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Return to Bald Head Island

Those of you with really good memories, may recall a post titled Old Baldy from September of last year. In that post we talked about our tour of Bald Head Island (BHI) with a group from Del Webb. If you want to review the history of the island, you can search for the “Old Baldy” post using the search icon in the upper right of the page. I ended the post saying that we enjoyed the island so much that we were already talking about our return. This week we made that dream come true.

We rented a VRBO on the island with two other couples from Del Webb, Maryann & Paul and Nancy & John. The home was beautiful and surrounded by dense, old growth forest. As part of our house rental, we were able to have a temporary membership in the Shoals Club during our stay. The weather was mostly sunny with temperatures in the low 70’s, but very windy. As a result our time at the beach and pool at the club was limited, but we did enjoy a wonderful dinner on our last night. There are no cars or trucks on the island (other than for construction), so we explored the island on the golf cart included with the rental.

Our house was called “Morning Light” and included a six passenger golf cart being charged in the rear of the driveway, a four passenger golf cart, and four bikes.
The living room and all three bedrooms had views of the surrounding forest.
Part of the living room, the kitchen, and the dining room table. The house accommodated us very comfortably and featured a lot of wood in its design and furnishings. Even the sink in the downstairs bath was wood.
The island is only accessible by ferry. This is the marina where the ferry arrives. It is surrounded by houses, several bed and breakfasts, and a few restaurants and businesses.
The island is marsh, forest, and beach. Much of the land is protected as a nature conservancy. Here we are on one of several nature trails. From left to right is Paul, Maryann, Nancy, Susan, and John.
The overwhelming majority of the houses on the island are custom designed and built. Like the one we rented, most were built to protect as much surrounding vegetation as possible. We particularly liked this one overlooking the ocean.
One of the two pools at the Shoals club. The water was heated and people were in the pool, but it wasn’t quite warm enough for me.
There was a wide, soft sand beach by the shoals club. The beach is off of Frying Pan Shoals which is part of the graveyard of the Atlantic due to the high number of shipwrecks there. The water is very shallow off the beach and you can walk a long distance into the ocean. However, the water was very rough due to a storm offshore, so we didn’t go in the ocean.
Sand, seabirds, and waves
Old Baldy lighthouse.
Confederate Jasmine is popular at the houses around the marina. It smells as good as it looks.
A nature overlook popular with birds.
We enjoyed our three days on BHI and look forward to returning. Thanks to Maryann for allowing me to use a number of her pictures.

Exploring San Miguel – Part 1

One of the highlights of visiting San Miguel are the numerous activities at many venues around town. We are finding that there are far fewer activities than in previous years. The Shelter Theater and the San Miguel Playhouse are both shut down. Their replacement was a theater at Casa de la Noche (a bed and breakfast where we play bridge) which operated for the first part of January before closing temporarily for COVID. It was supposed to reopen in mid February, but no sign of that happening. The Biblioteca has less than half of its normal programming. Pro Musica (chamber music) is on a normal schedule and we attended a concert our first week here. One of the pocket movie theaters is on a normal schedule and the other appears to be closed. The Angela Peralta auditorium has some attractions. So while it is less than normal, we are still able to find activities of interest. I continue to find that the COVID precautions in San Miguel exceed those in the USA.

But another highlight of San Miguel is exploring the city. And that is what we are doing most every day. Following are some pictures from our first few days of exploration.

Giant puppets called mojigangas are a fairly common sight in town. It appears their headquarters is about a half block from our home. This is the groom puppet headed down the road to the Jardin. The bride puppet was also walking down the middle of the road a little ahead of him. As you see, puppets have the right of way as do other pedestrians. You will notice a puppet next to the door with the fake flowers above it. That makes me think that is where the puppets came from. It is hard enough walking on the cobblestones and side walks here. I would hate do do it in a mojigangas outfit!
I took this picture not for the building, but for the pots lining the roof. This is very common.
This building is labeled as a cultural center, but appears to be some sort of school. It is located on a very steep slope.
This square is lined with tubs that were once used for laundry.
Of course, day or night, we never get tired of passing through the Jardin and seeing the Parroquia!

We have attended lectures at the Biblioteca in previous years where the speaker advocated focused walks where you concentrate on one aspect of the architecture such as fountains, doors and windows, murals, door knockers, corner niches, or roof drain pipes. I have never done this, but I am thinking it might be fun this time.

The Ultimate in Relaxation

We have begun our winter vacation in Mexico. Getting into Mexico in the age of COVID was easy. Getting out of Wilmington, not so much. We began our vacation in Puerto Vallarta visiting our friends Ron and Jean. We were booked to fly out of Wilmington to Puerto Vallarta on Saturday, 22/Jan at 6:20 AM. All the preceding week they predicted freezing rain in Wilmington starting on Friday and ending Saturday morning. We investigated changing our flight to Sunday, but that would cost us $500. We decided to hope for the best. The freezing rain started as predicted; and by early Friday afternoon, all flights in and out of Wilmington were canceled for the remainder of Friday and early Saturday. The earliest flight they could book us on was Monday morning and we got the last two seats on that flight. While getting here was traumatic, it could not be more relaxing once we arrived.

This is our patio at the conclusion of the ice storm that shut down the Wilmington airport. Some of you from the north may not be too impressed. We stayed in all day and didn’t see any cars on our road. We know what to do when the weatherman says “freezing rain”!

We are staying at the Vidanta resort in Nuevo Vallarta, across the bay from Puerto Vallarta. The resort is huge with three golf courses, a lush tropical landscape, numerous hotel buildings and even more numerous pools. If you tire of the pools, it is located on the ocean. There is no good reason to leave the resort as there is ample shopping, restaurants, and entertainment on the grounds. There are electric shuttles to take you around the resort. They aspire to become the Mexican version of Disney World and have been working on their theme park for several years. So far they have built a gondola ride covering much of the grounds, a Ferris Wheel, and a parachute drop with only the gondola operational.

Susan and Jean on the gondola ride.
We are staying on the sixth floor on the far side of the building on the right. We overlook a river and Puerto Vallarta on the far side of the bay.
A small part of the resort from the gondola.
Ponds, pools, sand, and ocean.
The entrance lobby of the Grand Mayan.
Wooden walkways cover the grounds.
Pond and rainbow
The Market Place. A little fancier than Harris Teeter.
The sun never sets on relaxation here.

Cruising on the Rotterdam

This is our first cruise on Holland America. We were drawn to it because several friends on the Viking world cruise were HAL veterans, and they preferred HAL at the end of the Viking cruise. Other friends had little good to say about HAL, so we decided we really ought to check it out for ourselves. The ship is brand new and this is the first cruise with paying passengers. As might be expected, this means there was a learning curve for the crew.

The ship’s name is Rotterdam. It is the seventh ship with that name. They were all named after the hometown of the parent company. It is a pinnacle class ship holding just under 2700 passengers. Due to a number of COVID related issues, there are only 900 passengers (which matches the 905 member crew), so there are never any waits and the venues are normally pretty empty. The entertainers and crew all talk about not working for 20 months and how happy they are to be sailing again. I think all the passengers feel the same.

COVID procedures are followed and enforced on the ship. Everyone is fully vaccinated and tested negative prior to the cruise. Everyone was tested again after five days, but no results are known. We must wear masks when moving around inside the ship. Masks can be taken off while eating and drinking. There are many signs that say “Sip and Mask”, but I have seen no one do that. People tend to social distance where practical; but if it is not practical, no one seems to worry about it. In the main show where social distancing is easy, about half leave there mask on and half take it off. HAL provided each cabin with four branded masks, and they are the most comfortable mask I have worn. All in all, we feel very safe!

On a transatlantic crossing you expect a lot of sea days. We were scheduled to have eight; and since we had to skip two ports due to high winds, we actually had ten sea days. This means the day and evening entertainment are critical. The evening stage entertainment was a highlight. We had a contemporary dance troup, a Jersey Tenors group, a classical pianist/humorist who was outstanding (check out pianistwiththehair.com), a saxophonist who was also outstanding, two comedians, and a soprano. The second deck has a music walk with several venues featuring diverse music. Our favorites are the chamber music quartet, a jazz group, and the B. B. King group performing classic rock. In addition there is a piano duo and a hard rock group. We had dinner with the saxophonist one night and he said the performing groups were franchise groups where the franchiser has a number of similar groups to offer to the cruise ships.

The ship is clean and attractive; but, interestingly, they are busy painting parts of the exterior decks. I guess the salt air requires continuing maintenance from day one. The food is good, but we feel it lacks variety. It should also be noted that they charge $8.50 for a shrimp cocktail in the main dining room and that there is no free lobster on the ship. The biggest disappointment for me is that there are no lecturers on the ship. That has always been a big part of my sea days. They do have a duplicate bridge and mahjong game, but each has at most three tables.

Susan liked to walk around the third deck. Three laps was one mile.
The wake behind the ship.
For Halloween they had a pumpkin carving contest.
The Explorers Lounge was the best place to relax and take in the ocean views.
The BB King room was our favorite evening venue.
The main stage was very high tech. Projections can be made on the entirety of the front and side walls. Only the front walls are shown in the picture.
A farewell from the crew on the main stage.

While COVID created a lot of obstacles to overcome, we really enjoyed being out in the world again.

Quaint Quimper

Our next, and what would turn out to be our final, port of call was Brest, France. Our tour here was to the quaint, half-timbered town of Quimper (which our guide pronounced as Kim.pair’) located in the Brittany prefecture. The weather had been cloudy and somewhat threatening in the previous ports, but here it was off and on rain all morning. As we were riding the bus to Quimper, the rain intensified to a steady heavy rain. Just as the bus stopped to let us off, the rain stopped and the clouds soon parted for a beautiful afternoon in a beautiful little French town.

Quimper is located at the confluence of two rivers which give the town the appearance of canals running through it. The town name means confluence.
There were many half-timbered buildings in town.
Many of the half-timbered buildings showed a definite slant.
There were pretty street scenes all over the city.
A number of the buildings had caricatures on the front.
The French do love their merry go rounds. There was even one at the entrance to the cathedral.
The cathedral entrance.
The Quimper Cathedral is unique in that the nave has an angle at the middle. This was done to avoid building part of the church in a swampy area.
A garden square adjoining the cathedral.
Quimper is well known for its China and pottery. This store had a sample of the various patterns on the facade of the building. We visited on a Sunday and most of the shops were closed. However, what our guide called the “sin shop” was open; and we did enjoy some delicious French treats there.
We thought Quimper was a delightful city we would like to explore in more detail.

The Land of Impressionism

After our first port of Zeebrugge was cancelled because our departure from Amsterdam had to be delayed until the high winds had diminished so we could safely traverse the locks. That made our first port LaHavre, France. The main destinations for this port were Paris, a three hour drive, and the beaches of Normandy. Since we had lived for a month in Paris and visited the beaches of Normandy during that month, we opted to visit Monet’s home in the small village of Giverny.

Monet had a large home set among extensive gardens. While the gardens were certainly past their prime, there were still a lot of blooms.
Monet’s studio is the entrance to the first floor. Like many of the rooms, the walls are covered with paintings. I presume they are reproductions.
His desk with a beautiful veneer image on the lid.
The dining room. Apparently, Monet liked Japanese art as this room was filled with it.
The kitchen had a nice assortment of copper pots.
The flower beds were not planted in an artistic manner, but were long beds of what seemed to be randomly planted flowers with a gravel path between the beds. They employ ten full time gardeners and have volunteers from around the world to assist in the summer. They try to maintain the gardens the same as Monet had them. The gardens are quite large as they extend across the front of the house which you see in the background of the picture.
The famous water lily pond was on the other side of the road in front of the house and was not visible from the house. Unfortunately, no blooms in the fall.
The edges of the pond were heavily landscaped. In this part of France, people were wearing masks outside as well as inside.
There were several row boats scattered around the pond, and that must be the way to get the classic view of this famous bridge.
We had lunch in the restaurant in the hotel where Monet liked to dine with his fellow painters. It was a very enjoyable day. We both like Monet’s art so it was nice to see the spot where he did many of his paintings.

Old Baldy

After spending all day Tuesday driving home from New Jersey, we went with a group from our Del Webb community to Bald Head Island on Wednesday. Bald Head is a small barrier island about a 45 minute drive from Wilmington, NC and is accessible only by passenger ferry. Other than a few commercial vehicles, transportation is only by golf cart, bicycle, or foot. We took the 30 minute ferry ride to the island and then had a two hour guided history tour by golf cart.

The early history of Bald Head Island relates to its proximity to the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the only river in the state that flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Consequently it was an important transportation link with the rest of the world. It made Wilmington the largest city in the state until other means of transportation became prevalent. Bald Head Island became home to three different lighthouses in an attempt to help ships avoid Frying Pan Shoals (also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic) near the river mouth. At low tide, it is possible to walk several thousand feet into the ocean with water only reaching your ankles.

The first light house was built on the river side of Bald Head and soon had to be torn down due to erosion from the river. The second light house was built further inland in 1817 to avoid erosion problems. It is still standing today as the oldest lighthouse in the state and is known affectionately as Old Baldy. Unfortunately, it was too low and it’s light was not bright enough to provide full protection from Frying Pan Shoals. Therefore, it had to be supplemented by a lighthouse boat to provide full protection.

The taller and brighter Cape Fear lighthouse was commissioned in 1903. Unfortunately, it was built of cast iron which quickly rusted in the salt air. It had to be torn down in 1958 for safety reasons. Old Baldy was decommissioned in 1959 and both were replaced with the Oak Island lighthouse, the newest lighthouse in the state.

Looking across the marsh at Old Baldy. If you look closely, the light on top is not centered. This is because a used replacement lens was installed that had to be placed off center to keep from blocking access to the light.
Old Baldy is no longer painted, so all the previous repairs can be seen. We climbed the 108 steps for the view from the top.
Unfortunately, you could not go outside at the top, so it was very hot and the pictures have some reflections from the glass. Still, if you love marshes as much as I do, it is hard to beat this view.
Looking toward the harbor area and ferry terminal.

The development of Bald Head Island began about 40 years ago under the direction of the man who invented fracking. While you may think fracking is not environmentally friendly, he did give a lot of consideration to the environment in the development. The development was planned at about 2000 home sites with the rest of the land given to the Bald Head Island Conservancy. Many property owners have deeded their land to the Conservancy, so at this time development is limited to about 1800 homes of which about 1200 have been built. The permanent population of the island is about 230. The houses are generally built in the woods rather than tearing down all the trees to make construction easier.

The harbor area.
The dunes are wide and natural.
These cabins are among the most popular on the island for their commanding view of the dunes and ocean. They were formerly used by the keepers of the third lighthouse.
The harbor and restaurant with Old Baldy in the background, You can clearly see the light is off center,

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Bald Head Island and are already talking about visiting it again as there is much more to explore.

The Other Wilmington

After staying home most of the year, we headed to New Jersey this week to visit with friends and family. On the way, we made a one day stop in Wilmington, Delaware to see what the other Wilmington was like. Our main destination was the Nemours Estate, site of the mansion built by Alfred DuPont for his second wife, Alicia. The mansion was built in the late 18th century French style that Alicia adored and was named Nemours after the French town that his great-great-grandfather represented in the French Estates General. The estate contains the largest formal French gardens in North America.

The fountain near the entrance gate to the mansion with a combination water tower and clock tower in the background.
These 18th century English gates were once used at Wimbledon Manor outside of London. The weather was even more beautiful than it looks with low humidity, temperature in the mid 70’s, and a breeze.
The front of the mansion.
Unfortunately, the second floor was closed due to COVID, but the chandelier was very nice.
I particularly liked the woodwork over this fireplace.
The dining room. The chandelier came from Shonnbrun Palace in Vienna, Austria
The music room. Alfred loved to compose and play music. He played five different instruments including the violin (his favorite), piano, and the lyre guitar seen in the corner. Unfortunately, he lost his hearing by the time he reached 40, so he could no longer play and enjoy music
We both agreed we would spend most of our day in the garden room – bright and great views of the gardens. There were no birds in the two large birdcages.
The formal garden.
Elk statues were at the top of the Long Walk from the front of the mansion to the Temple of Love at the end.
The reflecting pool with the Colonnade in the background
Looking back up The Long Walk to the mansion.
One of the statues at the reflecting pool.
The maze garden is below the reflecting pool.
The colonnade is a tribute to Alfred’s great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather.
The Sunken Garden is below the Colonnade. The Long Way reminded us of both St Petersburg and Versailles.

We had a very pleasant lunch on the sidewalk in an older section of town where the streets were lined with row houses. We had smoked salmon on a bagel. Yum!

Our second stop was the Delaware Art Museum. We particularly liked the Chihuly glass in this window.
The museum had a contemporary sculpture garden where our favorite was this modern take on The Thinker.

We had dinner at a seafood restaurant on the water front. While this Wilmington had the better mansion and art museum, our Wilmington has the better waterfront. I can’t say enough about how nice the weather was!

Let the Sun Shine In

We came to Puerto Vallarta after a month in San Miguel to relax in the warmth and sunshine at the pool. After walking three to five miles in the thin air and hills of San Miguel, it is really nice to have a week of total relaxation.As you can see, it is a beautiful pool surrounded by palms with mountains on one side and ocean on the other side.Unfortunately, this is us on day 1 with everyone wearing a fleece and huddled under a towel for warmth under a totally cloud covered sky. Day 2 was similar with a high probability of rain, which didn’t arrive until after dark. Day 3 was an all day rain. Fortunately, we brought a pirated DVD of Knives Out from Juan’s in SMA for entertainment. Day 4 had a gloomy forecast and the sky looked threatening when we awoke. By the time we finished breakfast, there were patches of blue; so we bravely headed for the pool. The sky cleared, and it was a nice afternoon. Day 5 and 6 were sunny as expected but a little chilly until afternoon. Fortunately, we had our Minnesota friends, Jean and Ron and Lynn and Jim to talk to and keep us entertained on the cloudy, rainy days.

Thursday, we went into the nearby town of Bucerías for dinner and to see the chalk art show on the streets. The theme for this year’s Chalk Art Walk 2020 was “One Love – Celebrating Unity Throughout The World.” Each of the 25 participating artists created theme inspired chalk art. Each art piece had to depict a human, animal, and plant all living harmoniously together. I think the bad weather reduced participation, and a couple of the art works were wiped out by the rain and not restored. Following are a few examples:

There was music as well as art.

We enjoyed a seafood dinner on the Bucerías oceanfront.

It was a beautiful sunset with birds flying around.

The. view of Puerto Vallarta from our room. Saturday we fly to Merida on the Yucatan peninsula. This will be a new location for us, so the blogs may be more frequent.

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!