All posts by brucegk

The 2017 Number One City in the World

What city did Travel and Leisure Magazine name the number one city in the world in 2017? It wasn’t New York, Paris, London, or Tokyo. It was San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. While this rating may seem a little over the top, there are a lot of reasons to love San Miguel. First, it is an artistic center with galleries seemingly on every block. While there is a lot of folk art, I believe there is even more contemporary art of an exceptionally high quality. Whether you seek glass, pottery, paintings, sculpture, furniture, or wood carvings, it is all here.

Second, it is a culturally rich city with history, popular music, plays, lectures, and classical music readily available every week. Tonight, we are going to see Bohemian Rhapsody at the pocket theater. For $6 you get a pirated movie, a glass of wine, and a bag of popcorn. We are going from there to see guitarist Gil Gutiérrez, who formerly played with Doc Severinsen. Tomorrow afternoon we are watching the world premier staging of Bikers in Camelot, which began what is hoped to be a pre Broadway run in San Miguel.

Third, there is a diverse assortment of good restaurants. Not only good Mexican food, but good Peruvian, European, Thai, Italian and most other styles of food. In the last two weeks, I have enjoyed panko crusted sea bass and chicken breast stuffed with cheese and spinach with a tamarind sauce that are among the best dishes I have had in any restaurant. And the cost is less than half what you would expect to pay in the USA.

And fourth, it is a beautiful town with hidden treasures throughout the city.One of the most popular streets in the city to photograph is Aldama because it leads up to the Parroquia. You will notice several other things about this street. It is cobblestone like many of the streets in Centro which make walking and riding on the street quite uncomfortable. Second, the sidewalks are very narrow which means you usually have to step in the street or turn sideways to pass anyone. Third, there are no front yards so most houses and shops feature a courtyard and/or a rooftop garden to enjoy the outdoors.This is the terrace overlooking the courtyard in our hotel. The door at the end is ours. The courtyard houses a restaurant and two orange trees that are growing oranges. The courtyard features a movable roof to block the sun when it is hot or to block the rain.This is the courtyard in the Instituto Allende. It features a mural on the back wall and a fountain in the center. It is very popular for wedding receptions and you see flowers in the fountain from a recent reception.This house on Aldama features an interesting door, windows, and roof top. The roof top gardens are usually lined with pots of flowers or plants..Since dogs don’t have a front or back yard to play in, they are frequently up on the rooftop gardens,It seems that interesting doors are everywhere. The top door is the main entrance to the house of the Canal family, one of the wealthiest families in early San Miguel. It is now owned by Banamex Bank. The bottom door is richly carved.This window looks into a courtyard. It is always interesting to see what lies behind those walls!The Rosewood Hotel is one of the most luxurious in San Miguel. A popular activity is to go to their rooftop for drinks at sunset. We went with our friends from Ottawa, Canada: from left, Keith, Norm, Nicole, Jane, Suzanne, Peter, and of course Susan.

The sun sets in the opposite direction of the Parroquia, but tonight some orange managed to make its way behind it.The Rosewood has a beautiful courtyard by day or night.After three days with some clouds and even a trace of rain at Nirvana, we are back to what we call a Carolina Blue Sky. Tomorrow we fly to Puerto Vallarta on the Mexican coast to visit our friends from Minnesota, Jean and Ron and Lynn and Jim. We plan to have a lot of pool time to make up for missing the La Gutta Hot Springs here.

Two Weddings

Saturday is a big day for weddings in San Miguel. On our art walk on Saturday, we stopped at the San Antonio Church where the bridal party was just arriving.We are guessing this is a local San Miguel couple getting married.The bride and the flower girls were dressed up, but the father of the bride was dressed pretty casually.The little boy in the white suit and the little girl in the blue and white dress were both very cute.By contrast, the Parroquia hosts many destination weddings. The bride and groom had already left when we arrived. We are guessing that they are from Mexico City. Everyone in that wedding party was dressed to impress.

The area between the Parroquia and the Jardin usually has several balloon vendors which add to the festive atmosphere. The kids particularly like those crayon shaped balloons which bounce really high when they slam them into the ground.Watching the weddings from the comfort of the Jardin is a popular spectator sport on Saturdays.

We had an interesting incident while people watching in the Jardin last week. There was a school group in front of the Parroquia with both teachers and students wearing vivid green scarves. The teachers were louder and more animated than the children. Suddenly, a dozen kids and several teachers started running toward the Jardin and they surrounded us. The teacher had a camera and one of the students had a microphone connected to the camera which she thrust into Susan’s face. The students took turns asking us questions in English such as where we were from, what Mexican foods we liked, etc. We learned from them that they were sophomores from Guanajuato.

Those of you with good memories will recall that we met a similar school group in Guanajuato and they got Susan to dance with them on the steps in front of the theater. The teachers of Guanajuato really like to have fun on their field trips! About ten minutes after the first group left us, we were surrounded again by a second group and the process was repeated. There were plenty of other Americans and Canadians sitting in the Jardin that day. I think there is something about curly hair that attracts the Mexican children. Unfortunately, I was so busy with the kids, I failed to take any pictures.

Art, Art, and More Art

As you will notice from the pictures, the clouds have finally found San Miguel. Both Friday and Saturday were mostly sunny in the morning and mostly cloudy in the afternoon. There is even a good chance of a shower this evening. But not to worry, we are back to only a one percent chance of rain by Monday.

The clouds did make for a nice sunset at the Jardin tonight and we had no rain.

Today we spent the day on an art walk in the San Antonio area of San Miguel. San Antonio is an area adjacent to the Centro area where we normally stay. Forty seven artists had there studios open for the day. San Miguel became popular with American artists after WWII when many GIs attended art school at the Bella Artes in town. The city is still known as an artist colony with galleries scattered throughout the town. The art walk is particularly interesting because many of the studios are located in the artist’s home so you get to see some of their home as well. Most of the artists were from the USA or Canada, but some were Mexican. We also enjoyed the walk as it gave us an excuse to explore San Antonio in more detail.

These windows and doors are not real, but are strictly for decoration.The area was rich in street art. The bottom art work is made with mosaic tiles.Like all of San Miguel, San Antonio is filled with interesting doors and windows.

They had done a lot to save the trees in this part of town. There were limbs poking through the walls, tree trunks with a wall on both sides, and this hollow tree in the middle of the road. Susan is modeling her new Mexican dress and her old San Miguel Sandals. We have spent some time in the shoe stores here and Susan will have two new models of Sandals to show off when she gets home. For those not familiar, the San Miguel Sandals are sold here for about $35 and in the USA as Charleston Shoe Company Sandals for about $135. Some of the shoe boxes in the stores here even say Charleston Shoe Company. It doesn’t quite pay for our trip, but it helps.This was a very impressive gate.San Miguel is a colorful town, both from the flowers and the color of the buildings. Most buildings also have a rooftop patio. It was a good day with the opportunity to see a wide variety of art and to meet the artists.

Life in San Miguel

First, I have to give you a weather update. We have now been here six days and we have yet to see a single cloud. The temperature is in the mid eighties during the day and drops into the fifties at night. However, Accuweather’s chance of rain this Friday has skyrocketed up to 1%! I was checking on December weather here and came across the fact that the average number of muggy days per year here is zero. What’s not too love about that weather?

We have been attending a wide range of events. One was a lecture by the author of a book, The Decline of America. In it, he evaluates the performance of presidents from Woodrow Wilson through Obama and discusses their contribution to the decline. He was equally critical of Republicans and Democrats. As a spoiler, the highest grade was a B- and some of the more popular presidents got a D-. As I have mentioned previously, the English speaking people in San Miguel are very liberal. The audience was pretty calm until the speaker said that Obama was one of the least qualified presidents and criticized some of his policies. The discussion turned rather ugly after that.

We also attended a speech by a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. He was six years old at the time and his family was not in a shelter when the bomb dropped. They had no knowledge of the effects of radiation and walked through the area of impact several days later searching for food. Nobody knew why people started developing these strange conditions. He recounted how the survivors became damaged goods so that someone from outside the area would not marry a survivor. He ended with a plea for everyone to do what they could so this would never happen again.

Today, we saw a lecture on the life of Pete Seeger with the audience singing some of his most popular songs. The program was a big draw in a town filled with senior activists. We had gotten the last two available tickets the day before. We got to the theater about 30 minutes early to get good seats and joined the line up at the door. When the doors were not open five minutes before the show was to begin, the crowd began singing We Shall Overcome. The singing became particularly spirited with our new chorus of “We will enter the door”. Did I mention this all took place in the library?

San Miguel is a great city to explore on foot. This is one of numerous attractive Spanish Colonial streets.The rooftop terraces are lined with potted plants.Street murals can be found around the city.Many of the buildings also have interesting niches. One of the problems is that you have to look up to see many of the interesting things. Unfortunately, there is nothing more hazardous than looking up and walking due to the narrow sidewalks with numerous opportunities to trip. You have to learn to stop when you look up!We had dinner tonight at a roof top restaurant overlooking the Parroquia. The young ladies at the table next to us were from Houston and were visiting one of their parents in Mexico City. The restaurant claims the title of Number One Rooftop Destination in the World. I don’t know about that, but the food was outstanding!

In short, life in San Miguel is good!

Where Are We?

What do you call a town where….

…Accuweather says there is a zero percent chance of rain for the next ten days.

…we have to make hard choices between competing events we would really like to do virtually every day.

…where we can get delicious margaritas like this for five dollars.

…where you can see one of the most beautiful churches in the world by day or by night.

…where something like this can pop up at your hotel doorway in the middle of the afternoon.

It is San Miguel de Allende, Mexico which is located – as the locals like to say – on the fun side of the wall. It is hard to disagree with that. We arrived for our two week stay on Valentine’s Day.The first order of business on Friday is to go to the Jardin in the center of town to buy the local paper, Attención. You then grab one of the benches and study the events for the week and develop your plans. This is not easy! For instance, on Tuesday afternoon there were three things we really wanted to do and we could only choose one. After developing our plans, we set off to buy tickets. A couple events were already sold out which forced changes to our plans. Two weeks is just not enough time, so we are reconciled to the fact we are not going to be able to do some of the things we were looking forward to.

And it is also true that you can’t go home again. We went over to see our favorite grocer, Leo, and found that he had sold the business. You may remember Leo from previous blogs as always giving me a big hug and Susan a big kiss when we came in his store. Also, our favorite empanada store was out of business. But most places we remember are still in business and the city is as beautiful and as much fun as ever. With apologies to Kaye for stealing her line, we love it here!

The Museums of Winter Park Florida

We are presently staying in St. James Plantation, NC house sitting for friends while they enjoy a trip in Scandinavia. It is a forty five minute drive from there to Wilmington so a blog about our life here would be all about visiting Lowe’s Home Improvement stores and similar venues in preparation for our move on 2/Aug. I feel that would be of limited interest, but we did visit two nice museums in Winter Park, Florida before heading north a little less than two weeks ago.

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art houses the largest collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the world. Tiffany housed many of his best works at Laurelton Hall, his 65 room mansion on Long Island. After his death, the home fell into disrepair and eventually burned in 1957. After the fire, Tiffany’s daughter contacted Hugh and Jeanette Genius (I love the name) McKean to salvage as much of the art as possible. Hugh had studied at Laurelton Hall in 1930. To make a long story short, they recovered all the art they could from Laurelton, Jeanette founded the museum and named it after her grandfather, and Hugh served as director for 53 years. If you like Tiffany, you will love this museum!The museum has a collection of Tiffany lamps, windows, jewelry, paintings, blown glass, leaded glass, and mosaics.A sample of the stained glass windows on exhibit.Perhaps most amazing of all, the museum houses the chapel that Tiffany created for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. After the exposition it was moved to Laurelton and ultimately recovered by the McKeans. The bottom picture is the chandler in the chapel.

The second museum we liked was the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. Polasek was a Czech American sculpture who created 400 works in wood, stone, or metal in his lifetime. Half of them are on display at this museum and garden which was once his home. He served as the head of the sculpture department of The Art Institute of Chicago for thirty years. When he retired at age 70 to Winter Park, he soon suffered a stroke and was paralyzed on his left side. Despite this impediment, he created 18 major works using only his right hand! For some he would hold the chisel and an assistant would hit it with the hammer. The docent who led our private tour was very excited when she learned that we were familiar with Brookgreen Gardens (our former home was ten minutes away and we are members). She claimed we were the first she had met. Two of Polasek’s works are displayed there so we have to get back to see them before our membership expires.One of his most famous works, Man Carving His Own Destiny, was also one of his first from 1907.One of my favorites was this fountain where the water creates the strings of the harp.

We leave in a little over a week to visit our daughter Carrie and her family in Colorado and then go to St Paul, MN to visit our friends Ron and Jean. Carrie’s home has been the subject of several of my most popular posts, so we will see if anything is new there. We return to Wilmington just in time to close on our new home one day later. There is no rest for the weary!

The Space Coast

After a hectic and stressful 24 days at our Pawleys Island home, our boxes and bags were packed, the sale of our home was complete, and our new home was several months from being finished. What to do? We had all the boxes and furniture moved to a storage unit near our new home in Wilmington, NC, and we and our bags headed south to the Space Coast of Florida. Our first stop was in Wilmington to check on our new home.

This is the way it looked on May 30. It may look like it is being built on a beach or a desert, but it is really located in the city of Wilmington. We were there for our pre drywall inspection.

We then made a circuitous route through Charlotte, Columbia, and Charleston to see our children and grandchildren before heading south to St. Augustine, Florida. Perhaps we are jaded from so much more exotic foreign travel, but we were somewhat disappointed in St. Augustine despite it being the oldest city in the US. While there were some nice buildings in the old town, the ubiquitous souvenir shops detracted greatly from our enjoyment. One thing we did enjoy was the guided tour of Flagler College.

One of the campus buildings is the former Ponce de Leon Hotel built by millionaire developer and Standard Oil cofounder, Henry Flagler, in 1888. Flagler made his fortune first in grains, then in railroads, and finally in oil. He was fortunate to have two very good friends who helped build the hotel: one was named Tiffany and the other was named Edison. This meant the hotel had some very nice chandeliers and was one of the first fully electric buildings in the world. In fact, electricity was so new that that customers were afraid to flip the switches; so Flagler had to hire people to do this for them!

The two towers of the hotel were originally used as water storage tanks so the hotel could have running water.The building was one of the first in the country to be made of pored concrete. The trim on the doors, towers, and windows is terra-cotta.This picture shows four unique features in the former ballroom of the hotel: the clock was made by Edison (you can tell because he uses IIII as the Roman numeral four instead of the more traditional IV), it is a Tiffany chandelier, the stone in which the clock is mounted is one of the largest pieces of that stone type (Sorry, I forgot the stone type), and the ceiling color around the chandelier is the first use of Tiffany blue.The dining room features Tiffany stained glass windows. These windows are some of the first he made so they don’t reflect the more colorful style for which he became famous. Still, how many college dining rooms feature Tiffany windows?We also enjoyed the Lightner Museum, which is housed in the former Alcazar Hotel built by Flagler across the street from The Ponce. At the time it housed the world’s largest indoor swimming pool.

After an overnight in St. Augustine, we drove to our destination, the home of our world cruise friends, Dave and Donna. They are in their Pittsburgh home while we are staying at their second home in an RV and golf resort on the Space Coast of Florida. Their community is unique to me as all homes must include an RV garage or carport capable of housing a motor home.Since most people here have a motor home, one or two cars, and a golf cart, the garage designs are a major feature of the home.

This is the typical morning view out our back window. The late afternoon view is quite different with ominous black clouds, the rumble of thunder, and flashes of lightening. We have been in Florida for fourteen days and there have been heavy thunderstorms in the late afternoon on thirteen of those days. There was hail on two of those days. It makes it difficult to plan any early evening activities as the weather can make travel difficult. The area is also somewhat of a wildlife reserve. There have been deer in the back yard, alligators in the lake, and a bobcat running in the road. Herons, egrets, and other shore birds frequent the lake. We have seen an eagle on the roof of the largest house across the lake.

Our stay here is very relaxing. There is a beautiful national seashore about a half hour away. We also spend a lot of time at the neighborhood pool. We are both reading a lot of books. The neighborhood is even more friendly and outgoing than the Carolinas. Every person you see when you are walking, whether they are walking, driving a car, driving a golf cart, or working in the yard, waves and says “hi” to you. The people at the pool also want to talk to you and invite you to neighborhood events. We notice that the space program is a common topic of conversation here. I don’t recall anyone talking about it in the Carolinas. It is clearly an important part of their economy.

On the way home from the beach last week, we stopped at the manatee observation deck in a national wildlife refuge.There must have been more than thirty manatees hanging out around the deck. It was the first time I had ever seen a manatee.

Mary Anne and Steve, more friends from our world cruise, have invited us to their house several times and taken us on tours of the area by car and by boat. They are docents at the lighthouse on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station so they have gate passes and free access to the station. Most of our space launches have taken off from this station from one of the more than thirty launch pads located there. It appears that every new space program requires a new launch pad as only three are presently active and the others are abandoned. The active ones all belong to private companies.This is one of the active launch sites. The two tall metal towers are glorified lightening rods. Before launch, the rocket is moved within the center structure to prepare it. This one is unique in that at launch the structure moves out of the way. In most launch pads, the rocket moves away from the structure before launching. The odd shaped thing on the right was used to divert flames from the rocket at one of the abandoned launch pads. That launch pad where I am standing was the site of the Apollo One disaster where three astronauts were killed during a training exercise.After our tour, we enjoyed lunch in Port Canaveral. We have one more week in Florida before we head to North Carolina.

Back to the Real World

The last time I wrote I was sitting in the American Airlines business class lounge in Heathrow at ten in the morning. Unfortunately, we were still sitting there at five in the afternoon, about three hours after we were supposed to leave, to hear the news that our flight to Charlotte was cancelled. They had strung us along for the last three hours with various stories about repairing the refrigeration or air conditioning system on the plane. Prior to that, we were told that the plane was too hot for us to board because of the extreme heat (70’s) in London that day and they had to cool the plane first. They should be in the Carolinas to learn what extreme heat feels like. I speculated that they had no need for AC in London so no one there knew how to repair it.

They switched us to a flight that arrived in JFK at 11PM with a connecting flight at 5 AM to Charlotte and then a third flight to Myrtle Beach. American offered to put us up in a hotel that was about 75 minutes from the airport, but we figured the three hours at the hotel wasn’t worth the hassle. Unfortunately, security was closed then and there are no chairs on the checkin side of the terminal. A lot of our fellow Vikings were in the same situation. Four of them had found the doors to the entry desk of the American Lounge partly open and occupied four chairs near the check in desks. There were two benches there which Susan and I occupied. Unfortunately, the cleaning lady reported us to security and we were thrown out after about an hour.

After wondering around the open area and finding lots of people sitting and sleeping on the floor but no open chairs, we found a group of Vikings that found a source of wheel chairs to sit in. I had never sat in a wheel chair before, so I used the opportunity to practice wheelies and parking. Susan did not like the image of sitting in a wheel chair, so she put on her iPod and sneakers and walked around the terminal. After being up for over 24 hours we had to do something to keep ourselves entertained.This worked for about another hour until someone came and said it was her job to collect all the wheelchairs and put them back where we found them. With no place comfortable to sit, we then stood, sat, or lay on the floor at the entry to security until it opened at 3:30 AM. It was a rapid comedown from life on the Sun! You will not find many Vikings with many good words to say about either JFK or American Airlines. You certainly won’t hear any good words about either from me! To add insult to injury, one of my bags didn’t get on the plane to Myrtle Beach! This is very much the Readers Digest version of our problems on the flights home, but I will say that business class is much nicer than tourist! The remainder of the blog was written prior to arriving in London.

After 141 days of being served gourmet food; having our room cleaned twice a day; beIng entertained every night by singers, musicians, comedians, or magicians; being only steps away from a bridge game or several bars where all the drinks are on the house; and having a different view out our window every morning (except on sea days when the view can be rather repetitive), it is time to see if we can still live in the real world. One of our biggest worries is that at the conclusion of a restaurant meal, we will stand up and walk out the door without paying the bill. I know Visa and Mastercard are both worried about me, and Target must be really concerned that they haven’t seen me in so long.

Let me try to answer a few questions you may have. Was it a great experience? Absolutely! Would we do it again? Yes. Would we do another world cruise? Maybe, but only if most ports are new to us. Did we see places we want to return to? Oman, Singapore, and Malta. Did we make new friends that we will see again? Absolutely! Did we like the excursions offered by Viking? Many of them. But some ranged from OK to bad. Would we travel with Viking again? Yes, but I am concerned that they are growing too fast and it is going to be hard for them to maintain their standards – particularly in ports that are new to them. Did we gain weight? Yes, but nothing too extraordinary. Was the weather nice? Most of the trip was very hot, but we only had one day in the whole trip that we had to use our umbrella during a tour. This is remarkable since it was the rainy season many places. Did you ever get sea sick? No for Bruce and only in the Tasman Sea and Bay of Biscay (both are notorious for their rough seas) for Susan. How many days did you play trivia? 67. How many trivia questions did you attempt to answer? 1030. How many did you get right? I plead the 5th. Did you pack enough? Too much for Bruce and there is never enough for Susan. Are we still in love? Yes!!!

While we love the overall experience of living on the cruise ship, we still feel that cruising is the worst means of travel to really experience the culture and see the sights of a destination. It is useful for determining what locations you would like to see in more detail. In our case, we had been to most of the countries on the cruise, so we already knew whether we liked them or not.

Another surprise was how illness spread around the ship. When you fly you are exposed to the germs of present and past flyers in the recirculating air and the surfaces you touch. The same is true on a cruise ship and there are more potentially sick people. Also, when you visit a different port every day, you get exposed to whatever might be going around that country. There was a cough/cold crud (that was the official diagnosis of the doctor) that started before Los Angeles and took a month to work its way around the ship. Several friends had three or four illnesses that laid them up at least a day each time that said this never happens to them at home. We are paranoid about washing our hands now. Another huge risk is falls. It seems there is a fall every other day. Some are inconsequential, but there have been many broken bones – most stayed on the ship, but some left. We were fortunate that we each had the crud only once and neither of us fell.

We will be very busy when we get home to Pawleys Island on Sunday. Some of you already know this, but it will be a surprise to others. Prior to leaving on our cruise, we purchased a new home at Del Webb Riverlights in Wilmington, NC. They broke ground on the house in April, and it is scheduled for completion in early August. We also put our condo on the market before we left on the trip. Since we live in a beach resort, we didn’t expect many lookers until Easter or even the summer. The condo sold in February and we have to move out on May 29. This gives us just over three weeks to say goodbye to our friends and get packed and out of there. If you are doing the math, it also makes us homeless for over two months. We will be filling this time staying at the empty houses of friends in Florida and North Carolina, visiting our daughter in Colorado, visiting friends in Minnesota, visiting our son in Charlotte, and checking out our new home in Wilmington. If there are some interesting travel adventures, I will be posting the occasional blog.

As always, we want to thank you for following our blog. Many of you we know as relatives and long term personal friends. Others we know mostly because of our common love of travel. Some of those we have met, and others we have never met. We are honored that all of you are interested enough to read the blog. We always enjoy hearing your thoughts and comments. We would love to meet all of you sometime in our travels. We will be in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for the months of December, January, and March. This will be our fourth winter in SMA and the first time we stayed for three months. If any of you are going to be in SMA during that time period, let’s get together! Have a good summer.

The dinner for the couples that are bridge partners.Our trivia team. Marti, Julie, Karen, John, Steve, Mary Ann, and us.A Cruise Critic meet and greet.

The Mahjong group.

A Sunny Day in London Town

I am sitting in the American Airlines business class lounge in Heathrow Airport writing this blog about our last port of call. I feel like I am sitting in the lounge on the Viking Sun as I am surrounded by fellow cruise passengers. When we boarded in Miami, our captain said that he was in charge of getting us to the right ports, but we were in charge of the weather. If I have to say so myself, we did an outstanding job throughout the trip; and that good work continued in London. After days of rain and cold in London, we brought brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s.Londoners love to give nicknames to buildings. The top building is The Shard and the bottom building tends to have changing names. Until recently when the name no longer made sense, it was named after Princess Kate.We didn’t have time to ride it, but it would have been a perfect day for the London Eye. You don’t dare call it a Ferris wheel in front of a Londoner; and unlike most Ferris wheels, its only support is on one side.Unlike the museums which are free, it costs almost 30 dollars and a long queue to go into Westminster Abbey. It was suggested that the smart people attend a Sunday morning service which is free and uncrowded.Parliament Square has many statues of people who have made the world better. Abraham Lincoln is one of the statues. This tour group from India is having their picture taken in front of the Gandhi statue.This is the view of Big Ben and Parliament House from near Parliament Square. The classic view is, of course, from the other side taken from across the Themes. In case you can’t recognize Big Ben, it is totally enclosed in scaffolding for renovation. They are also installing scaffolding for a renovation of the Parliament Building which is expected to take over forty years! I guess there is no hope I will ever see it without the scaffolding. The left side of the building is the House of Commons (or Kindergarten as our guide calls it) and the right side is the House of Lords (or adult day care).A mounted member of the palace guards.In the afternoon, we visited the Tower of London, the home of the Crown Jewels.Ravens are a fixture in the Tower. Legend says that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, it will collapse and the monarchy will fall. The ravens have their wings clipped so they are unable to fly away. They have a guard assigned to feed them, let them out of their cages in the morning, and put them back in the evening.Over a hundred people live in the Tower. To get back in after official closing hours, they have to know a password which changes every day. I think I might have to spend some nights in town.The Scotch Guard outside the building with the Crown Jewels.The Tower Bridge. The city is full of traffic and buses. We spent much of our tours sitting in traffic. Our transfer from the ship to Heathrow took over an hour and a quarter with no traffic on a Saturday morning, and only the last few minutes were on a road that would pass as an expressway.

I will do a wrap up post after we get home.

That’s a Lot of Laundry

The Sun offers periodic tours of the ships laundry. Susan had a conflict when our opportunity came, so I took the tour by myself. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed. The laundry area is staffed 24/7 with 6 men working each twelve hour shift. I was surprised by how small the area was. They have four large washing machines with 12 cycles which wash an average of 235 pounds in each load. When we submit a bag of laundry, each item is tagged with our room number, and all of our laundry is placed in one mesh bag to keep it separate in the washing machine. All guest laundry is washed at 85F and linens are washed at 140F. Items from the doctors office are sanitized at 185F. All laundry products are by Ecolab and contain no phosphorous so the grey water can be discharged directly in the ocean.

The clothes and towels are dried in four large industrial dryers similar in size to the washing machines. The sheets and pillow cases are dried and folded by one massive machine affectionately known as “The Mangler”. Clothes are hand pressed and folded, and the towels are hand folded. Steam was used for most of the pressing. Staff uniforms were pressed by placing them over an inflatable mannequin and shooting steam through them.

Bedsheets and towels are changed twice a day in some cabins (must be the owners suite) to every three days in most cabins. The sheets and towels last about 70 washings before they are discarded by incinerating them. The average life is about two to three months. The math doesn’t quite work for me, but no matter which numbers you use, it is a big consumption of sheets and towels. I never dreamed that the sheets starting our cruise would not make it to the end.

The estimated laundry load per day on our cruise is: 2000 towels, 500 sheets, 300 table cloths, 1500 napkins, 250 crew uniforms, and 350 bags of passenger laundry (laundry is free for everyone on this cruise).

This is how we receive the laundry back in our room. The underwear and socks are neatly folded, wrapped in paper, sealed with a sticker, and delivered in this nice white leather box. I am looking for a box for Susan to use when we get home! Everything pressed is hung in the closet on a hanger. We grouse about having to fill out the laundry list and take our tee shirts off of the hangers, but it is very nice not having to wash any laundry. The rumor is that the free laundry is costing Viking a lot more than they anticipated. In any case, only the most expensive cabins have free laundry on the next world cruise.