Marylu and the Cruisers 12-12 to 12-19-2015

Marylu and the Cruisers

The cruise was part of a package deal (purchased way back in 2013) that included 2 one-week stays at resorts of our choice. We bought the package before any thoughts of being home-free started germinating.

During January 2014, we used one of the weeks in Santa Fe, New Mexico, following visits with family and friends in Arizona.  We thought Santa Fe might be a desirable location for our retirement – final decision, it is too remote for future visits with family and friends.  Alan hated the downtown area streets;  now, after two months on the road with him, you and I are learning that streets, gutters and curbs are priorities.  Well really, I tell him, we’re not planning to live in a large downtown; and, just as in Minnesota, they are great places to explore!

Santa Fe from our Condo
Santa Fe from our Condo
Santa Fe
Santa Fe

We used the second resort week in April 2015, to go to Mazatlan, Mexico.  Not a future homesite either.  All-inclusive resorts distort impressions of what daily life would be like.  It was a great prelude to the following months spent getting the house ready for the real estate market.

Mazatlan Resort- Not Bad
Mazatlan Resort- Not Bad, Eh?

On the way to the Cruise, my side of the story:

The Norwegian Spirit left from Port Canaveral, Florida, which is just 25 minutes from Cape Kennedy.  Prior to the cruise, we regularly checked various websites to see if any launches were planned before and/or after our cruise dates.  Unfortunately, no luck.  Seeing a launch is still on our bucket lists.

Port Canaveral - Is that the Launch Site in the Distance?
Port Canaveral – Is that the Launch Site in the Distance?

We hoped and hoped another event would coincide with our travel plans. My brother Bill, a Chaplain and Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, was scheduled to arrive on the USS George Washington following a voyage from San Diego around the southern tip of South America to Norfolk, Virginia.  We tried to time our visit with friends, Mick Warren, Debbie and Gerry Chebetar, in Chesapeake, Virginia, so we could all go to the ship and greet him.  Unfortunately, the only arrival information Bill and the Navy could give was mid-December.  Since our cruise departed December 12th, we knew there was just a slim chance we’d have a reunion with him.  Both ships arrived in the USA on the 19th – at different ports and hundreds of miles apart.  Since we had reservations in Naples from the 19th to January 1st, we hoped Bill would be able to join us there.  That darn Navy, they must love him ‘cuz he had to stay in Norfolk.  Mick did take us to the bay area where his ship would arrive.

Bill, are you out there?
Bill, are you out there?

We enjoyed a wonderful visit with our Virginia friends and made it to the beach, too late for swimming, but in time for some photos.

Made it to the beach in Virginia
Made it to the beach in Virginia
Sunset at the Beach - Virginia
Sunset at the Beach – Virginia

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our travels from Virginia to the cruise, we didn’t get to see much in the places visited. Alan finally got to experience dining at a Waffle House and

Lunch at a Waffle House
Lunch at a Waffle House

we enjoyed a few more “scenics”.  Oh, and a brewery.

From Virginia to Florida
From Virginia to Florida

 

 

 

Beer Tour Cocoa Beach
“Beer Tour” Cocoa Beach

 

 

 

 

The Cruise – On a scale of 1 being terrible and 5 being excellent, I would rate the cruise as 3.5.  There were plenty of shore excursions to choose from on most days at port.  We enjoyed an ATV ride through the jungle, a beer and rum tasting tour, and two days at a couple of beaches.

Dancers at Costa Maya
Dancers at Costa Maya

I was disappointed in scheduled activities for adults on days at sea – there were no movie theaters, lectures about destinations, demonstrations of how to make guacamole…  They did offer bingo a couple of days, but when we learned the charge for playing was over $35 each, it lost its appeal as a recreational diversion. We explored the ship thoroughly, swam in the pool, played dominoes, took notes and photos.  The evening shows were terrific, no photos allowed; so, my descriptions will have to do – acrobatics combining Olympic skills with Cirque de Soleil performances; humorous comedian (as it should be); and a fun variety show performed by the amateur crew members.

Spirit Pool
Spirit Pool

One thing I didn’t like about the cruise – food kept getting in the way of my will power!

Food in My Way
Food in My Way

It’s a good thing it wasn’t better.

Next time we go on a cruise, I hope it will be another river cruise (smaller boat, fewer travelers and lots of activities) or we’re on our way to Europe for even more adventures.

 

Naples is next up.

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Caribbean Cruise – 12/12 to 12/19

Day One:  Cocoa Beach, FL and At Sea

The hotel van deposits us at the cruise terminal.  As soon as we get out of the van, surly attendants rush up to drag our luggage the 10 feet from van to cart.  For this they demand “gratuities”, gruffly and often.  Left to my own devices, I would have told them to “go do bad things to themselves”, but Marylu is kind-hearted and the nearest one gets a few bucks to put in the jar.  I hate “service” people like them.  They are a turd in my ice cream.

Gratuity
It is customary to give a little gratuity.

As the tourist throng boards the ship, it is transformed into a mighty herd.  Food is presented and the feeding frenzy starts.  Calves grab little bites and run around franticly sniffing everything.  Adults stream this way and that, exploring, looking for nesting sites.  The old cows and bulls waddle slowly and purposefully toward the richest grazing spots and settle in for a good long chew.

FeedingTime
Feeding Time

Having eaten enough to last until the next feeding time, I search out a comfortable resting spot in the shade where I can observe my fellow travelers.  Just a pure ballpark estimate, but I would say the crowd is composed of the following proportions; small children – one tablespoon, teenagers – one cup, young adults – two cups, middle age adults – two cups, seniors – three  cups.  There seems to be a big percentage of very large, fat people.  Huge slabs of gelatinous flesh protrude from bathing suits that are obviously exceeding their load limit.  The poolside area (next to the bar and grill) looks like a pod of walrus that has invited the neighbor hippos over.

Hippos
Sunbathers

The mighty ship roars to life and sails free.  The passengers have been fed a few more times.  The drinks have been flowing freely.  But not free.  Nothing with alcohol is free onboard.  Night falls, accented by the sky glow of Miami off in the distance.  In the theater, the Cruise Director hosts the first show of dancers, musicians, acrobats, and a comedian.   The lounge runs a musical trivia karaoke contest where everyone wins.  The cruise is underway.

Night time in the Galaxy Lounge
Night time in the Galaxy Lounge

Day Two – at Sea

It is a long sail from Port Canaveral to Costa Maya so we will spend the entire day on the sea.  The herd is settling into their favorite spots.  Teens rove the ship in little packs, enthusiastically sniffing butts and establishing alphas.  Young singles preen around the poolside bar, maximum oiled flesh and tail feathers on display.  Older singles take up residence in the whirlpools, chin deep like crocodiles, using their wit for bait.  The ponderous old waddle slowly down the hallways between the pool area and the buffet.  Uniformed crew members scurry about their appointed tasks with genuine (or at least realistic) good humor and cheer.

Hanging around the pool
Hanging around the pool

Day Three – Costa Maya

Our excursion is aboard rented ATVs for a romp through jungle and beach.  There are remnants of road, paths hacked through palm tree forest, and steep banking trails across the sand dunes by the beach.  We haul ass, faster than prudence or wisdom would dictate and have a great time.  Stand up for the bumps and use the legs for shock absorbers.  I manage to keep up with the leader and only hit one tree.

Marylu aboard her ATV
Marylu aboard her ATV

After the ATV run, we are bussed back downtown and deposited on the main beach.  Our wristbands allow us open access to the bar and our server, Ezekiel, helps us abuse it.  From weak margaritas and decent beer, to straight shots of tequila, ‘Zeke keeps them coming and manages to have several himself.  We limp back to the ship for a much needed nap.

The beach at Costa Maya, Mexico
The beach at Costa Maya, Mexico

Day Four – Georgetown, Grand Cayman

The bus driver for our tour is a funny old guy named Waldo.  He tells us about the various sights along the way, historic statues, the government buildings, the famous mailboxes where trillions of US Dollars take their tax-free vacations.  First stop is the Seven Fathoms Rum Company.  We herd into the bar room at the front and begin our assault on the rum.  Bottles of rum line the bar: Aged, Gold, Spiced, Banana, Peach, Coconut,  and others.  We are handed little cups and shot glasses and again, the feeding frenzy is on.  After about a half hour or so, I guess, the actual tour starts.

Seven Fathoms Rum, aged in barrels
Seven Fathoms Rum, aged in barrels

Our last stop is at the Caybrew beer brewery.  We are running a little late so we decline the actual tour offered and just settle in to drink mass quantities of beer.  The beer is lightly hopped and light to medium malty, very drinkable and refreshing.  We abuse the free beer for as long as we can get away with it.  Back to the ship for another nap.

Here is how we make the beer.
Here is how we make the beer.

Day 5 – Ocho Rios, Jamaica

The Bamboo Beach tour is a very professional operation.  The buses wheel the tourists into a central plaza where they must walk a gauntlet of photographers, souvenir shops, hair braiders, massage tables, and rum sellers.  Our group is escorted to a clearly marked slice of the beach, where our hostesses settle us into flimsy plastic lawn chairs.  Then they start making repeated trips to the central kitchen for trays full of food and drink to hand out to us.  Plantain, callaloo, fritters, and jerk chicken on one tray.  Rum punch, mojitos, and beer on the next.  Repeat as needed until the tourists are satiated or it is time to go.  Between sun, surf, chicken, and beer, it is a full day and we drag butt back to the ship for a nap.

Bamboo Beach, Jamaica
Bamboo Beach, Jamaica

Day 6 – At Sea

About the same as Day 2, but now everyone has established favorites.  We know we can get fancy food, cold and slow, in the main dining rooms or buffet food, cold and promptly in the main buffet rooms.  We know where to go and when.  The people watching is still interesting but, for some reason, the teens rarely appear except as fleeting groups enroute to something.

Another day at sea, cruising the pool
Another day at sea, cruising the pool

Day 7 – Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Norwegian Cruise Lines actually owns this island and they use it to best effect.  As soon as we disembark from the tender, there is the obligatory souvenir shop.  A little further on we see a broad expanse of beach with hundreds of beach chairs, concrete indoor restrooms, a big cafeteria, and a few shops that rent wave runners, paddle boards, snorkels, and various other water toys.  We spend the day bathing in shade, sun, and water, then chow down on some good BBQ ribs and chicken.  No beer today so no nap required.

The beach at Stirrup Cay
The beach at Stirrup Cay

Day 8 – Back to Port

We are up at the break of dawn, packed, fed, and herded onto dry land.  It has been a nice week, away from everything, but it will be good to get back to Gypsy, the internet, TV, and the Mainland.

Bon Voyage, Norwegian Spirit
Bon Voyage, from Norwegian Spirit

Mountains to Ocean 12/6 – 12/11

We start the next leg of our journey in the mountains and valleys of the Appalachian mountains.  The highway generally descends down into deep, steep valleys, ringed with dark pines and bare trees.  Signs warn truckers to slow down and stay to the right, near the scary-looking runaway lanes.

foothills
Foothills of the Appalachians

Gradually the land flattens out.  The forests take on a little fall color, clinging tenuously to the last of the year’s leaves.  Roadside forests dwindle to occasional patches.  We start seeing open farm country.  The last of the cotton remains tangled in the dry ruins of cotton fields.  Cows lounge in the fields, enjoying tasty (I assume) cuds.

plains
Rolling through the plains

We stop for the night at a generic hotel in a small town, then push on the next day to Virginia and Chesapeake.

Virginia

 

 

In Chesapeake we meet up with Mick, a dear friend, ex-neighbor, and former Navy man.  His knowledge of the area is encyclopedic and he takes us on a guided driving tour of the area.  Our route covers a large loop, over Chesapeake Bay and back again.  Off in the distance, we can see the US Navy ships in Norfolk.  Unfortunately, it is a grey, rainy day and we see how Navy grey makes ships, even carriers, disappear into the fog.  On the way back, we stop at Smoky Bones for some of the best ribs we have found yet.

Carrier
A Carrier hiding in the fog

Mick’s daughter Debbie and her husband Gerry play host to us in their stately red brick home.  Their warmth, generosity, and good humor make our stay with them the best time we have had since we started our travels.  Deb and Gerri are also knowledgeable tour guides and history buffs and treat us to more insight about the area and its settlers.  They lead us on an excursion to a sandy spit of land and our first sight of the Atlantic.  The five of us concluded that we were new-old friends.

Atlantic
The Atlantic Ocean near Chesapeake

Our stay comes to an end and we are on the road again.  We have to catch the cruise ship in Cocoa Beach so there is no time to tour and sightsee.  The Carolinas, Georgia, and most of Florida flash by in a blur.  The land is mostly flat and features lots of swamps.  We ponder just how big the mosquitos must get in the summer and decide we don’t want to find out.

Georgia
Flying by Georgia
Florida
Made it to Florida

 

 

 

 

 

Next… the cruise.

Asheville Area Through Marylu’s Eyes

Asheville, NC  (11-21-15 to 12-5-15)

Asheville – BBQ, breweries, Basilica, Omni Park Grove Hotel gingerbread contest, arts and crafts

Southern BBQ is not quite what we expected.  Based on various recommendations, we searched for what we consider barbecued ribs.  Unfortunately, we didn’t specify ribs and ended up having pulled pork as the only BBQ option at a few venues.  Since both of us have always like to cook, we were disappointed that the pulled pork was not anything special – mostly like pork shoulder from a crockpot.  We did get to two places with ribs.  One was reportedly popular with President Obama called 12 Bones.  The rib “joint” ambiance was better than the food.  Okie Dokie had great BBQ but lacked true “joint” atmosphere.  Did you know people in the South put vinegar sauce on their BBQ?

Asheville has been called Beer City and will quite possibly keep that reputation as new breweries pop up quite frequently.   We visited 12 breweries in 14 days; and, as if that wasn’t enough, we paid a visit to the Pour House where patrons pour their own beer from a large selection of taps.  It was fun to try tastes of a few that I wouldn’t normally consider.  Price was per ounce – great idea.  At Burial Brewery, we sat with some great beer while signing, folding, and stuffing envelopes with our holiday letter.

Highland Brewing Company
Highland Brewing Company
French Broad Brewing
French Broad Brewing
Wicked Weed
Wicked Weed

 

 

 

The Wedge Brewery
The Wedge Brewery

Not to be daunted by rainy days, we went downtown for a self-guided tour of the St. Lawrence Basilica, not so ornate as we expected for a Basilica.

Basilica of St. Lawrence Oval Ceiling
Basilica of St. Lawrence Oval Ceiling
Basilica of St. Lawrence
Basilica of St. Lawrence

It wasn’t a great day to do outdoor exploring, so we ducked into the old Woolworth store for the “Woolworth Walk” around the areas converted to an indoor arts and crafts fair. Such a great idea for a store in the middle of downtown – use it, don’t tear it down.

On a much nicer day, we traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the annual display of gingerbread creations at the Omni Grove Park Inn.  Lots of hiking up to and through the hotel.

Omni Grove Hotel Front
Omni Grove Hotel Front

 

 

2015 Gingerbread Contest Winner
Gingerbread Snowman
Gingerbread Snowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We visited various smaller towns such as Black Mountain (loved the park and town) where I naturally was drawn to a couple of yarn shops; but, “no shopping for more stuff we have to cart around!” (Anyway, I have two knitting projects with me on the road). We made it to a town outside of Weaverville for a fiber fair and actually bought something.  Another shopper convinced us to purchase a natural laundry product that comes in small capsules and is supposed to be better than soap, leaving clothes smelling as if they were hung on a line. We’ll be sure to report back with the results.

At the Fiber Fest
At the Fiber Fest.   Oh, I did purchase a magnet at Sierra Nevada so we can display our calendar and tasks on the fridges as we move around. That was “allowed” because it’s functional and small even though it’s stuff.
Black Mountain at Lake Tomahawk
Black Mountain at Lake Tomahawk

 

My overall impression of Black Mountain was good enough for consideration as a place to settle.

Acquaintances transplanted from Eden Prairie invited us to their home to see the east side of Asheville.  Beth and Steve gave us a tour to see the vegetables still growing in their huge garden.  We really enjoyed their hospitality and the opportunity to chat with people who understood our quest for a place to call home.

If you’ve read Alan’s Asheville post, you know he was not impressed with the roads. However, the people and the weather make it an attractive place to live.  We plan to return to the area to visit other small towns recommended by some Minnesota transplants we know and acquaintances who were willing to share their thoughts.

For now, the exploration of North America continues with conversations that may take us to Mexico in the near future. I have a 50 year class reunion tentatively planned for mid-July or August, so we are trying to plan around a trip to Sidney, Nebraska, followed by a visit to Minnesota to spend time with family and friends.

Leaving Asheville to visit a former Eden Prairie friend/neighbor and his daughter and son-in-law in Chesapeake, Virginia.

 

Asheville, NC Nov 21 – Dec 5

From Alan:
Population = 83,393 (Metro area 424,858), latitude 35º 46′ N, longitude 78º 38′ W, elevation = 2216 feet above sea level. Average January low temperature = 20.5, average July high temperature = 86.5. Average sunny days = 205, annual snowfall = 25”, annual rainfall = 36.5”.

To a flatlander’s eye, Asheville looks hectic, sprawled, and disorganized. I am used to level cities with square grid roads and city blocks. Asheville is an old city that lies spread over hills and valleys and jumps across rivers, the streets winding and curving around what must have been old routes worn into the landscape by horse drawn carts.

AshvilleAir
Asheville from the sky – Google Map

I know I have written a lot about roads in the South. Doing so much driving, I guess I am more aware of them. My first impression (echoed by a local liberal) is that a tight-fisted government has not invested a nickel more than they had to on the roads in Asheville. Signage is minimal. Potholes are everywhere. No shoulders or gutter. No parking, especially downtown where it is sorely needed. Our place was on the West side and most of the streets we see are exactly two narrow lanes wide, edged with nasty sharp edged curbs. Side streets have no curbs or shoulders and it is hazardous to walk anywhere.

AshevilleStreets
Where is that sidewalk?

On my second day here, I misread a turn, hit a curb, and slit open a nice new tire. The tire guy, Snook, said it happens all the time. He blamed stupid DOT engineers for a multitude of problems in the city and, without impugning anyone’s intellect, I would have to agree with that assessment. Main arteries and interstates intercept in a jumble with signs listing 3 or 4 simultaneous designations for any given stretch of concrete. Street names and numbers change at random, apparently. Given the size of the Asheville metro area, it seems a lot more congested than it actually is. Herds of rude, tailgating, turn signal impaired, bozos contribute to the urban aggravation.

SnooksTires
Buying a new tire at Snooks for Gypsy

But other than that… Asheville is an interesting, fun, “happening” city with lots to do and see, eat and drink. Everywhere we go we see the young (relative to us, anyway) hipsters out having a good time, enjoying the city. Good restaurants are everywhere, varying from good ‘ol country to haute cuisine to rich BBQ.

Okie Dokie ribs
Okie Dokie ribs and jalapeno fritters

Beer breweries are all over the city and new ones are springing up all the time. Theater and live music venues cover the city. The list of local festivals is long and varied. The area abounds with great trails to hike and bike. If you can’t find fun things to do around here, it’s because you are not looking. Or can’t find a place to park.

The beer tour
The beer tour – 10 breweries 14 days

Climate is another big reason Asheville has become so popular. The altitude keeps it cooler in the summer and the latitude keeps it warmer in the winter. According to the locals, their version of winter is about 3 months of cool weather with the occasional cold and icy day mixed in. The spring and fall are long and pleasant. Summer can get hot sometimes, but not often. We visited friends who still have vegetables growing in their yard in December! Walking the city, we see flowers in bloom. It’s not the tropics, but it is sure a MUCH milder climate than Minnesota.

view
Asheville from the Omni Grove Resort

The city is great, but we have been suburbanites for a long time so we wanted to see some of the surrounding areas as well. The most recommended nearby town was Black Mountain, population = 8050, elevation = 2304, located about 20 miles East of Asheville. We went on a day trip to explore it and found a quaint little town. The first stop was at Lake Tomahawk for an easy stroll around the lake, past the Senior Center, tennis courts, and picnic grounds in the nice little park. Going downtown, we hit traffic and tourists but, with a little searching, we found a parking spot and set out on foot. The shops are varied, fun, and funky. Great kitchen supply store. Classic old cluttered hardware store. Artisans, crafters, boutiques, souvenirs, ice cream, grills and taprooms. Walk a couple of blocks and you’ll find the Lookout Brewery for some nice craft beer on the patio. Marylu started making nesting sounds as we sipped our ales. We both agreed to bookmark this cute little town for another peek, next time around.

Enjoying a pint at Lookout
Enjoying a pint at Lookout

So, final thoughts on Asheville. I loved the culture, the quality and variety of eats and drinks, the beauty of the mountainside location, and the mild climate. Unfortunately, Downtown and the close in neighborhoods are so packed together that they could not put in wider streets and parking without tearing down a lot of historic old city, but I can’t imagine them doing that in the foreseeable future. If we were to consider living in the Asheville area, it would have to be in one of the outlying areas where there is more open space. When we come back, and we will, we will have to explore more of the area. Next stop: Chesapeake, VA

Lake Lure Reflections from Marylu

Lake Lure Reflections (Visited 11-14-15 to 11-21-15)

From Marylu

The title has a double meaning.  First meaning – Alan posted a great picture of a cloudy day in Lake Lure, Arkansas; but, I wanted you to see another side.

Lake Lure Reflections
Lake Lure Reflections

Second meaning –  In reviewing random jottings made from the beginning of the trip, I discovered some fun things that weren’t in earlier blogs.

  • Our mileage when we left Eden Prairie was 53410; today (December 4th), it’s 56054.
  • As we pulled out of the driveway watching our garage door close behind us for the last time, what song played?  Ray Charles’ singing:  “Hit the road Jack and don’t cha come back No more no more no more no more.”  Really, it’s true.  But, we will be back.
  • As we crossed the bridge from Arkansas and entered Memphis heading to Nashville for the night, the lyrics we heard were “Cross the Arkansas border by midnight, Next stop Graceland’s door” from the song Last Train to Memphis.
  • There is a town in Tennessee called Buck Snort.  I cannot say it without laughing out loud!

Although not a significant site, travel books suggested visiting the Old Cider Mill in Bat Cave.  The pictures pretty much tell the story – there’s a store with an old cider mill, there are Arkansas Black Apples (who knew); and, there are stick characters in clothing, for sale or not?  The store had lots of interesting local crafts for sale along with apples and apple cider. Not much more to see.

Bat Cave Old Cider Mill

Old Cider Mill at Bat Cave
Old Cider Mill at Bat Cave

Apple Cider Place in Bat Cave
Arkansas Black Apples

 

 

 

Chimney Rock Village was a bit more interesting and presented quite the challenge – the opportunity to climb Chimney Rock. We did it!!!  Well, with an assist from the park… per their website:   “known as the “Ultimate Stairmaster,” climbs 26 stories of stairs to the Chimney with rewarding views along the way.”  Yes, there were a few stops for “views” on the way to the top.

Chimney Rock from the Village
Chimney Rock from the Village
Climbing the “easy way” HA!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We made it - whew!
We made it – whew!

Back down the mountain, we visited the Flowering Bridge in Lake Lure.  In 2011, a bridge crossing the Rocky Broad River was in disrepair and was replaced by a new bridge.  Thanks to the community, volunteers paved a walkway on the old bridge and created a variety of gardens.  Although we visited in November, there were many plants thriving among the decorations maintained by the Friends of the Flower Bridge.  Such a great idea and an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so.

Flowering Bridge
Flowering Bridge
View from the Flowering Bridge
View from the Flowering Bridge
Lake Lure Flower Bridge Cute
Such Clever Gardeners

Next post – Asheville, North Carolina