One of the things Kathy & I are really loving about this retirement thing is the ability to pretty much come and go as we please. No, we didn’t win the lottery jackpot so we are kind of limited to what we do and how long we go, but it is no longer dictated by an arbitrary vacation allowance.
We were driving near the airport shortly after we returned from our cruise, when I asked Kathy if she wanted to just go get on a plane to “somewhere.” We didn’t have our passports with us, otherwise we might have done it, but that didn’t stop her from saying “why not?”
I suppose we’ll eventually get tired of the coming and going, but so far all we seem to have is itchy feet! And for us the cure for that is to pack up a suitcase and go somewhere.
I’ve had in my mind for a while that I wanted to check out the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi and Tennessee. So in a few days we’re going to head out on a little road trip. We’ll be hitting a few highlights only – this won’t be an in-depth trip of any kind – through Alabama to Louisiana before heading back up to Natchez and up the Parkway to Nashville. No ‘Nawlins’ or ‘Opryland’ for us this time – that will need to wait for a more focused trip. In the mean time I think we’ll have plenty to see and we are looking forward to seeing it!
One of my many personal projects is to look for and photograph bits and pieces of the architecture on cruise ships. For that purpose I hardly go anywhere without my little point & shoot camera. It isn’t as intimidating as a regular camera and doesn’t look a lot different than a phone, which everyone is used to seeing.
There are things to see everywhere on board, just like on land. Sometimes it is simply a shadow or a reflection, and occasionally it is just a piece of glass or metal that has an interesting shape. Symphony of the Seas was no exception.
One of the paradoxes of cruising is that while the ships visit beautiful islands, their very presence can detract from what makes the islands beautiful in the first place. Each day we were in Nassau, for instance, there were 5 ships in port, with total passengers of more than 18,000! The entire island of Roatan, Honduras has a population of 50,000. And when there are 3 ships in port, that can add another 8-12,000 people just to the area around the port. Many of those people buy stuff, which is great for the economy, but it can make it hard to enjoy being there.
It’s getting to the point where if you’ve seen one port you’ve seen them all. We joke about it here in the states – every strip mall has a Subway, a dry cleaner, a nail salon and either a CVS or Walgreen’s. Throw in a Chinese restaurant or pizza joint and they are the same everywhere. On cruises – in the event that you have money left over after all the spending opportunities on the ship – you get a “Port & Shopping Map” for every port, which directs you to the so-called “ship recommended” places to buy diamonds, tanzanite (which I think was invented for the cruise passenger!), fancy watches, color changing t-shirts and tote bags, booze, chocolates and on and on. But enough – I want to talk about something fun.
Kathy & I make a point of seeking out places in each port that are off the beaten path, locally-owned & operated and provide a flavor for the place itself. Sometimes it is a nice local restaurant, a beach or just a tour. Where we can, we like to find shops selling things that we are happy to bring home. We found such a place on Roatan, Honduras.
Roatan Island Art is a small craft shop located on the “main drag” of Roatan, about 200 yards from the cruise terminal. I found it on Google Maps and am glad I did, because it isn’t listed on the “Port and Shopping Map.” But it should be! Yeah, you have to walk past all of the “ship recommended” shops and actually leave the port area. Once you say “no, thank you!” to 300 taxi drivers wanting to take you on an island tour, you get to a part of the street with a number of restaurants and the straw market. Directly across the street from the straw market in a colorful and whimsically designed shop is Island Art.
Everything in the store is sourced and hand-crafted by Yourgin Levy, his wife and sons. Yourgin is a native Honduran and is intimately familiar with the indigenous wood, stone, shells and other materials he uses in his work. He speaks passionately about his island, his crafts and his family, and told us that he got his start selling his jewelry on the beach. With encouragement from his wife, family and others he worked hard to get a storefront to sell his goods. The items in the shop and the shop itself reflect the passion he has for his work and his island.
I was especially impressed by the different kinds of wood that Yourgin uses in his work. I don’t remember all the names now, but cedar, mahogany and rosewood were common. These woods are not easy to work with, even with power tools! And the results are just beautiful, with Yourgin’s passion for Roatan showing in each piece, and especially in his descriptions when he tells you about them.
Kathy and I ended up buying a couple small items, a sea jade necklace and a wood wall hanging, mostly because it was the first stop on our cruise and we didn’t want to chance running out of room in our luggage or breaking something on the way home. On a future cruise which stops in Roatan I would definitely plan on buying something larger, like one of the beautiful hand-carved sailboats, a cutting board or serving tray.
Whatever you choose to do on Roatan – and you should do something because it is beautiful – have your driver drop you off at Roatan Island Art. Or just walk there from the ship. And when you get there, take the time to talk with Yourgin and experience the passion and love he has for the island of Roatan and for Honduras. I’ve written this because in my own heart I feel strongly that this man and his shop deserve the publicity. Go there!
Spending a week (or two) aboard a cruise ship with 6000 or so of ones closest friends can be a little challenging, especially for someone who tends to be a little introverted. Yeah, that’s me. Kathy too.
We’ve been on enough cruises to know how to find our own space and can usually do so pretty reliably. During the day there are always a few spots on board that are out of the way and quiet. That usually involves a lounge or the library, but could also mean a sun deck away from the pool or the Promenade, where there is no food or bar service! Of course we could always retreat to the balcony of our own stateroom. We found such places on Symphony of the Seas, but there were also places where it was so noisy that individual voices pretty much disappeared. Those places were never our first choice, but sometimes finding a comfy seat in a noisy place was preferable!
We have come to really enjoy cruising. After this last cruise, which was actually two separate cruises that we sailed back to back, we’ve been on 25 cruises! And we have two more booked, one for later this year and one more in January next year. Needless to say it is an important part of our travel plans.
I’ll have more to say and photos to post about some of the specific ports and experiences from this recent cruise soon. And I still have some posts to write from our trip to Florida. I’d better hurry up though, because it won’t be long until we embark our our next adventure. Stay tuned!
I’ve written previously about how Kathy & I like to seek out train stations on our travels through different areas. I hadn’t paid too much attention to train stations when we planned this trip to Florida, but almost by happy accident I realized that southern Georgia and Florida contain many examples of train stations. Here more so than in other states they seem to generally be in pretty good shape, many of them currently used as museums, social halls or offices.
While we were visiting the station in Avon Park, a volunteer at the museum there told us that the Silver Star passenger train passes through there daily, and that it would be there within the hour. He also mentioned that there is a station in Sebring that hadn’t come up on my search, even though the Sebring station is an active Amtrak station.
While we were in Avon Park, a CSX freight train came through, then we drove to the Sebring station in time to catch the Amtrak train making its stop there. We aren’t usually fortunate enough to actually see trains while we are at these stations, so to catch two on the same day was a real treat!
“I find it odd to confine life events and creative evolution to the arbitrary boundaries of a calendar year, but, as I have noted before, I welcome the excuse to pause and examine the progress, trends, and implications of my experiences in the past months.” Guy Tal
Odd or not, the tendency to compartmentalize our lives into blocks of 365 days is as good a way to reflect as any. A calendar year works as well as a birthday or anniversary year for that purpose. And I fear that if it wasn’t for the annual reminder, many of our species would not bother to look back at all, occupied as we are with running around, faces glued to electronic devices of all kinds in our real or imagined “busy-ness.”
As I looked back through my photographs from 2018 I began to realize that it was truly a year of departure for me, both literally and photographically.
Kathy & I “departed” from the workplace after 40 or so years of work.
We “departed” the shores of the U.S. for another continent for the second straight year
My photography “departed” from the norm, as more and more of my photographs had people in them
My photography “departed” from the norm, as more and more of my photographs were finished in black & white
Even more of my photos taken “in” a place are not “of” or “about” that place
We spent a month (actually 28 days) at the beach, the longest either of us had ever been away from home
I’m not sure what to make of the fact that more and more of my photos have people in them. I’ve historically considered myself to be primarily a landscape photographer, and have often responded to requests to photograph weddings and portraits with something along the lines of “notice that most of my photos do not have people in them. Thanks, but no.” I do think that as I get older I find that experiences and relationships have taken a higher priority than trophy icon shots or sunrises and sunsets. Oh, I still get my share of those, but for the most part the photos that call my name are the ones that bring back memories of a place, or more likely the memory of my feelings that I had when I was in the place. Venice is a good example. As much as I loved Tuscany, the few hours that I spent – mostly alone – wandering around Venice in the early morning is one of my most cherished memories.
I chose this collection of photos not because they are my “best” or “Greatest Hits” from 2018, but rather because they represent how I feel about the things I did and places I went, and how I felt while I was there. It’s not that these are photos I never would have taken previously, but more that they are photos that better capture my memory of a place, not just documenting what I saw.
Kathy & I wish everyone a Happy New Year. We’ve got lots planned for 2019 and are looking forward to getting started!
Saturday marked the end of our second week here. It’s been interesting – we’ve been able to live in our rented “beach home” just about like we live in our “real” home. We’ve gone out to eat a few times but mostly eat in, have managed to keep our car trips to a minimum and spend most of our time doing the same kind of things we’d do at home. We take a bit of pride in the number of days our car doesn’t move from the garage, both here and at home.
Yesterday the local cable company upgraded the cable boxes and modems in our building to a new digital service. The upside for us is that the internet is now about 10X faster than it used to be, and we also have hundreds more TV channels to not watch! The picture is great! Unfortunately the content is the same, just a lot more of it.
At some point I realized that in the next day or two will have been “away from home” for the longest times in our lives with the exception of college and the 2 months or so that I lived in corporate housing when we relocated to North Carolina from Ohio.
The interesting thing is that we’ve settled into life here with nary a glitch. We talked the other day about how quickly this place seems like home. We brought a reasonable amount of “stuff” with us – mostly clothes, camera gear and electronics – and anticipated a few trips to Target or Wal-Mart to pick up things our condo didn’t have. But so far all we’ve had to buy is food, water and wine! It’s amazing how well we can live for an extended time with just the stuff that will fit in the car.
The weather hasn’t been ideal, but we’ve had a number of really nice days. For this time of the year, a couple of nice days each week is about what we expected. It’s warmer than home and a lot warmer than a lot of other places we could be! It’s easy to accept a rainy day or two when we’ve got so many to work with.
Thanksgiving will be a little weird this week, but we don’t do a lot of major family stuff and we never travel over that weekend, so it isn’t too big of a deal. We have a couple of steaks and a nice bottle of wine and will celebrate in our own way. We might even turn on the TV and watch the parades…likely with the sound off, of course!
Taking full advantage of our recently won freedom, we’re heading to Hilton Head Island tomorrow. We originally planned to go for a couple of weeks but got a deal on a place for the month. My intentions are to take and post a photo per day. We’ll see how that works out! 😉
Kathy & I recently returned from a trip to Ohio to visit friends and family. One of the days that we were there, we visited Ohio’s “Amish Country” with our friends Bill & Cathy. There was an Amish area of western Pennsylvania when I was growing up, but I remember it as a place where my grandmother took her quilt tops to have quilted and to occasionally pick up a pie, some cookies or some cheese. It always involved stopping at someone’s farm or a small market and was always interesting because they seemed rather shy and didn’t socialize much. We did the business we came to do and then went on our way.
That was a long time ago, and I admit that the world has changed. But one of the things that struck me about this most recent visit to Amish Country was how commercialized it has become. While there are still genuine Amish farms, furniture builders and markets, they are almost overshadowed by these huge, I’ll call them “mega-markets” that support the throngs of tourists that visit each year. It is a far cry from the Amish country that I remember from when I was a kid.
As examples, what was once a small sales area of a local cheese plant is now a huge retail outlet, larger than the actual factory itself, selling something like 100 different flavors of cheese. A place that was once a general store is now a multi-level trinket outlet with countless items to take home and store in our closets along with plenty of gifts for the kids and grandkids. Kathy refers to all that stuff as the “mommy-can-I-gets.” A restaurant called “Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen” while possibly still owned by someone named Yoder, is essentially a huge dining hall with a kitchen and multiple buffet lines serving food that I wonder if the actual Amish would eat. Maybe I’m wrong but that was the impression I came away with. But the tourists love it!
While we were in Amish Country I picked up a local tourist magazine that essentially contained advertising for all the places the tourists are supposed to visit while they are there. I was struck by the number of ads for businesses that seemed to revolve around activities that weren’t actually Amish – fancy hotels, clothing stores, restaurants, music and play theaters, souvenir shops. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them were actually owned by the Amish and how much of the profits actually stay in the communities. It would be interesting to know if you could actually figure it out.
This isn’t all about the Amish or Amish Country, however, and my observations aren’t limited to one area of rural Ohio. In many ways this commercialization is a reflection of the overall focus on commerce in our society, and applies to cities big and small, islands in the Caribbean and cruise ports around the world. No longer is it enough to just enjoy the scenery on a walk down the main street in a cute little town in the middle of nowhere, but now our visit won’t be complete unless we have an opportunity to buy stuff. If you manage to even find the town itself it is almost a miracle! We’ve got antiques and gifts and fudge and restaurants galore, but too often the retail/tourism side of things has managed to erase whatever it was that caused the town to be interesting in the first place.
When we were in Italy, one of the highlights for us was exploring the towns of Tuscany on our photo workshop with Jeff Curto. Most of the places we visited seemed to be close to the original, and the commercialization fell way short of what we see here in the states. But a lot of the towns there, just like here, have undergone what I heard referred to as the “Rick Steves Effect.” Places that were once quaint and charming suddenly become famous and are overrun with tourists. Almost immediately these places lose what made them famous and become just another stop on the bus tour. It’s a lot like cruise ship ports – every one looks the same after a while because they all contain the same shops. But I digress….
I often comment about how places have become “Disneyfied” in that what tourists see bears little or no resemblance to what the place is best known for. Multimillion-dollar developments replace straw markets and rum shacks in the Caribbean. Gift and jewelry store chains promoted by cruise lines and tour companies sell merchandise in glitzy shops. Merchandise that comes from parts of the world far removed from the place in which it is being sold. There’s obviously a market for that stuff, as these companies seem to be successful and growing. But it makes it hard to experience a place for what made it worth visiting in the first place.
I know this may sound really negative, but that wasn’t my intention. It’s just that all of these things have gotten me to think about how I want to experience the parts of the country and the world that we visit. Do we want to check off a bunch of “must-see” tourist spots and buy the appropriate souvenirs, or do we want to seek out the undiscovered places that have as much or perhaps even more of the charm that made the famous places famous? Do we buy our souvenirs, take our selfies and move on, or do we slow down, look around and try to find the places that are just off the beaten path? It is an interesting challenge, for sure!