Saturday, November 28, 2009

11/28/09 Hello from Barcelona. We have just returned here after 7 very nice days in the Mediterranean. The ports of call were good. Cannes was just a quiet town last Sunday and good for a stroll. Genoa was a lot more interesting than we had been led to believe and we greatly enjoyed walking around and admiring all the fabulous old buildings and squares. They have a lot of old palaces and a whole block of them have been put on the UNESCO world heritage list. When our ship docked in Livorno, we were really annoyed that they docked in the industrial port because then we were so far from the city center that we had to pay for a shuttle bus to get to the place we should have docked in the first place! We went with another couple who had rented a car and it was a real lesson in patience for us. They had never been to Pisa, so we went there to the leaning tower, of course. When we were there in 1989 with our kids, we made them climb it and it cost nothing to do so. Now it 15€. Then we drove to Lucca, a very nice walled city where we had several hours of walking through the charming town and also along the walls. Then Barry & Kathy decided they just had to drive through more of the Tuscan countryside. We barely made it back to the ship in time and they pulled the gangplank in right after us! On the day we docked in Civitavecchia, the port near Rome, we took the day off and stayed on the ship. We worked out in the gym and enjoyed some down time. Naples was the highlight for us, as we had not been there before and we were anxious to go to Pompeii. So we walked to the train station, took the train which dropped us right outside the site, and spent 4 hours wandering all over the city. Of course, you all probably know that when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, the city was buried in ash and all the residents perished. It has been well excavated and lots has been learned about how people lived in Roman times from these diggings. There are some good murals and mosaics still there, and some sculptures, and they have made some plaster molds of how the people looked as either the gas fumes killed them or they were buried by ash.
Of course, we took lots of pictures everywhere, but because we are in an internet place, I can´t add pictures until we get back to the USA. We also had a nice time on the ship with some people we met, especially in Michael´s Club. This was one of the perks of our Elite status on Celebrity. It is a lounge where we got to go everyday between 4 and 6 for free drinks and wine before dinner. Most of our dinner companions were also very pleasant although we only ate in the dining room 4 nights. They served sushi in the buffet restaurant so Elaine wanted to go there 3 nights. Of course, they also had other good choices. I´m sure we did not lose any weight on this trip!
Our friends David and Diane Wilson are arriving in a few minutes from the airport and they are staying at our hotel. So I must close for this time. If we get some internet minutes on the ship, I will post another update in a week or so. The ship is the Voyager of the Seas and we will be arriving back in Galveston on Dec. 13.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

11/15/09 Can't believe it has been so long since we last updated this blog! I guess it is because we usually do it on the weekend, and last weekend we were getting ready for our 4 day Bahamas cruise with our "boy toys", Roger & Martin.
But before I tell you about that, I must mention that before we returned here to Bushnell, to the SKP Park where we left our RV, we had been staying at the North Fort Myers Elks Lodge. It was near the home of an old friend of ours, Alma Montgomery. Her husband, Leon, died about 2 years ago, and we hadn't seen her for about 4 years. She is 86 now and looking good, although she does have some health problems with her heart. Here is a picture of Alma and Elaine:

She has always been an excellent knitter and enjoys it a lot. She showed us some of her latest creations:

The panda that she made now adorns our bed - Thank you, Alma! We had a couple of nice meals with her, and also did some shopping together. It is always such a joy to visit old friends and find them doing so well. Besides seeing Alma, we also had more visiting time with Bob & Nancy Colbert in Punta Gorda. And Bob arranged for us to have our RV professionally washed and waxed which will keep it protected for another 6 months or so. I usually do this when we are at Park Sierra, but we won't be back there for another 6 months or so.
So we managed to get packed last weekend, left our RV at the SKP park, and drove down to Miami in our car early Monday morning. We met the guys at their condo, where we left our car, and then we all took a taxi to the port. The ship we went on was the Majesty of the Seas, one of the smaller ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet. Here are a few pictures from the deck: 1) Martin, Elaine & Mary On a Jet Ski

2) Roger, Martin & Elaine On The Top Deck

From the top of the ship, in the Miami cruise port, there are fantastic views of downtown, as well as all the way to Miami Beach, and all the bodies of water with lots of boats and yachts in them:

On this cruise, we decided we didn't want to eat in the dining room for dinner so we ate in the Windjammer each evening. Usually we went there after a couple of glasses of wine in the Viking Crown Lounge, because we all are Diamond members or above and between 5 and 8, it was complementary. Here is a picture of the 4 of us in the Windjammer, at dinner:

Our first port was Nassau, in the Bahamas. We all worked out in the gym on the ship in the morning, and then later walked all the way to Paradise Island, which is where the Atlantis Casino is located. To get there we had to walk over a tall bridge, and here is a picture from there of us with the casino in the background:

By the time we got near the casino, everyone was hot, so we stopped for a beer. Here are three friends drinking some of the local beer:

Next we explored the Atlantis, which has an awesome display of Dale Chihuly glass sculptures and a fantastic and huge aquarium area with hundreds of fish, including immense manta rays. Then we took a small boat around the harbor and back to the ship. In doing so, we passed behind the Majesty and here is a picture of it:

The next day we went ashore at Coco Cay, a private island owned by Royal Caribbean. They have a lot of nice beach areas here with chairs and lounges, etc. and they serve a nice BBQ lunch there. Before we ate, we hiked the 2 mile nature trail:

The third day we were in Key West. It was windy and rained a bit, but we had an enjoyable time anyway, walking around the town and visiting some of the stores and restaurants. Right near the port there is a museum where there are a lot of whimsical sculptures scattered around outside. Here is the first one we saw:

Later we stopped at a store where Elaine and Martin tried on some of the wigs and hats:

Then we all had some conch fritters and beer on the deck of a restaurant:

When we got back to the ship, we did a little time in the pool area:

Friday we arrived back in Miami and our short but wonderful vacation was over. Now there are only 4 days for us to prepare for our flight to Barcelona and the next 2 cruises on our agenda. So, the next time you hear from us, we will be somewhere in Europe and having new experiences on our Mediterranean cruise on Celebrity.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

This has been a week or more of mostly socializing, always a pleasant diversion because of the high quality of all the friends we have! It started off with a visit at Joe Jackaway’s condo, which is in a retirement community called Sun City Center, near Tampa/St. Petersburg. Joe was with us on the 10 month odyssey down to Panama and back in 2004, traveling there in his class B RV, which is like a modified van. We had a joyful reunion with him, admired the beautiful job he has done on his condo remodeling, toured the facilities of the retirement center (impressive), and had a wonderful salmon barbeque in his yard. He had arranged for us to park our RV near the recreation center. Here is a picture of Joe & Elaine barbequing:

The next day, we continued south and set up at the Punta Gorda Elks Club. They have a beautiful site, right on the edge of the river looking across at Port Charlotte, but the RV parking is in a big grassy field near the entry road. Our good friends Nancy & Bob Colbert have an RV site in a nearby park so we spent a lot of the next few days with them. Here is a picture of them on the patio of their winter home in the RV park:

Bob is a handyman and he has often helped Elaine fix things on our RV’s in the past. This time it was our steps that were in need of attention. Periodically, they would refuse to go in or out, and by the time Bob looked at them, they were permanently in, which meant it was lucky that we are strong and agile because we were climbing in and out of our RV. We have 3 steps up outside, so that is a big one step when the automatic feature isn’t working! Bob & Elaine spent hours checking everything, which also involved getting underneath and all this was occurring on a very hot and humid day. In fact, it has been hot and humid pretty much non-stop for the past 10 days or so. They finally narrowed it down to the fact that we needed a new controller, so the next day we called a local dealer for Kwikee Steps and ordered one ($115). Within a short time of ordering it, I went to get into our RV and the steps came out when I opened the door! And they have been working well ever since. But, of course, we aren’t sure why they are working now and they weren’t working before, so we are still going to pick up the new controller.
Having had several days of socializing and shopping with Bob & Nancy, we headed across Florida, on highway 41 towards Miami. In between the fairly densely populated east and west coasts, there is a wonderful natural area called Big Cypress National Preserve. Part of it borders on Everglades National Park. All along the road is a waterway and there are lots of birds either feeding (herons and egrets) or sunning themselves (cormorants and anhingas). There are also lots of alligators in this waterway, and we saw at least 3 of them when we stopped at the visitor’s center where there is a boardwalk along this channel.

There are 2 campgrounds which are very accessible to the road: Monument Lake, and Midway. On our way towards Miami we stayed at Monument Lake, which is free between April 15 and Dec. 14, and which accepts the Golden Age pass the rest of the time, making it $8 for seniors. It has level sites located around a small lake, so every site has a water view. While camped here we walked a boardwalk trail at a nearby roadside park which went right into a swampy area. There were lots of different birds here and we could see all the cypress knees, as well as turtles, fish, and other aquatic plants.

Midway CG is a bit closer to Miami and we stayed there on our way back to Punta Gorda after the weekend. It always has a fee, which is $10 with our Golden Age pass, but that is because there are lovely flat and grassy sites with a paved pad and electric hookup; water and a dump station are available, and all are around another little lake. We would have stayed here longer but the phone and internet signals were so weak we couldn’t get any of our business chores done (including posting this blog update!) so we headed back towards the chaotic Ft. Myers area.
What a fun weekend we had in Miami while visiting our friends Roger & Martin, whom we met on our 46 day Around the Horn cruise last Jan-Feb. They live in an area called Miami Shores in a lovely condo development called The Towers of Quayside. From their home on the 14th floor, the incredible view was over all the surrounding communities such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach, as well as the bay in between.

Their development even has a waterfront area and dock right on the water. It also has all the amenities anyone could want, but we mostly used the spa, exercise room, and swimming pool. Luckily, they had obtained permission for us to park in a lot right on the property. We met their cute little shitszu dog, Piglet, and here is a picture of them all:

Friday night they took us over to Miami Beach in their convertible to have dinner with some of their friends, Amy & Dilia, on Lincoln Street. Before dinner they drove us all around Miami Beach and it was fun to see it on such a warm evening from a convertible! We hadn’t been there since 1986 when we were on a summer trip with Elaine’s kids. Lincoln Street is a pedestrian street which has lots of trendy shops, outside bars and restaurants, which were really bustling on this perfect evening. Martin & Roger are Cuban and we insisted that they expose us to some of the Cuban areas and also the FOOD. The next day they took us to a Cuban market, where we had a delicious juice drink and some chicharones. These were much more delicious than the Mexican ones because there is a lot of meat as well as the crispy outer skin. After driving around Coral Gables and seeing the Biltmore Hotel, etc. we went to a Cuban restaurant for lunch. Wow, what a lot of great food was being served and at such reasonable prices because we were with locals and not in a tourist area. Here is some of our food:

We just love the sweet, fried plantains, and the guys also ordered some of the smashed, green ones also fried but not sweet tasting at all. Of course, we had to end the meal with a strong Cuban coffee. This was probably helpful later when we stayed up late for the Halloween gathering we all attended in Wilton Manor. This is a mostly Gay area, so the streets had been closed and a huge stage was set up, along with lots of booths on the street and drink stands in front of the bars and restaurants. We met Amy & Dilia here and other friends too.

There was entertainment on the stage, lots of loud music, plenty of goings on in the bars, but our main activity was walking around and admiring all the Halloween costumes. Not since our last visit to the Castro District in San Francisco many years ago have we seen such elaborate and outrageous costumes. And a lot of the people were straight – they just came down there for all the fun. Here are a few of the pictures we took:

We thought that the following picture of 2 girls who simulated being on a roller coaster was quite the clever costume.

The major theme among gay men seemed to be to wear a very skimpy outfit with a bare chest and have air brushed paint to simulate good abs. Of course, many gay men have great abs even without air brushing them….

Sunday we just hung around Martin & Roger’s development and enjoyed the spa and pool and recovered from the partying the night before. We had the guys over for dinner and in the course of reminiscing about all the great times we had together on the South America cruise, events shifted to looking at current cruise offerings from Miami (since we are in this area), and pretty soon the 4 of us were booked on 4 day cruise to the Bahamas starting Nov. 9! For various reasons related to getting on-board credits and also benefits for being Diamond Plus members (the guys), we booked Mary & Roger into a room and Elaine and Martin into a room. Martin is going to be 30 on Nov. 20 and Roger will be 34 in a few months, so we now call them our “boy toys” and are hoping to scandalize some people when we board the ship.
Yesterday we packed up and headed back towards Punta Gorda, stopping along the way to see Tom & Nancy Vineski. They are staying at the Larry & Penny Thompson RV Park which is located in a county park in the southern part of Miami. Normally they would be on the move to the west but family concerns are keeping them here for a while and we were happy for the opportunity to see them. They are doing well and looking good, as you can see by the picture below.

When a visit was proposed, we asked to meet at their park so we could see it. Boy were we glad we did because when we arrived there, Nancy had a delicious lunch all prepared! This is so much better than going out somewhere. Several hours flew by as we caught up on each other’s news and learned about future plans. The RV park there is a nice one but it is impossible to get a reservation during the “high season” in FL, which is mid-Dec. to mid-April.
Now we are heading back to Punta Gorda for more time with Bob & Nancy, as well as a few more RV fixups. This week we will be making arrangements for a place to leave our rig during the cruises, and getting ourselves ready to go. We hope this is a good week for you all too!