been keeping up with our doings by periodically checking our blog at, so you may remember some of the events of our year. The Around the Horn cruise between January 3 and February 19 was certainly a highlight. There were many interesting ports of call in the Caribbean, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, and Mexico before docking in Los Angeles. The really fun part though was the social scene with all the friends on the ship. There were lots of RV friends who joined us and we made many new cruise friends in the Diamond lounge at Happy Hour. E-Mails and Facebook have allowed us to easily keep in touch with these far-flung friends and it has greatly enhanced our travels this year to visit those who lived along our travel route. Thank you everyone who hosted us and not only fed us delicious meals and showed us around, but shared your lives and stories with us more fully.
After a too-short stay at Park Sierra, our home RV park in late Feb, we dealt with some rental issues and medical stuff in northern California and then headed for Arizona, searching for warmth. Some time in Anza Borrego and also Yuma and Tucson with family and friends soon warmed us up. In early April we started the long trek north, the goal being a summer tour of Newfoundland. Social visits interspersed with sightseeing adventures kept us busy all through Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. Of course, we had a great time with my twin in Denver and Elaine’s sisters on the family farm in Illinois. An unexpected treat was a highly successful fishing excursion on a hidden lake in the UP of Michigan with our friend, George, where the fish nearly jumped into the boat. Unfortunately, I can’t mention everyone we visited and all the great times we had because this letter would become a novel, but you know who you are and we greatly enjoyed our time with you all.
Then it was time to cross into Canada and start the long haul to the Newfoundland ferry. After an enjoyable break to visit friends from our Africa trip who live in Ontario, and old friends in Quebec from our very first adventures on the road 16 years ago, we caught the ferry from Nova Scotia to St. John’s, Newfoundland on June 24. A wonderful summer of exploring unique places, meeting friendly people, and learning about the geography and history of this island was ahead of us. One of the best parts was how easy it was to find scenic and free places to stay in our RV. Often we had views of seashores, waterfalls, ponds or mountains. Newfie people are famous for being welcoming, gregarious and generous, something we experienced and enjoyed everywhere we went. At one of our first stops, we parked within 50 feet of the shore not far from a convenience store. The owner not only provided us with free ice, but everyday a newspaper was left outside our door. Another highlight was the Twillingate music festival, where we camped with about 6 rigs of SKP Boomers, and marveled over the many icebergs in Durrell cove, nearby. The west coast of Newfoundland is perhaps the most scenic, with Gros Morne National Park being the most famous and spectacular. Unfortunately, our time there was cut short by rainy and windy weather, something that had been all too prevalent off and on all summer. So we cut our visit short in mid-August and returned to the USA to continue our travels down the East Coast.
Having explored the East coast very infrequently, we decided not to go to India, as we had previously planned, but just spend all our time meandering south as the weather cooled. Happily, once again our explorations were interspersed with social times with friends and family in Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida. We revisited Arcadia NP, enjoyed Cape Cod, visited New York City, went to Mystic Seaport, explored Gettysburg, Harper’s Ferry, Monticello, Mt. Vernon, Smokey Mt. NP, Dollywood, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Asheville. There is so much history on the East Coast and we tried to learn a lot of it; now the trick will be to remember some of it!!
Since arriving in Florida in late October, we have been staying off and on at the SKP park near Bushnell, visiting friends on the west coast near N. Ft. Myers, and we have taken a short cruise in the Caribbean out of Miami with friends from the South America cruise. That was the most delightful part of the transatlantic cruise we just finished – so many of the people who were with us on the Around the Horn cruise, were also on the Voyager with us. Prior to that cruise, just Elaine and I took a weeks cruise on the Celebrity Century in the Mediterranean. The ports were Cannes, Genoa, Florence, Rome, and Naples, and we had fairly decent weather considering that it was late November. Our most memorable sightseeing was at Pompeii, outside of Naples. As always, should you want further details about any of our travels or adventures, you can find them on our blog, or e-mail us at with comments or questions.
I am happy to report that all of our families are healthy. Unfortunately, this year hasn’t been the easiest for some of our kids, who are feeling the effects of the economic meltdown and a reduction in their earnings. They are learning some valuable lessons in economizing and doing what they can to try to secure more lucrative employment. We are all hoping for a rapid economic recovery for them, and for all of the people who are suffering both here and the rest of the world.
Thank you to those who have sent us most welcome holiday greetings and letters via e-mail. By choice, this is a very unusual holiday for us; we are by ourselves in a virtually empty campground and enjoying the scenery, solitude and the chance to catch up on some backlogged chores in the rig. On Jan. 4 we will join our Miami friends for another short cruise and be re-immersed in the social scene once again. As this year comes to a close and we all think about a new year and new beginnings, we hope that 2009 has been a good year for you all, and that 2010 brings everyone more health, wealth and happiness than ever before.

Happy New Year
Mary & Elaine

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

12/22/09 Finally, I am finding a few moments to update this blog! Actually, I have been dealing with a bad cold and really haven't had the energy to do much of anything. Currently we are parked at the Miccosukee Indian Casino on the outskirts of Miami. Bob & Nancy Colbert and Nancy & Jerry Hurley were parked with us here for 2 nights and prior to that, we were all in the North Fort Myers area, where we parked at the Elks. Here is a picture of Nancy & Jerry:

And one of Bob & Nancy:

So we have been having excellent social times with them, and catching up on all the happenings since the last time we were all together. Of course, group Happy Hours and potlucks were in order, so we have not yet shed the pounds that we acquired on the last cruise. Now that we are alone, we will have to start working on that!
I promised in the last few quick updates to post some pictures and a bit more information about our recent cruises, so I will try to lace the narrative in amongst the pictures.
As soon as we arrived in Barcelona, on Nov. 20, we checked into the Casa Billy bed and breakfast place in the L'Exiample region near the Plaza de Espana. It was easy to get to using the inexpensive aerobus (5 Euro), and turned out to be a great place to stay because it isn't so touristy so the costs to eat and drink in the restaurants are much better than in the Gotic area near the Ramblas. Our English friends John & Trish Holden, whom we met on our Africa trip in 2008, had flown in for the weekend and they joined us for dinner and a stroll in the area.

Besides catching up on each other's news, we walked over to the Plaza Espana where there was a wonderful expanse of fountains which had changing colored lights, making them seem to dance.

In fact, there was going to be a free music and light show using the fountains later in the evening, but we were seriously jet-lagged so we missed it.
The next day we boarded the Celebrity Century for a week long cruise in the Mediterranean. This was our first cruise on Celebrity and we were very impressed with it. Our first port was Cannes, and the day we were there was somewhat overcast with rain threatening so we didn't poke around the town very long. It is a very expensive place to visit, but charming with a Sunday market and some buildings with interesting embellishments:

Genoa was the port that was substituted for Portofino when they decided it might be too windy to tender there. We were delighted with this small city and spent a lot of time walking around admiring all the fabulous buildings and soaking up the ambiance. Along the waterfront there was an old wooden ship near the world-class aquarium:

A lot of the buildings are very old, yet so ornate and beautifully restored:

One of the delightful parts about wandering around towns in Europe is soaking up the charms of everyday life, such as looking at the markets, window displays, cafeterias, food stalls, etc. Here is a picture of the bread display in a fast food place which also served spaghetti and pizza:

Genoa has a section which is a designated UNESCO world heritage site because of the desire to preserve all the palaces, built several hundred years ago. There are more than a hundred in this town because it was so wealthy and powerful at one time.
Back on the ship, we had to get gussied up for formal night:

The next day, we toured Pisa and Lucca in a rental car with a couple we met at the Cruise Critic meet and greet. We had been to Pisa in 1989 when we had the kids with us for the summer in a camper van, but we were OK with seeing it again.

Then we drove to Lucca, a city with the old part totally enclosed by walls.

The walls are so wide that it is easy to walk around on the top on a pedestrian road. It is also the city where one of our favorite opera composers, Puccini, was born and raised, so there are statues of him here and there, and this picture:

Of course, it is an easy city to walk in and there are lots of fabulous buildings to see as well:

The next port was Rome but we skipped it because we have spent quite a bit of time there already and we wanted a day off.
Our favorite port was Naples because we had never been there before and it was easy and inexpensive to get to Pompeii on the train. Earlier in this blog I explained that Pompeii was the city that was covered by toxic gases and ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. We spent hours walking around this fascinating place. I will let the pictures and captions tell the rest of the story:
The Main Square in Pompeii:

Some of the smaller houses on one of the main streets in Pompeii:

There is a whole storehouse area full of artifacts, although a lot have been transferred to the museum in Naples:

There are casts of several people which were made when they discovered areas where people had been trapped and the organic parts had disintegrated, leaving a mold. Here is one of them:

There is a brothel which has about 5 small rooms with a cement-type bed in each, and some fairly graphic mosaic pictures on the upper walls, showing the sexual positions which the prostitutes were available for. These included oral sex, and woman on top positions.

Sometimes the ceilings were fairly ornate also. This is from one of the temples:

Some of the houses of the wealthy had mosaics in the entryway or the courtyard. Here is the one from the "Dog" house:

It was easy to see that life must have been pretty good for the wealthy people, who had fairly large houses with courtyards and servants. Not such a good life for the slaves who had to do all the work, service the brothels, etc.
The first cruise ended in Barcelona where we had one day and night which we spent in a hotel where we were joined by our good friends Diane and David Wilson. Then we all boarded the Voyager of the Seas for a 2 week TransAtlantic back to Galveston.

This cruise was mostly to have more fun times with all the friends from the Around the Horn cruise in Jan-Feb. The first port was Catagena, Spain where we went exploring and shopping with Diane. Here is a picture of Diane & Elaine with all the Boy Toys who were shopping too. From left to right they are Sergio, Reuben, Diane, Elaine, Martin & Roger:

The next port was Funchal, Madeira, which we greatly enjoyed, having never been there before. The whole town is loaded with picturesque pedestrian streets with fancy stonework:

There was a very colorful market near the fish market:

Tenerife, the Canary Islands was the next stop and also a place we had been before. Diane went with us to do some shopping because this is a duty-free port and there are lots of small shops with really cheap clothes. The view from the ship really shows how dry the island is, although the weather was quite nice the day we were there. The Canary Islands are VERY popular with Germans as a vacation place because they have warm weather year round.

Next we had 6 sea days in a row, which we all greatly enjoy because they are restful and there are interesting activities on the ship. Of course, there were at least 3 formal nights during the 2 weeks and here we are dressed in our "wedding outfits" for one of them. Married over a year and our clothes still fit!

Here are some pictures of the cruise friends from Around the Horn in some of their finery, because I know the friends who didn't come will like to see them:
David & Diane:

Father Dale & Gail:

Carol & Byron:

The Boy Toys: Roger (seated), Jack, Martin, Sergio & Reuben:



Daryl & Patrick:

Rick & Denise:

Pene had a birthday while we were onboard and we all celebrated by going to Portofino's, the specialty Italian restaurant. Thanks again Patrick and Daryl for treating everyone!

Here is a picture of the gourmet dessert we were served. Yum:

One of the delightful parts of cruising is getting to know new, fun people. On this cruise we were pleased to acquire three new table mates for dinner: Jim & Jan Sylvester, and their friend Sharylynn Shoe from Baton Rouge.

These three had fun each evening turning Jim into Rachel, a charming and talented woman who made the finals of the kareoke competition. Here is a picture of Rachel with Elaine:

Here is another picture of some of the beautiful women on this cruise:

Anika and Jennifer were another couple from Belfast who added a lot to the fun. Anika (dark hair) won the kareoke competition and both of them were fabulous dancers.

When we got back to Galveston, we needed to get to the Houston airport. Dale's partner, Richard picked us all up and after a delicious Mexican lunch, deposited us at the airport for our flight back to Orlando.

When we got back to our rig at the SKP park in Bushnell, we were delighted to find 5 couples we know from the past camping there. So we had a happy reunion with the Kesslers, Bornkamps, and Knapps in the picture with us:
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When we later moved to North Fort Myers again, we got to have another nice dinner with our old friend, Alma Montgomery. She had done some knitting for us and we had a little Christmas gathering which was fun.