The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

After eight relaxing days at sea to begin the cruise, the last half of the cruise where we were in port many days proved to be more eventful. The ugly occurred on the formal night when lobster was served. One man was upset when an adjacent table that was seated after he was got served their lobster before he did. He proceeded to go to the adjoining table and punch the man in the nose. This resulted in an all out fight, with one wife screaming hysterically, and the captain breaking up the fight. Both offenders were thrown off the ship and banned for life from sailing again. We were in the restaurant at the time but didn’t see the fight and thought the screaming was a hysterical child. How embarrassing that two seniors could behave this way over who got there lobster first!

The bad occurred on our trip to Mont Saint-Michel. The guide was not very good, and gave unclear instructions about returning to the bus. When it was time to return to the ship, the wife of one of the men on the trip was missing. He would not leave without his wife and got off the bus to look for her. We pulled out of the now empty parking lot with him wondering aimlessly looking for his wife. We all said you can’t leave him this way, but the driver and guide were insistent we had to leave. One woman then voluntarily got off the bus to help him (her husband was on another trip so she risked them getting separated when the ship sailed). It was all very disturbing but had a happy ending as they found the wife, everyone got to the ship on time, and the heroine got her excursion cost refunded.

The good was everything else about the trip. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we booked another crossing from Miami to Rome on an even bigger ship next April. It is fully refundable until December, so we can easily change our mind if we decide we don’t really like spending long summers in Europe. Part of the good was playing bridge on many afternoons with a nice couple from Florida. This couple taught me the important skill of bagelizing. I hope to put my new found bagelizing skills to good use. Thanks, Joe! We have completed the cruise and are now in Amsterdam. Following are some pictures from our port calls.

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Wooden Street Elevator in Lisbon

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Mont Saint-Michel in France

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The White Cliffs of Dover England

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Dover Castle

Pictures of Brugge, our favorite stop, to follow.

Is Big Better???

If you are reading this, it means that eight days at sea have passed and we have found a restaurant in Lisbon with free wifi. During the first six days at sea, the only thing we saw other than sea and sky was a distant ship and one lonely bird. On day seven we saw several of the islands in the Azores.

We are on a transatlantic crossing of the Celebrity Constellation with 2300 traveling companions. To put this in perspective, I have been on over a dozen vacations on ships varying in size from 40 to 330 passengers. On several occasions, the 330 passenger ship seemed too big to me. Needless to say, I had some fear that I would hate a ship this size and be bored with eight straight sea days.

We had decided we wanted to spend the summer in Europe. There were two ways to get there: fly or ship. The Martins, who were our inspiration for adopting this lifestyle, said that repositioning cruises such as this one were their favorite way to cross the Atlantic. Comparing the two options, you have to give speed to the planes, but comfort, food, entertainment, jet lag and service go to the ship by a wide margin. Cost can go either way, but was similar in our case.

At this point we are enjoying the cruise and would do it again. The entertainment and lectures are virtually non stop. Our favorites are:
1) a woman who was head of the White House Visitation Office for the Clintons. She has a lot of inside information on life in Washington.
2) A British piano player who plays all types of music but mostly classical. He is quite a showman and has a lot of fascinating background on what he is playing.
3) A singer whose repertoire ranges from Leonard Skinner to Pavaratti. He did two of my favorite songs: Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission (it has been given lyrics in Italian) and Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen.

At this point, I wouldn’t say the bigger ship is better than the smaller ship, but it is a lot more pleasant than flying!

Too Early, Too Late, But Still Beautiful

In the South, spring tends to be all about the azaleas. We live near Brookgreen Gardens which is a sculpture garden and wildlife preserve built by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington on four former rice plantations to showcase her sculptures. We went twice this year to try to catch the azaleas at their prime. As you might guess from the title we were too early the first time and they were past their prime the second time. Still, I think you will agree from the pictures below, the gardens are beautiful at any time.
We begin our “home free adventures” this Thursday. We sail to Europe on the Celebrity Constellation with ten days at sea and stops in Lisbon, Dover, Mont Saint-Chapel, and Brugge. We get off the ship in Amsterdam where we will stay for five nights. We talked to someone who is just back from Amsterdam and he reports the tulips are early this year. We are hoping to see some tulips there, but it looks like we will be late again. We will not be blogging until we get to Amsterdam.

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Azaleas, Live Oaks, and Water: The Beauty of Georgetown County

Friday we took a day long tour of thirteen different plantations, homes, and churches dating from the 1700’s to very early 1900’s located in Georgetown County, SC.  This event is sponsored by one of the churches in Georgetown.  This is the first time either of us had explored this area of the county and we found it beautiful and fascinating.  In pre-revolutionary and  antebellum  times, the Georgetown area was one of the wealthiest areas of the country.  The wealth was based on rice, indigo, and long leaf pine.  Four of the signers of the Declaration of Independence came from the Charleston/Georgetown area.  One of the things that surprised me was the prevalence of gun clubs or hunting preserves in the area.  It turns out, the abandoned rice fields are very attractive to migratory birds.  There was one active gun club on the tour owned by six families that share use of the building.  Another home was a private home in the middle of a huge hunting preserve.  Another former gun club had been given to the state of South Carolina and is now a nature reserve.  We are anxious to return there to explore the boardwalk in a water bird nesting area and the walking trails.  We plan to go to Brookgreen Gardens this week to check out the azaleas there.

Following are a few pictures from our plantation tour.

Esterville Plantation Esterville Plantation Belle Isle Plantation

 

The Ringling and Olivia

We stopped in Florida on our way home from Guatemala to visit friends wintering in Siesta Key. We went to Sarasota one day to visit The Ringling, a collection of museums established by John Ringling (of circus fame) and his wife Mable. The Ringling consists of their home, an art museum, a circus museum, and gardens. John died with only $300 in cash and this fabulous art collection and home which he left to the people of Florida. The first picture is his home on Sarasota Bay.

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The art museum contains Ringling’s collection of 16th – 20th century European paintings featuring a large number of Rubens.

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I loved these vines that were growing flat against the walls.

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Of course I can fit into a small clown car! Did you have any doubts?

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But who is Olivia? She is the osprey who is nesting on a platform built for that purpose near the condominium unit where our friends live. They named the nesting pair Oscar and Olivia. I went to visit their nest in an attempt to get a picture of one of them landing on the nest. They landed repeatedly when I first met them, but I didn’t have my camera with me. On this second visit, Olivia was sitting on the nest and kept a close watch on what I was doing. There was no landing action to photograph, but I like this picture of her staring intently at me.

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How Does a Chicken Bus Cross the Road (And Answers to Other Questions You Didn’t Ask)

We took an excused absence from school today and took a chicken bus to the small Mayan village of San Antonio. In case you never heard of a chicken bus, they are OLD US school buses that are driven to Guatemala, repainted in vivid colors, and possibly refurbished by adding luggage racks on the roof or other modifications. They are called chicken buses because the riders often bring live animals on the bus. We walked to the bus depot on the edge of town.

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We found the bus that had our destination painted on the front.

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While we were waiting for the bus to leave the station, various venders came through the bus hawking their wares. The bus stops for anyone along the way at any point. Once a women in uniform got on collecting for some charity, rode a minute or so while she collected donations, and then got off the bus.
All chicken buses have an assistant driver who spends most of his time hanging out the open door of the moving bus.

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His job is to see that the bus clears any obstacles on the right side, to attract passengers, and to collect the fares. This brings us to the answer of how a chicken bus crosses the road in Antigua. Actually, it is rather carefully in many instances. Because the sidewalks are very narrow and the buildings are right next to the sidewalk, it is hard to see oncoming traffic without getting right in the middle of the intersection. The bus stops at the intersection, the assistant goes into the cross street to check for traffic, signals the driver when it is safe to cross, and hops on the bus as it crosses the street.

Where do you get your shoes Shined?
We like to go to Central Park and look for Tony.

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Does it rain in Antigua?

We literally have not seen a drop of rain in five weeks!

Did you really go to school for four weeks?
Yes, we did.

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Are you ready to go home?
Not really. This has been a wonderful experience for us. We are a little concerned about whether we will enjoy Europe as much since the culture is more similar to ours.

Would you go to Antigua again?
In a heartbeat!

The Ruins of Antigua

If you like ruins, Antigua is the city for you. While the city is in an area that has experienced severe earthquakes, they are mostly only indirectly responsible for the damage. The main cause of the damage was neglect when the capital was moved from Antigua to Guatemala City after a major earthquake in 1773. The population of the city plunged after the capital was moved, and many of the churches in the city were abandoned. Following are pictures of a few of the ruins in the city.

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Affordable Clean Water

Clean, safe drinking water is hard to find in Guatemala. More than 97% of the water supply in Guatemala (including here in Antigua) is unsafe to drink. Many children don’t live to ten because of diseases transmitted in the water. An Ecofiltro is a low cost solution to this problem that was invented in Guatemala and is manufactured in Antigua. The filter is made from clay, sawdust, and colloidal silver. When the filter is fired to harden the clay, the sawdust burns out leaving a porous filter. The colloidal silver kills any bacteria in the water. You can pour lake water, collected rainwater, or water from a mud puddle in the top, and potable water comes out the bottom at the rate of about two quarts per hour. The company’s business model is to sell units in the cities for about $50 and use the profits to subsidize units for the rural areas. A filter lasts for two years, so it is much cheaper than either bottled water or boiling water. For $35, they can provide a new Ecofiltro to a rural family and replace their filter every two years for life! They presently are providing Ecofiltros to thirty third world countries. We have an Ecofiltro in our house and we can vouch that we have survived for over three weeks without problems.

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Our Casa

Our house is located one long block outside of the historic area of Antigua. When you arrive at the first gate, a guard with an impressive looking rifle on his shoulder opens the gate for you. We have discussed under what circumstances he is going to use this gun, but we really don’t want to find out. Every bank has similarly armed guards at their door.

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We give him a “buenos tardes” and proceed about a quarter mile past two other communities to the second gate at the entrance to our community. We have never seen this guard with a gun, but I have to think there is one there somewhere.

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Another “buenos tardes” and we are at the entrance to our house.

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The house is built around a courtyard and veranda. The kitchen and dining room are one room and you can go between the master bedroom and master bath without going outside. To go between any other rooms you must go outside into the courtyard or the veranda. To put it another way, there are three doors to the courtyard downstairs and four doors to the veranda upstairs. Another interesting feature is (like almost every building in Antigua) there is no heat or air conditioning. The walls are thick and it is always springtime here. I am comfortable in shorts and a tee shirt between 9 AM and 4 PM. I switch to long pants and a light fleece when it starts to cool off. When outside walking, you simply walk on the sunny side of the street if you are cool and on the shady side if you are hot. You may ask “But what do you do if it is cloudy?” I don’t know. We don’t have that problem!

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Valentine Day in Antigua

The day started off picture perfect with our volcano showing its tippy top. Off we went for our one mile walk to school. The director of the school came around and gave all the ladies a rose,which was a nice touch.

After class Bruce and I went to sit in the park.It was filled with students especially boys trying to get a Valentine kiss. The vendors were out strong but Bruce was not getting off that easy with a trinket necklace. We stopped on the way home at a lovely shop and I picked out a pair of earrings that I really liked.

The topper of the day was dinner at a lovely inn near our house..Candles set the mood for the room they call the cave. The setting was very romantic and not typical of Antigua restaurants .

It’s going to be hard to beat this year but who knows where we will be next Valentine.
Susan

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The Travel Blog of Susan and Bruce