Is It Beautiful Here Everyday? Thursday, 12/20/18


The weather forecast was for thunderstorms all day, but nothing ever materialized.  Around 6:00pm it sprinkled lightly for 10 minutes, but stopped.  We spent the day in our regular spot, in loungers around the pool nearest the beach, wandering between the ocean, the pool, and the food hut.

 Looking north up the beach

 Looking up the hill.

 Looking over towards Dom and Shannon’s beach bungalow

Looking south


The resort is beginning to fill up.  We had our first encounter with kids today, who were bouncing around in the water, knocking beach balls around.  It wasn’t a problem, but I laughed at myself for being a little irritated about the noise and activity, after days of tranquility.  I could hardly get in a good nap.

The sun was bright much of the day, so my hat has been out.  I’m working to avoid sunburn.  There’s no problem around the pool, but the ocean is warmer and fun, and there’s absolutely no shade today.  I picked up a bit of reddish tint, but it doesn’t seem too bad.

At the end of the day, everyone scheduled another trip to the spa for massages.  Judy and I went up to our room and dipped in the pool.  We have a “pool access” room but hadn’t used it because everyone else was down at the ocean, and the nearby pool.   It’s a beautiful setting, and if the others hadn’t been around, we’d have used it more.

 Our room and our access to the pool

My attempt at some “artistic” touches.

Tomorrow is our heading home day.  It’s been a long trip, but we’ve had a blast.  Check-out time is noon, but our airport transport isn’t scheduled until 9:00pm for our 1:00am flight from Phuket to Incheon, South Korea, and then on to DFW.   We finished the day with dinner near the beach.

 Time for dinner

Getting the Job Done at Moracea, Wednesday, 12/19/18


Today is just a repeat of yesterday, without the massages.  Thought we were going to get a rain shower for a while, but it drifted away, leaving us with a light breeze.

There are things to do in Khao Lak besides being super lazy.  This area is a well-known diving area.  I’m not interested in boarding a crowded boat with a lot of people I don’t know, for what might be a hot ride across a rolling body of water.  There’s an elephant sanctuary nearby, where the tourists participate in feeding and bathing the animals.  This is different than our last visit four years ago when we watched elephants paint and kick a ball, and then rode one around a trail on a mountain.  If there were kids along, this would be a required visit, but for us, by ourselves, it doesn’t seem interesting enough to leave our loungers.

Hard at work at my Moracea job!

Lara wandered out of the resort and into town Tuesday afternoon, and reported back that it didn’t seem too interesting.  Since we spent a week in Thailand this trip, and a total of 15 days spread out over two vacations in 2014 and 2015, the town of Khao Lak holds no allure.  The night market in Chiang Mai would be a hard act to follow.

Lunch on the beach.  The sun was brighter today so I had to break out the hat!

Evening dinner provides a chance for us to experiment with some different Thai foods.  I’m beginning to enjoy the different curries, although I’m not sure I can taste the difference between the yellow, red, and green varieties.  There’s a Thai guitarist/singer tonight in the restaurant.  As we came down the stairs to eat, we could here him singing Johnny’ Cash’s “Ring of Fire”.  He had a couple more Cash favorites, as well as Eric Clapton, the Beatles, and the Eagles. He handled it all pretty well, and added to the evening experience.

As Expected, More of the Same, Tuesday, 12/18/18


As we went to breakfast, only a few clouds hung in the sky.  The sun was bright and if I wandered into a sunny area, it was hot. We enjoyed another long breakfast with Dom, Shannon, and Lara, and then headed out to our designated assembly spot. It’s shady most of the day, we’re at a pools edge, (there are five pools on the property), and only steps away from the ocean.  Access to food is too close, actually, requiring thought and restraint from overeating.

 Set-up for a long day Cooling off. The BISS Trio.Working with Dom on sponge balls technique.

Plans were made for massages at 3:00.  As if we knew what would happen, light rain began to fall at 3:00.  After massages, it was time for freshening and prep for dinner.

Dom contacted me and said he was set-up for VR play (virtual reality) in their bungalow.  This was my first experience, and hopefully not my last. It was a blast with the 3-D imagery and total immersion in the digital environment with the goggles and headphones. Dom had set-up devices that look like motion sensors (that’s one of their jobs) on tripods around the room that help define the area of play and movement that takes place within.  He gave me a taste of several different types of games, including shooting games, as well as puzzle games.  As I gained familiarity with the controllers, I improved.

Dinner was great as we experimented with different Thai dishes.  We’ve been here long enough that the restaurant staff is familiar with all of us and they’re having fun with our accents, as are we with theirs.  This has been a nice 3 full days of relaxation. Shannon, Dom, and Lara, are all coming directly from jobs, and the relaxation is total.  Judy and I haven’t exactly been working, although several of our tours have felt like work with the combined educational and physical elements. This Khao Lak segment has been reminiscent of our Phuket visit in February of 2014.

What To Do, What To Do……….Absolutely Nothing! Monday, 12/17/18


I wish there were more colorful items to discuss today, but there aren’t.  We met for breakfast, and then moved to the small pool loungers where we spent yesterday.  There’s plentiful shade with food and washrooms nearby.  Occasionally someone would decide it’s time to get wet and wander off to the ocean or into the pool where we sit.

 Why are you bothering us?  We’re working!

Is this better?

The weather is very neutral, with a slight cooling breeze.  The sky is partly cloudy and the sun occasionally peeps out from the clouds. This is ideal for me since I have no desire to suffer any sunburn.  The resort doesn’t seem crowded.  I guess things will pick-up as we near the weekend.  We must have arrived ahead of the holiday rush.

Shannon and Dom’s beach bungalow.  The beach is at my back.

We ate lunch around 2:30, then, moved back to our loungers.  As we headed to our rooms around 6:00, we took time to enjoy the sunset.

 We’ve seen our share of beautiful sunsets on this trip


Enjoying the sunset.

We met back for dinner at 8:00, and concluded an evening of food and conversation around 10:00.  Dinner was served out on a deck overlooking the beach and it’s a beautiful evening.  I’m not sure how the day could have been any nicer.

Khao Lak, Beaches and Recliners, Sunday, 12/15/18


We woke this morning to light rain.  There’s no wind and everything seems so peaceful.  We walked to the main dining area where breakfast is served, arriving at 8:30.  Shannon and Dom were already there, saving our table.  The buffet is all-encompassing.

Looking off our deck this morning.  So peaceful.

Another pool, closer to food

This looks like a likely place for us to camp out for the next 6 days or so.

We talked and ate until 10:30 when we moved to a small eats/drinks area nearer the beach.  We stayed there, under the roof, until the rain stopped around 1:00, which prompted our move to a line of recliners at a nearby pool.  We’re waiting for Lara to arrive.  She’ll be the final member of our group, and flew from Beijing this morning.  She finds us around 2:00, and the full-on visiting and catching up commences.

 Lara found us.Judy, Shannon, and Lara, the BISS trio

 Looking out west over the resort property from the lobby.  Andaman Sea is beautiful.

Gingerbread House in the lobby.

The rest of the afternoon involved ordering drinks with umbrellas and taking a dip in the pool or the ocean.  We split up around 5:30 to freshen up with plans to meet again at 7:30 for dinner. The food is great, and the conversation is non-stop as Judy, Shannon, and Lara begin continue catching up on each other’s lives.  We headed back to the room at 10:30 with plans to repeat the whole process tomorrow.

Khao Lak Beach Time, Here We Come! Saturday, 12/15/18


Our flight to Phuket doesn’t depart until 2:35pm, and the airport is close by.  We enjoyed breakfast, then walked around the hotel grounds.  It’s a large property and very shielded from the nearby neighborhoods.  There’s little audible evidence that traffic is just beyond the trees.  I left Judy in the room getting ready for the day, and went back to the pool area to spend some time writing about yesterday’s Chiang Rai trip.  As long as I have decent internet, I need to get the pictures uploaded.

 Shangri La Hotel

We catch our taxi at noon and are at the airport 20 minutes later.  Check-in is quick and easy.  Of course, our bags are overweight, and we have to pay extra, but again, it’s around $30, instead of $150 like it might be in the US.  As we wait for the plane, it becomes obvious we’re headed to a beach destination.  It’s like a Spring Break crowd, very young, noisy, and headed for a party.

 Mr. Burger, on our way to the airport.

Chiang Mai City Wall.

On board the plane I managed to get seats near the front, and we had room to spread out (no one in the middle seat).  The flight “fun” began as we neared Phuket.  We knew the weather was unsettled, and as we began to descend the ride got bumpy.  This went on for a while, and then we heard the landing gear come down.  Suddenly, the pilot hit the power and we pulled up beginning to climb.  It took about 5 minutes of hard climbing and we popped out of clouds looking at some beautiful ocean/island views below.  Finally the pilot came on and said the thunderstorms were a little strong, but would clear out in 15 minutes, so we’re circling.  Eventually we started down again, the ride got bumpy, lightning and thunder were popping all around us, the landing gear came down, and suddenly we were on the ground.  Applause broke out from the party crowd in the back.

Phuket, as we loop around.

We collected our bags, and walked out into the sea of people with signs looking for fares.  We found contact I booked two months ago, and were lead to a nice SUV for the drive to Khao Lak.  The drive takes about 80 minutes and we pull up the entrance of resort at 7:15pm.  It’s weird to enter a hotel lobby where there aren’t any doors.  It’s all open-air with a nice breeze blowing in.  They load us into a cart along with our luggage, taking us to our room.  Since it’s dark, it seems like a long way.  The guys haul our bags down some the stairs and show us little about the room. As they are departing, Judy shouts, and when I turn, she is pointing at something.  She thinks she saw a lizard scurrying around.  The luggage guys looked around a little bit, but decided to turn the job over to housekeeping who showed up 5 minutes later.

After pulling out some furniture they finally began to point at something down in a cabinet behind the fridge.  They chased it around the walls and up to the ceiling before finally knocking it down with some kind of spray.  It was a fairly large lizard.

Around 11:00pm, Judy received a text message from Shannon announcing their arrival.  We immediately grabbed our shoes, and searched out their bungalow down on the beach.  We had a nice reunion visit out on their deck. Around midnight, flight fatigue began to set in on them.  They’re flight from Sydney was nine hours.  We made breakfast plans and headed back to our room.

Chiang Rai, Land of the Not-So-Ancient (but beautiful) Temples, Friday, 12/14/18


I wasn’t sure when I began planning the Thai segment of our trip if we wanted to even travel to Chiang Rai. It seemed that half of the tours/attractions listed for Chiang Mai involved travel to Chiang Rai for different activities.  Many of them involved visiting temples, others focused on travel to the Golden Triangle (border area of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.  Several of the trips included visiting the local hill tribes. I settled on the temples, figuring the added travel time north to the borders wasn’t worth it, and the hill tribe visit would be “staged” for tourists.

Window decorations at breakfast.

Our guide, Puma, (she’s also the driver) met us at 7:00am and we started north.  She did the best job of establishing the tour specifics of any of our guides the last 5 weeks.  It only took her a couple of minutes to tell us exactly where we were headed, what we would see, and how long each segment would take.  It seems simple, but too many times, we would have appreciated more information, and less guesswork.

Chiang Mai has a population of 1.6 million, and Chiang Rai has 1.3 million.  Out of town just a few miles, the road began to climb into the hills and mountains, and became two lanes, with an occasional passing lane added on short uphill segments.  A long segment of the winding mountain roads was undergoing heavy improvement to straighten it out, requiring lots of dirt movement and bridges.  If you could imagine a two-lane road between DFW & Austin, and the traffic struggles that would involve.  Lots of trucks and tour buses made it even more grinding.

 Construction issues Rice paddies The better section of the road

The halfway stop (90 minutes) was a hot springs area with a market and washrooms.  I was able to dangle my feet for a few minutes in one section.  The locals were boiling eggs in some of the other pools.  In the flatland areas we passed they were growing rice, corn, and many other crops.  40 years ago, Northern Thailand was the center of the poppy/opium market.  The King of Thailand, Rama the 9th, banned poppies as a crop, and began training the local farmers how to grow coffee. It’s now the biggest crop in Northern Thailand.

 Hot Springs Boiling some eggs.Boiling some legs!

When we reached Chiang Rai shortly after 10am, our first stop was the “White Temple”.  Twenty-two years ago a wealthy businessman began the process of renovating a small ancient temple into a tourist attraction.  He wanted to bring tourism and jobs to the area. The sculptures and designs around the temple try to reflect on the horrors of hell, and people trying to get to heaven.  Inside the temple were painted contemporary pictures of world events while it was being built, including a mural depicting the 9/11 twin towers destruction.  There were two huge eyes painted on the walls, one with the reflection of George W Bush, and the other containing Bin Laden. This isn’t your average Buddhist temple. Since the project began, it has expanded and building is still continuing as the property grows.

 It looks like it snowed Arms reaching up from Hell!

 These are not your usual tree decorations!

Our next stop was the “Blue Temple”.  It was designed and built by one of the team members who helped with the White Temple. It’s not as large as the White Temple……yet…… but it’s expanding as well.

 Working on part of the Blue Temple expansion

 Picture taken thru a globe near the entrance of the Blue Temple.

 They know how to carry out a theme.

 No shoes allowed.

 Even the gong is blue.

To fill out the rainbow, our next visit was the Chinese “Red Temple”.  The color motif red wasn’t obvious.  It seemed to be more a nickname as a nod to “Red China”.  A huge Buddha sat high on hill overlooking the area, and a beautiful temple as well on the property.  These temples have been a wholly different experience from the temples we visited in Bangkok.  They’re much more tourist centric.  Of course with every temple, shoes are left at the door, and women’s pants must come below the knees.  Shoulders cannot be bare.

We ate lunch in a large river resort hotel.  There was a huge buffet with all types of foods, including western.  It was empty as we arrived, but tour group after tour group kept walking in, and it was full before we left.  There was a singer with a beautiful voice, but lacking a sense of pitch.  Ouch.  She had to be related to the owner.

We left Chiang Rai around 1:30 for the drive back to Chiang Mai.  An hour out of town, we exited the main road for a short jaunt to the “Grand Palace”.  It’s another attempt to turn an old temple into a new and shiny place for travelers to stop between the two cities.  It had it’s own modern updates.  One of the sculptures displayed a figure wearing Converse high top shoes.  Another had a cell phone stuffed into his pants. This temple was geared for a younger, hip crowd.  There were bells everywhere, and everyone seemed to be ringing them.  It had something to do with respecting Buddha.

 Check out the cellphone in the waistband of the closest sculpted figure.

Every “hip” temple figure needs a pair of Converse Hi-Tops.

We arrived back at our hotel at 5:30, after a very slow trip through the mountains.  We made it back in time to pick up the laundry we left yesterday, saving us a trip tomorrow morning to get it.

Friday evening rush hour.

After freshening up, we went back out for another visit to the night market.  It’s been fun renewing my bargaining skills.  We made a longer tour tonight.  The street on both sides is full of booths, two and three deep. There are some open pavilions with rows and rows of stuff to buy, and places to eat.  In the morning, the pavilions become “fresh markets” with vegetables and fruits and locals purchasing groceries.

Chiang Mai has been everything I hoped it would be.  It’s calmer than Bangkok, and much different than the southern beach areas of Phuket and Koh Samui we’ve visited previously.  Which do we like the best?  None are better than the other, just different in their own way, and unique destinations.

Chiang Mai, Buddhist Almsgiving & Temples Tour, Thursday, 12/13/18


Our 6:00am departure today comes so early.  Our guide, Fa, arrives just as we get to the lobby, so we’re on our way quickly.  We failed to pay attention to the weather (it’s been great our entire trip), and it’s raining this morning.

After a twenty-minute drive to the other side of Chiang Mai, we arrive at an intersection with a brightly lit shrine and several food carts.  There are Buddhist monks standing in groups in several places and people are placing food items in gold-colored bowls held by the monks.  They walk here every morning between 5:00am and 7:00am to receive donations and then walk back to the temple to distribute to those in need. The proper procedure is to place the offering of food items in the bowls, then kneel and receive a chanted blessing from the monks in return.  The rain makes it more interesting, combined with our repaired knees that don’t feel that great when kneeling on pavement.  We “soldiered through”, made our donation, and watched them walk back to the temple.  It was raining so hard we didn’t get many pictures.

We continued to drive up the mountain for 20 more minutes.  When we arrived at the small village that serves as the base area for Doi Suthep (the temple), Fa gets our tickets and we board a tram (funicular) to take us to the top.  What a relief!  I had read something about 300 steps to climb, but Fa decided it was too slick for us to take the stairs.  That saved us from wimping out.

This may not be my best look?

At the top, the temple area is beautiful and quiet.  We’re early, and few if any other visitors have arrived yet.  The rain is continuing.  No one may wear shoes in the temple area, so we’re walking around barefoot in the rain. Again, there’s so much beauty. The temple was originally built in 1572. There are lots of monks around doing their monkly duties.  In one of the smaller temples, we went in, trying to keep our heads below the level of the monk (as advised).  As we kneeled (ouch) he sprinkled water on our heads to purify us, and then chanted a prayer.  Normally, the view from the top of the mountain is gorgeous, but rain/fog is not cooperating.

 Not the best day for the panoramic view.

We rode the tram back to the bottom, and began a short drive to another temple near the city.  It’s called the Tunnel Temple.  It’s built into a hill with lots of small rooms branching off the main tunnel for some serious meditation.  Above it all is a shrine built in the Sri Lankan style (as opposed to the Lanna or Bangkok style)

Next stop is a restaurant for breakfast.  We had a chance to try Thai food cooked in the Northern style (different peppers and curries).  It’s slightly different and good.  After breakfast, we’re taken back to the hotel where we caught up on our sleep.

We finally cleaned up and headed out to make a laundry swap.  We picked up our batch from yesterday, and left some more (can’t beat the price, less than $4 for the 2ndbatch).  We returned to the room, dropped off the laundry and headed out the local night market.  We walked about 10 minutes and began to pass shopkeepers setting up on the sidewalk. We made a few small purchases, but kept walking until we finally reached the big market area.  This market opens every evening at 6:00, closes at 11:00, and is open every day of the week.  Everything “Thai” that anyone could want can be found here.

  How about some fish to feed on the dead skin on your feet and legs?  It’s a “Fish Spa”.

We shopped for a couple of hours before eating dinner in a Thai restaurant in the market.  The food was good and cost about $5.20, including drinks.

  On the way back to the hotel, on the sidewalk.

It’s been a fun evening of hanging out around the locals, the expats, and the tourists. We made our way back to the room to prepare for our long drive tomorrow, even farther north, to Chiang Rai, near the borders with Myanmar and Laos.

Heading North to Chiang Mai, Wednesday, 12/12/18


We really hate to leave this hotel.  Food and snacks are only a few doors away, and the location of the hotel couldn’t be better.  I hadn’t realized it before, but we’re only a four blocks from the American Embassy. Now that I know where it is, I could spot it from the windows in the Club Lounge.

View of the hotel as we came in last night.

I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog that Judy lost her only functional pair of reading glasses as we transferred from a dock into a long-tail boat.  We didn’t see them fall.  As we pulled away from the dock, Judy was checking her purse, and realized they were missing.  The boat driver said something fell out of her purse.  Darn!  Guess we should be glad it wasn’t her phone!

Back at the hotel, later I went on a search for an optical shop to purchase another pair.  I also have her first pair, which lost a screw and had a loose earpiece.  I found a spot in a nearby mall, handed them the old pair and asked them to fix them (language issues).  They said they would try but couldn’t guarantee it.  They also checked the strength and showed me where the reading glasses section was.  Since we’ve been looking for weeks (as far back as Abu Dhabi) for a 2ndpair, I went ahead a purchased a pair.  The workers told me to come back in 30 minutes to check if the original pair were fixed.  I also wanted to make sure the glasses were the correct prescription for Judy, and if the frames were fashionable.  Everything passed and I went back to the shop, where they had the original glasses repaired.  We’re back in top shape on reading glasses!

Caught a taxi in the lobby at 8:30 to head to BKK Airport.  The taxi prices are a set price from downtown to the airport, so no fears of any possible scamming by the driver.  We checked in easily enough with Bangkok Air.  We knew our luggage was going to exceed the maximums for these domestic flights in Thailand.  Fortunately, there is a set rate of 90 baht per kilogram for anything over 20kg. We’re at 27kg for each of our two checked bags, and are charged 1260 baht or the equivalent of $38.50.  I was afraid it might be the standard $150 per overweight bag.  What a relief.

Catching up on writing in the Bangkok Air lounge.

Bangkok Air has a convenient lounge for all their passengers with drinks, snacks, and wifi.  What else could anyone want?  (washrooms are just down the hall).  The flight departs on time at 12:05pm, is comfortable with lots of room, and takes slightly over 80 minutes.  The taxi from the airport to the hotel is also a fixed price, so no haggling necessary.  We’re checked into the Chiang Mai Shangri-La and in our room by 2:00pm.

After unpacking, we head out to explore the local neighborhood.  We found a local laundry a few blocks, so as we leave the hotel, we’re packing two bags of laundry, trying to look nonchalant.  Found the laundry, he weighed our two bags, and our charge was 148 baht, about $4.50.  A single piece of laundry would have cost that much in the hotel.

  DD Laundry, near hotel

After the laundry, since we’re saving so much money, I decided we deserved a foot massage, and found a local massage across the street from the hotel.  It was great!

Scrubbing on my feet before the massage

Time for dinner, and we walked down the street to a local restaurant.  I had asked the concierge about local Thai food, and it was his recommendation.  The food was good!

  Inside the restaurant.

   Steamed rice

   Cashew Chicken

We stopped at a 7-11 on our way back to the hotel, purchasing some soft drinks and ice cream (necessities).  Back in the room we get ready for our early (6:00am) departure for our temples tour of Chiang Mai.

Bangkok Palaces & Temples, Tuesday, 12/11/18


After breakfast, we met Boe and our driver at 8:00am, and made the short drive to the Grand Palace. We arrived just before the 8:30 opening, giving Boe the chance to give us some of the basic info about the Grand Palace.  It’s easy to lose track of which king built what (10 kings since 1882), but I believe it was built by Rama II, the second king of the Bangkok era.

About to enter the Grand Palace.

I can’t imagine anything being more gilded than these temples and shrines.  The Thai people love gold leaf.  Everywhere, gold, gold, gold!  Beautiful buildings with elaborate architecture and it all seems to relate to beliefs and the mythology of the beliefs (as they said).  Along the interior walls surrounding the temple area are 178 murals depicting the history of Thailand since 1782 to now.  It doesn’t sound like much till you see them, with all the intricate drawing and gold leaf.

 Wall mural samples

After the Grand Palace, we took a short ride to Wat Pho, the largest Buddhist Temple in Thailand and the home of the Reclining Buddha.  It’s huge, as you can see from the photos.  While we were in the Temple, we heard singing and came upon a singing contest with small student groups from schools all over Thailand.  There were judges and everything.  It made me feel right at home.  There were also groups warming up in various places around the temple. There was music everywhere!

Student singing contest with judges

 A scale model of Angor Wat.

Judy standing next to her birthday Buddha.  Our guide looked up the day of her birth (Monday), and she was able to put some gold leaf on her own Buddha.  Each day of the week had it’s own Buddha.

 The reclining Buddha

After the temple, we were dropped at the Bangkok Flower Market.  It’s a 24-hour facility with workers hauling lots of flowers, plants, vegetables, and herbs all over the building.  This is the only wholesale site for these items so it’s really busy.

 OrchidsLots of Thai pepper heat!

A few blocks from the Flower Market, we arrived at the river “Chao Phraya”.  It’s the main river of Bangkok, with boats and ferries everywhere. A steady stream of huge barges tied together were pulled and pushed through this segment of the river as we watched.

 Chao PhrayaBig barges

Lunch was good, with a few different Thai dishes picked out by Boe.  It’s hot and humid today, and the air-conditioning feels really good. We took our time finishing.  After lunch, we went down to the pier and boarded our own long-tail boat for a ride across the river to Thonburi, the ancient capital of Thailand.

Lots of chop as we cross the Chao Phraya.

A large variety of residences line these canals.  As we entered the residence canal area from the river, there was a set of locks where we waited as the water level was brought up to match the canal. (The river level was down slightly)  As we cruised through the canals, we had an occasional stop to visit some different temples.

Boe told us yesterday that water monitors were very prevalent in Thailand.  He showed us some “water monitor” key chains and large stuffed animals in the markets.  We saw some big ones today that weren’t stuffed.  They’re big, but apparently not aggressive unless harassed.  They like to climb up on the docks along the canals and sun themselves.

After the last temple stop, we caught a ferry back across the river to Bangkok, near the Grand Palace, and boarded our car back to the hotel.  We’ve had two amazing days of activities and sights.  I’m glad we were finally able to visit the city of Bangkok, and not just the airport as we flew thru headed to other destinations.

Bangkok, Markets & More Markets, Monday, 12/10/18


We have a 7:00am departure so we’re up early, eating breakfast in the club lounge.  It’s on our floor, only a few doors away, and very convenient.  We meet our guide, Boe, and load into our van.  We’re headed to the Railway Market, a famous town market where vendors set-up on the railroad tracks, hurriedly rolling their stuff to the side when the trains pull in  (seven times a day).  He tells us our drive will be 90 minutes, depending on traffic.  Due to the holiday, traffic is light.  Boe advises us we’re early, and can board the first train about 70km out of the market and ride it in, instead of waiting at the market for it to arrive.

 Waiting for the train.The train pulling in.

It was a great idea. We stopped at an early train stop, waited about 10 minutes, and boarded when it arrived.  The short ride on the Thai train was interesting.

When we arrived at the station, people were jammed everywhere watching the train pull in.  Vendors were everywhere on both sides of the tracks, as well as customers. As soon as the train pulled away, the vendors pushed theirs carts out over the tracks (some had devised small track systems to move quickly).  The vendors also had canopies that pulled back when the train arrived.  After the train passed, they would be pulled out over the booth area providing shade.  All kinds of foods & market items were being sold.  We walked the tracks for a hundred yards or so, then moved down an alley into the regular part of the town.

Check out the canopies that fold out to cover the market booths How about a little beef (or pork)?

Our driver drove up, and we headed for the floating markets.  He takes us to a boarding area where we board a “long-tail boat”.  It’s a long narrow boat with a large engine, attached to a long shaft with a propeller at the end.  Check out the pictures.

There are several floating markets in the area, but this one is supposedly the original.  We start off cruising through a residential area, with families eating, cooking, and cleaning right next to the canal.  We eventually transitioned into the market area, and it’s definitely unique. Everything seems to be for sale – foods, souvenirs, clothes, various creatures for pictures, and too many other things to list.  It’s so entertaining!

Residents buying from the boats that come by.

Chopping up something for dinner.

Coconut ice cream


Green sweet sticky rice on top of the ice cream, garnished with an orchid.

Coconut bowl.

Check out the bats pinned in the frames.

Cooking some barbecue.

Want something to take your picture with.  Maybe a Tarsier (look it up)?Or a python?

Rush hour on the canal!

When we eventually climbed out of the boat, we made a tour through the local land-based market.  Our driver met us as we came out to the parking lot.  He moved us to a different, much quieter river market.  We didn’t board a boat at this one, but walked the boardwalk with lots of shops and foods.  I had a chance to try some traditional Thai coffee.  Super strong and thick!

We exited this market at the Rama Memorial Park, built in honor of Rama II, the 2nd king of the Thai Bangkok era (early 1800’s).  It was a museum with homes and displays built to exhibit traditional Thai homes of that era.  It was a nice quiet park built on the rivers edge.  After our walk through the park, we boarded a boat and headed down river to a local Buddhist temple.  It’s a small temple that’s been swallowed by a Banyan tree.

The Banyan tree is winning this battle.

Inside the temple

After the temple we drove to a riverside café where our guide ordered several traditional Thai dishes. We enjoy Thai food, but it was nice to hear an explanation of the foods from a local.

Checking out the “heat level”.

After lunch we made the trip back to Bangkok.  It was a much longer trip back to town.  Everyone who was out of town for the holiday is heading back into town and the roads are jammed.  Back at the Renaissance, we had nice long rest, and some dinner in the club lounge.

Bangkok is rockin’ at night!

Around 7:00 we headed out to walk to one of the local night markets.  Downtown Bangkok is a flurry of cars, people and noise.  It’s fun to check it out (for a short time) before heading back to the hotel and getting ready for tomorrow.

Bangkok, Foot Loose & Fancy Free, Sunday, 12/9/18


We’ve got nothing scheduled for today except seeing the area around our hotel.  We have breakfast in the Club Lounge at 6:30, then returned to the room to shower, catch up on loose ends, and take a closer look at the rest of the week.  Talked to several family members back home via Facetime.

 Views from our room.  There was light rain falling, but it cleared up later

We head out around noon 11:00.  There seem to be lots of malls in the near vicinity.  Sure enough, we found a huge one, Central World, and began exploring. The concierge at the hotel mentioned she kept getting lost in this one and I can see why.  Nine floors, and so many branches make it tough to keep our bearings.

Ready, Set, Go!

 It’s a small Christmas park built outside the mall.

This is a very different looking cake.

A buddhist shrine on the street

We started back to the hotel around 3:00.  High tea is being served in the Club Lounge, and we don’t want to miss free food. It’s a nice place to sit and enjoy the view of the city below.  Around 4:30 we went down to a massage clinic next door for a foot massage. Aaahhhhhh!  Cheap and relaxing.

Christmas tree in our hotel lobby.

After the massage, we went back up to the Club Lounge for Happy Hour.  We’re getting our money’s worth!  We finished the evening prepping for our tour tomorrow.  We’re being picked up at 7:00 am.  It’s gonna be a long day, but interesting.

Thailand Time, Saturday, 12/8/18


The flight to Bangkok is scheduled for 2:30pm, so there’s lots of time to kill in the hotel.  We sleep late, have a leisurely breakfast, and finish up some paperwork (had to get some boarding passes printed).  We walk out the door at 11:00, and Laksme is waiting with the car.  We also have a Memphis Tours contact making sure we get into the airport terminal without problems.

Morning sun fighting through the mist/pollution.

We’ve spent a lot of time in this car since getting off the train in Agra.

 Laksme, our driver for five of our days in India.

Heavy security is again present at the terminal entrances, and boarding passes and passports are required. Once inside I make our currency exchange from rupees to dollars.  I’m trying to hold back enough rupees to purchase a couple of my Starbucks “City Mugs”.

Time to change rupees back to US Dollars.

We moved to the check-in area next. Since I had done web-check-in, we were moved to a much shorter line.  Apparently, not many people are using the web process yet.  They made the discounted Business Class offer again, and after some debate, we upgraded.

The luggage gets priority tags and are the first bags off-loaded.  Immigration and Security both have expedited queues for Business Class, and we sped through.  In no time at all (actually it was a long walk), I was standing at a Starbucks, buying my “Delhi” and “India” mugs to add to the collection.  We’re now carrying 6 different models.

 Delhi Airport art.This is the first time I’ve seen a UN plane.

Now all we have to do is kill an hour, before boarding, and then we’re off to Bangkok.  On the plane, the seats are huge with lots of laying back room and lifted footrest options.  The food is good, and we both agree, we could get used to this.

One last round of Indian food.  Love it!

This is way different than 30 rows back.

It takes a while to clear the clouds, but when we do, the Himalayan Mountains are in full view. This is another one of those moments where I have to pinch myself (there have been several on this trip).  I’m looking at Nepal and the tallest mountains in the world.  This isn’t something I ever expected to see.

The Himalayan Mountain Range!  Pictures don’t do it justice.

Arrival at Bangkok goes smoothly.  I checked with the attendants on the plane about the best way to get into the city from the airport.  They assured me that a taxi is the best option this evening.  They didn’t think there would be that much traffic.  Our other option is the BTS Skytrain.  It’s cheap and there’s a station close to our hotel. But the best I can figure, the taxi will cost about $14, and we’ll get dropped at the front door.  Taxi, here we come.

Business Class customers have expedited lines for immigration, so it goes quickly.  Our bags arrived fast.  Next stop is the currency exchange.  With everything in place, we make the walk to the taxi area. The crowds are light and the taxi area is organized.  Our driver doesn’t really understand what I’m saying, and can’t seem to read the address. There’s a phone number he uses and gets the necessary directions.  The drive takes 30 minutes, and the hotel has everything ready when we arrive.

Bangkok has a much different feel than India.  The modern highways and the city streets are more organized, move quicker, and there’s lots less honking.  We have a day off tomorrow to get ourselves ready for 4 days of touring Bangkok and Chiang Mai with a flight in the middle.  This hotel (Renaissance) is nice and we’re looking forward to our stay.

Jaipur to Delhi, a Slightly Different View, Friday, 12/7/18


Laksme is scheduled to pick us up at 9:00am for the drive back to Delhi.  He says it will take 6 hours.  We have a leisurely breakfast and take care of several things on the internet, since the connection is much stronger here than Agra.  Every time we turn around in this hotel, someone is waiting to ask if we’re ok.  Three different times last evening, someone knocked at the door, wondering if we needed anything?  It became almost too much.

The broom is a different model than we’re used to seeing.  Trident Hotel in Jaipur

Doorman at the hotel.  Doormen at several of our hotels have looked like this.

The drive to Delhi is mostly done on a decent road, six lanes at least.  The truck traffic is heavy, much more than anything we’ve experienced previously.  Laksme says it’s the main road for commerce to pass from Delhi to Mumbai.  Anything for Delhi that comes into the port at Mumbai has to be trucked.

 Many of the trucks are decorated.Check out the front of this truck.

There is an election today in the state of Rajasthan, of which Jaipur is the capital.  It’s for state leaders.  All the businesses and tourist venues are closed.  As we’re driving out of town, we see several places where people are voting.  It looks like the polling is done with pen & paper.

Laksme pulls over at one place where there are lots of monkeys on the roadside.  He says this is a “wildlife area”.  Many hindu people come here to feed the monkeys for some type of good luck.

Didn’t open the window to take pictures.  Thought we might pick up an unwelcome passenger.

We made a halfway stop at a cute little combo restaurant/gift shop.  I noticed several similar places within a few miles of this one.

As we get closer to town the traffic gets even heavier.  We spot the first tall buildings we’ve seen since we’ve been in India.  Our Delhi hotel has been near the airport, which is outside of the main part of Delhi.  We haven’t seen the Central Business District where there are bound to be many larger buildings.  We just haven’t been close enough to see.

 How many riders on this motorcycle?

Some added decorations.

We get checked into our hotel around 1:30pm, collecting the two extra bags we stored before we left Delhi on Sunday.  I’m glad we weren’t trying to haul them with us on our short hop flights Sunday & Monday.  It would have been real interesting dealing with them on the train from Jhansi to Agra. We created only one problem by leaving some bags behind. My extra underwear didn’t get into our traveling bags, requiring several sink laundry sessions.  With good blow dryers, I was in good shape.

Some of the Delhi hotel Christmas decor.

The rest of the day was spent looking ahead at our Thailand activites.  I’m constantly working to monitor our budget (for information more than anything else).  Tomorrow I’ll need to exchange our remaining Indian rupees back into US dollars.  I’m also trying to catch up the blog.

Judy is working on our bags, making sure we can meet the weight limits.  We were close to peak when we flew into Rome.  We’ve made several purchases as we’ve traveled, so we’re pushing it.  We can probably make the international limits on the Delhi/Bangkok flight.  Our two short hop domestic flights in Thailand from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and later to Phuket have lower limits.  It’ll be interesting how we do.

Drive to Jaipur and the Amber Fort, Thursday, 12/6/18


The Jaypee Palace Hotel was great, except for the slow internet.  I spent too much time waiting on photos to upload, etc.  Met Laksme at 8:30 to begin our drive to Jaipur.  Today will be our last day with a site tour in India. Tomorrow is just the drive from Jaipur to Delhi.

 Traffic, traffic everywhere A Hindu shrine by the roadside.

As we drove, we began to notice more farms and agriculture.  We’re told it’s potatoes, mustard, some wheat, and some rice. Several places I noticed stacks of disks piled up or laid out.  It was cow dung drying out to later be used as fuel for fires..

We also began to see camels more frequently.  Where there was grain being grown, the camels were being used to pull carts hauling the grain to market.  Almost every animal we see is used to pull or haul something.

 Just another camel pulling a grain container

Many of the villages we passed had a centralized area where water was available for bathing.  It’s a common sight to see someone standing at one of these areas taking a bath on a raised platform, 50 ft. from the road.

The highway to Jaipur is mostly 4 lanes, and seems to be new.  The median has flowering plants.  Only as we pass thru the villages does it get dusty, and the traffic stacks up, especially at an intersection.  Even on a big highway like this, cattle can bring traffic to a halt if they get stubborn.  We stopped after two hours at an Indian version of “Stuckey’s” with a restaurant, gift shop, washrooms, and a place to buy snacks.

Jaipur is built in the hills.  As we get close, the road begins to climb.  First stop in Jaipur is lunch at a small restaurant.  After lunch, check-in at the hotel, meet our guide, and by 2:30, we’re driving to the Amber Fort.

We thought the Amber Fort was named for it’s color, but it’s something entirely different.  Shiva, the Hindu goddess of destruction has 1000’s of names.  The most commonly used name during the time the fort was built began with Amber………. (didn’t quite get the whole name), but evolved into Amber.  It had nothing to do with color?

 The drive to the gate

The fort is just another amazing palace built by a Maharajah with lots of money, who spared no expense getting everything he wanted.  There seems to be a lot of that going around 500 to 600 years ago.  The views of the valley below were great!

The drive back down

After the Fort, we had a short picture stop at the Water Palace.  It was built as a summer palace for the obvious reason it would be cooler.

Next stop was a place where we watched a “block printing” exhibition.  It’s an ancient version of screen printing, with anywhere from 3 to 12 different blocks to add colors to a design.  After the colors are added, a dip in a vinegar and water concoction brings out the colors.

Last stop of the day is the Palace of the Winds.  It’s a façade built to resemble a palace.  It has 953 windows with lattice-work designs that allowed royal ladies to observe life on the street below without being seen.  We’re dropped off at the hotel to eat dinner and get ready for our final full day in India.

Taj Mahal & Agra Fort, WOW!!! Wednesday, 12/5/18


Had a great breakfast and wandered around the grounds of the hotel (Jaypee Palace Hotel) this morning before going out in the city.  It’s a huge hotel complex with gardens and a convention complex.

 Garden outside our roomA few Christmas decorations

Laksme picks us up at 9:00. We pick up Shaym, our guide, on the way. He gives us some of the basic info about the Taj Mahal.  It took 22 years to build from 1631 to 1653.  It was built by the 5thMughal Emperor Shahjahan in honor of his wife who died during childbirth of their 14thchild.

We’re driving thru fairly heavy traffic, and suddenly it’s time to get out.  I’m really surprised because it’s seems like we’re in the middle of the city, honking horns, etc.  Every picture of the Taj Mahal I’ve seen had me thinking it was sitting out away from the city in the countryside.

The walk along a peaceful paved road (no traffic) took about 10 minutes, before we arrived at the ticket area and security.  The crowd was active but not overly large.  The lines to get in weren’t long and moved quickly.  Security is heavy with bag and body scanning.  The temperature today is around 65 degrees, and comfortable.  This would be a miserable place in the summer heat with large crowds, but today, it couldn’t be nicer.

Entrance Gate

Our guide has great knowledge about the design and building of the monument.  It’s all marble and all the floral decoration and writing on the gates are inlaid stones.  The amount of delicate work to piece it all together on such a huge building is hard to imagine in this day and age.

 Looking back at the entrance

The advantage of having our own guide is he really knows how and where to go to get the best pictures.  He had us posing all over the property.  He basically took over our camera.  We’ve never had so many pictures of ourselves.  It’s digital overkill.

When we finish, we walk out and climb in a wooden cart to ride out to the edge of the property to our car.  We get great information wherever we go, and our transportation is ready and waiting at the end to whisk us to our next destination.  This is a great way to see India.

We’re delivered to a marble factory to watch some of the local craftsmen as they work to cut and shape pieces of various stones to make the inlaid designs on the building and now, some of their own designs.  We’re told that some of the workers are descendants of the original stone artisans that built the Taj Mahal.

Our next stop is Agra Fort. Yeah, yeah, what’s the big deal? When you get inside it becomes apparent why it’s a big deal.  This fort was built and improved by three different Mughul emperors.  They ruled India during the 15thand 16thcentury.  Each emperor put his own architectural signature on the building.  75% of the building is still in use by the Indian Army. Tourists are only allowed in the 25% of the fort where the families lived.  It’s built on a hill above the Yumana River, looking out over the countryside, with a great view of the Taj Mahal in the distance.

 Agra Fort entrance Pavilion where the Moghal rulers held court

 More digital overload

After the fort, we had a chance to eat lunch.  After lunch, we opt to go back to the hotel to relax and enjoy the amenities of the hotel. We’re looking forward to some rest time. We’re moving from city to city so quickly and seeing so much, I can barely keep up with the writing.  The occasional slow internet makes the photo uploads drag.  If I miss a day, it’s hard to catch up, we’re so totally involved in traveling and touring sites.

Rural India, Orcha Palaces, Train to Agra, Tuesday, 12/4/18


We met our driver for the day at 9:00am and began the drive to Orcha, and ultimately Jhansi, where we’ll catch a train to Agra.  On paper it seems like a mild drive of 4 hours, enjoying the rural scenes of India. We had a chance to observe the rural scenes, but the drive was way more than “mild”.

 Kinda narrow Gotta share the road Where to go?

The road was narrow, paved, and two-lanes.  There wasn’t a shoulder, and the pavement edge was ragged and dropped off sharply.  The traffic consisted of bicycles, motorbikes, buses, tuk-tuks, cars, industrial trucks with big loads, and lots of tanker trucks.  We even had to wait on a wooden cart pulled by two horses to cross a narrow bridge. The driving technique consisted of pulling up close behind whoever you need to pass, honking to warn them we’re coming around, then racing around before we hit the oncoming traffic.

Passing through the villages and towns was eye-opening.  We see lots people living in the worst conditions, and begging as we drive by. We could tell when we were nearing a school because there were students everywhere, walking and riding bikes (on the same roads as all the traffic).  All along the road we passed tuk-tuks jammed with people (8 to 12) sitting on top of each other.  Cattle are walking everywhere and stopping traffic.  It’s everything I’ve seen portrayed as India, but I assumed it was exaggeration. It’s exactly as you’ve seen it portrayed.  India is expected to pass China for the largest population in the world in 2023.

We arrived safely (whew) in Orchha.  I had never heard of it, but there were several elaborate palaces and temples built in the area.  There’s a river nearby, and the setting is beautiful.  It’s no wonder the Moghul rulers of the time selected this site. We had a nice lunch, met our guide around 2:30, and began our tour.  The palace was built in the 15thcentury.  It’s amazing they were able to design and build palaces and temples with so much detail 600 years ago.  After our tour, we walked the town before loading up for our short drive to Jhansi.

 Where we ate lunchThe river from our lunch site.

 Looking out from the palace over the valley

One of the other temple areas

Sights from walking around town.

Jhansi is a city of several million.  The train station is a hub of activity, with taxis, tuk-tuks, and motorbikes whizzing everywhere.  We meet our train station escort and head into the station.  Our driver has to make the long drive back to Khajuraho, in the dark. Our escort gets the tickets, and stands with us while we wait for the train.  We’re an hour early, so I always enjoy watching the people moving in and out of the station.  Out on the platform waiting to load, beggars are working the crowds.  The whole station is grimy and dirty, much like the city we saw as we drove in.  Orchha is such a contrast!

 Waiting for the train

We board the train, find our seats, and stash our luggage in the overhead.  It’s no small feat since our big bag weighs nearly 50 lbs.  The train trip is close to two hours.  It’s far different from the high-speed trains in Japan and China.  Porters actually tried to serve a meal in the midst of all the passenger activity as we passed through several stations.

We arrived in Agra around 9:30.  Laksme, our Delhi driver, greets us as we get off.  Shaym, our guide for tomorrow is with him.  They take us to the Jaypee Palace Hotel.  It’s a huge hotel, and the nicest of all our hotels up to this point.  We’re worn out after a day of crazy driving, walking some palaces, and a grimy (but interesting) train ride.

The Ganges – Round 2, then Khajuraho, Monday, 12/3/18


This is the earliest departure on our schedule for our India segment.  We meet the driver & guide at 5:30am.  We drive, then walk back to the Ganges for morning prayers and the bathing ritual of the Hindu pilgrims.  The closer we get, the more crowded it becomes.

 Pilgrims praying in the nearby shrinesMorning prayers

Our guide tells us the priests get water out of the river at 4:00 and take it back to their temples/shrines where they wash and clean the building.  Then around 5:00am, morning prayers begin while the Hindu faithful begin to bathe in the river.  There are priests available to receive gifts and pray for people.  We saw a few instances of women mourners who were having their heads shaved for a loved ones memory.

Early morning bathersPriest praying for a pilgrim

We board a boat again and paddle along the riverbank, observing the different “ghats” or defined riverbank areas where different sects or groups regularly bathe.  All I can think about is the sanitation issues related to bathing in water where ashes and bones are dumped, as well as all the other things effecting the water purity.  After the baths, believers take water back to their homes (in every possible container) to add to their shower/bath water at home to “wash their sins away”.

After touring downriver, we turned around and went back upriver to the site of the cremations.  There are none currently taking place since a memorial service must be held before the cremation, and few families are scheduling funerals at 2:00 or 3:00am, for a 5:00am cremation.

Morning on the Ganges

We’re let off the boat a hundred yards upriver from the cremation site, and begin a walk through the old section of town.  The paths are so narrow, in places I can touch the walls on both sides at the same time. We meet motorbikes, bathers, beggars, priests, and locals as we walk.  We had an encounter with some cattle spooked by a dog.  Judy and our guide had to scramble up a small wall to avoid a minor trampling.

 Cremation site we visited last night

Pilgrim washing a shrine with water from the Ganges

Much of the area is on the verge of collapse and the government has decided to widen and improve the access to a “Golden Temple” site that has significant meaning to the pilgrims.  There are long lines of people with water, flowers, and other gifts for the priests of the temple.  Military/police security is everywhere, and I’m told not to take pictures?

These are the cattle that provided Judy’s “close encounter”

We eventually worked our way out of “old town”, found our car, and went back to the hotel for breakfast. After breakfast, we finished packing, and met our contacts at 10:30 for our 1:00pm flight to Khajuraho.  The short flight departed a few minutes early.  The airport in Khajuraho is small, and by 2:00pm we were checking into our hotel for a quick freshen up.

Our guide meets us at 2:30 and we begin the tour of the temple complexes in Khajuraho.  Population of the town is only 20,000.  It’s very small, accessible and quiet.  We start our visit at the largest complex, which is a UNESCO site.  It’s calm and peaceful, with beautiful landscaping, and some impressive temples built in the 10thand 11thcentury.  Our guide gives us some the basic facts on Hinduism and the significance of these temples.  To us, they resemble Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which he later mentioned were built at about the same time.

The carving on the exterior walls is very detailed and has survived the years in amazing condition. The temples are all sandstone, but built on granite.  Along with the standard elephant, camel, and soldier carvings, there are many erotic scenes portrayed.  Our guide keeps telling us the artists wanted to tell the entire story of the people of the time, including the sexuality of the times.  It’s pretty graphic.  One of the thoughts that keeps rolling through our minds is how great the architecture and design are for the temples, and how ramshackle everything is outside the walls of the complex.  Not much of what exists in the area away from these temples will be here in 800 or 900 years.

Our guide offered us several opportunities for evening activities (light show, traditional dance, etc.), but we decided to relax back at the hotel.  The early morning visit to the Ganges is beginning to wear on us.

Varanasi, the Holy Place of Hinduism, Sunday, 12/2/18


Had an easy departure from Delhi this morning.  At the airport, security guards were checking tickets & passports at the outside doors before we could even enter the terminal building.  Once inside we found the Jet Airways domestic check-in.  It was a long line and took about 20 minutes before we reached a desk.  At the desk, they informed us of a chance for a cheap upgrade to Business Class, so we jumped on it.  It was great, with decent food, lots of room, etc.  It’ll be make it hard to go to the back of the plane on our later flights.

Our tour contact and driver are waiting and we are quickly delivered to the Radisson Hotel. Enroute, it’s obvious this is a more rural & agricultural area, at least on the drive into town.  The hotel, is nice, and we had two hours before we were picked up for our evening activity.  While we’re killing time in the coffee shop, I decided to walk next door to a silk weaving factory, recommended by our guide Delhi (he grew up in Varanasi).  Inside, there were the anticipated sales rooms, and a large room with some very old hand-operated looms for weaving the silk brocade patterns.  One of the looms was a two-man job, but they all looked very complex and time-consuming.

I was by myself, so I had time to watch them work and admire the patterns they were weaving. Eventually a salesman found me and walked me into a sales area where he explained some about their products.  The family had been in the business for 7 generations, and the work is beautiful, but it’s expensive.  I had to leave to catch our guide for our evening tour, but planned to visit again when we returned to the hotel.

We were picked up at 4:30, beginning the trip to Evening Aarti.  We had no idea what we were going to watch.  Our driver worked his way through some crazy traffic, dodging cattle, people, bikes, motorbikes, cars, and buses, as we drove toward the Ganges River. We had to get out and walk the last kilometer because of the huge crowds.  We finally came in full view of the river and all the activity.  It’s impossible to describe the sounds, and scenes on the bank as everyone prepared for the evening prayers.

Varanasi is the place where Hindu believers want to die and be cremated.  Our first activity at the river was to board a small boat which took us up the river to a Ghat (riverbank area) where bodies are being cremated. Cremations are taking place 24/7. As the boat moves closer, our guide describes the activities taking place…..washing the body before cremation, building the pyre and the burning, throwing the remaining bones into the river after the cremation, and so many other significant traditions for the mourning families.  It’s a dramatic sight as the sun sets.

Our next stop was to float off the bank in sight of the evening prayers, delivered by sets of priests in several different sections of the riverbank.  This was all taking place simultaneously, and each group had amplification and big crowds were ringing bells, and taking part.  The colors, the sounds, the smells, and the energy from the whole thing was amazing.

Our guide helped us leave a little before the ceremony ended to beat the crowds.  But the crowds departing were still crazy as we walked out, dodging all the oncoming motorbikes, rickshaws, and tuk-tuks, all going every direction.  Crazy!!!!

Back in the car, our driver worked his way back to the hotel.  It took about 30 minutes.  We went next door, to the silk-weaving factory to check out the products, eventually buying a few beautiful items.  Back in the room, we prep for our early trip out in the morning.  We’re scheduled to be picked up at 5:30 to travel back to the Ganges to observe the Hindu pilgrims bathing in the river.

Delhi, Old & New, Saturday, 12/1/18


We’re in a new time zone now, 11 ½ hours ahead of DFW.  Weird!  Breakfast was nice, but as expected, the food choices had variety, with lots of Indian options, as well as western standards.

We meet our driver at 9:00 am, and start out into the city to pick up our guide.  Traffic is fairly heavy and we picked up our guide Ajit, or AJ, around 9:45.  The drive is revealing as to the poverty and over-crowding.  Everywhere an open spot might exist, someone has spread a blanket or erected a small tent/awning.  Families are jammed together, and in the market area, the pace is frantic.  We spotted a few large monkeys walking along, or climbing on the buildings or roofs.

Traffic is so much like Beijing!

Our first stop is the Jama Masjid or Jama Mosque.  It’s the first mosque built in Delhi way back in the 1600’s.  It is still an active mosque with as many as 20,000 worshippers on holy days.  It’s built on hill overlooking the city.

 Jama Mosque

From the mosque we rode in a bicycle rickshaw in the Chandri Chowk neighborhood.  It a section of “Old Delhi” and the center of the tea/spice wholesale market.  We passed through narrow streets and crazy traffic, with horns honking all the time. With Judy, myself, and our guide, the driver has to work really hard with his one-speed bike.  Everywhere there are small shops, tuk-tuks buzzing around, along with the occasional cow or pig.

Looking over the shoulder of our rickshaw driver.  Check out the wires/cables overhead?

Our rickshaw!

Yep, that’s what it looks like is happening!

We climbed in a Tuk-Tuk next for a ride to the Red Fort.  It’s the first fort built in Delhi, by the same Mogul king who built the Taj Mahal.  It’s built on the same design as the Agra Fort, a site near the Taj Mahal we’ll visit later in the week.  It is still used by the Indian army as one of it’s main buildings in Delhi.

Next up is the “Cottage Industry” exhibition area.  Our guide had been describing it as the place supported by the Indian government for the displaced people of Kashmir to work and exhibit the traditional industries of Kashmir.  It turned out to be more of a Ginseng store, Pearl Factory, Leather shop, or any number of companies designed to get tourists in, display the product, and put on the hard sell.  This shop had handmade carpets, jewelry, scarves, tablecloths, and women’s clothing. The stuff they make is gorgeous, but expensive, and not really anything we need.

We had a nice lunch with the first real Indian food since our arrival in Delhi.  It’s great!  Our next stop is Raj Ghat, the Mahatma Ghandi Memorial.  It’s the site where he was cremated after his assassination.  It’s a quiet, peaceful spot.

In contrast, our next stop was India Gate, a memorial to the 70,000 Indian soldiers killed in World War I. All their names are inscribed on the walls.  It’s a popular place for school groups to visit.  There are buses everywhere, and student groups in uniforms lined up and walking together all over the property.

Qutub Minar is our last stop in Delhi and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s a huge tower commemorating a victory of a Mogul King or an invading Moslem army.  It was started in 1199, completed in 1368.

As I said earlier, everywhere we drove, the traffic was crazy and people and animals filled the streets and small shops all around.  Every intersection was filled with beggars, including young children selling various items or outright begging.  It’s a sad sight, and repeated at almost every traffic light.

Back at the room later, we prepare for our flight tomorrow to Varanasi.  We’re anxious to see what India has to offer away from Delhi.

India, Here We Come! Friday, 11/30/18


Had breakfast and finished up our packing with time to spare.  Went downstairs early (8:15 am), and our driver was already waiting. Traffic was light (it’s a holiday), and we were checking in at the Jet Airways desk before 9:00 am.  It always interesting how each country handles their immigration and security.  We went through smoothly and arrived with an hour to kill at our departure gate.

One last of view of Dubai skyline and the Burj Khalifa

It’s a 3 ½ hrs. flight. The seating on the plane was tight. Before we landed, Judy was getting claustrophobic.  As we neared Delhi, the sky began to turn brown.  The weather app indicated there was fog, but it was more smoke/pollution. We found out later that after the recent rice harvest, they burned the fields, and the smoke is still hanging around. I had our eVisa’s ready and immigration was fast.  After we snagged our luggage we walked through customs, and our driver, Laksme, was waiting for us in the meeting area.  This is when the Delhi experience really started.

It was dark when we started out of the airport.  The traffic was reminiscent of Beijing, with cars jammed together and weaving in and out. We turned a corner as we left the airport, and suddenly, we were in what I would call a ghetto.  People were jammed everywhere, cars were honking, and drivers were yelling.  It was stop & go for 45 minutes until we arrived at our hotel.

All the hotel areas are surrounded with tall walls topped with barbed wire.  As we pulled up, there were armed guards, and the driveway was barricaded.  One of the guards checked under our car for bombs, while another guard opened the hood looking for explosives.  To get into the hotel, they ran our bags through a scanner, and we walked through a scanner ourselves.  It’s a great looking hotel, but the security issues were unexpected.

Up in the room, we begin to unpack and get ready for our tour tomorrow.  I’m trying to figure out the exchange rate for the Indian Rupee. $200 is close to INR 13,500. Dinner is close to 4,000 rupees (or $50).  Our phone app is going be a big help.

Desert Safari, Thursday, 11/29/18


We don’t go out till the afternoon, so the morning is spent organizing and resting for our upcoming India tours.  I’m catching up on financial stuff and blog stuff.  I’m a little worried that the things we’ve bought are going to push our luggage weight limits to a point where it gets really expensive.

One of the Ferraris available to rent in front of our hotel.  Tempting!

Atana Hotel entrance

The reception hostesses are dressed to celebrate and honor UAE Emirates National Day coming up this weekend (Dec. 2)  The holiday begins today.

Our “Desert Safari” driver picked us up around 3:30pm.  We’re in a Toyota Land Cruiser, with a roll bar. Traffic was heavy as we head out of town. We drove for about an hour.  Dubai has grown so much it takes a long time to get to the “edge” of town for the desert.

New home construction units are even built with the “wind walls” or ancient desert air-conditioning Ialked about in one of my earlier posts.

Finally getting to the edge of town.

We meet up with the rest of our caravan, 10 matching vehicles, all full of eager tourists.  This company is Desert Adventure Team.  While we wait for everyone to arrive, the drivers let air out of the tires to improve traction in the sand.  (they refilled the tires while we ate later at the camp)

We get started, driving single file, weaving out over the sand dunes, spinning tires and sliding across the desert.  They seem to really like to drive along the crest of a dune, then turn sharply, right about the time you think we’re about to roll over, and then drive down the steep embankment.  One of the cars get “high center”, and we had a blast watching all the other drivers rush over to help.  They tied straps on the car, and pulled it around, trying different directions and techniques, including digging with a shovel, until it finally broke free.

We finished the “dunes” part of the Safari sitting up on a hill watching a beautiful sunset.  As the sun settled, we started up again, driving toward our camp for the evening.

Our camp looks like some type of desert fort built with sand blocks.  Inside are all the fun activities, the food, camel rides, pictures with a falcon, the food, Shisha (water pipes), the food, the belly dancer, the Egyptian Tanoura dancer (he spins for more than 10 minutes, check You Tube), the food, and finally the Fire Dancer.

The food was really good with several salads, Naan bread, and grilled chicken and lamb kebabs.  After dinner, we made the long drive back to the hotel, where we finished preparations for our flight to India tomorro

Old Dubai, Souks, etc., Wednesday, 11/28/18


We have our guide from yesterday, Mohammad, back again today.  Rezya, the Pakistani woman is also with us.  We’re picked up first, then go by to get Rezya at her son’s apartment.  She has a son working in Dubai.

Burj Khalifa in the background

December 2, Sunday, is the National Day of the UAE.  The country is 47 years old, gaining their independence from England in 1969, and signing the unification agreement between the seven different emirates in 1971. As a part of the agreement, the Sheik of Abu Dhabi is the president of the country, and the Sheik of Dubai is the Vice-President and Prime Minister.  The face of Sheik Zayed, the founder of the UAE is everywhere.  This year is also the celebration of 100 years since the birth of Sheik Zayed.  His grandson is the Crown Prince, and the de-facto ruler.  Everyone here seems very proud and satisfied with the rulers and government.  UAE has a population of 9.4 million, with the majority of living in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. 85% of the population are expats/foreign workers.

Sheik Zayed Celebration poster.

Old photo of Dubai from the 50’s

As we drove Monday evening from Abu Dhabi, we passed the de-salination plants along the coast, pulling water out of the Arabian Sea.  Outside of a few small wells, this country and these cities would be nothing.  All their water comes from these plants.  When you look at pictures of Dubai from the 60’s and early 70’s, how did they get to this?  Unbelievable!!!

First mosque built in Dubai

Our first stop is the original mosque built in Dubai.  It’s small, compared to what we’ve seen lately, but important in the history of Dubai. Our second stop is the 225-year old Fort of Al Fahidi.  It houses the Dubai Museum.  Inside the small fort are several homes and rooms built in the traditional style, demonstrating how desert families lived.  Then we’re led down a ramp and there is a huge museum area underneath this small complex. It contains many life-size dioramas of life in the desert and how they survived and thrived.

Replica of boats used by pearl divers, the first main industry/business of Dubai, long before oil.

The rectangular structure on the roof of the small building is a “wind wall”.  Inside is a triangular wall.  When the wind blows across it, the cool air is forced into the building and the hotter (lighter) air is forced out.  “Desert Air-Conditioner”.

After the museum, we make a short walk to the Dubai Creek, the original inland waterway into Dubai. We pass through a souk (market) area. I’ve been through lots of markets during our travels, but these guys were really “good”.  As I tried to turn down one sale, another guy wrapped a turban around my head and had me in his shop in front of a mirror, all while I was saying “No, No, No”.  His price dropped from 10 dirham, to 1 dirham as I walked away.  ($1.00 = 3.66 dirham)  I almost turned around.

We walked to a small dock area with small boats, called “opera”.  We climbed aboard one and it took us across Dubai Creek to the older traditional areas and lots of souks to explore.

Our first stop was the Spice Souk.  Rows and rows of shops selling spices and incense.  There are lots of strong smells, very different from what we’re used to.  The next stop was the Gold Souk, with rows of shops selling gold, silver, diamonds, and other precious stones.  Mohammad tells us most of these shops are legit.  Of course, if needed, I could buy a Rolex or Omega watch cheap down one of the alleys, according to all the guys approaching us.

 Window shopping in the Gold Souk

After the souks, we opted to be dropped off at the Mall of the Emirates.  It’s much smaller, with only 500 stores.  Attached to the mall is Ski Dubai.  Yep!  It’s a huge indoor (obviously) complex with ski hills complete with chairlifts. There are some small ice chutes for toboggans.  This is crazy!  If you can imagine it, around here, they’ll build it.  Another ski area opened in May in another area of Dubai.  There are also plans to build another skyscraper that is 1000 meters tall.  Apparently, somewhere else in the world, a building is about to open that’s slightly taller than the Burj Khalifa.  The emiratis are not about to let themselves be topped.

Ski Dubai

Ski Dubai from the outside

Back at the hotel later, we relax, and then taxi over to the JW Marriott Harbour Hotel in the Marina area for dinner.  I wanted to try and get some pictures of the “Palm of Jumeirah” island complex from the highest point.  Dinner tonight is on the 52ndfloor in the Observatory Bar & Grill. We have a great view as the sun disappears.  While we’re watching boats and jet skis scurrying around below us, some skydivers drift in, landing on a small runway area nearby.

Google version of the Palm Jumeriah

Actual view of Palm Jumeriah.  The Atlantis Hotel is way out at the end.  To it’s right is the new Atlantis they’re building.

The “Big Eye” of Dubai (ferris wheel) in the setting sun.  It’s still under construction.

The Marina area from our dinner perch on the 52nd floor.

Modern Dubai, Burj Khalifa, etc., Tuesday, 11/27/18


Breakfast in our hotel was good.  There were lots of choices on the buffet, both Western, and Arabic.  I’ve never seen so much lamb turned into breakfast foods. Pork bacon or sausage, are not to be found.

View from our hotel room.

Our guide, Mohammad (Egyptian), picked us up about 9:20am.  We joined a single woman from Karachi, Pakistan (spoke decent English), and a family of three (4-year old boy) from Italy.  Our guide gave all the information for the tour in English, and then repeated it in Italian.  As the tour progressed, the Italian family spoke enough English to converse about the fact they were from Sicily, Taormina, specifically.  Our guide told us he sometimes has as many as three languages for tours off a cruise ship, English, Italian, and Spanish.  And of course, he speaks Arabic.

Our first point of interest is “The Palm of Jumeirah Beach”.  It’s the famous man-made islands built in the shape of a palm tree.  A large Atlantis hotel (same company as Bahamas Atlantis), is at the very tip of the islands.  A monorail runs the length of the trunk from the mainland out to the hotel.  There’s a really nice boardwalk (18km) along the rock breakwater protecting the entire complex.  Thousands of trucks were required to haul all the rocks in from Oman.  This was a HUGE project.  Lots of building still going on, hotels, residences, etc.

Atlantis, and they’re building and even bigger one next door

Next stop was a viewing of the Burj Al Arab hotel, the iconic “Sail”.  You can’t get on site without a booking or restaurant reservation. Our hotel concierge worked to get us a reservation in the restaurant at the top of the hotel, but the starting price for a fixed meal was nearly $300 USD per person.  I guess pictures from afar will have to do.  The only rooms in the hotel are large suites encompassing two floors.  It’s very exclusive.

Burj Al Arab

We had time to visit a shopping area nearby.  It’s part of a complex of three hotels connected to each other by canals, referred to by the locals as Dubai Venice.

Next stop was the Marina District.  It’s a man-made waterway with some very exclusive hotels.  We walked around the boardwalk, admiring the boats, and amazing spiral tower.

The Dubai Mall and the Burj Al Khalifa is our next stop.  The mall is advertised as the world’s largest with more than 2500 name brand stores.  It contains a lake with fountains that “dance” similar to the Bellagio in Las Vegas. There is a light show that displays on the Burj Al Khalifa – the world’s tallest building.  There’s also a huge (5 stories) indoor waterfall at one end of the mall. The mall is huge.  We walked our legs off.  As we entered today, we saw some of the huge aquarium that’s also part of the property

The Waterfall

Burj Khalifa, 828 meters

It seems so much better when we stand in front of it.

 From the 125th floor observatory

 Lake where the fountains dance

Our tour ended around 2:00 after our trip to the top (125th floor) of the Burj Khalifa.  We decided to stay at the mall and eat, walk around, while we wait for the fountains and light show that began at 6:00. We ended up in the Five Guys restaurant enjoying a vanilla shake, with a view of the fountains and light show.

The water show seemed average to us, nothing special.  We finally decided to head home, and as we were leaving, a light show began, displayed on the Burj Khalifa.  It was something!  With only 10 minutes left when it ended before the next fountain show, we decided to wait.  The 2ndfountain show was much better.  Different music and fountain actions made a difference.  After the show, we walked to a taxi stop, bound for home.

Light Show!

Day 1 in Dubai has been one amazing thing after another!  What a blast, and our guide was good, getting us in and out of places quickly. We can’t wait till tomorrow.

Off The Ship & Abu Dhabi, Monday, 11/26/18


It’s sad as we leave the ship today.  It’s been comfortable, and you know what you’re getting with a cruise.  There are no guarantees with our tours beginning today thru India.  Interesting times ahead.

Off the boat at our assigned 7:30am time, but no guide was waiting.  We’re off really early.  I probably should’ve tried to send a message and let them know how early we were scheduled. We patiently wait while the ship empties out.  Lots of people like us waiting on independent tour operators.  Thankfully we found a place to sit while we wait and the sun is hidden behind clouds.  It’s actually a comfortable temperature with a cool breeze.  Yesterday’s rain chilled things off.

Our guide, Faheem (Pakistan), and driver, Salvin (India), show up at 9:00, talking about the awful rains in Dubai (his home base) this morning.  Since they get rain only twice a year, the city hasn’t spent much on infrastructure to drain, so the streets quickly flooded (kinda like west Texas towns).  But after talking to him more, we realized his goal for arrival was 9:00am, so he’s right on time.

Abu Dhabi in the 60’s.

First stop is the Corniche (beach front) in Abu Dhabi.  We walk around the area, admiring the cleanliness and the views of the downtown skyline.  There is polished marble everywhere.  Then we make a long walk to the Heritage Village, a museum displaying the traditional desert living.  As we walk we learn more about Abu Dhabi and its ruling family, as well as all of the other UAE states (Dubai, etc.)

After the museum, we drive to the Emirates Palace Hotel.  It’s the same place we ate Saturday night after the mosque.  We got more of a tour today.  Faheem worked here in Hospitality for eight months, before becoming a guide.  We were especially curious to try the 23k gold leaf (real gold they say) topping for ice cream and gold flakes for cappuccino.  It’s fun!  While we sit in the “coffee shop”, we do a lot people-watching, checking out all the Emeratis dressed in their traditional attire.

Lamborghini and a Rolls in the background as we walk into the hotel


After the hotel, we cruised down the main road for a daytime look at the Grand Mosque.  No need to go inside, since we had a good visit Saturday night.  Next stop was the Louvre Museum – Abu Dhabi.  They are associated with the Louvre in Paris, and the city is also building a Guggenheim “franchise.”  Unfortunately, they’re not open on Mondays.

Grand Mosque in the daylight

Abu Dhabi Louvre

Our last stop is “Ferrari World” on Yas Island.  It’s a huge indoor amusement park, connected to an even bigger mall, next door to the Yas Island Formula One Race Track.  We ate Indian food in the mall fast food court for a late lunch before entering the park.

The park has the world’s fastest rollercoaster.  They’re not kidding, 230 kilometers per hour in 5 seconds at the start.  Without goggles, it would peel your eyelids back. There are a few more rollercoasters and some 3-D rides, all well done.  Mostly, the park is a big commercial for Ferrari and Italy.  Around every corner are cars on display, and a couple of the rides simulated driving a Ferrari.  Also, for 800 dirham ($270 USD), I could drive a Ferrari around the racetrack for a half hour.  Not today. I’m saving my money for more of that 23k gold topping.  The entire park is built indoors.  It’s quite impressive (and comfortably cool).  No sweating it out in hot lines here.

After Ferrari World, we begin the drive to our Dubai hotel, Atana.  The highway is 14 lanes, so traffic isn’t a problem.  We arrive at our hotel around 7:30pm.  We’re surrounded by lots of tall buildings.  I’m anxious to see tomorrow, if Dubai can match the opulence we experienced in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi, What to Do? Sunday, 11/25/18


The first thing we heard this morning at 5:15am were morning prayers being chanted/sung all over the city. We could hear it easily on the ship. It seemed to be coming from everywhere. It’s a unique sound and definitely adds to the sense of exotic we run into everywhere we go.

We split up our activities this morning for a while.  Judy has a hair appointment.  My first job (after breakfast of course) is to go pick up our passports at our assigned spot.  After passports, I went to Café al Bacio to work and kill time until I could talk to the Future Excursions people.  I’m working on a possible change of our room for our Alaska cruise in May.  We currently have a suite, but since we’ve learned to live comfortably in our Aqua Class cabin, we’re going to try and shift from our Suite to Aqua.  The Alaska cruise also has lots fewer sea days, so we’re going to be out of the room for excursions lots of days.

I’ve also been trying to arrange an appointment with the Excursions Director.  I can save 10% on our Alaska excursions, if I book them on board now.  Wasn’t planning to make these decisions so early, but I can always change them.

Judy and I meet up around 10:00am and exit the ship.  We boarded a shuttle bus for the World Trade Center (WTC).  There’s a big modern mall, but also a traditional souk, with some of the traditional Arabian items for sale.  I can hardly wait to do some bargaining with the vendors.  After spending a couple of hours and making a few purchases, we catch the shuttle back to the ship.  We cleaned up, did some packing, and eventually went down to Café al Bacio for our afternoon tea.

Judy’s view on the shuttle bus (that’s me)

Lunch at a mall Kabob cafe

They can put a lot of people on these little shuttle buses.  Fold down seats fill the aisles.  Hope we don’t have a fender bender.

Judy’s idea of fun….taking my picture as I tried to climb out of the front seat (over the transmission hump).  There’s no door for the front seat passenger?

I finally had a chance to meet with the Excursions Director, and set-up three excusions for our Alaska trip. I went back to the cabin to do some blog work, while Judy went walking around the deck.   She came in talking about the rain.  What?  It’s raining in Abu Dhabi?  Everyone’s probably excited, except it’s going to interfere with the big Formula One Championships.  I’m curious to hear how it goes.


We eat dinner in Blu and head back to the cabin.  As we finalize our packing (luggage has to be in the hall by 10:00pm), I spend time going over finances and making sure all the bills back home are caught up and credited correctly.  We’re scheduled to disembark around 7:30am.  Gotta get to bed so I don’t sleep thru breakfast.

Abu Dhabi, Grand Mosque, and Emirates Hotel, Saturday, 11/24/18


Today almost seems like a sea day, since the ship isn’t scheduled to arrive in Abu Dhabi until 4:00. We eat at our regular time and bounce around the ship looking for the perfect place to read or write.  Finally, around 3:00, we start getting ready for our excursion this evening to the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, followed by dinner at the Emirates Hotel.  For Judy, getting dressed to visit a mosque creates more questions than answers.  All skin must be covered, except the face. Women are not allowed in without a headscarf.  It’s been a hot day, so what can she wear that covers everything that won’t be stifling?

Abu Dhabi on the horizon

Another interesting thing about this cruise has been the immigration process.  When we boarded in Rome, Celebrity kept our passports.  Last night, we had to collect our passports in assigned places.  This afternoon, when we arrive in Abu Dhabi, everyone on the ship has to get off and go through a face-to-face immigration check.  The Abu Dhabi officials kept our passports.  Tomorrow morning, we have assigned areas where we pick up our passports again, this time with visa stamps from Abu Dhabi.  For the ship, handling all the varied disembarkations would be a nightmare.  There are people leaving the ship permanently beginning this afternoon, all the way until Monday morning.

Since we’re part of a Celebrity excursion this evening, we have our own immigration line to pass through quickly.  We board our bus and start the drive to the Grand Mosque.  As we drive up, it’s an impressive sight.  The complex is huge, with roads and parking to handle the 50,000 worshipers they say they can accommodate at any given time.  When we get off the bus, the women are reminded about their headscarves (no shorts or sleeveless shirts for men).  As we near an entry gate, there are security personnel checking the dress code.  One woman in our group didn’t have sleeves that covered her wrist, and was held back until the guides were able to provide a pullover to meet the requirements. They had told us very clearly – no ankles or wrists showing.

The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque was beyond impressive.  I don’t have enough adjectives to describe the beauty and impressive size and opulence. Under the lights, it’s even more so. I think I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

First view.  Wow!

Shoes removed before we are allowed to go inside.

After the mosque, we drove to the Emirates Hotel.  It’s the official hotel used by the UAE to house visiting royalty.  With the Formula One World Championships in town, there special visitors in town.  The hotel drive-up is jammed with lots of upscale vehicles.  We get off the bus and make our way to the restaurant.  The hotel is huge as we walk thru.  The Arabic food is great, even though there are several items we’re not sure of their origin.  That’s part of the fun!

One of 5 Rolls Royce cars in the parking area.

Back at the ship later, we work on our plans for tomorrow, and how, and if we want to go into the city. With an Abu Dhabi tour on Monday, we we’ve about decided to “low key” the day, while we get ready for the next two weeks in Dubai and India.

Muscat – Wadi Al Arbaeen, Wadi Shabb, & Quiriyat, Friday, 11/23/18


Our arrival into Muscat isn’t early, so our morning begins like most previous sea days, with a relaxing breakfast.  We watched from our balcony as the ship docked, and then began to move downstairs so we would be in position when the ship is cleared for debarkation.  As we exited the ship, we walked through a terminal building, and lined up to get on a bus to transport us to the port gate (they don’t want a bunch of tourists wandering around a busy port with all the trucks, etc.)

 Port of MuscatThe two big ships (yachts) belong to the Sultan of Oman

At the gate, our driver from Memphis Tours, Mohammad, was waiting for us.  We introduced ourselves as we walked to a 4-wheel drive Toyota SUV and loaded up.  We discussed the day’s schedule as we drove.   Our available time for the tour is 4 ½ hours.  We had originally planned for a longer excursion, but we’ll adjust as we go. Wadi Shabb requires a long walk, some climbing, and then working our way through a cave, so we decide to drop that destination.

The drive out of town is interesting as we check out the city and villages.  The road is a wide (6 lanes) interstate-type freeway.  It climbs and weaves through big hills and mountains.  After an hour, we arrive at a turn-off.  A couple of hundred yards off the main road, our road turns to gravel/dirt, and narrows considerably.  Eventually we’re weaving along a river and the road gets more and more narrow, with steep climbs and descents.  There are scattered villages and farms as we go.  This is a rough place to try and grow a crop, much less make a living farming. Four-wheel drive is a necessity in much of the way.

We arrive at Al Arbaeen 30 minutes later.  The drive in was dramatic.  It’s what I would call an oasis, with a small lake, wedged in between the rugged hills and mountains. There are areas where families and groups are camped or cooking. Several swimmers are enjoying the cool water (the sun is hot).  Our driver tells us the water comes from the humidity in clouds on the surrounding mountains and finds it’s way downhill.

I never dreamed I would have the chance to go “off-road” in the mountains of Oman with an Omani guide. Unbelievable!

We depart, taking another road out of the area.  This one seems to follow the riverbed, as it flows to the ocean.  We’re in and out of water-crossings, as we go.  Eventually, we make it to the coast, checking out the really long open beaches.

Our driver pulls into the Hawiyat Hajm (Sink Hole) Park.  We walk in and, sure enough, find a huge sinkhole with water.  There are stairs to the bottom, and swimmers.  We even watched a few brave souls jump from the cliff above.  I checked it out later with “Travel Advisor”.  It said not to make it a destination, but stop if you’re close (and we were).

We began to head back to the city.  We stopped at Quiriyat, a fishing village near the road, just checking out some of the local “color”.  Back in Muscat, we had some time and toured around the city proper.  I had asked to driver to take me by a Starbucks so I could get a souvenir mug.  After my purchase, we made our way back to the ship, in plenty of time to catch our shuttle to the ship.

Homes on the roadside

 Quiriyat – fishing village Muscat Corniche beach area One of the local mosques

I’m constantly evaluating the quality of the tours we’re taking, comparing them to other options. Most of the guests on the ship we talked to were headed into town to shop at the Suok (old style market). Others were busing or taking taxis to the important sites, but as it turns out, because it’s Friday, not much is open.  I felt like we had a really interesting trip to remote area not heavily travelled.  I would recommend this trip to anyone looking for a “different” excursion in Muscat.  It might have even been more interesting if we’d had enough time to get to Wadi Shabb.

Pulling out of the port

Thanksgiving Day – Cruising Style, Thursday, 11/22/18


There’s not really much new happening today.  We wander around between our food favorites and reading relaxation spots.  I managed to get in a little table tennis, both morning and afternoon.  I’m still obsessed with trying to get the blog posting issues resolved.

Things get faster as the day wears on.  I finally completed posts and pictures up to Petra right before bedtime.  It involved posting a lot of pictures, requiring all kinds of resizing, etc., and then they still loaded slowly.  I know you’re reading this not understanding “what’s the big deal”.  Sorry about my obsession, but the time gaps between “living it”, “writing it”, and “posting it” are too wide for comfort.  I need to be able to tour, write, and post in one day for this to work. After Petra, I’ve got all five sea days written and ready to post, and there aren’t many pictures, so they’ll go quick.  But Petra and Wadi Rum need pictures.

We had determined we needed turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie to make this day right.  Without family, all you’ve got is food, and without the food, you’ve got nothing.  Blu isn’t serving turkey tonight, so we made reservations in the main dining room, San Marco.  We were seated at a large circular table with 7 other guests (five from the US, and two from Belgium).  As usual, the more everyone talked, the more we realized what seasoned travelers they all were.  We’re like rookies in this group.

The turkey was good. The dressing was good, but a far cry from what we love.  The best part of the dinner was the pumpkin pie.  It was memorable!  We spent some time in Café al Bacio, people-watching and trying some new tea flavors.  When we headed to bed, I realized that the early NFL game is on.  Maybe the Cowboys will be on later (as if I’ll be able to stay awake).

An “oh so lazy” Wednesday, 11/21/18


Man, these time changes are hard to keep up with.  We moved forward another hour during the night.  There’s a small digital readout on the phone, and the ship channels on the television have the correct time.  It’s weird, but some of our digital devices are picking up some of the time changes, while others are still showing the time in Rome, or even the time back in Atlanta.  Nothing we have is showing the correct time, except my old-style watch, which I’m setting manually.  I’m pretty sure we’re 10 hours ahead of Central Time.

We settled into our sea day schedule with early breakfast, then coffee & tea in Café al Bacio. I’ve been fighting slow internet for loading photos, so I asked in the iLounge what was going on.  The IT guy confirmed the internet had been slow for a couple of days, but was faster today.

Later in the afternoon, the website quit uploading my pictures?  I’ve read some of the “tech support” answers and articles, and it seems there are four possible options, all of them requiring entering code somewhere in the software.  Yeah, right! I think I’ll get more satisfaction throwing my computer around the cabin.

I eventually gave up trying and went to play table tennis.  The rest of the afternoon was spent eating and sleeping, topped off with more table tennis.  Judy headed out to her usual reading haunts.

We decided today was going to be our day to send in laundry, etc.  We had a couple of Captain’s Club perks to make it cheaper.  We ended up sending two bags of laundry and one bag of cleaning.  The last time we had laundry done on a ship, the finished product was a tangled mess. We’re curious how this will turn out. We washed some of our own things in the sink last week, but it took them forever to dry.  Hopefully we can find some good laundries in the Dubai, Delhi, and Bangkok.

After dinner, we went back to Café al Bacio to relax and listen to the acoustic duo.  Frustrated with the internet, I went back to the iLounge to complain.  A different techie offered to look at what was happening.  I ended up getting a lesson on photo manipulation.  Yes, the internet is really slow right now, coming off a satellite in this part of the world (Yemen, Sudan).  He expected it to be better as we neared Oman tomorrow.  Also demand around the ship slows it down at peak times.  My photos were very large (2.5mb and larger) so he showed me how to reduce the size so they might load faster.  It began to work somewhat.  I finished off the night adjusting and working to get more photos sized so they’ll load.

Sea Days, Lots of work doing nothing, Tuesday, 11/20/18


My sea day routine is settling in.  Enjoying the early breakfast, then tea/coffee in Café al Bacio, followed by table tennis. Had a burger for lunch and time in the room to work on loading pictures to the blog (can’t wait for faster internet). Moved from the room to the Sunset Deck for a beautiful sunset.  There were a few small fishing boats in the area and lots of dolphins playing around them. After a light dinner, we both headed back to Café Bacio for reading, etc., while we listen to an entertaining acoustic duo.  Will probably end up with dessert somewhere.

As Judy and I settled in at Café al Bacio this morning, I could see land on our starboard side, and was reminded what the captain had said about passing through the narrows of Aden. Somalia is off our starboard and Yemen is in view off port as we pass headed south.  The Red Sea doesn’t look that big on a map, but we’ve been sailing over two days from Aqaba, and are just now getting to the Gulf of Aden. Like many other things I’ve experienced in the last few years, I never thought I would be here.  Unreal!

Somalia off our starboard side

Yemen in the distance off port side

Had a message today from the Excursions Office that our short trip Sunday in Abu Dhabi for “High Tea at Jumeirah” has been cancelled (not enough guests).  They gave us an option for another excursion at a 10% discount, so I jumped on it.  Now, Saturday, when we first arrive, we’re going to visit the Grand Mosque at night, then have dinner at the Emirates Palace.  This is a nice substitute.  We’ll get a short visit in Abu Dhabi at night, before our bigger tour during the day on Monday.  Depending on how we feel on Sunday, we could always take the Hop-On Hop-off Bus and get a wider experience of the city.

Figuring out Sea Days and L.O.V.E., Monday, 11/19/18


Yesterday, we began to figure out our best “sea day” options.  We like an early breakfast at Blu.  I like to head to Café al Bacio where there’s a nice view, and assorted coffees & teas, and I can catch up with news and sports from home and work on the blog.  I usually like to follow up with some table tennis till I get ready for a late lunch. Back in the room after lunch, I go to work figuring a way to post pictures with really slow internet. Eventually, a nap wins out.

Judy has been experimenting with the Reflections Lounge for her hangout to read and listen to podcasts. There was a little piece of excitement for her today.  The captain had mentioned that we would be meeting someone this afternoon?  Around 3:00pm, the ship began to rapidly slow down and turn.  From Judy’s vantage point, she saw a small boat speed away, toward a larger ship. Several of the guests around Judy said they saw guns being loaded onto our ship?  Guns??  I guess they’re serious about the pirates.  I had also played table tennis with a guy in some type of military security uniform (before the maneuvers).


My conspiracy theory is that the captain was practicing some type of evasive maneuvers.  Apparently we have a fast ship, so out-running the pirates is also in the playbook.  I think the guns were loaded at sea, because it wasn’t allowed in Aqaba.  I wonder if they’ll have to be taken off before we get to Oman?  Oman and the UAE are not friendly with each other right now.  Yemen is totally at war with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.  Lots of geopolitical intrigue these days (mostly in my mind).

Tonight is the first of three “L.O.V.E. nights” (Lights Out Virtually Everywhere).  It’s their creative way to deal with blackout procedures.  The top decks are totally closed.  Curtains are closed in all cabins, restaurants, lounges, etc.  Lights are dimmed everywhere.  The blackout runs from 6:00pm (dusk) to 6:00am.  We are nearing the Gulf of Aden where most of the pirate activity has taken place in the past.  Sudan and Somalia are to our west, and Yemen is to our east as we cruise this section of the Red Sea.

I’ve been able to keep up a little with the Cowboys and Mavericks.  I guess all is well in DFW with recent big wins by both teams.  Of course, since we’re 9 hours ahead, I don’t get the scores until around 6:00am.T

First Sea Day of Several, Sunday, 11/18/18


Now for some serious lazy time!  Today is the first of 5 consecutive sea days.  We’re almost 3,000 nautical miles from Muscat, Oman, our next port. We received a letter last night in the rooms discussing an emergency drill for pirates. Huh?  Pirates?  I always wondered how the cruise ships handled piracy in this area of the world. I guess we’re about to find out.

We went up to the Reflections Lounge at the front of the ship to watch the Red Sea go by.  I’ve got a lot of blog writing to do.  It’s been hard to squeeze it in between meals, naps, and table tennis.  Around 10:00, the morning announcements came on followed by our “Safe Haven” drill for pirates.  Everyone had to move away from windows to the interior of the ship.  Outside cabins have to move to the hallways, etc.  The drill didn’t take long, and we were soon back in our seats, enjoying tea, Diet Coke, etc.

Later in the afternoon, I met some of my table tennis buddies and had a good workout.  There was another tournament, and I placed 2nd.  It’s humid and hot in the game area, and sweating is way too easy.  Judy spent most of the day searching out the best place to read, and access the occasional snack.

I’ve begun to attempt to post some of the blogs on our website, but things aren’t showing up. It’s been three years since I posted anything and the site has had some updates, so I’m not sure what’s happening. Later in the evening, I began to figure it out, and posts began showing up.  There are a couple of extra steps I have to do that weren’t necessary before. Next, I’ll tackle procedures for posting pictures.  The internet is really slow, so pictures don’t load quickly.  I’ll keep looking for shortcuts.  However, if you’re reading this or seeing any pictures, I must have figured it o

Petra & Wadi Rum, Saturday, 11/17/18


I’ve been looking forward to our Petra visit as much an anything we’re visiting this entire trip. We scheduled a private tour to ensure we’d get everywhere we wanted in the short time we have.  It took a few minutes for our driver to show up, and I was beginning to get anxious.  Never fear! We were quickly rolling out of the port for our day of adventure.  Our driver, Ramd, is Bedouin, born in Petra, but living in Aqaba.  He has six kids, with the oldest 20 years old.  Ramd said he himself had 7 brothers and 4 sisters.

Departing Aqaba.  Across the water is Aiyalat, Israel.

Roadside camels

Looking across Jordan

The drive is two and ½ hours.  The first section is a major freeway that climbs up from the port.  It’s very reminiscent of Tijeras Canyon coming out of Albq., only a lot longer.  It’s the main road to Amman.  We hit a more gradually climbing section, with occasional small villages on the roadside, as well as several small groups of wandering camels.  We finally turned off the main road and began a serious drive up a two-lane road to Petra.  Near the top of the drive, we took a rest stop at a gift shop, bartering with sales staff, etc.

“Modern” Jordan

We arrived at the Petra Visitors Center around 10:30am, where our driver bought our tickets.  He then walked us to the Petra Guides office, where we were introduced to our English-speaking guide.   He’s responsible for a two-hour walking tour downhill into Petra.  It’s somewhat over a mile going in, then, obviously, an uphill climb coming out. Our walk in was leisurely, with numerous stops to discuss the history of the development of the area, first by the Nabbateans, and later the Romans.  The first segment was a gravel, rock-filled road.  The entrance to the Sig, the narrow canyon that hid the site for thousands of year was dramatic.  The road through the Siq was mostly limestone pavers, brought in by the Romans.  It wasn’t too hard to negotiate, but Judy and I both are nervous about sprained ankles, etc.

For us, one of the most interesting notes of the ancient city was the handling of the clay pipes on one side of the path for the water for humans, and open irrigation canals carved into the walls on the other side for animals and more basic needs.

Water Channels carved into the side walls.


When we finally arrived at “The Treasury”, the iconic façade of Petra, it was especially dramatic, bathed in sunlight as we came out of the shade.  We wandered around the area with lots of other tourists and hawkers selling camel rides, etc.  Then we continued to walk down to the main city section and “The Theater”.

First view of “The Treasury”

“The Theater”

The exit from Ancient Petra

After admiring the carvings and buildings, we began the long ascent out of Petra.  It took us about 50 minutes to make the walk, with a few short breaks.  It’s beautiful going in, and equally beautiful coming out.  Back at the top, we met our driver, who took us to eat at a Jordanian buffet, with a nice variety of foods common to the area. After a relaxed lunch, we began the drive to Wadi Rum, a national reserve area a few kilometers off the road back to Aqaba.

About 70 kilometers out of Aqaba, we turned off the main road, headed to Wadi Rum.  I didn’t know much about the area except that it was where much of Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.  We also were told that more recently “The Martian” was filmed in the area.

Train used in “Lawrence of Arabia”

Words or photos can’t describe the beauty or vastness of the area.  It’s gorgeous, and empty.  There were so many wide-open areas with huge mountains of rock jutting out of the ground. No words……….?

We had a driver hired for two hours to take us out into the area to discover some of the more picturesque views.  We effectively had only a little over an hour before darkness, but we made the most of it. There weren’t really any roads. Our driver just took off across the desert headed to our next destination.  I regret that we didn’t have more time to spend here.  We were told the area is home to the world championships of rock climbing.  Not hard to believe.

At dusk, we left Wadi Rum, heading back to Aqaba port.  As we neared the city, I asked a question about the nearness of Saudi Arabia, I should have looked closer at a map.  Israel is 3 kilometers away.  What I thought was more of Aqaba across the harbor was really the Israeli City of Aiyalat. Further south on the east the coast became Saudi Arabia, and about 20 kilometers south, the coast on the west turned into Egypt.  There are a lot of borders around here.  Aqaba is Jordan’s only port.


We made it back to the ship around 7:00pm. We were both dead!  I was so tired, I couldn’t get the energy to go eat. I went down for some ice cream for both of us, bringing it back to the room.  I tried to stay awake for a little longer (not sure why), but gave up fighting it around 8:30, and the snoring began.  We were barely out of the harbor before I was out of it.

Suez Canal, Sort of a Sea Day, Friday, 11/16/18


We were up at 5:30 am, checking out the Suez Canal.  As we sail south, our cabin is on the starboard (west, right) side of the ship. There’s lots of development, as well as agriculture visible from our balcony.  It’s a hazy day, and there’s still a strong smoky smell.  I still can’t believe we’re sailing through Egypt!

We have breakfast in Blu. It’s on the port (east, left) side of the ship.  This side of the canal is mostly desert.  A few settlements are visible, but nothing like what we’ve seen to the west.  There are several small ferry docks, and two major bridges we saw as we sailed through.  One of the bridges was stationary, the other was on a center pedestal, and swung out into the canal, meeting the other half, swinging from the west, and meeting in the middle.  There were also lots of barges staged on the western banks that looked like they could quickly become temporary bridges in case the main bridges were knocked out.

Bridge swivels from the center

Barges staged on the shore ready to be pushed into the water, connected, and used as bridges.

Judy and I spent most of the day sitting in the front of the ship in the Reflections Lounge.  It’s an area fronted with windows with great views of the canal as we move through.  There are big comfortable chairs and tables.  We planted ourselves early, avoiding starvation with the occasional snack or sandwich.

 Looking out toward the Sinai Desert Looking back at a large container ship following us.

I started catching up on blog entries.  I haven’t really had time, or felt like writing much before now.  It doesn’t take long for me to get behind and forget what we’ve done, so it’s work to keep up.  Judy spends her time reading some of her digital library or listening to podcasts. She’s been storing up lots of materials, just for days like today.

 The Southern exit of the Suez CanalOff on the horizon, ships lined up to enter the canal.

We sail out of the canal around 2:40pm.  It’s interesting to see the long line of ships queued up to enter from the south. There were several huge container ships following us through.  They can really stack those containers.

Exiting the canal

I attended a lecture session presented by the magician from last night.  He had some easy tricks he could teach everyone to take home and impress their grandchildren, etc.  Naturally, he finished up with a slightly tougher card trick, and the opportunity to really learn it from his two-CD video presentation, available in the lobby for $35.  A guy’s gotta make a buck.

The rest of our day is uneventful as we relax and prepare for a big day tomorrow in Petra and Wadi Rum.

Sea Day #2, Thursday, 11/15/18


We’re sailing across the Mediterranean today from Athens to Port Said, Egypt, the entrance to the Suez Canal.  Even though we’re crossing more open water, it’s still a smooth sailing.  I played table tennis.  Judy worked to finish up details of her student teachers, and the Killough HS memorial project in Lewisville.  Every time someone reviews the Killough planning, there are revisions, and that work falls to Judy.

I attended a lecture session in the afternoon about the Suez Canal.  There was discussion about the actual construction and how early decisions were made, who got rich, and who went bankrupt.  It was built by the same company that later built the Panama Canal. As might be expected, there was a lot of information about the geo-political impact the canal had, and the turmoil and conflict surrounding it at different times

The entertainment in the Theater tonight is a close-up magician.  He uses a camera to get everyone a good view of what he’s doing. He’s talented and has lots of skills. He managed to spread 6 card productions/illusions out over his hour show.  They were great, but for me, too much talking.  We learned too much about his personal life.  I would have appreciated it if he had showcased his skills and talent more.

We arrived at Port Said at 10:30 pm, queued up, and dropped anchor.  We’re scheduled to start through the canal around 3:30 am.  Outside, it’s raining, and there is a strong smell of smoke, almost like burning tires?  Not enough to keep me from sleeping, though.

Ancient Corinth & Cape Sounion, Wednesday, 11/14/18


We were the first passengers off the ship this morning at 6:50am.  We had a jammed itinerary with lots of distance to cover and many sights to see.  Jumped in the van with our driver and guide and headed to Corinth.  The guide, Michael, immediately began explaining our options for the day, and how we might have to adjust if traffic became an issue. Basically we had several sites to visit, spread out on both side of Athens.  If we were going to see all of it, it would mean reduced time at each of the sites.  Everyone seemed ok with it.  Michelle, our tour organizer again, had warned us it would be a jam-packed day, and we might possibly have to miss lunch to hit everything.

 Our cabin is on the top floor above the big windows

First stop was the Corinth Canal, a narrow and deep canal connecting the Ionian Sea and the Aegean Sea. It saved a lot of time for ships traveling from Athens and points eastward to Italy.  Apparently, going around the south of Greece in the Roman period, was a dangerous route with reefs and pirates.  The Corinth Canal was a huge improvement for the merchants of the age.

Next stop was the ruins of Ancient Corinth, one of the great Greek city/states that competed with Athens for dominance.  It’s the site of the Temple of Apollo.  It was also the place where the apostle Paul spent a lot time preaching and working to establish Christianity.  We walked through the museum first and then headed out into the ruins to visit the actual ruins.  One interesting point about the difference between Greek art and Roman art was the statues.  Greek statues mostly looked the same (same head/face, etc.)  Roman statues displayed identifiable facial characteristics, so the statues were designed so that the heads could be replaced when a new caesar took control.  See statues below:

 The Acropolis of Corinth on the top of the hill in the distance.

The Temple of Apollo in Corinth

Modern Corinth with Ionian Sea in the background

We took a short break, and then loaded up for the long commute to Cape Sounion.  It’s the site of the Temple of Poseidon.  It’s the southernmost point of Athens, sitting up on a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea.  The wind is really whipping today, making it cooler than expected.  The views are breathtaking.

The Temple of Poseidon

Looking south at the Aegean Sea

Temple of Poseidon in the distance.

Our commute back to the ship is long, and weaves around and up and down along the Greek coast.  It’s very scenic, but could create car-sick issues if we weren’t careful.  Back on the ship, we grabbed a snack and headed to the cabin to rest.  Later, Judy went to the 7:30 evening show, while I began to catch up on my blog writing.  When she got back, we went down to Blu for a wonderful dinner.  At dinner, we met some wonderful guests from the UK and spent lots of time exchanging stories of our various travel experiences.  One of the things we’re finding out is that most of the people we’re meeting have traveled much more than us, and we feel like we’ve travelled quite a bit.  We’re trying to get as many travel tips and future destination ideas as possible.

Sea Day #1, “Inside Access Tour”, Tuesday, 11/13/18


Early breakfast in Blu! Relaxing atmosphere with great food! We moved into a different time zone overnight, so the clock moved up another hour.  We were 7 hours ahead of Central time.  Now we’re 8 hours ahead.  There will be several more time zone changes during  the cruise, and more still when we head to India and Thailand.

I headed up to the table tennis area to meet someone I played yesterday.  He didn’t make it as scheduled (time change got him).  I killed time wandering around the ship, and went back to the table tennis area for a little tournament.  There were 16 players, from several nationalities.  I got beat in the 2ndround by the eventual winner.  He was Chinese, but living in Canada.  Games were played to 11 points, but winner must win by two.  I lost 17 to 15.  Thought I had him a couple of times, but couldn’t finish it.

I purposely scheduled our “Inside Access Tour” later in the cruise for a sea day in the middle of several others, figuring we’d need a break today.  For whatever reason, the ship decided the later days wouldn’t work, and moved up the tour to today.  We were badly in need of a rest day to recover from all the travel and yesterday’s excursion, but didn’t want to miss this tour.

A security guard traveled with us the entire tour.  After a security check (wands, etc.) our first stop was the Bridge and Navigation area. A Bridge officer met us and discussed the operation of the bridge and how it was manned, training, etc.

Engineering was next, where all the operations, engines, water production/treatment, electricity, etc. are monitored and controlled.  Very interesting!  So many details to be taken care of.  Lots of monitor screens to keep track of.  An annoying buzzer kept sounding every 3 to 4 minutes.  The engineer would reach over and turn it off.  When someone asked, he said it was there to make sure he wasn’t dozing off.  If it wasn’t turned off, the bridge knew he was not on task.  His shift was four hours on and eight hours off, for the entire cruise.

Lots of monitors in E

Next stop was the environmental area.  Translation – trash!  We observed how they crushed, baled, burned, and recycled everything possible (water included).

Bottles waiting for crushing

Bottles after crushing (this is the “green group”

Loading bottles into the bottle crusher

Fluorescent bulb recycling (worried about mercury)

Cans crushed and bales

Plastic bottles crushed and baled

The laundry was next with all the washing, folding, and pressing for thousands of sheets, towels, table clothes, napkins, etc.

Pressing machine for cloth napkins all the way up to sheets

Towel folding machine

And the finished towels

We walked down “I-95”, the main walkway in the interior of the ship for crew to move about, out of sight of the guests.  We saw the crew mess (cafeteria), and finished our tour in the galley (kitchen).  So many food prep areas and staff organizing and setting up various food items.  It was almost 4:30pm, so the cooking hadn’t cranked up yet.  We really enjoyed the chance to check out so many of the ship’s operations.

After the tour, we relaxed a little, had dinner, and relaxed around the ship before turning in for the night.

Sicily & Siracusa, Monday, 11/12/18


Our favorite meal on our most recent cruises has been the breakfast in Blu.  We sleep well and wake up early (body clocks not adjusted yet). Breakfast was indeed great, and an added treat is the view of Mount Stromboli, a big, active, volcano, from our window seat in the restaurant.  Vacation has started!

After breakfast, I headed out to check the game area for table tennis opportunities.  There are two tables, and several good players are already going at it.  After playing a little and walking around the ship, I meet Judy in one of the lounge areas for an official “Cruise Critic Connections” party.  There are snacks, etc. and a great view of the ship’s passage through the Messina Straits.  Italy is to our east (port) and Sicily to the West (starboard).  It’s narrow passage, and there are lots of ships traveling in both directions.  This is one of the spots where the captain earns his pay.  Back in our cabin, we relax and then begin getting ready for our afternoon excursion to Siracusa.

The Straits of Messina

The group (8 of us) meet at 1:45 and we’re able to exit the ship (docked in Catania) quickly, once we were cleared.  We meet our guide/driver, and start driving to Siracusa.  It’s an hour and a half drive, and the guide begins to tell us how tight our itinerary is.  2:00pm is late to disembark a ship and begin touring.  He keeps trying to make the point that there’s little chance to do everything we were promised.  He’s in a tough spot.  He’s in a car with the actual guests.  Whoever defined the itinerary and confirmed prices, etc. is back in the office trying to dodge the blame for promising, but most likely not delivering.

Sure enough, in Siracusa, we had three main destinations, the Roman Ruins Archealogical site, the Duomo (cathedral), and the Church of Santa Lucia (Caravaggio painting).  Due to our late start on the day, and new winter schedules, the Ruins, are closing as we drive up (3:30pm?).  We head on into town where we get the chance to walk around some interesting narrow medieval streets, enroute to the Duomo, and the Caravaggio painting.  Of course, Church of Santa Lucia (painting) is closed on Mondays, and the Duomo is almost ready to close.  We walk through the Duomo, with it’s interesting mix of Roman and Greek architechture.  After the Duomo, our tour options are limited, so we opt to sit in a café along the waterfront, enjoying a light dinner, and the beautiful evening.  It’s warm, we’re off the ship, no wind, and the setting sun makes a beautiful picture.

These are the relics (bones) of Santa Lucia


We make the drive back to Catania.  On our way back, Michelle, our tour organizer, convinced the tour company to refund some of our money, so we got 30 euros refunded.  Back at the ship around 7:30, we freshen up in our cabin and head to dinner.  The traveling and jet lag are beginning to have an effect.  Sleep couldn’t come soon enough.

Rome Arrival, Day One on the Constellation, Sunday, 11/11/18


Sleep for me was intermittent during the night on the plane.  I couldn’t seem to put more than 30-45 minutes together at any given time, and that only happened a couple of times.  Judy seemed to sleep better.

We arrived at the Rome airport around 9:00 am.  Immigration and Customs were quick.  Luggage was on the carousel when we arrived at Baggage Claim, and we found a Celebrity Cruise person checking on everyone.  We received instructions on where to go next.  We should have listened more attentively.  We ended up walking an extra half-mile searching for our Celebrity bus contact.  We had walked right by them just before we exited the terminal.  They were stuffed in a corner of crowded meeting area.  We dropped off our bags and waited for bus to arrive.

We boarded the shuttle bus around 10:30, and began the drive to the port of Civitavecchia, arriving around 11:50.  Check-in was quick and we were onboard quickly, searching for a place to settle until the staterooms opened up.  The rooms opened around 1:30, and we found our cabin, up on Deck 11, near the back of the ship.  It’s a great place to be.  We’re one deck above the Oceanview Café, where the ship’s buffet is located. We’re close to the elevators, which take us down to “Blu”, on Deck 5, the restaurant for Aqua Class cabins. It’s just what we need, close proximity to lots of food with minimum exercise.

After trying to settle in a little (our luggage hasn’t been delivered to our room yet), we attended the required Emergency Procedures exercise.  It’s 20 minutes of standing quietly while various staff in the room or over the PA exchange turns giving us instructions if there was ever a problem. After the meeting, we attended an informal sail-away “Cruise Critic” gathering where we exchanged greetings with several of the people we’ve been corresponding with.  Several of our early excursions were organized by Cruise Critic contacts.  We met our tour organizer, giving them the cash for our portion of the upcoming tours, and getting instructions for when and where we meet tomorrow afternoon for our tour of Siracusa, Sicily.

After instructions, we head to “Blu” for dinner.  It’s a great meal, but by now, we’re so tired (29 hours since we waked up in Fort Worth yesterday), we mostly just want to sleep.  After dinner, we head to the room to unpack (luggage has been delivered).  We finally find a place for everything, and zonk out.  I think I was snoring before my head even hit the pillow.  Poor Judy!

Moon over the ocean

Taking Flight, Saturday, 11/10/18


Up at 5:00 am today, making sure we get off to the airport in plenty of time.  Brad & Courtney are both busy today, so we’re using Uber for transport.  I-30 is closed in Arlington today for construction, so I’m anticipating lots of extra traffic on Hwy. 183 to DFW Airport.  There is also a Veterans Day Parade in downtown Fort Worth, so there may be some added traffic congestion going through town.  Judy reserved an Uber last night for a 7:30am pick-up.  At 7:10, she gets a text saying the Uber has been cancelled because her credit card needs to be updated.  Naturally there are issues trying to get it updated in the app on her phone, so I had to schedule the ride on my phone (thinking we’ll have a few minutes).  A note pops up that he’ll be arriving in three minutes.  Our relaxed final 15 minutes of prep turned into a hurried rush to the lobby for our ride.  He spots me, we load up, and we’re off to the airport.  Hope we grabbed everything.

Sure enough, on 121-North, there are two police cars blocking all the lanes driving very slowly? Not sure what that’s all about. We didn’t see any construction or anything else that would create a problem, but it got really slow for several miles?  Arrived at DFW before 8:00am, checked in, and worked our way through security (no lines). Once inside, we found a “Love Shack” eatery (Tim Love) and had a really good breakfast taco.  We’re ready for our flight.

While we sit, I started working on this blog entry, and Judy went for a walk.  When she gets back, she’s talking about our delay of almost an hour that just posted.  Ugh! We have a long layover in Atlanta before our Rome flight, so it shouldn’t be a problem unless we have more delays.

Oh yeah, I just got an article from someone on the “Cruise Critic” website talking about flooding in Petra.  No one was injured, but lots of tourists were scrambling for higher ground.  There’s a long narrow canyon everyone walks through to get to the historic site.  Apparently it turned into a river for a while.  We don’t get to Petra until Saturday, Nov. 17, so maybe it’ll be cleaned up and ready for tourists again.  Petra was one of the main reasons I scheduled this cruise.

Made it to Atlanta with time to spare (about 3 hrs.).  Had lunch/dinner at a Fridays, and now we’re waiting to board our Rome flight.  Our seats on the flight to Atlanta were comfortable.  Here’s hoping the Rome seats are as good or better.  It’s a 9 ½ hours flight, arriving in Rome at 9:40am.

Packing It Up, Friday, 11/9/18


We started the tedious job of actually putting stuff in the suitcases today.  Six weeks is a long time for clothes planning.  Several nights on the cruise are “chic” nights. To get into some of the restaurants they request guests dress up somewhat.  Of course, everyone has their own opinion of what that means.  For us, we’re shooting for a business casual look. Also, we eat in “Blu”, a specialized restaurant open only to Aqua Class guests, and it requires long pants and collared shirts as a minimum, already.  No shorts, t-shirts allowed, so this dictates packing clothes that can meet this minimum.

In an effort to reduce packing bulk and weight, we’re sticking with a just a few colors in clothing. For me that’s black or dark grey slacks, blue jeans for tours excursions, and navy or black shorts for the warm weather activities.  It also helps us limit our shoe choices.  I’m taking one pair of black dress shoes for slacks, etc.  I’ve also got sport shoes for touring in jeans or shorts, and sandals for the beach week and around the ship in the warmer weather.  I’ve got a few dress shirts for looking nice on the ship. I’ve also packed polos and button-down shirts for warmer weather and casual wear.  I have one sweater and a light jacket for layering when the weather is cooler in Sicily, Athens, and Petra.

Clothes selection, final condo prep, financial details check, and making sure we have all our paperwork fill up the rest of the day.  Finally the suitcases are packed enough to weigh, and begin the final adjustments to what is going where.  For us, limiting our bags to one checked bag and one roll-a-board each, is a challenge. At the same time we’re trying to stay below the 50 lbs. weight limit on the large bag.  Six weeks is a long time to cram into just a few bags.

SUCCESS!  We made the weight.  We’re close to the limits, but have extra room in our roll-a-boards if needed. We get to bed at a decent time, and sleep well, knowing we’re packed and ready.

How Was It? Thursday, 11/8/18


I intended to “close out” our China years long before now.  I just couldn’t get motivated, and there were so many “spam” comments (22,000, yeah 22,000) to delete, I couldn’t keep up, so I gave up.  Now that we’re about to head out on another “trip of a lifetime”  (we’ve had so many more than we ever expected), I thought I would try to post some comments and pictures for my mom or anyone else who might be interested

Here’s a summation of our trip/jobs in China.  In the fall of 2012, Judy and I were both mentally fatigued from doing basically the same jobs for over 37/38 years.  We spent 25 years teaching in Clovis, New Mexico, and 12 more in Arlington.  I taught one early year in Friona, TX, before we moved to New Mexico while Judy finished her degree at WTSU.  We enjoyed our careers and had great memories, but were tired of the same grind, and going to work was no longer “fun”.

We realized we were eligible to retire and the challenge of teaching overseas and the allure of travel sounded exciting and reinvigorating.  Our two years in Beijing were exactly that, exciting and reinvigorating. Judy loved the challenge of embracing a new curriculum, but making it fit her teaching strengths.  She met some wonderful people and has been enjoying keeping up with them through emails and WeChat, since we left.

I developed a deep respect for the Chinese students and teachers I worked with, and also made some great expat friends.  I still check in on Josie, the PE teacher at BSHFIC while I was there.  She moved back to El Paso, and helps me keep track of some of the teachers and students I had a chance to work with back in China.

In the three and a half years we’ve been back in the US, our lives have continued to evolve.  Judy’s had one knee replaced, and I’ve had both knees replaced.  We feel great and our health is good.  We have found part-time jobs that have kept us involved in music education.  Judy works with student teachers for Texas Wesleyan University, and I mentor/consult with band programs at six schools for Fort Worth ISD.

We’ve continued to travel extensively, visiting Israel, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, and Australia. We’re about to embark on a six-week trip that includes a 15-night cruise from Rome through the Suez Canal, time in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, over a week in northern India, and two weeks in northern & southern Thailand.  The time in southern Thailand will be “beach” time spent with some of Judy’s friends from BISS in Beijing.  It’s a bit of a reunion, and we’re looking forward to catching up on everything and everyone.

Update #10, Everything here! It’s over! 10/19/15

It’s been more than a month since I last wrote an update.  So much has happened, and I kept thinking I would catch up, but I never did.  Here comes the past month.

We spent several days working through all the things that finally arrived from China.  After we sorted it all and began to find places for it, we had a blast remembering some of our experiences that flashed back as we set the stuff out for display.  It’s nice to have a bigger wardrobe selection to pick from also.  We had grown really tired of living out of only what we had been able to pack in our suitcases.


Some of the art we bought and pictures we took in Hong Kong.


Some art we bought in Russia, and pictures we’re considering pairing with them on one of our walls.

Judy’s left leg had been bothering her since April, while we were still in Beijing.  She found an orthopedist, and scheduled a visit.  He checked out the problem and sent her for an MRI.  The MRI report showed some serious issues with her knee and worn cartilage.  She never even thought the problem was her knee.  The pain had been centered in her muscles, above and below the knee.  The diagnosis was a “knee replacement”.  The surgery took place Thursday, Oct. 8.  There’s no sense wasting time.  Her rehab has gone well.  A physical therapist has been visiting, and Judy’s walking up and down the hallways of the building.   He tells her she’s making great progress, but she’s not so sure.  She’s never handled strong medicine well, and the painkillers, however good they are, have side effects she’s not fond of.

IMG_4131 IMG_4134


Our estate/liquidations sale organizer found a place to put our stuff from storage and sell it.  We went to the storage warehouse Monday, Sept. 28, and sorted through it.  There were three workers opening up the 14 “vaults”, and pulling it out.  We sorted everything into two piles, “sale”, and “condo”.  It was weird looking at stuff from our 40 years of marriage, and deciding to keep it or sell it.  It took about 4 hours to complete the sort.  We left, and they loaded it into two trucks for delivery the next day.

Judy met the “condo” delivery, and I went to the estate sale site for that delivery.  Both deliveries went well.  The estate sale is scheduled for Oct 23-25.  They have a little over three weeks to unbox, sort, put together, and price all of our stuff, as well as the family’s stuff that moved out of the house where the sale is being held.  I’m glad it’s not me.

Back at the condo, we worked furiously, finding a place for everything that remained of our past.  When everything was delivered, we dumped some of it into a second storage cage.  After putting everything in the condo away, we had to reduce our two storage cages, down to one.  We were in a race against time as well – the scheduled knee surgery.  We need to finish everything before Judy is “out of commission” on Oct. 8. 

IMG_1377 IMG_1396 IMG_1395 IMG_1393 IMG_1390 IMG_1388 IMG_1387

IMG_4105 IMG_4112 IMG_4110 IMG_4106

At the same time I began my part-time duties as a mentor for 6 FWISD schools.  I’m assigned to visit each school once a week, providing help and support as needed.  Five of the schools are close, so the commute is easy.  It’ll take me a while to figure out the schedules and how to best help them.

Last week I mixed the new job with Judy’s rehab, so my days were pretty full.  This past weekend, I flew to Amarillo and judged the Region 1 UIL Marching Festival.  It was a really full day with 38 bands, scheduled every 15 minutes.

Everything is here, from China, and storage.  We have lots of projects to work through.  Judy’s knee surgery was successful and her rehab is going well.  I’ve got a part-time job that will keep me “in the game”.  Our “Trip to China” is officially completed.  Sometime soon I’m going to sit down and summarize the whole wonderful experience, but right now, it’s time for Judy’s next round of “meds”.

Update #9, SHIPMENT ARRIVED! 9/16/15

The shipment from China finally arrived. They unloaded everything Friday afternoon. They were supposed to be here around 9:00 am, but didn’t have the proper insurance papers to work in our building. I told them twice before about it, but the word didn’t get to where it needed to be, and the movers had to sit in Mesquite until it was faxed from their company headquarters in Phoenix.


This is some of our China stuff, before we got it sorted out.

IMG_1291 IMG_1288 IMG_1287

They did a good job of unpacking and getting all the boxes and packing paper out of here. We finally finished getting everything put away by Monday. We’re so glad we spent the time and money to have the Elfa shelving installed throughout the condo. Everything eventually found an easily accessible “home”.

Now we’re waiting on our storage stuff. Right now, the plan is to go to the storage facility on Monday, Sept. 28, and sort out all the items in our 14 vaults. It’ll be divided into the “estate sale” stack, and the condo stack. It’ll all be loaded on two trucks and delivered simultaneously the next day, Sept. 29. That should take all day.

After that, we’ll be spending lots of time finding a place for everything. It’ll be nice to get our dishes, silverware, and cooking utensils back. There have been lots of times we’ve started to cook something or plan a meal, and realize we don’t have the stuff we need. We don’t want to buy it because we know it’ll be coming soon. Now, at least, the end is in sight and has a date.

Judy had an MRI on her left knee and leg last week. It’s been bothering her for several years, but began to get worse in April. The report from the doctor this week is that she’ll need a knee replacement. The surgery news isn’t great, but at least there’s a diagnosis with a possible solution.


Scenes from my morning bike rides on the Trinity Trails, around Fort Worth. I’m usually getting in between 5 & 9 miles each day.

IMG_3034 IMG_3032

Update #8, Wednesday, 9/9/15

Our “shipment” update contains better news today. Our stuff has arrived at the local distribution point, and is scheduled for delivery on Friday, 9/11/15. We’re not sure what time exactly yet, but it’s nice to know it’s close, and the end is in sight.

Had a fun visit with Josie. I forgot to mention our Wednesday tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, in North Fort Worth. It’s one of two sites in the US (the other is Washington, DC) that prints US currency. The level of security and all the printing countermeasures to defeat counterfeiters is really interesting. Stacks and stacks of cash were sitting everywhere.

Thursday morning we took the Segway tour of Trinity Park and the 7th Street district. We did a lot of off-road riding on this tour. Judy joined us for the evening trip to AT&T Stadium and the Dallas Cowboys last pre-season game. I wasn’t expecting a big crowd, but by half-time, the stadium seemed nearly full. The game itself was very average (no starters played), with lots of guys working hard to make the team before the final cut.


And our Segway tour begins.

IMG_3020 IMG_2741


I’ve been around the stadium several times before, but it’s still impressive, every visit.


Friday, I took Josie to the Stockyards. We wandered down a few of the streets and had a chance to watch the Longhorn herd drive down Main Street.


The longhorn “herd” waiting for cattle drive.


Time to go to work!


Those are some “long” horns


I took Josie to meet a friend in Grand Prairie. They were going to catch up on “old times” during their drive to Love Field to catch Josie’s flight back to El Paso. Josie is still not sure what her Visa status is. With the big “Defeat of Japan” celebration going on in China, and the upcoming Autumn holiday, Josie’s not sure when she’s ever going to get her paperwork finished and actually depart for China.

Our Labor Day Holiday was quiet. We enjoyed some family time. I made it over to the DFW table tennis session on Saturday. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent deciding about our “estate sale”. We have a site, and now the planning for when and how to get our stuff delivered is underway. Trying to figure out when and where to sort the stuff we want to keep, and then how to deliver it to the correct destination is the struggle right now. It’s not life or death, but it’s the biggest problem we have right now.

Update #7, Life was “jumping” this week! 9/2/15

We still have no news on our China shipment. Guess I’ll have to get back in touch with our LA contact. Based on the timeline we got from her, it should have been here already.

We’ve enjoyed lots of activities this past week. Saturday we attended a Knight family fish fry out at Mr. Knight’s Granbury lake house. It was a blast with lots of great food, combined with family visiting.


Knight family, posed in Granbury

Sunday, we attended the 60th surprise birthday party for a friend who was a long-time neighbor when I was growing up. Marsha Howse Scott attended Azle HS and was in the band with me, Judy, and Kathryn. The party was organized by her two daughters and held at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens. It was fun to visit with the Howse family who lived across the street from my parents for many years.


Jiggs Howse


Bob Howse


Delaina, Marsha’s baby sister.


Marsha and her two daughters

I picked Josie up at Love Field on Tuesday around noon. We went to the Bush Museum, which was a first for me. It’s a good place to visit. Afterwards, we grabbed a late lunch before starting back to Fort Worth. We drove through downtown Dallas, through Dealey Plaza, and the Kennedy Assassination site. I’m trying out a lot of tourist sites on Josie for visitors who might come through DFW from China over the next few years. We finished off the day at Sundance Square.

Today, we visited the Amon Carter Museum across the street, and then walked through the 7th Street area. Later in the day, we went the Central Market to shop for some specialty food items. Josie wanted to find a few things to give us a “taste of London”, her hometown. She found what she needed and we headed home for our “English” experience lunch.

We finished the day with trip over to the Grand Prairie Premium Outlets. Josie is a shopper and needed a few things to take back to China she couldn’t find in El Paso. We made plans for a FW Segway tour tomorrow morning, and the Dallas Cowboys last pre-season game tomorrow night. I’ve never attended a Cowboys game in AT&T Stadium.

Update #6, life rolls on, 8/26/15

We’re still waiting on our shipment from China. I touched base with our contact in Los Angeles and was told it left LA on Friday, and should be in our area in 6 days. We’re anxious to get to get it here. We’ve been living out of what we carried in our suitcases when we left Beijing on June 21. That’s a long time out of 2 suitcases.

We made the decision to have more shelving installed in the “nook” area of our condo. It’s becoming more and more obvious to us that we’re going to need as much storage as possible when everything either arrives from China, or gets out of storage.


New Elfa shelving in our “nook” area.


New desk


Packing material left over after we unpacked our new desk.

We don’t have any good answers yet on our storage items. Without a place to have an “estate sale”, we’re stuck. Judy’s found a place that does online auctions and will take all our stuff. We’re trying to do a little research on the advantage of selling our stuff that route, or waiting a little longer for something to come open on the “estate sale” front.

Judy went over to Brad’s school and took some pictures of his classes. She’s offered to update his drumline’s website, along with their Twitter feed, and whatever other kind of social media he’s got going. The more she does with it, the more she is forced to read and learn. She’s enjoying the challenge.


Middle school “pit”


Middle school “battery”




High school “battery”


High School “front ensemble” or “pit”


“2nd year” class

I found out that Josie Francis, a friend who taught with me at BHSFIC is coming for a visit next week. She’s waiting on paperwork in China to clear so she can begin the visa process to return to China to a new job in an International School in Yantai, China. She’s staying with her son in his apartment in El Paso where she lived for 20 years before moving to China.

Update #5, Baton Rouge road trip, Wednesday, 8/19/15

The report on our China shipment is that it passed through customs, and we owe some money. We’re not sure for what, but we’ll find out later. Our stuff should begin traveling this direction after it arrives at the company’s receiving warehouse and gets sorted out into destinations. It could be here as early as the end of next week. Here’s hoping!

Judy and I made it to Baton Rouge this past weekend and had a great visit with Mom and Robert & Susan. She’s steadily improving and making progress from her broken leg in May. She gets really tired after a short walk around “The Haven”, but she’s making it, and isn’t fighting and arguing with the rehab folks like Dad regularly did.

Courtney flew in Saturday morning. We picked her up at the airport, and headed over to Mom’s for the day. I’ve been showing her lots of photos of our travels. Last summer, she was so “foggy” she didn’t see any of our cruise photos. We had a lot of trip photos she hadn’t seen, and she did a good job of staying awake while I worked through them.

We enjoyed some nice evening meals with Robert and Susan. I’d forgotten how large portions can be in restaurants in the US. We ate so much, and it was great. I’ve also traveled around Baton Rouge enough now that I’m beginning to feel comfortable with finding my way around.


Some Baton Rouge beignets.

Sunday morning, we finished off our Baton Rouge visit with a trip for all of us to IHOP. Afterwards, we started the drive home. There are some long stretches of road without much interesting scenery. Eight hours later, we dropped Courtney off at her apartment, and then headed to our place in Fort Worth. This was the first “road trip” Judy has taken since we left for China. She’s not sure which she dislikes the most, flying, or driving.


Good times at IHOP!

IMG_0841 IMG_0840


On our way out of town we stopped at the Louisiana Capitol Building.


Checking out the Mississippi River.

Back in Fort Worth, we settled back into our Fort Worth schedule of morning exercise and afternoon job/errand completion. I’ve started playing table tennis with the DFW Table Tennis Association. They play in Las Colinas on Monday evenings, and Saturday mornings. There are lots of good players. I’m going to have my hands full trying not to be the worst player in the group.


Update #4, Wednesday, 8/12/15

There’s no new info on our China shipment. I guess it’s still stuck in Customs.

We continued our morning exercise schedules, and are beginning to get past the “pain” a little bit. We spent a couple of days looking for a media center, but had no luck. We did find some furniture for our balcony area. We picked out a tall table, and two chairs. We plan on enjoying some time outside, enjoying the view. It was delivered on Tuesday (Tuesday, again).

We thought we might be making a trip to Baton Rouge this week to visit my mom, but we couldn’t get things to line up right. Maybe next weekend will work.

We enjoyed “Friday Night at the Modern”. The cafe served a really nice meal, and then we enjoyed live music in the lobby. It’s so weird to look out the window of the café and have such a good view of our condo.


Looking out of the Modern Cafe toward our condo building in the background.


We’re beginning to realize that an “estate/liquidation” sale of all our stuff in storage is gonna be hard to set-up. We don’t have a place to hold it, and none of the estate sale specialists have any advice on where to have it. They don’t have places to big enough to spread it out and look at it. We’re beginning to look for some other options.

I did a mini-project on our closets. We’d already had Elfa shelving installed in our closets. We’ve been here long enough now that we decided to add a few more shoe shelves. We’ve got lots of shoes still coming from China, plus whatever is in our storage vaults. I managed to make some adjustments and found room to add 2 more shoe shelves for my shoes, and 3 more for Judy. I think we now have 15 shoe shelves, and it’s probably not enough. I’ll be glad when everything arrives, and we can get it all put away.


Some of our new sliding shoe shelves.


Update #3, Walking around, Wednesday, Aug. 5

The latest news on our China shipment is that Customs flagged it. This should add about two additional weeks to our delivery schedule. It’s not a surprise, but sorta frustrating.

We’re beginning to get into a schedule, of sorts. Judy goes out early, around 6:30 am and walks around the area. She’s having a blast checking out all the sculptures and outdoor art around the Cultural District. After her walk, she returns to the condo for breakfast and then a trip to the spa to work on the tightness in her right leg. She hurt it running in Beijing back in April, and it’s still bothering her some.


Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

IMG_0182 IMG_0192 IMG_0189 IMG_0188


Cowgirl Hall of Fame



Kimbell Art Museum

IMG_0215 IMG_0212


The Modern



Looking back up to our condo.

I’m getting out of the condo around 7:00 am to ride my bike around the Trinity Trails. I’m trying to stretch out my distance each day. I’m averaging 6 to 8 miles daily before my Chick-Fil-A stop for breakfast. Next, I head over to the gym for a workout, followed by a swim session. I’m swimming 1800 yards at least 4 times a week (at least right now). After my workout, I head back to the condo for lunch and whatever activity the afternoon holds.

Lately, we’ve been visiting furniture stores, finalizing purchases on more items for the new place. Tuesdays are turning into big delivery days. Last week we had a big delivery (bedroom furniture). This week, we had another big shipment of living room furniture (sofa, recliner, and chair/ottoman.) We’re still looking for a media center, for all our audio/video junk, and then the fun with lamps, tables, and décor items will begin.

Update #2, A little travel, 7/29/15

We’ve had a lot of travel since my last update. The first item is the status on our shipping. We’ve received word that our stuff arrived in Long Beach, but is waiting for customs clearance. The movers are not sure if our stuff will be selected for special customs handling, but they did say most of the stuff from China gets “special attention.”

I also found out that Judy’s final salary payment from the school has been deposited in her Beijing bank. I’ve begun the tedious task of daily jaunts to the ATM. Fortunately, there’s one close to the Chick-Fil-A where I eat breakfast after my morning bike ride. Since there’s a maximum daily withdrawal limit, I’ll have at least 10 days of ATM visits to access the money.

I drove to San Antonio (300 miles) to attend the Texas Bandmaster’s Convention (TBA) on Friday, July 24. I left early (5:00 am) to allow myself most of the day at the convention to wander around and let myself be seen and renew acquaintances. I’m trying to let people know I’m back in the US, if they need a judge or clinician. I was lucky enough to spend time with Roger Edwards and Cody Myers, the guys in charge of judges for Region 1 (Amarillo). They were in need of a judge for UIL Marching Contest on Oct. 17. Hooray! My trip to TBA worked.

Another friend I ran into, Dick Clardy, is the Director of Instrumental Music for Fort Worth ISD. His office in FW is less than a mile from our condo. He said he might be needing a mentor for several new teachers in his school district. I have a meeting with him Friday to talk about it.

I left San Antonio Saturday morning, and drove to Brady for the celebration of Judy’s dad’s 80th birthday. Judy drove in from Fort Worth with Brad and Courtney. The party was out at the ranch, and almost everyone was in attendance. We had a great time eating and talking, and eating and talking some more.


Judy, with her Dad, brother Stanley, and sister Nancy


Brad and Courtney with Papaw Knight


The family, out in the sun!


Same group, in the shade.

We had new furniture delivered yesterday. Some movers came in first and took out our old bedroom furniture and living room furniture. We found someone who could use it, and it’s in great shape. Next we had our new bedroom furniture delivered as well as a sofa-bed for our office/2nd bedroom. At the end of the day, our new mattress was delivered. It was a big day for the freight elevator in our condo.

Update #1, Cars, insurance, furniture, & exercise, 7/22/15

After a week, our sleep cycles are beginning to adjust. The jet lag has been easier coming from Europe where the time difference is 5 to 7 hours, instead of the China 13 hour adjustment.

First thing to take care of is our “wheels”. I changed our driver’s license address to Fort Worth. We had listed Courtney’s address in Dallas because the state needed a physical address, instead of a PO box. I also began the process of getting the title changed on our cars back to us, from the kids. That also involved getting our car insurance established again, not as easy as it sounds. First we were enrolled, then cancelled, then re-enrolled, and then cancelled again, and finally enrolled. Most of the issues were created because we had been out of the country with no insurance for two years.

We’ve begun the process of furnishing and decorating the condo. Most of our previous furniture was too large and over-sized. We spent two days with a decorator, developing a plan, and then going out and shopping furniture. Our 2nd day out, we purchased new bedroom furniture and a sofa bed for the office/2nd bedroom area. The new stuff was delivered yesterday, and we’ve been enjoying it.

Judy has begun to establish a workout schedule for herself of walking, and exercises. If we get a good schedule going from the beginning, it’ll have a better chance to “stick”. I found a gym 3 blocks away (walking distance) with a lap pool, exactly what I was looking for. I checked it out and signed up for a 6 month membership. That should get my exercise regimen kicked off. I also opted to get a trainer for a 6-month program. I have always needed someone looking over my shoulder to keep me on track. My first training sessions starts tomorrow.

While I was riding a bike in Beijing, I decided I would like to continue riding in Texas. I found a bike shop nearby and made a purchase. The nearby Trinity Trails, along the river, are a great place to ride. Monday, I started riding the trails and had a great time, but it is work. I have a feeling it’s going to be a love/hate thing on the bike riding.


My new wheels!