The Very First – Yellowstone Part II

Our second day in the Mammoth Area of Yellowstone began with a nice long hike along the Lava Creek Trail – a one-way, 4.2 mile route.  We were able to start this hike from our campground, which was extra cool.  Lava Creek and the surrounding areas were beautiful, and we found some cool stuff along the way like a skeleton and a bear print!  The trail led us to one of my favorite things – a lovely waterfall.

273 I might have to change my name to Elkhorn

I might have to change my name to Elkhorn

290 Back to Undine Falls

Undine Falls

Once we got to the end of the Lava Creek Trail, we still had energy to walk a half mile up the road to a short trail to Wraith Falls.  I can never resist nearby waterfalls!

Along the trails we saw many wild flowers blooming, which really added to our enjoyment.

We then had to hike all the way back to the beginning.  In the end we had completed a total of 10.4 miles.  Not bad for a day!

 

That afternoon we drove to the Mammoth Hotel to purchase showers.  We’re not used to camping without showers, so we spent a lot of time just reveling in the hot water, soap and shampoo!  They were such a treat.  We also drove out of the park that evening to Gardiner, Montana.  There we were able to do some much-needed laundry and stock up on supplies for the rest of our trip.

The next day we were up and out super early, and we found that the early birds do indeed get the worms in Yellowstone National Park.

We arrived at our next campground, in the Tower Falls area, at 8 in the morning.  The campground host allowed us to drive around and choose our favorite campsite.  Thank goodness the campsite was only $15 per night!  There was no ATM anywhere near where we were, we wanted to stay for two nights, and we had exactly $32 in cash.

We went right away to view nearby Tower Falls, and then hiked down another half mile to the river and back.  It was very steep but we went all the way to the bottom where we could touch the water in the river.

Our next stop in the area was Calcite Springs, named for the milky-white calcite crystals that cover the area.  The springs are hot enough to liquefy the large quantities of sulfur in the area.  They are also hot enough to release oil deposits from deep below the surface through the fractured rock.  Since sulfur turns black when it contacts the air, it’s impossible to tell from the surface whether the dark areas you’re seeing are oil or sulfur.

331 Calcite Springs

Calcite Springs

It was still early so we went to look for Lost Lake.  Lost Lake Loop is just under three miles, and at the end there was another “waterfall bonus trail” that led a half mile to Lost Creek Falls.

361 Lost Creek Falls

Lost Creek Falls

After picnicking in the Yellowstone Picnic Area, we hiked the 3.7 mile Yellowstone River Trail.   We were excited to meet a couple from Harrisburg, PA, just a few hours from where we live.  We hiked on and off with them.

This was a ridge hike so we had constant views of the canyon, but we didn’t see anything in it – no birds or big horn sheep.  As we circled back we saw an elk, and he didn’t mind me photographing him as we walked by, very close, on the trail!  We had seen some at a distance but this was our first close-up.

Later in the day we started a drive out to the Lamar Valley.  We saw our first bear just a few minutes after leaving our campsite!  There were a bunch of people stopped on the road so we pulled over.  Another few minutes drive down the same road, we saw our second bear!  This time we had a better view, as the bear was much closer, and the ranger let us stay as the bear got closer to us than the mandated 100 yards.  We think the ranger allowed this because there was a “”natural barrier”” – a dip in the ground right at the edge of the road, and then water, and then the bear.  It was clear the bear liked to eat dandelions.

On our way to Lamar Valley we came to the turn-off for Slough Creek Campground and saw people with cameras, binoculars etc.  We got out and asked what they were looking at, and this time it was a wolf den!  A very nice woman let us look through her ginormous telephoto lens to see the mother wolf and pups.  Unfortunately they were too far for our camera to photograph, but we did enjoy some other sights on our drive.

391 Bison herd in the Lamar Valley

Bison herd in the Lamar Valley

395 Nursing buffalo baby

Nursing buffalo baby

396b Glacial rocks

Glacial rocks abound

The next day we hiked the 7.6 mile Garnet Hill Loop.  To get to the loop, we had to walk along an old stagecoach road.  We immediately saw a bunch of bison, and a coyote walked right through them, close enough for us to photograph!  I was so excited.

Some of the bison didn’t want to leave the trail, so we finally opted to make a new trail in the field, around them.  We didn’t want to take chances or have and explain that our broken bones were caused by a miffed bison charging us.

video – Coyote runs around the bison on the Garnet Hill Loop

video – Marmots playing

The hike was interesting.  There were supposedly still pilings from an old hotel that people used to visit by stagecoach, but we never found them.  We did find a cookout shelter where you can pay to visit via horse or stagecoach and have an Old West-style cookout there.

The hike was literally around Garnet Hill, and a lot of it was in the woods.  We had to cross several streams that were running high, which provided plenty of adventure.  We also ran into another couple who told us they had seen a brown bear, right on the trail!  They got good photos and video.  That also created plenty of excitement for us.  We kept looking, but we never found the bear. 😦

When we got out of the woods there was no longer anything but sunny meadow.  The heat was intense as we searched for a shady spot to rest and cool down.  We were grateful when we finally found a tree close to the end of the trail under which we could eat our lunch.

We headed back to our campground to relax for a little bit and saw a bunch of people had stopped for a bear.  We were debating whether to stop, leaning against the idea, when I looked out the window and saw not just a bear but a cub!  We spent the next hour watching a mother black bear and her three cubs.  Things got even more exciting (if that’s possible) when a bison approached and the mother bear tried to keep her cubs safely away from it.

 

video –  Three little bear cubs climbing a tree

video – Mom guides cubs away from bison

We had never made it very far into Lamar Valley, so we decided to try again.  It was worth a second trip.  In addition to all of the mountains and land features, we saw a bald eagle and a beautiful rainbow.  There were of course bison.  And there was even one last bear sighting for us on our way home.

We were still continually impressed with all Yellowstone had to offer, and we hadn’t even seen Old Faithful yet!

 

The Very First

Yellowstone.  I had heard about it for many years, and from many different people.  I don’t think I know how to state, however, how clueless I was!  Maybe because the first national park I remember visiting was the Grand Canyon, I had it in my head that it trumped all other national parks in the US.  I also had special places in my heart for a few other parks, such as Acadia and Glacier Bay, and some parks I’ve never even been to!  But somehow, until I went in person, it was lost on me just how special Yellowstone National Park is.

Yellowstone National Park was not only the first national park in the country; it was the first national park in the world.  It’s huge, at 3471 square miles – ranked at the 8th largest national park in the US, and the 2nd largest in the continental US.  (For those of you wondering, six of the top seven largest NPs are in Alaska as you might expect, and Death Valley, in CA, comes in at #5).  And if you ask what amazing thing you will see at Yellowstone, the answer is not, as you might guess, Old Faithful.  The answer is, “Everything!”  There are just so many incredible things that you really can’t single one out.  Yellowstone is basically one huge volcano, and based on my love of volcanoes, I’m not sure why I didn’t realize just how amazing it would be.

I reserved two weeks for our time in the park, and Elliott wondered if it would be too much.  At the end of our time there, even he was in agreement that we could have used a few more days.  With areas of the park spaced far apart and each having unique things to see and do, this is a place where you want to take your time if you’re able.

From Craters of the Moon NP in Idaho, we drove east just under four hours to get to Yellowstone.  There were plenty of Walmarts, places to pick up last minute camping gear and food, and historical signs on the way.  (If any of you points and miles junkies are wondering, Idaho’s Walmarts were quite agreeable with manufacturing spend.)  One of the signs talked about big game hunters who lived in lava tubes 12,000 years ago, and ate elephants, camels, and giant bison.  Whoa!

We had chosen several different spots in the park in which we wanted to stay, but Yellowstone is popular, and lodging of any type inside the park is hard to get.  Some you can reserve ahead of time; other spots are first come, first serve (and if you don’t manage to snag it, you have to drive all the way out of the park to find a place to stay).  I had managed to get us a reservation at Madison Campground in the western portion of the park, but it was for only one night.

We arrived to Yellowstone late in the day and were super excited to see bison on our way in from the West Entrance.  We went to our campground and checked in, but wanted to *do* something in Yellowstone on our first night there.  So we drove back a bit in order to hike a mere mile round trip to Harlequinn Lake.  On our drive to the trail entrance, we saw a coyote!

The next morning we got to the front office by 8:05am and they were able to get us a tent site for a second night – whew!  We drove up to Norris Geyser Basin and spent the morning and early afternoon there.  On the way there was a beautiful river and… our very first fumarole!  That’s just a fancy term for a natural steam vent.

Norris Geyser Basin is the oldest, hottest, and most active of Yellowstone’s thermal areas.  The thermal features have been here for at least 115,000 years.  Most of the features at Norris are above the boiling point of water, which is 199°F at that elevation, and at one time a temperature of 459°F was measured as just over 1000 feet below the surface!  Most of the features here are acidic – even some of the geysers, which is very rare.  All of them appear to change daily.

First we hiked Porcelain Basin, a 0.5 mile boardwalk trail through geysers, fumaroles (steam vents), and hot springs.  It’s barren of trees and so the sounds, colors and smells are very vivid.  Everything was amazing!  The colors are just unreal.

Then we hiked Back Basin, a 1.5 mile trail through a wooded area, with similar sites to Porcelain Basin but spread further apart.  We got to see our first geyser erupt!  We actually saw two erupt on that trail.  First, Steamboat geyser erupted in a small way (though we talked to some amateur “geyser gazers” and learned it has done some of its huge eruptions lately, and was due for another bigger eruption any moment).  Steamboat Geyser is the tallest geyser in the world at 300–400 feet (91–122 m).

Echinus Geyser was not erupting, but is sure was beautiful.   It was named for the Sea urchin-looking deposits around the rim, which you can see in the second photo here.

We also saw Vixen Geyser do some great eruptions right in front of us!

There were many other cool things in Back Basin that we enjoyed:

After we finished the two trails, we went through the Norris Museum there, and then had a picnic lunch on one of the benches on the Porcelain Basin Trail.  What a great place to have lunch!

As we drove back towards Madison Campground we stopped at Artists’ Paintpots Trail and hiked a one mile trail around the colored mud pots.  It’s on a hillside and contains mudpots, hot springs, and blue pools – many of which are bubbling!  The entire hike is on a boardwalk so it’s a super-simple one.

Before wrapping up our day, we did a six mile round-trip hike to the top of Purple Mountain.  Elliott collected tinder for our fire on the way, and near the top we encountered snow!  We played in it and I had fun throwing snowballs at Elliott.

The next morning we broke camp and started driving toward Mammoth Hot Springs.  We made several stops on the way up, viewing waterfalls, springs, lakes and wildlife.  We lucked out in that there was no real construction going on – we had been told to expect 30 minute delays.  We were only delayed by the graded down road.

We crossed over a major engineering feat called The Golden Gate, a bridge that crosses Golden Gate Canyon, where 14k cubic yards of solid rock had to initially be removed with explosives.  When we arrived in the Mammoth area, we were greeted by a new animal – elk!

After securing a campsite for ourselves, we did a five mile hike called Beaver Ponds Loop.  It was now the middle of the day so it was very sunny, and the hike itself was so beautiful that Elliott said it felt like we were in The Sound of Music.  We were in the middle of all of these stunning mountains, and you couldn’t see civilization or a way out….  We sat and ate lunch on a log right at the end of one of the ponds, and it was lovely.

After taking a break to explore the “town” of Mammoth – including the general store, visitor center and museum – we had energy again to explore the main attraction of the area: The Terraces.  The Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces change much more quickly than other areas of the park, and sometimes even look different within a day’s time.  The reason they change so quickly is that the area is made up of limestone rock, which is softer and more malleable than other types of rock.  The terraces are often described as looking like a cave turned inside-out.  There are plenty of boardwalks to hike on, with both walking and driving necessary to see everything.

210 Our first view of the terraces

Our first view of the terraces

We had only been in Yellowstone for 2.5 days, and we were already breath-taken.  We couldn’t wait to see what else was in store for us in this amazing park!

Moonwalk

As we drove out of Boise, we were already giddy about our next destination on this trip – Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve.  It would be our second stop in the state of Idaho, and was just under three hours east of Boise.  During our drive, we got out of the car to see several interesting historical sites and signs along Route 20.

Craters of the Moon is described as a “vast ocean of lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush”.  The area was so strange and unusual-looking that local legends made references to the landscape resembling the surface of the moon.  It was created during eight major eruptive periods between 15,000 and 2000 years ago.  Lava erupted from a series of deep cracks that stretch 52 miles to the southeast, forming the Great Rift.  The lava field is over 618 square miles.  It’s not finished though; the time between eruptive periods in the Craters of the Moon Lava Field averages 2,000 years, and guess what?  It’s been more than 2,000 years since the last eruption.

Craters of the Moon has both hiking and caves to make it doubly exciting.  The caves meant some additional planning for us, however.  In 2006 researchers discovered a disease called White-Nose Syndrome, which has since killed millions of our nation’s cave-dwelling bats.  Some bat colonies have lost 99% of their population!  It is very easily spread and so the National Parks have had to ask visitors to take precautions.  They were asking that no one wear anything into a cave that they had worn inside a cave in another area.  Elliott and I had visited Mammoth Cave less than a year prior, so we had to make sure not to wear any of the same clothing that we had worn inside the caves there.

Craters of the Moon consists of a group campground, an individual campground, and a 7-Mile Loop Road that leads to the hiking trails and caves.  When we arrived in the afternoon we set up camp at the Lava Flow Campground – don’t you just love that name?  As you might expect, the campsites are surrounded by a young lava flow.

We drove around the seven mile loop, making a couple quick stops.  First we hiked up 0.4 miles round trip to the top of Inferno Cone and had some great views.  The trail to the top of Inferno Cone is steep, but at the top you have panoramic views of the Great Rift, Snake River Plain, and Pioneer Mountains.

We also stopped to do the short Spatter Cones trail.  Spatter cones can form when hot lava lumps are thrown a short distance into the air and then fall back to the ground.  These still molten blobs landed on top of each other around a small central vent, cooled, and stuck to other nearby pieces to form walls of a new “mini-volcano”.

Speaking of snow, as we were driving and hiking around, it started hailing!  Yes, hail, in late May… when the sun was out…

The next morning we got up and planned for some more hiking, as well as some cave exploring.  We started out on the two-mile-round-trip Tree Molds Trail.  In this area, the lava that flowed ignited many trees.  In some cases the lava knocked down the trees, which left impressions in the lava rock.  In other cases the trees remained standing as the lava surrounded them, and all that is left now is a vertical mold in the hardened lava.

Next up was the 1.8 mile Broken Top Loop Trail.  It’s one of the best trails in the park, where you can use a trail guide and the corresponding numbered signs to observe and identify almost every type of volcanic feature that characterizes the basaltic eruptions in Craters of the Moon.

One fun feature is called a lava bomb.  During the creation of Broken Top, globs of molten rock were thrown out from the fissure.  Thousands of these bombs now cover the southern face of Broken Top, and some weigh over 100 pounds.  There are different types of bombs.  Bread crust bombs have an outer crust that cracks and looks like a loaf of bread.  Spindle bombs form when the hot lava spirals through the air and freezes into bizarre twisted shapes.

Broken Top Loop also provided access to Buffalo Cave.

After a picnic lunch we were ready for the Caves Trail, a 1.6mi round-trip trail that offers access to several dark lava tubes.  The dark, cool tubes were a welcome change from the bright sunlight and heat of the day.

61 Ready to go exploring lava tubes on the Caves Trail

Ready to go exploring lava tubes on the Caves Trail

Indian Tunnel is the largest cave and the easiest to visit. It’s also somewhat light inside due to the holes in the ceiling.  The other caves we went into are pitch black, with uneven floors and low ceilings.  We had our cave permits, trail guide and flashlights though, so we were ready to go.

 

Our last hike for the day was the half mile long Devil’s Orchard Trail, which takes you through an area of cinder beds.  It had signs along the trail that challenge you to think about the difficulties of protecting the fragile environment.

The next morning we hiked to the end of the North Crater Trail and back for 3.6 miles total.  The trail traverses a crater and then drops into the crater mouth, which is the vent for the North Crater lava flow! The trail then continues to the rim of Big Craters before descending to the Spatter Cones we had seen on our first day here.

The Wilderness Trail is eight miles in length and is just like it sounds.  There was definitely a sense of solitude here.  Backcountry camping is allowed after a certain point on the trail, but we didn’t make it that far.  We hiked just to the lava tree molds and back, which was about 3.2 miles in total.  It rained off and on the whole way there, which definitely influenced our decision of when to turn around.  After we did, the rain stopped!  We stopped once or twice just to listen to nature’s sounds and to take in the pretty sites around us.

If you were to continue further along this trail, you’d be able to observe Crescent Butte and Coyote Butte as you travel through “trench mortar flats”, and eventually you’d reach Echo Crater.

The last trail for us to conquer was the North Crater Flow Trail, a super easy 0.3mi loop.  There was construction in the middle though, so we did it in both directions and ended up hiking about a half mile.  Here we saw the North Crater Flow, a pahoehoe flow that spilled from the North Crater vent about 2000 years ago.

On our last day we had a lot of driving to do, so we had to wake up early, pack up and leave.  But not without saying goodbye.

 

The Potato Capital

Our trip to Boise, Idaho started out just the way you want every trip NOT to start – with a delay.  To make things worse, it was one of those delays you couldn’t even figure out.  In Philadelphia, where we were departing from, there was no evidence of a storm, rain or even scary clouds.  And yet, many of the flights on the board said the same, dreaded, DELAYED.  How dare some non-existent storm cost us a night in a non-refundable hotel!

In addition, I had an injured foot that was confounding me since I didn’t think I had done anything to injure it!  It was so bad that I kept favoring the one leg, limping around the airport with a TON of luggage (more on that in a later post).  It got to the point where Elliott insisted I get in a wheelchair.  Me?!!  In a wheelchair?!  What kind of world was this?  I gave in since I wanted to be able to hike on this trip.  At least our non-refundable hotel was kind enough to extend us a credit we could use another night.  And this trip was going to be long enough that we wouldn’t miss one night SO much.

And so it was that we arrived to our hotel in Boise with very little time before we had to leave again for a little surprise I had planned for Elliott.  Boise is home of The Egyptian Theater, which made its debut in the 1920’s, and is one of the last single-screen theaters left in the area. The theater hosts classic film nights, opera shows, concerts, lectures, premiers and festivals.  What I was excited about was the particular film it was screening while we were there – The Princess Bride.  The Princess Bride is one of Elliott’s all-time favorite movies, and I knew he’d be thrilled to see it in a theater again.  As the theater’s website touted, it’s the perfect spot for a romantic, historical date night.

It was pretty cool that I managed to get us to the theater, find parking, get us inside, and purchase tickets with Elliott still clueless as to what we were going to see.  When he went out to the bathroom and to buy popcorn, he saw a couple dressed up and figured out the feature was The Princess Bride.  He was really excited.  An MC got up on stage and asked who was new to the theater, to the movie, etc.  He called up the couple who had dressed up and gave them free tickets to come back.  The family next to us was watching the movie for the first time and the little girl was scared during the ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size) scene.  People hissed every time Humperdink appeared onscreen.  We clapped a few times towards the end of the movie too.  It was a lot of fun.

The next morning we decided to put my foot to the test by climbing up to Table Rock via the Table Rock loop trail.  The trail features beautiful wild flowers and a city overlook for the majority of the hike.  We created a moderate 3.7 mile hike round trip by planning to come back down along the quarry trail for a change of scenery.  And all I can say about my foot was that it must have missed hiking as much as I had, because it behaved itself very well!

25 High over Boise

High over Boise.

After our hike, we went to the Basque Museum & Cultural Center.  It opened in 1985 and has the claim to fame of being the only Basque museum in the United States.  There we learned that Basques come from a region on the border of Spain and France, and many of them immigrated to Boise looking for work and became sheepherders.  In fact, Boise was known as the place where the first Basque immigrants chose to live.

38 Basque country is located between Spain and France

The site of the museum is actually a former Basque boarding house and is also known for being the oldest brick building in the city of Boise.

39 Historic Basque boarding house from the 1900s

Historic Basque boarding house from the 1900s.

From there we went to Hyde Park and the Hyde Park neighborhood.  Hyde Park is on the National Historic Register because the building and architecture of the areas is unique.  In the neighborhood around it, we walked for a few blocks along the tree-lined streets of beautiful stately homes, expensive mom & pop shops, and trendy restaurants.

42 They have both kinds of goods here - hoity and toity

They have both kinds of goods here – hoity and toity.

Next we went to Julia Davis Park, where Thomas Jefferson Davis donated 43 acres of land in memory of his wife, Julia Davis, in 1907. The park was created along the Boise River, and it is the first park in the “String of Pearls,” which refers to the parks located along the river.  Today the park is double its original size, and features a playground, a pond, river access, a rose garden, statues, and a tennis court.  We walked through the Rose Garden.  It was early in the season, but we found a few wonderful-smelling roses in bloom.

We didn’t have time to see the other sites that are located in the park, including the Boise Art Museum, the Idaho Black History Museum, the Idaho Historical Museum, and Zoo Boise.

The next day, we scouted out some Boise Greenbike locations online and then headed out.  We found a location, set up accounts, picked out our bikes, and went riding!  What an absolute blast.  The parks, river and ride were beautiful and it was a beautiful day.

After riding for a bit, Elliott said he could live in a smaller city like this or Boulder, and I felt the same way.  We picked out our apartments and homes on the side of the river.

A few minutes after I commented on how high the water lever seemed, we came to some flooded areas.  There was an alternate path at the first one, which we took.  We rode through the second one and stayed mostly dry.  But at the third, the water was way deeper than it appeared, and we both got our feet totally soaked!  It was fun and I wasn’t worried because I knew our feet would dry with all the riding we’d do.

 

 

59 I'm gonna try

I’m gonna try…

We rode for almost two hours total.  Then we took the bikes back to the courthouse bike rack and walked to Capital Street, where we browsed the Capital City Public Market.  Elliott sampled his way through the four blocks, shaped like a cross.  There was tons of good-looking food, from entrees to nuts to granola to baked goods to bbq sauces and more.  There was also cool blown glass, metal workers, and lots of free-trade vendors.  After we finished with the market we walked back to the car, got our lunch, and had a picnic in the park, which was now understandably mobbed on such a perfect weather day!

That afternoon we toured the Old Penitentiary.  The tour was great, and then we took some time to explore on our own.  It was well worth it, but evoked lots of conflicting thoughts about punishment and rehabilitation – tough stuff!

The rose garden there actually served as a place of execution once upon a time, at Midnight, with no prisoner witnesses.  We saw the 4x4x4 punishment box, solitary confinement, and group punishment rooms.  There were some brief bios of different prisoners above their cells.  Even the laundry room was interesting.

For dinner we went to the Boise Fry Company, which Elliott loved.  There were so many choices!  Potatoes, dipping sauces, fry cuts – how does one choose?  We did our best.  We agreed his fries were better.  We had bison burgers – yum!  Elliott tried at least four different sauces and two different seasoned salts.  We really enjoyed the experience.

On our last full day in Boise, we visited the World Center for Birds of Prey, but we had a heck of a time getting there!  First it was raining when it wasn’t supposed to, and we almost decided not to go.  After checking the forecast again in the car, we decided to go for it, but then hit a huge construction detour.  Only, the signs didn’t tell us where to go – just not to go – and our GPS kept trying to take us the original way, no matter what we did!  We finally decided to come all the way back to the beginning of the trip, near the hotel, and since we were now going the opposite direction, we finally saw detour signs that told us how to go.  Yay!  We were driving for over an hour for what should have been a ten minute trip, but it was worth it.

When we arrived we were told it is International Museum Day, so admission was free, and we were whisked to the one and only official bird program of the day.  We met Oliver the Verreaux’s Milky Eagle Owl and we loved him.  Afterwards we asked some questions and found out the regular programs would be on hold for the day, but every half hour, they would bring a bird outside and talk about him/her informally.  Also, the other museums in Boise were attending and had set up booths for us to check out.

On our last morning we drove to Julia Davis Park and rented bikes again right there from Boise Greenbike!  We couldn’t resist riding up and down that river one more time before saying goodbye.

112 Crossing the river again

Saying Goodbye to the Boise River from our bikes on the Greenbelt.

Traveling Back in Time

If you followed our last post, you already understand that COVID has allowed (limited?!) us to travel in a somewhat different way than we’ve traveled in the past.  Since we’ve been on lockdown here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, we’ve had to get very creative in order to not feel blue about being home all the time!  We knew it would be almost impossible to top our COVID trips to the Land of Love, Egypt and Israel, Candy Land, the important PA sites of our religious wedding, a galaxy far, far away, and Mexico.  And then, we came up with the greatest idea ever.  We’d travel through time!

There was absolutely no question whatsoever as to which decade we would visit:

01 80's Days Begin!

We had so many ideas for food, entertainment and activities that we knew it would require a multi-day trip.  We planned a couple of days where we’d have no other commitments or obligations, and off we went in our time machine!

01a DeLorean Time Machine

You have a DeLorean, don’t you?

We assigned tasks to each of us.  I would be in charge of all the meals, snacks and beverages for the trip.  Elliott would get an array of music, movies and TV shows for us.  I would plan the fitness regimen.  Elliott would choose our outdoor activities.  I would pick games we used to play in the 80’s.  Elliott would be in charge of fashion.  I would be the hair stylist.  Elliott would manage the puzzling.

Yes!  You read that right – the puzzling.  The inspiration for this trip came from a Christmas gift I gave Elliott that he had been saving for the perfect time – an iconic, 1000 piece 80’s puzzle.  He had been psyched for weeks.

08 80's Day Activities

The puzzle is new; the magazine is not!

The trip was a total success.  It was so fantastic, that we decided it was one of those trips we’ll definitely repeat in the future.

Our workouts changed each day.  The first day we did the Jane Fonda Original Advanced Workout, all the way from 1982.  Whereas I was too young in 1982 to be doing this workout, I had done other Jane Fonda workouts later on in life, and I just loved aerobicizing down Memory Lane!  Elliott had his sweatband on along with his shortest shorts, and we loved all the leg warmers, high cut leotards, and excited screeching in the workout.  I think I worked my obliques harder than ever before in the Waist Exercises section of the video.  This workout was no joke!  It was an hour long and we worked hard and were even sore in some places the next day, which is no small feat for people who often do HITT workouts.

The next day we did Richard Simmons’s Sweatin’ to the Oldies, which was pretty entertaining in itself.  We had to amp that one up just a bit.  And on the third day, we did some ESPN favorites of mine from the late 80’s – Denise Austin, and Gilad’s Bodies in Motion.  I never knew back then that Gilad was Israeli, but Elliott figured it out immediately.  He also loved Gilad’s style and was eager to find more of his workouts!

Elliott’s chosen outdoor activities included tennis and rollerblading.  Tennis was an obvious one since we both played on our school tennis teams when we were kids.  And even though I was rollerblading in the late 80’s, Elliott thought of the blading as the old-fashioned roller *skating* we all did in the early 80’s when we went to each other’s birthday parties.  Both activities were a blast.

With all this activity, we were constantly hungry.  I had it covered, with all our favorite foods from the 80’s.  There were English Muffins for breakfast, Steak-Umms and Salisbury steaks and Ramen and peas for dinner, and endless snacks and desserts.

Elliott couldn’t get over the homemade pudding pops I’d concocted, and I was in love with the Pepperidge Farm frozen cake I hadn’t had since I was a teen.  Now that I’m an adult, I’m allowed to save all the icing for last and eat it all at once!

But Elliott was enamored with the Fruit Roll-Ups which had the added bonus of tongue tattoos these days!  The fun lasted day, after day, after day….

We couldn’t leave out good ole cheese and crackers, with a block of cheese in the shape of Pac Man, or of course The Pepsi Challenge.   We took the Challenge every day of our trip, and I think we got different results every day as well… but we swear we’re Coke fans!!

13 The Pepsi Challenge and Pac-Man cheese and crackers

We both gobbled up the other candy – Runts, Reeses Pieces, Twix, Baby Ruth, Herhsey’s Miniatures – so quickly that there was no time for photos;)

The food was so good and so plentiful, it’s amazing we fit into our wardrobes, but all that exercise kept us lean enough to do it.

When we were tired of eating and exercising, and we just needed to sit, there was plenty to keep us occupied.  We played some of our favorite games that we had played as kids, including Mastermind, Othello and Scrabble.  And of course there were more snacks, like Chess Men cookies and Super Pretzels, to help us keep our energy up… clearly Elliott needed it for Mastermind!

And of course we puzzled!  Elliott let me do all the easy parts, like the edge and the 1980’s “banner,” so I never lost interest.  In addition, while we were puzzling we had all the cool 80’s music to listen to, as Elliott had put together a playlist of the top ten billboard hits for every year of the decade!

billboard top hits

So much good music!

29 We did this one together

We did it!

When the couch called, we had plenty to entertain ourselves.  We watched Risky Business, an “iconic 80’s movie” in Elliott’s words (I won’t share my tagline with you).  We also enjoyed testing out how well all those 80’s shows we used to watch held up to our present-day tastes.  We watched Elliott’s favorite episode of Growing Pains, as well as the pilot episodes of Who’s the Boss, Family Ties, Cheers, Fantasy Island, and Dallas.  Okay, we might have watched more than just the pilot episode of Dallas.  We may have watched five.  We may also have added it to our rotation of shows we are watching in full.  It’s only 15 seasons, after all… how many more weeks of lockdown do we have?;)

 

The Places COVID Takes Us

The past several months have been so difficult for so many people around the nation and the world, in so many different ways, it almost seems trite to try and comment on it.  Coronavirus and its effects have resulted in a state of the world that no one alive has ever experienced before, so it makes sense that we’re all unsure about how to handle it and what to do.  Elliott and I have been among the lucky few whose lives haven’t had to change all that much, and on some days even *we* feel the strain.

So, what do two adventurous, fun-loving, social people who love to travel do when they’re stuck at home all the time?  We make a celebration out of anything we can, and even “travel” to virtual places and times, so we have stuff to look forward to!  Sometimes it’s almost as good as actually traveling.  The only guidelines were that we couldn’t make any special trips to the grocery store or any other store for what we needed to celebrate; it all had to be planned so that we could get what was necessary on our bi-weekly shopping trip, or from Walmart delivery during our free 15-day trial periods.  After all, our county in PA was hit very hard with Coronavirus, and we didn’t want to be making things worse by breaking quarantine!

By the way, there are plenty more *actual* travels we’ve taken that we still need to write about on our blog.  But today, I thought I’d start with something that feels a little more realistic to most people.  In time, we’ll go back and catch you up on the travels we took before COVID restrictions.  For now, we’ll focus on just the places COVID has taken us. 🙂

Our first few celebrations revolved around natural excuses for holidays, if not actual holidays, such as Boy Valentine’s Day, Passover, Easter, and our Religious Wedding Anniversary.

Boy Valentine’s Day falls on March 14th, if you weren’t aware.  For this event, we were deep in the Land of Love. 😉

I made homemade Spicy Sesame Sticks for Elliott

Our next celebration took us out of Egypt and into Israel.  Elliott put together two full seders for us for Passover.  They were amazing!  We used Grandpa’s seder plate.  Elliott surprised me with a can of ten plagues so we had all sorts of fun creatures and things coming after me on the table (right column, center photo).  And Pesach dinner was delicious: roast, kugel, beets, and green beans.  He even made us a special dessert!

April 17th marked 15 years since our religious wedding. That was an easy destination to “travel” to, as it our religious wedding happened right here in Pennsylvania!  We went to visit our favorite pair of cherry trees, I made us a cake modeled after our wedding cake, and Elliott made us a special dinner. Best of all, we unknowingly got each other the same exact anniversary card!

It started getting a little tougher to find the “holiday destinations” after that, so we worked extra hard.  We decided our next celebration would be in a galaxy far, far away for Star Wars Day, or May the 4th be with you;)  Star Wars Day included several Star Wars movies and lots of Star Wars themed food.  The activities were limited since we had so many movies to watch… but we managed to get through Rogue One plus the original three Star Wars movies.

On Cinco de Mayo, May 5th, we went to Mexico.  We were entering new territory as we had never done anything to make this date special.  We’re not frequent drinkers but Elliott does like margaritas.  Would we have what we needed?  We lucked out somehow, happening to have burritos in the freezer and a Huckleberry Maragarita mix in our pantry (more on *why* we had Huckleberry Margarita mix in our pantry, in a future post).  We had to make up the rest of it.

Cinco de Mayo activities included dressing in Mexican flag colors white, red and green, listening to Mariachi music, playing Scrabble using only Spanish words (I can’t even tell you hard difficult that was!), and doing lots of Latin dances such as Rumba, Merengue, Salsa and Cha-cha.  Of course, there was Elliott’s incredible guacamole, and a homemade key lime cake for dessert.  We had a blast.

A Little More Magic on Costa

It was the end of Week Two of our cruise on the Costa Magica, and we still had a little energy left with which to enjoy our ship and ports!

The morning after we left Bonaire, we had been invited to an English-speaking behind the scenes main kitchen tour at 9:30.  English-speaking!  We couldn’t turn that down on this Cruise o’ Five Languages.  In all seriousness though, despite us finding several things we weren’t impressed with on this Costa Cruise, the kitchen tour was very well-done.  We were given little coveralls and hair-nets and shoe covers to wear.  The tour itself was very interesting.  We learned that once a person is assigned a job, such as chopping vegetables, they do that same job for 11 hours a day, 7 days a week, for their entire contract!  That could be from five to eight months!  Sounds like a recipe for burn-out to me, but what do I know?  We also learned that the entire kitchen gets washed down three times per day, and the hands of all the workers get checked regularly for cuts, warts, etc., so the employees don’t wear gloves.  If anything is found to be wrong with their hands, they are taken off the job until their hands are well again.  Elliott had a good question – what if they have a wart, which can take weeks or months to go away?  Elliott also complimented the Head Pastry Chef on his lemon meringue pies.

St. George, Grenada (Windward Islands)

Later that same day, we got off the ship and walked 50 minutes (~3 mi) to Dragon Bay from which we could swim to our real destination – Moliniere Bay – which is accessible only from the water.  At Moliniere Bay, there is an underwater sculpture garden. Cool!   The reason it’s here is to rebuild the coral reef that was damaged in a hurricane.  Over time, the coral will grow on the sculptures and create a new reef.  It was hot and sunny but the locals were very friendly and many were excited that we were walking.  We passed a goat or two and lots of red and green and yellow tires (it felt like we were in Jamaica with those colors).

The swim wasn’t nearly as far as Elliott had anticipated.  He said it only took us 10 or 15 minutes (I thought maybe 20).  We swam around the Moliniere Bay Underwater Sculpture Park, and it was super cool.  The coral alone was amazing, like an underwater garden – Elliott pointed out that it looked like the stuff people put in their aquariums.

We saw the circle of people sculpture first – I think it’s one of the biggest and best.

We saw a mermaid, a man working at a desk, and people lying down that also look like alligators.

There was a smiley face with a penis nose/hat depending who you ask.  Elliott decided he could be friends with sea urchins once again and so he waved at them (they waved back).

We spent about an hour in the sculpture park and then swam back and had a picnic lunch on the beach before walking back to town.

Fort-de-France, Martinique (Windward Islands)

The next day we took a cruise excursion!  Yes, you heard right, we took an actual, bonafide cruise ship excursion.  It may have been because there was no other way to do this excursion.  We went to a bat cave!  I liked our guide right away; she is from St. Lucia of all places, near Soufriere, where we honeymooned!

Our first stop was a beach.  We thought it was going to be a typical beach stop, but instead we got to jump off the boat and go snorkeling (we never even stepped foot on the beach).  The first thing we saw was a sea turtle!  The next thing we saw (or felt) was about a million tiny jellyfish.  The coral was incredible.  There were huge waving fans and underwater volcano-looking thingies.  There were also cool fish but the reef was the real attraction.

The next stop was around the corner – to the bat cave!  We jumped off the boat again and swam right to the cave.  Our guide led us to the bats and talked about them.  The bats were audible with their squeaks before I even saw them.  They were so tiny and cute – little fruit bats.

Again, the coral was incredible.  There were some jellyfish; we learned the ones with the black dots don’t sting.

On the way back to the ship, we had delicious cake and Elliott had some very strong spiced rum (which totally didn’t make him tipsy. 🙂 )

Back on the ship we went down the water slide eight times(!) and went up to watch the ship leave our very last port.

Guadeloupe (Leeward Islands)

We had planned to spend a couple more nights on Guadeloupe at the end of our cruise so that we would have more time to explore the country, but we weren’t in a rush.  One of the things that was entirely cool about Costa is that they didn’t make us get off the ship first thing in the morning at the end of our cruise.  In fact, we were allowed to stay onboard for lunch!  We decided to take full advantage of that perk.

We checked out of our cabin and had breakfast, then hung out in the indoor pool area playing games.  We went to the gym, stitched, read and generally relaxed before swimming in the outdoor pool one last time together.  Our last lunch on board was the best meal of the entire cruise in my opinion, and we finally (and reluctantly) got off the ship just after 1:00.

We had to bargain very hard and wait a long time to get a taxi driver to come down to 40EUR to take us to our hotel.  He earned his money as he called our hotel three times and went the wrong way even more times.  That turned out to be the last time someone went out of their way to give us good service on Guadeloupe.  I could go on and on about the nightmare that was our little bungalow.  (Actually it was the people that ran it that were the problem.)  Let’s just leave it at the fact that the little pool with the noodle and kids’ balls, and our invention of Noodle Ball, were the best things about it.  It didn’t help that I got a cold again.  (Wasn’t I just sick when we got on the cruise?)

The next day I was determined despite my cold to walk to the nearby town of St. Anne.  The main “square” of St. Anne reminded me of a smaller version of the square in Trinidad, with a church at the end.  We took photos of the church and sat and listened to the love – I mean Reggae – music being played at the other end.

Eventually we found a beautiful beach or two to play at the rest of the day.  While there, we ran into some other Americans, and realized from talking to them just how ready we were to be coming home!  It had been a great trip, but we were simply missing the USA.

Costa Magica Moves Onward

It was Week Two of our cruise on the Costa Magica, and we were excited to revisit some places we had been as well as to visit one new place.

Our first day was at sea so we took advantage of the things we loved on the ship like the fitness center and the water slide.  I did a few minutes of the salsa lesson on deck and was amazed by the instructor’s ability to shout out energetic vibrant commands in five different languages.  In the evening we decided to forgo the formal night in the dining room(!), but we still dressed up and had our own “formal dinner” at the buffet.  Elliott was an amazing waiter, serving everything to me.  He even had a napkin over his arm and made my dinner plate look beautiful.  After eating way too many desserts we tried to work them off by dancing in the atrium, and back in our cabin, I found chocolates on the pillow!!!  Whee!

Our first port on this second segment of our cruise was Willemstad, Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles.  We had been once before and had just walked around town so this time we decided on an island tour on a really cool-looking painted open-air bus.  Our tour took us to Willemstad, over the Queen Juliana Bridge (the highest in Caribbean), through the Jewish Quarter with its green rooftops, and to the Chobolobo Distillery, where Blue Curacao is made.  I’d tell you distilleries aren’t our thing, but then again, Elliott had six samples!  I think he enjoyed himself.  And a fun little fact we learned there is that Curacao is kosher!

Next up was the Spanish Quarter, where social housing is only $60 per month!

Then Hato Caves, where we saw some great stalactites and stalagmites as well as bats!  This cave was only 300,000 years old.  And we were told we should see many things in the cave formations… are we the only ones who can’t see them all?

Mambo Beach Boulevard was clean and crowded but had cool barrier rocks (breakwater) a little distance from the shore, and a floating dock to play on.  We had fun jumping off and taking photos and generally acting goofy.  We swam a bit and then Elliott treated us to yummy frozen drinks from the bar – a Miami Vice for me and a Drunk Mango for him (it had Curacao, was super strong and he had a fun ride home).  The drinks looked fabulous with lots of straws and “fireworks” and cherries and even gummy rings to eat.

The driver dropped us at the Queen Emma Pontoon Swinging Bridge which we walked across.  We went to the synagogue but since it was Sunday, it had closed a minute before we arrived, along with many other stores. 😦

Oranjestad, Aruba (Netherlands Antilles)

We took another island tour here, and first learned that Aruba is only about 30km long and something like 8km wide.  We saw the airport, then went to Casibari Rock Formation and climbed to the top at three different places.

We went to the Saint Filomena church and then the California lighthouse, which was named after a ship that sank there in 1891 before the lighthouse was built.  The sample coconut smoothie there was delicious!  We looked at some local-style houses and drove past the glitzy chain resorts – Ritz, Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton – and wondered if we should come back and stay.

Then we were dropped off at Eagle Beach – a beautiful white-sand, turquoise-colored water beach – the stuff dreams are made of.  We found a shady spot under a tree, ate lunch, and dozed a bit.  We walked up and down the long beach before swimming, and watched pelicans nose-dive while we swam.

Kralendijk, Bonaire

This was the fourth new country for us on this trip!  We purchased water taxi tickets and got a private water taxi ride to Klein Bonaire, which means “Little Bonaire.”  The island was small and beautiful with white, pristine sand and the brightest blue turquoise waters I’ve ever seen.  We learned about the deforestation of the island, both from natural disaster and economic exploitation, and how the island was eventually sold to the government under the condition that it would be protected going forward.

And protected it was; there were two small huts for shade and nothing else – not even water or facilities.  People were coming on boat after boat but it was never too crowded to have an enjoyable walk along the beach.  We took several walks to explore what there was to see on land.

We also snorkeled a few times.  The snorkeling was challenging with strong currents and lots of wind, but made easier by the fact that we could snorkel in one direction and then walk back on the beach.  Elliott got stung by a jelly fish on his side but was very brave and came back for more.  We saw tons of neat corals, and lots of fun colorful fish.  There was a lot of purple stuff – both coral and fish – so I was extra happy.  And there were lots of hollow pipe organ corals.  Elliott found a great big puffer fish hiding under a rock.  We found some little electric blue fish that liked the fan coral.  I saw some parrot fish, and some trumpet fish, and sergeant majors.

We took the last water taxi back at 1pm, stopped at another beach to pick up some other people, and made it back to the ship with about seven minutes to spare – whew!  That night our room steward left us a surprise on our bed after dinner.

366 Do they know us or what

Do they know us or what?

Even after all of this, our cruise still had a few days to go!

Something Old, Something New, Something Different, Somewhere Blue

It’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that we like to cruise. This would be our first time on Costa Cruises. We chose this particular cruise for the itinerary which took us to some ports in the Caribbean that we had never been to. Given how often we hit the high seas, that is saying something!

Since this cruise sailed from the unusual starting port of Guadeloupe (yay, new country!), we chose to spend a few days there before and after the sailing. Guadeloupe is a French-Speaking country which made it difficult for us right away. It’s also one of the more expensive countries in the Caribbean.

We negotiated for the 30 minute cab ride to our guesthouse, and our driver assured us it would cost no more than 50 euros. Euros! I’ll let that sink in. (Hint: At the time it was about 60 bucks!) When we got there, he informed us it would in fact be 60 euros. We (read: Stephanie) held our ground pointing out that he promised us “no more than 50.” Eventually, our host heard us outside, and argued with the cab driver in French on our behalf until he “compromised” on 55 Euros.

Our lodging for three days was a beautiful guest house called La Palmeretum, and our host, Clark, was a very nice guy and incredibly helpful. He told us that despite what we had read, there really was no bus service to his part of the island. He drove us to a local supermarket so we could pick up some food since The Palmeretum’s restaurant had been damaged by Hurricane Maria.

Without bus service, we made the most of what we could get to on foot. We were about an hour’s walk from Parc National de la Guadeloupe where we frolicked in Cascade aux Ecrivesses (Literally: Crayfish Falls).

Two days later, after generally relaxing at La Palmeretum, Clark came to our rescue again by driving us to the cruise port, thereby saving us another 50-plus euros. He even offered to pick us up again at the end of our cruise, but we haven’t reached that part of the story yet.

So…the cruise. For our first go-round with Costa, we sailed aboard the Costa Magica. The reviews are in, and Costa will not be our cruise line of choice going forward. To begin with, we eventually learned that we were among only 56 English-speakers on a cruise of over 3,000 people; not really a problem, but it made communication difficult and we didn’t meet really get to know any new people the entire time.

It was really neat that there were so many people of different nationalities on the cruise. The downside was that the cruise had to make announcements in six different languages, and even the classes and shows were done in multiple languages, so they often felt very slow. We were shocked to find we weren’t crazy about the food (what cruise doesn’t have decent food?), and we missed having our water glasses filled at dinner (they wanted us to buy bottled water at dinner, European-style). Last but not least, there was a lot of public smoking.

There were also things we liked of course. First of all…it’s a cruise. It’s kinda hard to have a bad time on a cruise. The ship had a giant waterslide on the top deck, of which we took much advantage. The cabins were spacious and there were excellent ballroom dancing venues where we were able to dance every night.

Waterslide on the Costa Magica

TOBAGO:
So it was off to sea! Our first port of call was the island of Tobago. We had taken a day trip there when we visited Trinidad a few years ago, so we knew exactly where we wanted to go: Pigeon Point Heritage Park, which in our opinion is one of the most beautiful beaches ever. We opted for yet another new experience (for us) and signed up for a glass-bottom boat tour. It was a blast, but the glass and reef exposure were not exactly what I had in mind. I could tell within about five minutes that we would get a better view of Buccoo Reef by snorkeling. Oh well. Time to sit back, enjoy the Soca music and the Caribbean breezes while taking in a new experience.

Our Glass Bottom Boat, or GBB as it’s known by no one but me, also stopped at Nylon Pool. We docked, stepped off the boat into waist-deep water, and enjoyed the warm, calm water while reggae music from neighboring boats relaxed our tensions away. Afterwards, we went for a swim before returning to our ship.

GRENADA:
In Grenada, we opted for a van tour of the island. To fill the van, we were joined by a talkative party of five Italians from our ship. They didn’t speak much English, but they understood Spanish, so that’s how we communicated when we needed to.

Grenada is known as the Spice Island due to the variety of spices grown there. It made sense that our first stop was at a spice shop for a demo. Next it was on to Grand Etang Lake which is an inland lake in a crater high in the middle of the island, before visiting Annandale Falls. Now, if there’s a chance to swim in a waterfall we won’t pass it up, regardless of how freezing the water may be*, so in we jumped. When I say jumped, I mean stepped in from the edge of the pool; not plummeted the 50 feet from the top like some of the locals who were charging for the privilege of watching them jump!

*Opinion subject to change based on water temperature

After that it was a quick stop at Fort Frederick before wrapping up our tour at Grande Anse Beach. Incidentally, Fort Frederick is where the French outsmarted the British for control of the island by attacking from inland rather than the sea. Grand Anse beach is where we were abandoned by our driver.

So, you might be wondering about that whole “abandoned by our driver” thing.  It’s true, we’ve always known there is a risk when we take our own excursions instead of the cruise excursions.  And on this particular day, we faced many cruisers’ worst fear – the idea of not making it back to your ship on time!

As we got to Grande Anse beach, the clouds were getting thicker. We arranged to meet at a specific time, and the driver, the Italians and we were all in sync. After a little while the rain that had been threatening all day finally hit, and it hit hard. We sprinted to our meeting spot about five minutes early only to find that our driver was no longer there! We waited, clustered in a not-too-sheltering shelter for an hour, but he never returned.

Luckily, we were able to arrange to take another van/taxi back to our ship.  But our adventure was not over.  We crammed into a van with a bunch of other wet, cold tourists and headed out. The rain had caused flooding and at least one accident, so the van driver took an inland route. After about 40 minutes (of what should have been a 20 minute drive), we were turned around due to flooding! We inched our way back the way we came past more flooding and past the accident which involved a flipped car (but no serious injuries). We could see the Costa Magica about a half mile away when our driver said we weren’t going to make it in time for all aboard, and that we should get out and walk – quickly. Walk QUICKLY we did, and we made it with about five minutes to spare. Whew!

BARBADOS:
We struck out on our own here and took a local bus to Harrison’s Cave. At first we were told the next available tour was in three hours. We wandered around the exterior grounds while we waited. The entrance to the cave is in a gully with lots of beautiful tropical flora. There was also a feisty chicken that tried to steal Stephanie’s apple right out of her hand while we were eating lunch. Luckily she defended her fruit and lunch was saved! By the time we finished eating, we were added to an earlier tour. Score!

The caves themselves were formed as many caves are: by water eroding the limestone and leaving beautiful formations behind. These are young caves – only about half a million years old, so there is still water dripping and flowing. In order to protect the cave, the tour is by tram which gave the whole thing a bit of an amusement park feel to it. They did let us get off once or twice, though.

On the way back we took a different color bus and halfway through the ride, found out the money collector on board would not accept our bus tokens. He seemed pretty irritated, and kept yelling at us in Creole. Finally, another passenger offered to buy our tokens from us. I think this ticked off the money collector who seemed to want to throw us off the bus. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers!

ST. LUCIA:
We’ve been here a few times, so we walked around the town of Castries for all of twenty minutes before declaring it a relaxation day and returning to the ship.

MARTINIQUE:
Another new country! We weren’t sure what to do, but as we stepped off the ship, there were maps with items of interest picked out. Walking tour! We saw some great local sights like the Schoelcher Library, the Governer’s Palace and Fort St. Louis before finding ourselves at another marina where there was a ferry to a good swimming beach. We opted to swim elsewhere, but when we asked if there was a bathroom nearby, the operator told us we could use the one on the boat. When Stephanie emerged from the tiny bathroom, she found that the boat had sailed with us as captives on board! When they came around to collect the fare, we explained the situation, and they told us to stay on board, and they would ferry us back. We had a delightful two-way ride across the harbor.

Back at Fort de France, we discovered a tiny little beach in front of the fort. There were iguanas hanging out in the trees, and who can resist taking photos of miniature dinosaurs? We also noticed that the locals were swimming here, so into the water we went. The fish were friendly. Too friendly! After being bumped three times by what felt like large fish, I decided it was time to pack it in and head back to our ship.

I was trying to photograph the boat

GUADELOUPE (Interlude):
We had booked a two-week cruise, but Costa only does one-week itineraries. Our two weeks would have some different ports from each other, but in between, it was back to Guadeloupe to rotate some of the passangers. We took the day mostly easy. We found a shop where we bought some souvenirs, and they let us use their WiFi – for almost two hours! We did walk around Point-a-Pitre, but there were no more English maps available, so we settled for one in Spanish. It showed me just how much I need to practice. We got the gist of everything we saw, but lost a lot of the nuance. After some ice cream and another stint on the WiFi, we spent a relaxing evening on board – happy that we didn’t have to go through another mustering drill.

Our cruise is not over! Stay tuned for week two!!

N’awlins Revisited

You know those phone calls that offer you a 3-night getaway for $99?  Well, they’re not fake.  For $99, and two hours at a timeshare presentation, we opted to return to our beloved New Orleans for four days.  “But what about the airfare costs?” I hear you cry.  We have plenty of points with Southwest Airlines, and Stephanie has seen to it that we have had the Southwest companion pass for several years.  This pass means that when you book a ticket, you can bring your companion at no additional charge – even when you book on points!  Translation: 2-for-1 flights, baby!

So off we went to the land of jazz and gumbo.  The actual hotel we would be touring was full, so they put us in a Sheraton spitting distance from the French Quarter.  (It’s okay, spitting probably isn’t an arrestable offense here either.)

So what do you do first when you have a day or two to kill in New Orleans?  Well first, you head over to Café Du Monde for beignets and chicory coffee (or hot chocolate in Stephanie’s case).  If you’ve never had a beignet, it’s basically an amazing doughnut without the hole – made fresh and served warm under a mountain of powdered sugar.  It’s a New Orleans tradition, and there’s almost always a line for seating at this outdoor café.  Pro tip:  Don’t wear anything black.

A stone’s throw from Café Du Monde is New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park.  This is a park dedicated to the evolution of Jazz music in New Orleans.  A federal site dedicated to music?  Awesome!! First we listened to Richard “Piano” Scott as he demonstrated the evolution of New Orleans Jazz.  We also walked to the museum area of the park a few blocks away to listen to the Down on Their Luck Orchestra.  This is a band made up entirely of National Park rangers, and man, were they good!  We learned that almost every ranger at this site is a musician.

Video – Richard “Paino” Scott
Video – Down on Their Luck Orchestra

One of the best things to do in New Orleans (or NOLA, as its known) is just wandering the French Quarter soaking up the atmosphere and the architecture, which is what we spent most of our time doing.  Here check it out…

We did eventually go to our timeshare presentation.  Sometimes, they can be pretty high pressure, but the guy working with us got us right away.  He understood our couch-surfing, points-traveling, sleeping-in-airports lifestyle, and he didn’t push us very hard.  This particular timeshare actually was a pretty good deal, just not the right deal for us.  In the end, they thanked us for our time with another voucher good for a two-night getaway in exchange for sitting through their presentation again.  They even said we could come right back to the same property, we just had to wait six months.  In the end we declined.  We’ll hold out for another three-nighter.  On our way back to our hotel though, we stopped at VooDoo BBQ for some killer barbecue.

With another day at our disposal, we went to see the National World War II Museum.  Ironically, we had seen the National WWI Museum only about six months prior in Kansas City.  The museums are similar in that they are both so amazingly well done and comprehensive, a day is not enough time to take in all the information they contain.

That evening we walked the entire length of Bourbon Street until we came to the very end.  We did finally get past the touristy area and see the block or two of flamboyant and more “local” stuff.  Coming back, we walked along Royal Street, which is one block closer to Jackson Square.

On our last day we attended one more presentation from the National Park –  we watched as “Gumbo Marie” showed us how to make a jazz gumbo.  While she worked her cooking magic (and I took some great notes), she would talk about the different cultures that influenced gumbo over time, and a park ranger would discuss the influence those same cultures had on Jazz music.

New Orleans is one of our favorite cities in the U.S., and we will absolutely return.  Until then, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Laissez les bon temps rouler

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

New Orleans, N’awlins, NOLA, Southwest Airlines, Southwest Companion Pass, French Quarter, Café Du Monde, beignet, New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, Down on Their Luck Orchestra, NOLA, timeshare, Gumbo Marie, Laissez les bon temps rouler, Richard “Piano” Scott