Tag Archives: Travel

Hot Stuff!

Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana

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.

Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana
Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana
Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana
Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana

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.

Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana
Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana

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!

Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana

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!

Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana
Tabasco Factory Tour in Avery Island, Louisiana

Yes, It’s Rocket Science!

Docents in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

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.

Space Shuttle replica “Pathfinder” on display at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Saturn V rocket replica on display at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Saturn V rocket replica on display at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

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.

Payload Operations & Integration Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

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.

Astronaut toilet in the International Space Station exhibit at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

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.

Exhibits at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Docents in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

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!

An actual Saturn V rocket on display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
An actual Saturn V rocket on display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
An actual Saturn V rocket on display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Apollo 16 command module on display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

It was a great day and an excellent way to highlight our visit to Alabama!

Moon rock on display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Redstone Missle Test Stand, a National Historic Landmark, at the Marshall Space Flight Center at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

Postcard from Huntsville, Alabama

Control Room at the Payload Operations Integration Center at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, 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.

Picture of the TV screen showing live video from the International Space Station of astronauts returning to the ISS from a space walk

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!

Ready, Set, Go!

Costa Maya, Mexico

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.

Arrival in Cozumel, Mexico aboard Symphony of the Seas

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?”

Departing Miami for our second week aboard Symphony of the Seas
Departing Miami for our second week aboard Symphony of the Seas

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.

Marigot, St Martin
Arrival in Costa Maya, Mexico aboard Symphony of the Seas

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!

Costa Maya, Mexico
Breakfast at Johnny Rocket’s aboard Symphony of the Seas

Cruising for Photos

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

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.

Cocktails at the Rising Tide bar aboard Symphony of the Seas

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Sunrise and arrival in Nassau, Bahamas aboard Symphony of the Seas

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Keepin’ It Real – Roatan Island Art

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

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.

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

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” gallery in 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.

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

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.

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

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.

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

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!

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

All Aboard!

Central Park area aboard Symphony of the Seas

Ice skating show at “Studio B” aboard Symphony of the Seas

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.

Royal Promenade aboard Symphony of the Seas

HiRO show at the Aqua Theater on Symphony of the Seas

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!

In Cozumel, Mexico aboard Symphony of the Seas

Symphony of the Seas in Costa Maya, Mexico

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.

Sunrise and arrival in Nassau, Bahamas aboard Symphony of the Seas

Sunrise and arrival in Nassau, Bahamas aboard Symphony of the Seas

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!

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Chasing Train Stations in Florida

Train station in Lake Wales, Florida

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.

Train station in Homerville, Georgia

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.

Train station in Dundee, Florida

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!

CSX freight train passing the train station in Avon Park, Florida

Amtrak’s Silver Star arriving at the train station in Sebring, Florida

Amtrak’s Silver Star arriving at the train station in Sebring, Florida

Train station in Trenton, Florida

Train station in Trenton, Florida

Train station in Trenton, Florida

Train station in Homerville, Georgia

A Year of Departure

The Colosseum in Rome

“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

Statue of Puerto Rican composer Catalino “Tite” Curet Alonso in the Plaza de Armas, San Juan Puerto Rico

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.”

The Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy

Michelangelo’s “David” at the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Academy Of Florence Art Gallery)

The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica

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

Castiglione d’Orcia, Italy

Early morning, quiet street in Venice, Italy

Early morning, quiet street in Venice, Italy

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.

Room keys on maid’s cart, Pienza, Italy

Pienza, Italy

Montalcino, Italy

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!

I saw this guy every morning, picking up trash before dawn. While there were a number of these street sweepers, I always knew where this guy was because he whistled constantly. My memories of mornings in Venice include the strains of whatever tunes were passing through his lips.

Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Minneapolis Central Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tuscan countryside near Pienza, Italy

St. Simon’s Island, Georgia

The Pantheon