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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While COVID created a lot of obstacles to overcome, we really enjoyed being out in the world again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Bald Head Island and are already talking about visiting it again as there is much more to explore.
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.
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!
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!
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.
…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!