Saturday, 28 December 2013

Boston - coast to the north

After a night in Boston we awoke to a lovely sunny, crisp morning and decided, rather than driving straight home, to take an extra day and explore the coast north of Boston. It's one of the great things about being retired, flexibility!
Beach with lifeguard station on the left.
There are some lovely communities within an easy commute of Boston with rugged shorelines, fishing ports and sandy beaches.

The coastline is a little like the Canadian Maritimes but much more built up, houses that may have started as cottages, summer homes, most are four season homes now, small towns that are quite close to each other and wonderful undulating roads that hug the coast.

You can just see Boston in the distance but this beach feels worlds away from that metropolis.

Not many people to be seen on the beaches even though it was a Sunday.

There were fishing boats still coming and going from the harbours and there was also a dive boat out with four divers down. I am very curious as to what they were doing, in a fishing channel in mid November.

Marblehead Lighthouse. Not as picturesque as some but had a historical plaque and it has an ancient and essential pedigree.
There are some massive and beautiful homes along this stretch of coast.

We stayed overnight in Keene, about halfway back to Canada. As usual we asked at the motel desk for a local diner or family style restaurant and were directed to Lindy's. This was everything a diner should be. It was just a block from a beautiful and pricey downtown area. It had booths or counter seats. The counter was grey, metal trimmed, Formica and the booths had reddish vinyl seats. The menu was not huge nor too small (sounds like the three bears doesn't it). The walls were steel with lots of windows on the booth side. Metal refrigerators and glass showcases (for the homemade goodies) were easily accessed behind the counter by the waitresses. George had Chicken fried steak, with mashed potatoes and gravy (it just looked like a mountain of white gravy when it came) and I had liver and onions with mixed veg (you know the kind, in little cubes). He had a pop and I had a coffee and it was about $15.
We had breakfast there the next day and overheard the priceless question "Would prefer genuine maple syrup or authentic artificial syrup with that?" (no, I want that artificial syrup that is not genuine). Full breakfast, unlimited strong coffee for 2, for less than $10. We started to discuss what actually constituted "a diner". Everything described above plus it can't have a liquor license, closes by 8pm but is open at 6am, has to have local specialities on the menu (sweet tea here) but overall needs to be basic, pleasant, cheap and full of locals.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Cruising - Cozumel and creatures

I actually have no photographs from Cozumel. It rained much of the time that we were there and although we got off the boat and walked along the sea front, it was all tourist shops and not of much interest to us. After returning to the ship for lunch we went back onto shore and found a large supermarket where we bought some products that I haven't found at home and that we had grown to love when we were in Merida: salsa verde and mole sauce.
So, in order to have some pictures in this post I will put some of the various creatures we saw on our travels.
Hard to tell but this is a frigate bird. There were lots of them around both in the ports and soaring around
the ship when we were out at sea. I tried on numerous occasions to get close up shots  but no success.
Cute little guy. No idea what he is.
Another frigate bird, still not a great shot.
One of the things that I love about the ocean is the life around the edge, in the tidal pools.
Pelican on a "fly by".
One of the many pictures of Iguana from all the islands. This one from Aruba
where we walked through a huge colony of them. This one had the most
dramatic colouring.
Somehow they seem to look very wise and refined. Until they scamper and you can't
really scamper in a wise and refined manner.
In Aruba. I think he is some kind of Jay. He was making a real meal out
of that cactus fruit.
What I don't have pictures of is the flock of Boobies (yes there is a bird called a Booby) that soared and fished around the ship when we were way out to sea. They spend most of their lives at sea and I had never seen one before so a flock was quite thrilling.
Also I saw 3 dolphins jumping across the bow wave. I love dolphins and was disappointed that no-one was up at the bow to share that experience with me. (or to add validity to the story - does a dolphin jump in the ocean if there is only one person to see it?)

We had another day at sea and then docked in Tampa and flew back to Boston. We really enjoyed our first cruise. It was a good compromise as George loves to have lots of people around, activities to do and socialising and I like to be able to sit in the sun and read, eat nice meals and not to have to lift a finger. We saw islands that we would have otherwise not seen and said that we would like to spend more time on Barbados and Curacao.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Cruising - Aruba

Coming into Aruba we were struck by two things; the large hotel section and the large industrial section. There were more than 20 cargo ships waiting to come into the port (we had noticed about 8 at Curacao, none at the other islands)
Hotel area. We learnt later it is along the best beaches and all the hotels are 5 star.
Industrial area.
Getting off the boat we walked out of the terminal and into a tourist shopping area though it was obviously not exclusively for the cruise ships as there were hotels, casinos and excursion operators there. We walked around a nice, clean marina and along a path in front of some hotels to a beach and then back.
There were Iguana of all different sizes and colours in the landscaped areas of the hotels.
And on the rocks by the ocean. Those of you who may have read my posts from Merida',
Mexico, know I have a thing for Iguana.
On getting back to the boat for lunch we discussed how we didn't have a real feel for the island so decided to take one of the 2 hour van tours being offered just outside the terminal area. We had a tour with 8 other people and saw most of the North end of the island.
George always had a thing for cacti so I have lots of pictures of Aruba's huge specimens.
We were surprised but Aruba turned out to be a very dry environment with scrub trees and cacti. The opposite shore to the cruise terminal was very rocky and rough with hardly any vegetation.
We were taken to a bridge of rock beside the ocean and could really see the effects of the pounding surf. The driver emphasized the importance of tourism to Aruba's economy and also talked about the difficulties in maintaining housing in the constant salt air.
Next stop was the lighthouse at the far North end of the island.
On the way to the lighthouse we passed an extensive, lush development surrounding a golf course. All for sale to tourists.
A lovely view from the restaurant beside the lighthouse, down towards the hotel zone.
The drive back to the cruise terminal was through the hotel zone. Beautiful beaches. Palm trees. Catamarans at anchor ready to take scuba and snorkelling excursions. Restaurants and shops as few of the hotels are all inclusive. It was a dramatic change from the natural simplicity of the native Aruba.
The ship left port in time for us to watch the sun go down but no dramatic pictures this time. The next day we were at sea and that evening we had our most expensive meal yet, in the Cagney's Steakhouse. George had a fabulous steak and I opted for the lobster and shrimp.
Sorry, we dived right into the food and the picture wasn't taken until we had half finished.
The next day we were in Cozumel.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Cruising - Curacao

After a day at sea we arrived at the Dutch Antilles and the island of Curacao (pronounced Kurasow). As usual the cruise dock is close to downtown but Curacao had done a better job than most in creating a very pleasant walk, (past the shops of course), through an old fort, across a floating bridge to the pretty, pastel downtown area.
On all the islands we were greeted by a pilot boat. The pilot jumped on
board (they opened a hatch just above water line) and guided us in. The reverse
occurred when we left.

Our first "selfie", just to experiment with the timer on the camera.
The shops, bars and restaurants inside the old fort at the entrance to the harbour.
Our first view of the floating bridge and downtown Willemstad.
Willemstad is a World Heritage Site and a lot of money has been spent on sprucing it up in the last 10 years. The results were well worth it. It is very attractive while still being very livable. We walked across the bridge and explored the ocean front and government buildings first.
Part of the government complex.
The old fortified walls are now inhabited by restaurants and bars with views along the coast. After walking through this area we headed back towards the harbour, through the back streets and came across what, I learned later, was the "floating market".
Small boats were tied up along a wharf just off the main waterway.
On the wharf beside the boats
On talking to one of the vendors we found out that these boats leave Venezuela (less than 35 miles away) every morning with their loads of fresh produce and fresh fish and set up on the wharf for local shopping. The fish are sold right off the boats and people were buying whole fresh fish, none of this plastic wrapped fillets on a Styrofoam tray.
It was a warm day (and the sun was over the yardarm) so we stopped at one of the pretty harbour side bars for a beer and I sketched one of the buildings.

While sitting there a boat needed to enter the harbour so the floating bridge was opened. It disengages at one end, is hinged at the other end and a motor pushes the bridge, on pontoons, to the side of the waterway. While it is open small ferries take pedestrians back and forth.
Half way there

Nearly closed again. The motor is run from in the little building.
The people on the bridge at the time get to go for the ride.
We went back to the ship for lunch, sun and siesta, dinner and then returned to Willemstad in the evening. This was the only island that we stayed on into the evening. We returned to the harbour and had another drink in the same area; people watching as it was a Saturday night and the place was hopping.

Downtown from the floating bridge.
We left Willemstad at about 11pm for the short hop to Aruba.

 I wrote this post a week ago and never got around to uploading it. It seems a life time ago as George died suddenly on November 27. I need to try and keep to familiar routines so plan on continuing to write on the blog though not sure how much travelling I will do for a while. This blog will be a constant reminder to me of how many wonderful times we had and what a great friend, husband and partner he was.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Cruising - Barbados

Another overnight trip and early in the morning we docked in Barbados.

It didn't have the same hilly and lush look of the first 2 islands and there was considerable industrial activity around the port. A quick breakfast and off the boat to go and find a cab. We had an agenda on this island. First we went to the Mount Gay Rum Plant. We had time in the gift shop and then an interesting tour to learn the history of "The Rum That Invented Rum".

The knowledgeable Guide outlined how rum is made and the history of rum making on Barbados. All very interesting and nicely displayed. We were interested in this particular rum due to their tendency to sponsor regattas.

However, during the rum tasting we were interested in the rum!

We were given 2 rum punches before the tour and then tasted 3 more, from youngest to oldest, straight, during the tour.We tasted the rum as we would wine; swirling it in the glass to observe the drips, sniffing over the glass for the aromas and finely sipping and identifying the flavours. I found the oldest one to be quite sippable, almost like a liquor. Not sure if that was because it was that tasty or because I was getting drunk by then.
After the tour, because we were obviously a little dry, it was time for a free
rum cocktail at the bar. 
We staggered out and into another taxi, through the downtown area with a taxi driver who made a great tour guide. A very clean, affluent looking town with impressive looking government buildings and churches.
Building in downtown Bridgetown.
Next stop was the Barbados Yacht Club. Al, a sailing friend, had arranged for us to be signed in at the club for the day. After a short visit to the office we were able to hang out at their private beach, lounge, swim and walk the beach. It was lovely and felt peaceful after the hustle of life on the cruise ship.
We felt quite privileged.

Crystal clear, warm water. Lake Erie just never gets this warm or this clear.

BYC dining room.
What every yacht club needs. I really don't know why Port Dover Yacht Club
doesn't have a cannon.
Then the camera died, so no more pictures for this day.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Cruising - Antigua

Antigua was our next port of call and we watched our arrival from the bow. Another island with steep hills and a sheltered harbour.
As we sailed into port.
Docked right at the city of St Johns, Antigua. In the distance you can see
the two towers of the the church we walked up to.
After a quick breakfast we went for a walk through town. St Johns is a combination of modern office and bank buildings, old clapboard island buildings intermingled with dilapidated structures of questionable age.

The church of St John the Baptist, at the top of the hill was closed for renovations so,
unfortunately, we couldn't go inside. But we went further up the hill and saw a building
to another local religion: the cricket stadium.
On our way back we meandered a little off the beaten track, through some residential areas and ended up at a fish dock and market, almost in the shadow of the cruise ships. There were 3 in port that day, towering over the town.

The fish market was noise and smell and beautifully colourful fish. A feast
for the senses.
We returned to the ship to eat (of course, it is a cruise after all) and then sun and hot tub. Out at the bow for departure  we watched and took pictures of the islands in the distance.
It's a rough life.
I think this is Montserrat with its perpetual cloud cover over the
volcano at the left end of the island.
Couldn't resist sharing the photo of the Mickey Mouse cloud.