During our visit to Puerto Quepos, Costa Rica, we took an aerial tram tour and nature walk through a tropical rain forest. I had been taking photos of this ginger blossom when I noticed a hummingbird flying nearby. Just as I fired off a series of shots of the ginger the hummer flew into my frame! I got off a burst of just a few shots before he flew away. While this is the best one, it certainly isn’t “perfect” enough to win any nature photo contests but it works for me.
Kathy & I recently returned from a 15-night cruise through the Panama Canal on the Pacific Princess. It was a terrific cruise, and at only 600 +/- passengers this ship was a welcome relief from the 6000+ passenger behemoth we sailed on in February. But like bottles of wine we’ve never had a bad cruise, so there are always great things to experience regardless!
The highlight of our cruise, which took us from Fort Lauderdale, FL to Los Angeles, CA, was of course a full transit of the Panama Canal. These photos are just a sample of the ones I took during this event. I will add more photos and commentary as I get through the 3000+ photos I took! But we’re leaving soon for another quick trip and I’m planning to leave the computer at home, so they will need to wait until we get back.
Tabasco sauce is one of those condiments that I think everyone has heard of, and that many people always keep on hand. I’m not particularly a big fan, instead preferring sauces with more flavor and less heat such as Cholula (Mexico) and Pickapeppa (Jamaica, mon). But when it comes to pepper sauce, I’ve got a bottle and suspect a lot of readers do too.
When I realized that the Tabasco plant and museum, located in Avery Island, was just a few miles from where we stayed in Lafayette, Louisiana, going there was a no-brainer. Adjacent to the grounds of the Tabasco plant is Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre botanical garden and bird sanctuary created by the father of Tabasco, Edward Avery “Ned” McIlhenny. Jungle Gardens is a separate story and a separate post.
I learned a few things about Tabasco during our visit. I hadn’t fully realized the time, effort and craft that goes into making hot sauce. And I didn’t realize that there were so many varieties! We got to try a number of them in the store after our tour, although I stopped myself before my taste buds got damaged!
All in all, the Tabasco story is an important part of Louisiana heritage, and I’m glad we had a chance to pay a visit!
As a kid I was a real space geek, and followed everything about the space program that I could get my hands on. As part of our recent trip to Alabama and beyond, Kathy & I spent a day at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville and took the bus tour. It was a fascinating experience and brought back a lot of memories.
It would be possible to just tour the exhibits at the museum, but it was really special to take the narrated tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center grounds, with visits to several operating facilities. We visited a the Payload Operations Center, training center with mockups of some of the actual ISS modules that are used to recreate situations on earth to help the astronauts deal with problems or answer questions aboard the station.
The Payload Operations Integration Center is the “mission control” for all of the scientific activities that are happening on the space station. The folks at the various workstations monitor these operations remotely, as we learned the the majority of experiments happening on board are not actually handled by the astronauts themselves unless hands-on is required.
The Environmental Control & Life Support Systems facility deals with the systems required to sustain life aboard the station. A lot of the work done here deals with developing systems to maintain the environmental and sanitary needs of the crew aboard the ISS.
The entire day was great, but the highlight for me was the visit to the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, which is a huge building that houses an actual Saturn V rocket along with tons and tons of memorabilia from the early days of manned space exploration through the Apollo moon landings. One of the things I thought was really cool is that they employ retired scientists as docents, so it is not unusual to find yourself talking to one of the heros of the space program. In fact, I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of my photos is of Brooks Moore, who headed the Astrionics Laboratory and is actually in the black & white photo in the picture of the old computer hardware!
It was a great day and an excellent way to highlight our visit to Alabama!
This past Friday, Kathy & I visited the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. While there we toured various NASA facilities including the Control Room at the Payload Operations Integration Center at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. This is where all of the communication with the International Space Station regarding the payload and experiments takes place. It was very interesting to see.
While we were there, the astronauts aboard the space station were returning from a space walk. We were able to see live video of them returning to the ISS through the airlock and beginning the process of removing their suits. Quite an unexpected treat!
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!