Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016 Political Prognostications

Occasionally I offer predictions for the coming year. Since 2016 will be all about the Presidential campaign, my predictions are all about the election.

Polling confirms there is one thing everyone agrees on - the 2016 election is lasting too long. Everyone (except maybe the candidates) is tired of the candidates’ rhetoric, 24/7 news repeating the rhetoric, analyzing the rhetoric, discussing future rhetoric, and endlessly focusing on the most media-savvy candidate(s).

As of January 1, no one can name all Republican candidates remaining in the race.

Less than 10% of Democrats know the names of the three Democratic candidates, most forgetting the guy from Maryland.

Only a small number of New Yorkers know the names of Donald Trump’s three wives. Most mispronounce his current wife’s name.

The award for the most erroneous political statements (2007 to the present) goes to Ben Carson, followed by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Check out how your favorite politician compares here. Trump will head 2016’s list as Carson’s candidacy fades away.

Carson is not the only candidate to disappear by spring. Others withdrawing: Carly Fiorina, Martin O’Malley (the who is he? Democratic candidate from Maryland), Rick Santorum (yes, he was still stumping), George Pataki (most people did not know he was running, and outside of New York and neighboring states, no one knows who he is), Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul. Jeb Bush reluctantly throws in the towel. Chris Christie remains in the race, unwilling to return to New Jersey and face the state’s problems, but no one pays attention as he continues campaigning and losing weight.

Trump announces he is divorcing his wife when he discovers she goes to the bathroom.

Bernie Sanders continues drawing crowds while the media continues ignoring his candidacy.

Trump will not be the Republican Presidential candidate. When asked if he would, as he pledged in the debates, campaign for the party’s candidate, he states, “Much as I admire the candidate and am a proud member of the party, I have been away from home and my businesses too long. It is time for me to get back to business and my family, and therefore I cannot campaign for the Republican Party right now. I wish all the party’s candidates, in federal and state elections, the best of luck, and urge everyone to vote Republican. Goodbye.” Trump waves to the crowd and exits (temporarily) the spotlight.

Vladimir Putin, upon hearing of Trump’s withdrawal from the race, pounds his fists on his desk and declares, (in translation): “Why? Why? He would have been such fun! I will miss him! Send a condolence card.”

The most formidable Republican candidate (of those currently running, omitting a last-minute dark horse or compromise candidate like Paul Ryan) would be Marco Rubio.

Hillary Clinton will be crowned the Democratic nominee and appoint Julian Castro (or his twin brother Joaquin) her vice-presidential running mate. Both are Texans, Latinos, politicians, Democrats, and young (politically-speaking, early 40s).

Ted Cruz thrives the first part of the year, but falters as more people listen to him. Grudgingly ending his campaign, he vows (to his advisers) that he will be back in four years because, since he is not the nominee, the Republicans will probably lose the election.

It is very likely no Republican candidate will win enough votes in the primaries to enter the convention a clear winner. 

Whoever the Republican candidate may be, advisers work hard trying to find a running mate as calamitous as Sarah Palin. Failing, the vice-presidential candidacy is reluctantly bestowed upon John Kasich (Governor of Ohio). No one in the GOP wants him, but Ohio is a crucial electoral state up for grabs. Before the party confers the honor, Kasich agrees not to campaign in any red state, confining his politicking to states along the East and West coasts (except North and South Carolina and Georgia), and Ohio.

Here are the 2016 Presidential contenders:

Democratic ticket: Hillary Clinton and Julian Castro

Republican ticket: Marco Rubio and John Kasich

May the force be with them

How about an alternate absurd scenario?

On the Democratic side, Hillary withdraws (for personal reasons) from the race before the convention. Bernie Sanders wins the nomination before a flabbergasted, unbelieving convention audience. He reaches out - all the way to Japan - and chooses Caroline Kennedy as his running mate.

On the Republican side the current crew beat up on each other so much no one appears a clear winner after multiple convention ballots. The convention turns to Jeb Bush’s oldest son (because everyone felt so bad Jeb did not come close to winning the nomination), 39-year-old George P. Bush and heir to the family’s political dynasty (because he is old enough, minimum age 35 to be President). He chooses his Dad as his running mate.

Since both parties offer a ticket of dubious winning potential, Donald Trump decides to run on a third party slate. He selects Miss Columbia as his running mate, a.k.a. Miss Universe 2016 for a few minutes. Trump, feeling sorry for her, offers her the job. When told she is ineligible, he said he would change the Constitution.

And the winner is…

Definitely not the American public. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

My 2015 Holiday Letter

My first holiday letter debuted last year. I dismissed letters from friends and relatives in the past as cheesy and kind of silly, but now I am a writer, and so I write…


Travel dominated my year.

2015 began on a Caribbean cruise with my entire family celebrating Mom’s 90th birthday. Hub and I stayed in Florida throughout January keeping warm and cozy.

We returned North to cold, bitter weather and high heating bills.

There were trips to the kids, flying to Florida or driving to Vermont, then returning home for a couple of days of much-needed rest and recuperation (grandkids can be exhausting).

We flew to Seattle for a convention, hub working while I played. We drove to Boston for hub’s retirement party. It is official. He is 100% retired, so he says. We shall see.

Spent a couple of days strolling through the summer manors of the 19th and early 20th century rich in Newport, Rhode Island, peeking into their bedrooms, gawking at the furnishings and clothes, spying on their parties…

Meanwhile my ancestors got seasick crossing the Atlantic packed in ships, then worked long hours in the hot city toiling in un-air-conditioned buildings. Eventually they spent summers in the Catskill Mountains, but that is another story…

Between trips we hosted an assortment of Airbnb guests, cutting into treasured lazy retirement time. The income, however, was appreciated.

I earned additional income - $14 - fulfilling my civic duty serving on a jury.

Three weeks in Mexico my Spanish improved (a tiny bit) and we made a large contribution to the Mexican economy. (Still waiting for a thank you note.) Time passed drinking Sangria, relaxing in a comfortable casita, and hanging out in cafes.

In June I celebrated my birthday and qualified for Medicare, receiving my card just in time to show off to hospital personnel. Following my sojourn, I recuperated at home from the hospital food. The kids and grandkids came and enjoyed the beach while I slept.

The summer concluded with two weddings a week apart, one in Massachusetts and one in San Francisco. Nothing makes me feel older than witnessing young folks tie the knot, and watching the young couple and their friends party while I struggle to stay awake past my normal bedtime.

In October Italy beckoned and I, along with three girlfriends, enjoyed wine and wonderful cuisine while touring Florence and Venice.

Come November we welcomed our fifth grandchild, Lila Doris, into the world and our family.

December found hub and I in Norway on an Arctic cruise in winter 24/7 darkness. When we decided to go it did not seem like a crazy idea…it was a remarkable, unique adventure.

Maybe we are somewhat crazy.


May 2016 be a year of happiness, adventure,
excellent health and peace
for everyone. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

SCRAPPY’S DINER

Eating on the road presents challenges when avoiding fast food outlets like McDonald’s and Burger King. Sometimes hub and I bring along snacks and drinks, but we like to take breaks, stopping for coffee, to pee, for a snack, to pee, for a meal, to pee…

Locating a restaurant offering decent food and reasonable prices should not be too much to ask, but often is.

We used to depend on our GPS, but it frequently led to places out of business, under new management advertising a different cuisine (who wants pizza for breakfast? or a pricey French bistro?), or we land in the middle of a neighborhood or industrial park far from food. Of course we could update our GPS database, but that cost money, so we decided there are alternatives to finding good places to eat, like keeping a sharp eye on the lookout for possibilities as the car whizzes by the landscape.

There are times we travel miles with no prospects in site, other times patronize places where the food rates barely edible to abysmal, but occasionally discover a local, non-chain establishment that surprises in a good way. That is exactly what happened this past week.

Scrappy’s Diner (for anyone living in or passing through upstate New York) is a rare find.

Eyes peeled for a lunch stop as we traveled Route 149 from Glens Falls to Fort Ann, we noticed a fluttering flag calling to us, welcoming us and beckoning us inside the log cabin building. The restaurant, open 6 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. everyday, offers enough menu variety that a hungry customer can discover something appetizing, yet not so overwhelming that it continues for pages.

Weary travelers come upon a homey, old-fashioned country atmosphere. Employees know a lot of the customers, and many customers recognize each other, greeting individuals entering, “How are ya today? How are the kids?”

What more could you ask for when traveling America’s roads than good quality, fresh food cooked with love and care, a responsive, friendly staff, clean rest rooms, and free coffee and soft drink refills (including our own travel mugs)! The cook – and restaurant owner - came to our table to ensure our dishes met expectations.

So if you are in the neighborhood, stop by Scrappy’s Diner, say hi to Cyn, and savor a hearty, delicious breakfast or lunch.

I doubt you will be disappointed. I bet you add the place to your favorites list. We did, and will stop by on our next trip to Vermont.

---------------------------

If you have not stopped by the Best of Boomers this week,
take a look at the 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Return to Sunlight

The Norwegian coastline is an endless array of craggy stone mountains, snow-capped throughout winter, treeless and barren year round, soaring on either side of deep blue fjords, inlets of the sea formed millions of years ago when the glaciers retreated. 

Sailing south along the coast, additional hours of daylight greeted us. Our last day aboard ship the sun shone and the stark blue sky delighted eyes grown accustomed to darkness. 

Highlights of our adventure...

Norwegian folk songs and Christmas carols chanted at a midnight concert in the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso.

A visit to the Magic Ice house in Svolvaer, a warehouse chock-full of ice sculptures of Vikings, trolls and sea creatures. An ice bar supplied drinks to warm our insides. Hats, gloves, coats, boots and scarves also helped!

Ice cream in what is advertised as the best ice cream shop in Norway. Flavors vary with seasonal ingredients. The fresh ice cream was very good, but I remain a Ben and Jerry's fan.

Lots of choices for Ben and Jerry fans!
Shops similar to Wawas and 7-Elevens sell the ice cream.
And 7-Elevens are everywhere in Norway.

While on the subject of food...I never thought I would get tired of lox, but by the end of the cruise opted for other offerings. 

Night walks on the ship's observation deck, necks stretched back, eyes searching the sky for the Northern Lights. 

Hub and I participated in an inaugural trip (members of an elite group of excursion virgins) to a marble mine (not part of our Road Scholar program). Donning hard hats and life jackets, we rafted along mine waters in the interior of a mountain, tasted fresh-tapped mountain water, enjoyed local fare (vegetable soup and flat bread), and learned a bit about marble mining. The road leading to the mine - a word used loosely, as it was more a snowplowed path - caused heart palpitations as the tour bus maneuvered hairpin turns in darkness during a snow storm, the ride downhill more precarious than the trip up the mountain. No guard rails, only a driver with experience navigating Norway's roads. He also played the accordion, entertaining us during our meal in the mine. 

Bus excursions into the countryside and walking tours of towns illuminated by holiday decorations brightened our days and provided opportunities for fresh air and exercise. We were lucky temperatures hovered around 32 degrees, moderate for December, although bundling up a necessity before venturing outdoors. Wind our adversary, freezing temperatures along with strong blasts occasionally limited outdoor activity. We experienced snow, rain and a mixed bag while wandering ice-covered streets and sidewalks, heated pedestrian paths, lighted walkways and rocky, uneven trails.

Commercial fishing and fish farming are major industries. These are salmon holding centers, part
of a fish farm operation.


Oil has made Norway a prosperous country.

The days passed quickly and suddenly discussions of disembarkation procedures and flights home jar us back to everyday lives.

Following two plane rides and a two hour drive, we arrived home 5:00 p.m., 17 hours after leaving our hotel in Norway. After a quick take-out dinner from our local pizza shop, hub fell asleep at 6:00 p.m. and I lasted until 7:30 p.m., sleeping until morning while dreaming of fjords, fish, snow-capped mountains, and a rolling ship.                                                                                                

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Norway's North Cape

Communities along the Norwegian coast beckon winter travelers, offering warmth, good food and drink, local hospitality, tourist attractions and modern amenities. But venturing into the countryside the fierce Arctic winter stuns while at the same time captivating the first time visitor.

The North Cape, wind-swept and desolate - especially in winter - is on an island jutting into the sea beneath, the place where the Norwegian Sea (part of the Atlantic Ocean) meets the Barents Sea (part of the Arctic Ocean). Leaving our warm cocoon on the ship, we boarded a toasty bus and belted up. Norwegian law requires bus passengers wear seat belts. 

The black landscape appeared ominous and although a steady snow fall looked pretty, we could not help but feel insecure.  

Drifting snow often closes area routes. Ensuring a safe arrival at our destination a snowplow met the bus, carving a path along the snow-covered road.

It was afternoon but felt like the middle of the night. Dim lights from town and an occasional home along the way was not enough to pierce the darkness as our caravan meandered up the mountain. Scanning the road ahead or behind grew difficult, blowing snow blocking any view illuminated by bus headlights, the moon, and the white landscape.

Tentatively stepping off the bus at the North Cape, we walked slowly along a snow-covered path to the globe, a monument marking the Cape as the point farthest north on the European continent. Ice beneath the snow made walking hazardous. Wandering further out onto the cliff the wind grew stronger and fiercer. It became a challenge remaining sure-footed.

The Cape globe

Lights strategically placed provided enough light to safely maneuver, but no one stayed outside long. After viewing the globe, snapping pictures and walking along the perimeter, peering down into a black abyss, we headed for the information center/cafe/gift shop/museum, normally closed in winter but opened specifically for our ship's visitors - our Road Scholar group and a few other hardy souls. During the summer five or six thousand visitors a day mill around observing the midnight sun.
Sign on the Cape information center marking the North Cape latitude.

The dark days attract few tourists.

The snowplow led the way back into town. Meanwhile employees at the Cape visitors center closed the place and were escorted into town, returning to their warm, welcoming homes. 

Cell phone service is sporadic and often non-existent along country roads, especially in poor winter weather. To prevent people getting stuck and unable to contact help, convoys lead travelers along the roads around the island when conditions warrant. A schedule is posted regularly and meeting places listed. Locals plan their shopping, errands and other travels accordingly.

The North Cape was the most daunting, hostile and coldest place visited during our voyage. As we sail south again, additional daylight hours and more temperate weather should prevail.  

The North Cape, an experience to remember but not necessarily repeat. At least not in winter...

Sailing south, crossing the Arctic Circle and once again a brief glimpse of daylight.

I Can See Russia From My Bus Window!

We exited the bus at the eastern edge of Norway and walked right up to the Russian border. Although an open gate beckoned, our guide told us - quite emphatically - NOT to step into Russia. We would be arrested and fined - by Norway - a hefty $10,0000 USD. And do not think we could get away with it, the Norwegian guide emphasized, security cameras posted everywhere do not miss anything...

No guards in sight, but buildings immediately inside the gate probably kept border patrol personnel warm and cozy.  

The crossing separating Norway and Russia,the Schengen Border,  is a cold, snowy, windy, white and forbidding place in winter. Yet there is a surprising amount of activity. 

Cars cross in both directions. Russians venture into Norway to shop, lured by the variety and selection of merchandise. The closest town, Kirkenes, caters to these shoppers, boasting stores in much larger numbers than the town population warrants. 

Norwegians venture into Russia because of the cheap prices, especially for commodities such as vodka and gasoline.

The Sami, the area's indigenous people, travel unencumbered across the borders of Russia, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Anyone living within 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) of the border, on either the Russian or Norwegian side, can cross unimpeded.

Tourists arrive (on the Norwegian side) and gawk, take pictures and browse in the souvenir shop, a small red wood shack selling Russian merchandise.

Recently Syrian refugees crossed over on bicycles, but two weeks ago Norway closed the border to the newcomers. (Norway accepted about 35,000 Syrian refugees in 2015.)

The refugees' travels often proceeded as follows:

Travel to Lebanon, a train ride to Moscow, a plane flight to Murmansk, followed by travel to Nikel (about a two hour drive from Murmansk), the nearest Russian border town. The refugees purchase bicycles for about $150-$250 USD, then take a taxi to the border and cycle into Norway. 

Why bike across a snow-covered path?

Because a Russian law states individuals must cross the border on wheels - no one can walk across, and Norway will not allow vehicle passengers into the country without proper documents. 

Cyclists immediately abandon the bikes in Norway because they do not meet safety requirements.

Although this time of year darkness prevails 24/7, a couple of hours of morning twilight provides enough light to view the sites.

We reached the Russian border within that tight time slot. 

Yes, we could see Russia! 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Traveling Inside the Arctic Circle

Experiencing Norwegian Medical Care...

A dentist's visit was not on our original itinerary. During breakfast hub discovered a piece of tooth dislodged, not hurting but bothering him. Realizing another week traveling with a broken tooth would be upsetting at best, he made a beeline for the ship's reception desk. Luckily the ship was scheduled for a three hour stop in Bodo, a town of 50,000. The staff made a dental appointment and ordered a taxi to be waiting at the dock.

The ship docked about half an hour late. Disembarking, a car awaited at the bottom of the gangplank. The driver, speaking excellent English - he spent time at school in the states - drove us to the dentist, who happened to be the driver's brother.

The office was neat and clean. We noticed several pairs of shoes along one wall, and a waiting patient pointed to a sign on the wall - leave shoes here (in Norwegian, but we figured out what the sign meant). Luckily hub wore socks without holes, not a regular occurrence!

The dentist visit proved successful, a positive socialized medicine experience. X-rays taken, the tooth fixed, the dentist called his brother on his cell phone to pick us up.

The office's credit card machine did not accept our credit card. Most machines in this part of the world nowadays require a chip and password. Hub paid with cash. He did not have quite enough to cover the bill, but the dentist accepted whatever we had and sent us on our way.

Walking outside our cab pulled up. Hub requested a stop at an ATM, then handed our driver the rest of the money owed on the dental bill, telling him to give the dentist (his brother) the cash. 

We pulled up in front of the ship with about ten minutes to spare before sailing.

Life aboard ship...

The extended darkness blends together day and night. Towns are lighted by house and building lights, street lights, and holiday lights. Leaving for a tour on shore during the day, the atmosphere seems like nighttime. Returning one wants to head for bed, feeling as if it is late at night when only mid-afternoon. Our bodies are conditioned to sleep when it is dark outside, and that feeling envelops us even though we might not actually be tired.

Road Scholar is part of an Astronomy group. Leisure time is punctuated by a series of eight lectures offered by an expert on the skies in this part of the world. In addition our tour leader, John Haywood, an authority on the Vikings and the author of books on the subject, offers a series of five lectures. 

Ship life is slow-paced. Our stateroom is small, but there is lots of public 'hanging out' space. We linger over meals, move to the bar area for after lunch or dinner drinks, and socialize with fellow Road Scholar travelers. We read and use computers, although internet is not free, often sporadic or non-existent. 

At times we hit rough seas. We make sure everything in our cabin is stored away and secure. Hub is fine, I feel queasy at times, although have not needed the travel sickness bags placed strategically around the ship.

The best time to view the Northern Lights is evening, and we walk outside to examine the skies. No sign of stars, the overcast night does not bode well for seeing anything. We retire for the night. If there is promise of viewing the phenomenon, we hang out a while longer. Some nights the ship's chefs offer treats on the observation deck, such as potatoes and fishcakes (prepared the Norwegian way).

Sailing through the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, Barents Sea, and the Arctic Ocean, I am amazed at the number of inhabitants and the variety of businesses in this part of the world. Tromso, calling itself the capital of the Arctic, is a vibrant city of over 70,000 plus home to a university. Towns bustle with economic activity, fishing and tourism the major industries, but companies from mining to high tech maintain facilities in towns along Norway's Arctic coast. 

Next  post, hopefully pictures. The ship's internet connection in our current location refuses to upload photos.

Norwegian Ship Ahoy!

Folks back home appeared skeptical when told about our trip to see the Northern Lights. Won't it be really, really cold? What cruise line? The Arctic? In winter? Are you guys crazy? You guys are crazy...

No one heard of Hurtigruten, our cruise line. Their ships sail the waters around Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica. They are experts, or at least experienced, sailing cold, distant, often rough, inhospitable seas, places most tourists avoided in the past.

Our ship the MS Midnatsol

Things change, and the company that sails Norwegian waters ferrying passengers, cars, mail and cargo between towns seven days a week, everyday of the year except Christmas, now carries tourists as well.

Stereotypes about cruises and past cruise experience should be thrown away when thinking about sailing Hurtigruten. As an introductory program emphasized, this is an expedition, not a cruise. Along with warm clothing bring along an open mind and sense of adventure.

Not that the ship is rustic, not at all. Public areas are well-appointed and comfortable. The ship is small compared to many cruise ships, maximum 1,000, and that includes day passengers as well as overnight guests.

Our ship, the MS Midnatsol (Midnight Sun), docks about 35 times during the 11 day round-trip cruise. At many ports the ship docks, loads and unloads passengers and cargo and leaves within fifteen minutes. Longer stops allow tourists to enjoy shore excursions or explore on their own. Docks are a few minutes walk to the center of town in most places, allowing easy access. 

We took a bus tour around the city of Trondheim, Norway's original capital, beginning in the dark at 8:00 a.m. and ending in daytime twilight at the Nidaros Cathedral. Norway's patron saint and first king, Olav, was buried on the site. It quickly became a pilgrimage destination, and the church was built to accommodate visitors. Today pilgrims, tourists and townsfolk enjoy the facility. Church services are held at various times by Catholics, Lutherans and Orthodox. Originally Catholic, Norwegians later converted to the Lutheran faith. 

Usually we sail close to shore and the coastal 7,000 islands. We encountered rough seas, however, when sailing open waters. Waves were so high sea foam crossed our deck 4 window. I witnessed the activity lying down, the best position to calm a queasy stomach.

The further north sailed the fewer hours of daylight experienced. We crossed the Arctic Circle and continue north and east. Lights from houses and towns lining the shore dot the landscape, with snow-capped mountains a constant backdrop.

View from ship's deck passing a town.

Meanwhile we are warm and toasty inside the ship, unless venturing out on deck.

Crossing the Arctic Circle is cause for celebration. The exact time is noted, the Captain reads a proclamation, King Neptune appears, and passengers are doused with ice cold water down their back (I can verify there are lots of ice cubes in the water!) and then handed a glass of wine to help recover from the shock.

Flexibility is key to enjoying this trip. Excursions cancelled because of bad weather, sporadic or no internet service, rough seas, schedules delayed or changed due to weather conditions, fish available every meal smoked, boiled, baked, fermented, stewed...such is life in the Arctic.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

December in Norway

Holiday decorations begin appearing around Norway the beginning of December. Traditionally people did not erect their Christmas tree until the day before Christmas eve, keeping it throughout the twelve days of Christmas.A few (very amateur) pictures of our time exploring Oslo, the country's capital and largest city.

The Vinterland, in the heart of Oslo, an outdoor holiday market with booths selling ornaments, 
clothing and other gift items, 
lots of food stands, and a ferris wheel.


The National Palace, home of the King and Queen. Unfortunately we were not invited to tea...


Telephone booths are sparse but still seen around the city.


Don't tell the kids, but I met the REAL Santa Claus!


Replica of the Kon Tiki raft Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Pacific.


We left Oslo via train, a seven hour ride across the country to Bergen 
and our ship. This is not a black and white photo, but the scenery was
mostly black and white except for a few houses, buildings and barns, red and mustard yellow
the colors of choice.

Next post aboard ship..








Rediscovering Norwegian Sagas


Viking ship built about year 1000

(Originally I titled this post Discovering Norwegian Sagas, but did not want to admit there are large gaps in my knowledge of Norwegian history.)

The first night following our flight to Norway I slept until dawn.

9:20 a.m...

Not a lot of daylight this time of year in the Land of the Midnight Sun. We definitely will not observe the Midnight Sun this trip, an experience which will have to wait for a summer visit. 

We had a day on our own before our tour program commenced. Purchasing Oslo passes, allowing access to public transportation and a number of museums, hub and I set out to explore the city.

We found buses and trains clean, scheduled only a few minutes apart, not over-crowded, with upholstered seats and light, airy cars equipped with large windows. No graffiti. The underground train stations were well lighted, clean, with enough signage that we did not get lost!

The Kon Tiki museum, our first stop, the story a vague shadow of a memory lingering in the back of my less-than-great memory, tells the story of Thor Heyerdahl's adventures crossing oceans in replicas of ancient rafts. I found most interesting his theory that beliefs are not always right just because 'everyone' believes them. He set about proving some commonly held historical ideas wrong. 

Building a craft similar to ones used thousands of years ago by Peruvian inhabitants, he sailed in what his contemporaries labeled an unseaworthy vessel to Polynesia. 101 days after leaving Peru (the year 1947), he landed on a Polynesian island, disproving the assumption that South Americans could not have sailed west to these islands. Whether they did or not has not been established, but they could have.

Next the Fram Polar Museum and a walk through the ship used by early 20th century explorers charting the Canadian Arctic islands and waterways, Greenland and nearby northern waters. The ship also sailed to Antarctica with a group of hardy explorers (I would say crazy men - no women on board - I am not enamored of spending months and possibly years on board a ship and in tents lacking central heating in subzero, harsh weather conditions).

Piloting the Fram. Unfortunately, since I cannot see over the wheel an therefore have no idea what is ahead, 
I would probably wreck the ship. 

Our official Road Scholar program began with John (our esteemed leader throughout the trip) previewing tour details, followed by dinner at the hotel, the food not worth mentioning. However lattes and other coffee drinks from the hotel coffee shop/bar tasted wonderful!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Norway Way, Way Up North

Writing from Oslo, Norway, the furthest north I have ever been, travel way, way up north begins.

Flying east across the pond can result in mental and physical exhaustion, challenging the body (my body, I do not know about other people's body) to remain healthy and alert. Younger folks probably have no problem, used to late nights beginning long after I happily pull my quilt around me and settle in for the night. Our flight left 7:00 p.m. (in the dark) arriving in Oslo 7:30 a.m. (still dark), total flying time seven hours. Flight information available onscreen offered a camera view in front of the plane and under the plane - the earth beneath. Unfortunately both screens were pitch black, as if turned off, because we flew in darkness the entire flight.

The airline served dinner and breakfast. I found the food unappetizing, tea drinkable and coffee barely so. The hours between meals most people slept, listened to music, and watched movies or TV shows on their monitors. I tried sleeping, actually dozing off for a short time, the tight accommodations not conducive to a long, restful slumber. 

Arriving at the airport, a glitch with the conveyor belt resulted in a long delay retrieving bags. But we, along with numerous other passengers, remained patient, sort of, eventually grabbing bags and dashing off, glad the trip - or at least this part - was over.

I must admit I did not do a lot of reading and preparation before our trip, leaving the details to Road Scholar, our trip planner. However, utilizing the all-knowing Internet, I did research transport options from the Oslo airport to our hotel. A bus kiosk conveniently located near the terminal exit directed us outside to stand 11. Exiting into 32 degrees Nordic weather, a tour-type bus, outfitted with upholstered seats, seat belts, a tray table and plenty of storage space, idled directly in front of stand 11. Forty-five minutes later, heaving a sigh of relief and eager to drop our bags and begin our adventure, we arrived at our hotel. 

I was hungry, tired, and a bit cranky.

We quickly realized almost everyone speaks English. Lucky, because we speak no Norwegian.

Given a tour booklet on Oslo - in Norwegian because the hotel was out of English books - we followed the map and headed out in search of food, real edible food. The temperature hovered around the mid 30s. The bright sun blinded, but sat low in the sky. We walked in the shade, few rays penetrating the skyline to warm our bodies.

We found the Alfred cafe, attached to the Nobel Peace Center. The museum looked interesting, but we were too tired to think about wandering through. Following delicious, steaming cups of coffee and an omelet/goat cheese sandwich, we returned to our hotel, finally relishing a couple of hours of comfortable, peaceful sleep.

Our Road Scholar program begins tomorrow. A favorite pastime is perusing travel brochures. This particular trip caught my eye, and before hub knew what was happening we signed up for a trip to Norway comprising a couple of days in Oslo and a cruise along the Norwegian coast, culminating in crossing the Arctic Circle and - hopefully - viewing the Northern Lights.

But I am getting ahead of myself...














  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Costco Virgin No More

I ignored Black Friday this year, as I do every year. The idea of driving in traffic, through and around traffic, and contributing to traffic to spend time jostling people to shop offers absolutely no appeal. But a few days before Black Friday hub and I ventured inside a Costco store. Not Black Friday, but close enough to qualify as a holiday shopping outing.

Hub had never set foot in a Costco store in his life. Sixty plus years old, he was a Costco virgin.

We belonged to BJ’s years ago, purchasing bulk food, household supplies and gas. At the time we occupied a house with plenty of storage space, including a basement and garage. Our current house, cottage, bungalow, however described, is small. Designed as a summer vacation cottage, there is minimal storage space. I have to be creative and shop often to keep adequate supplies in stock and not run out of necessities such as toilet paper. No Costco or similar store is nearby, but if one were next door we would not shop there. For the record, the closest Costco is 40 miles away.

We – hub and I – spent a few days with the kids in Vermont before Thanksgiving, often in the way but sometimes helping out. One of our tasks involved taking their car to the Costco Tire Store to have snow tires installed. The process involved an hour and a half wait, time not spent in the house underfoot!

The appointment was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. We arrived about 20 minutes early, unsure how long it would take from the house and leaving time to get lost and found again. We signed in the car, turned over the key, received a buzzer to alert us when the job was done, and walked over to the store entrance. We would spend the time wandering around and buying a short list of supplies requested by my daughter-in-law. 
Hub first in line to enter Costco!
No one else was around, but that did not last long. Shoppers filtered in, and by the time the store opened at 9:30 the line was out the door and around the corner.

 
Shoppers anxiously waiting to enter Costco. Shopping
carts were all in use when we exited the store.
Costco stores overwhelm. The warehouse layout, the mounds of merchandise, the large packages of foodstuffs like mayonnaise, ketchup, fresh pizzas and more awed hub. We slowly meandered up and down aisles. The space quickly filled with shoppers loading wagons with huge containers of everything.

I would not go so far as to say a Costco visit was on hub’s bucket list, but we can cross off another life experience, a trip not soon repeated. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Best of Boomers on Current Events and Boomer Activities

We - hub and I - traveled to Vermont this week to meet our new granddaughter, Lila. Chaos, confusion and crises assault us 24/7, the bad news difficult to avoid. It is nice to focus on other things, like welcoming a new member to the family. Life continues, and new life brings joy, smiles, and the hope of a more secure world for our kids and grandkids. 

Events in Paris upset and rattled everyone this week. Our world is not a warm fuzzy place, and although intellectually we know that, we do not like to be reminded in such a tragic way.  With all of the fear around us this week it may feel like fear rules.  This is the alternative Laura Lee Carter would like to offer you.

Whatever is going on around the world, we continue our daily activities. For numerous boomers, some of our time is reserved for our favorite non-profit organizations. Volunteering is alive and well, thanks in part to retirees. This week Tom Sightings reports on the Purpose Prize for American volunteers over age 60. And some of the results of his research make him wonder Who Really Benefits from Charity? 

Spending time with younger generations, whether our kids and grandkids or people that became part of our lives through family, work, friends or any other way, is a treasured and enjoyable part of our lives. Linda Myers spent a week in Santa Cruz, California. While there, she reflected on the sspecial things about nine-year-old boys.  

This week our consumer journalist, Rita Robison, writes on her blog, The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of genetically engineered salmon. It is the first genetically engineered food animal approved for sale in the United States. Unfortunately, the FDA is not requiring that the GMO salmon be labeled. Check out the article here.

This week I hope everyone enjoys a non-engineered turkey, tofurkey, or whatever your tradition places on your holiday table.

 And thank you for taking the time to visit our bloggers. 

We wish everyone a happy, healthy, peaceful
Thanksgiving Holiday

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

500 And Counting

This is my 500th blog post.

In 2010 hub and I relocated to the shore, leaving the town where we lived for decades, raised our kids, made lifelong friends, and worked. The area was close enough to hub’s work base in Philadelphia yet offered a different environment and lifestyle. I turned 60 in 2010, and began blogging.

I have not looked back.

I left my life in the financial world and, looking for another area of interest, began writing. Initially sticking to my professional background by writing about financial topics, I quickly moved on to fun stuff – me, my life, my family, food, travel, and anything I want to write about!

Now I look to the future. I love writing. I have attended writing conferences, taken non-credit writing classes and joined a writing group. I blog, publish occasionally on other websites, and participate in the Best of Boomers weekly blog review.

On the other hand I do not write full time, life interfering – usually a good thing. I travel, hub and I travel, we host travelers. Occasionally laundry demands attention when it builds up so high I cannot maneuver around my bedroom and have no clean clothes to wear. Dirt collects, although as my eyesight dims I do not see dust balls until tripping over them.

I enjoy cooking and we also employ any excuse to eat out, experts now at discovering restaurant deals (OK, I admit it, we patronize early bird specials). There are exercise classes (a necessity after eating), some enjoyable, others not as much, but my body needs to move, unless it is cold and wet and rainy and that particular morning I turn off my alarm, roll over and go back to sleep.

The joys of retirement!

The flexibility, the diversity, the choices....on the one hand –

And on the other hand medical issues crop up unexpectedly, sidelining hub or me temporarily. We pay attention to finances to ensure we do not end up bag people or a burden to our kids, who if that were the case would probably move and not leave a forwarding address…

But I digress.

My 500th blog post, and looking forward to a lot more. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Welcome New Baby Baer


Hub and I became grandparents one more time. Grandbaby number 5, born Monday, November 9th, is a beautiful, healthy little girl named Lila Doris. Mom, Dad, big sister and baby are all doing well.

Big sister Sydney is four years old. Her world is about to change dramatically, although she is still blissfully ignorant of the chaos, confusion, and aggravation her little sister will eventually cause her--and her parents. Learning to share toys and so many other things, including (particularly) parents, will prove to be a tough learning curve.

The sleepless, or at least disrupted nights have only just begun. This will end, maybe later rather than sooner, hopefully sooner rather than later, but eventually. The cute baby will morph into an energetic toddler, then preschooler. She will go to school to learn about the world, then venture out into the world to pursue her dreams...Oy (the universal lament of a Grandma), I am getting way ahead of greeting a new baby.

Lila’s two grandmas and grandpas, assorted cousins, aunts, uncles and great-grandmas cannot wait to hold, cuddle and coo over the new addition to their families.


Welcome to the world Lila Doris!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Our Granddog Charlie Remembered

Hub and I watched our Florida grandkids the last week of September. The kids were fine but Charlie, our 14-year-old granddog, not so much. Suffering from a host of age-related maladies, he had difficulty getting up, walking, and refused to eat most of the time. He survived our visit, but finally passed into dog heaven Saturday.

Although not living with us full time, we spent many happy occasions with Charlie. He loved our shore home, barely waiting for the car to stop before jumping out and bounding up the flight of stairs to our apartment door. His favorite activity was a nightly walk around the corner to the walk-up ice cream stand and devouring his own cup of vanilla ice cream.

When the kids moved to Colorado they did not want Charlie traveling in the cargo hold or wherever dogs sojourn during flight, so hub and I drove Charlie cross country. It was summer, a long July Fourth weekend. Before leaving home I researched dog-friendly places to stay and found quite a few. Unfortunately most were not friendly to 70 pound golden retrievers.

We had never driven west of the Mississippi and viewed the drive as an adventure. Because of the heat we could not leave Charlie in the car during pit stops. We bought food along the way and picnicked, seeking shaded tables so Charlie could enjoy meals with us and stretch his legs, although he did not do much stretching. Too hot.

The state of Kansas proved challenging.  It was Sunday and extremely hot. We drove across the northern part of the state, a stark landscape dotted with, well, not much. And nothing was open. No restaurants, no gas stations, no convenience stores. We encountered few towns along the road, all shut tight on a hot summer Sunday holiday weekend, no one in sight. It was eerie. We thought we were driving through ghost towns.

Finally, close to the Colorado border, a lone store open for business appeared on the horizon. Hungry and tired, we purchased provisions and used the restrooms. Traveling for hours across the entire state without finding open restrooms, I was desperate. Charlie and hub utilized the great, open outdoors to relieve themselves, but I did not. Stubby Kansas bushes did not provide enough cover…

Eight years later the family moved back East. Once again we drove Charlie cross country, this time with an additional passenger, our nine-year-old grandson. We stopped along the way to visit a county fair, tour an aeronautical museum, stuff ourselves at a barbecue and food festival, and enjoy the cuisine at the highlight of our trip - an ice cream festival. Humans devoured ice cream sundaes while Charlie finished off a tub of vanilla ice cream.

When the family left the Jersey shore, their summer interlude, for their new home in Florida, we once again drove Charlie to his new residence. This time our six-year-old granddaughter accompanied us. Along the way Charlie enjoyed a ferry ride, visiting friends, the beach and a blueberry festival (more ice cream), but remained in the hotel room while the rest of us played at an adventure park.

Charlie always trotted to the door in greeting, wagging his tail, glad to see us. He was a member of the family.

Charlie, we will miss you. 
Charlie Dressed for Success.
Actually...draped following surgery (a few years ago).

Friday, November 6, 2015

Visiting Venice Italy

Along the Grand Canal near Piazza San Marco.
Four days is not enough time to spend in the magical city Venice, only whetting the appetite for more. More time to wander narrow alleys, ride water taxis and the public transportation system of barges and motorboats, and visit museums, islands, the countryside, restaurants and even the shops.

All this in spite of myriads of tourists encountered everywhere. They arrive by plane, train, bus, and cruise ship. Sitting at breakfast each morning staring at the panorama along the Grand Canal, at least one cruise ship plied the waters, anchored and disgorged a thousand plus tourists eager to spend a day in the floating city.

My next visit will be off-season.

Venice is a city of 118 islands. Canals snake through extremely narrow byways while other waterways span sizeable open waters.

This first-time visitor, exiting the train station, was overwhelmed. Water taxis lining the docks – motorboats large enough for a dozen people or half that number plus luggage – and a row of gondolas waited to whisk vacationers to their lodging. 

Initial impression: What are all the motorboats doing here? Pictures of the city I remember show only gondolas gliding along the canals…The channel is full of boats leaving with passengers, loading passengers, and waiting to dock to pick up newly arrived travelers. There is barely enough space to walk across the sidewalk from the train station to the quay. Pedestrians jostle each other as some walk briskly towards their destination while others gaze around, awed by the view and with no idea where to go.

Surveying the scene as our water taxi maneuvers through the canals, it takes a few minutes to realize what is missing from the bustling landscape – cars, buses, trucks, trolleys, motorcycles, and bicycles.

Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Changes to building exteriors must be approved, preserving the city’s architectural legacy. The first inhabitants, fleeing barbarian invaders, settled the islands as early as the fifth century. The city became a maritime power in the 10th century, and for centuries after a major cultural center. Masterpieces by some of the greatest Medieval and Renaissance painters adorn what were originally public buildings, private residences and houses of worship, today museums, hotels, churches and synagogues, and other tourist venues.

You can see water on the sidewalk,
a common occurrence during high tide.
The most famous go-to place is Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Square, bordered by magnificent medieval architecture, many featuring shops and restaurants. The Doge Palace, traditional home of the government, lined with columns originally tall and majestic, are not so tall and majestic today. The building, columns and all, is sinking, along with the entire city, at a rate of .03 to .39 inches per year.

The square also accommodates the Clock Tower, Correr Museum, and the Byzantine-style Church of St. Mark. The Church, decorated with gold-laced paintings and d├ęcor, dazzles.

One day we toured three islands, boats our means of transportation, Murano, the glassmaking center of the city, Burano, famous for lace, and Torcello, the first island settled. We encountered clear blue skies, sunny 60s weather and fewer visitors. We walked around the islands until our legs screamed “enough!”, observing glass masters and lace makers at work, wandering through a vineyard decorated with sculptures, along village streets and alleys, meandering through shops, and relishing lunch in the back room of a trattoria serving fresh homemade pasta and seafood, resting aching feet.

Wandering the narrow alleys of the old Jewish Ghetto.
Our last day in Venice our group split. One person toured the Biennale, an international art exhibition, while the rest of us explored Europe’s oldest Jewish ghetto, a Venetian word referring to a foundry, originally occupying the site.

We rendezvoused for a final dinner and drink in the hotel bar, saying bittersweet goodbyes.

The next day, following a nine-hour flight, we arrived home to hubs, homes, kids and grandkids, and our everyday lives.

Arrivederci Italy, Ciao home. 
 
Venice waterways

Monday, November 2, 2015

Flushing Around Florence

There are things we take for granted. We in this case refers to Americans. We enter a bathroom and do not think about the toilet or flushing mechanism. Occasionally an unusual method presents itself, and we spend a few seconds surveying the space and figuring out what to do. Clean facilities should be a given but unfortunately standards vary widely everywhere. It is an extremely important issue to men and women,  involving factors affecting health and education, but as far as I know neither Republican or Democratic Presidential candidates have discussed the subject, most likely because there are no easy answers.

During my trip to Italy I experienced  a variety of toilets, flushing mechanisms, and degrees of cleanliness. Sometimes a picture illustrates a point better than a thousand or more words ever could. Below are some of the places our group of four women got the chance to sit down for a few minutes and rest our weary bones while answering nature's call.

This looks like a normal display wall in a grocery store. It is, and it is not...

Open the wall - actually a well-hidden door disguised as a wall - and voila!
A bathroom awaits use by a few selective, in-the-know customers.

Many places offer facilities for customers only, concealed and unmarked behind doors not immediately obvious. 
The restaurant in our hotel in Venice offered well-appointed WCs (water closets) behind the bar's paneled wall. The casual observer would not notice the entrance, and seekers of a place to relieve themselves must look carefully to find the entrance. 

Along with toilets come cleansing facilities. Not all the time, but usually. We know how to turn on a faucet, but occasionally encounter an unusual system, such as the floor pump pictured here.

Fancier floor pumps - red for hot water and blue for cold.

Sometimes you get what you pay for. And sometimes you pay for the privilege of using clean, modern facilities.
The cost to use this one: 1.5 euros (about $1.65 US dollars).

Need instructions? 
Here they are in pictures, Italian, and English. The 'sanitizing vapour' is strong!

Below is a picture of the sinks in a restaurant WC. The mirror illustrates what is on the opposite side of the room - 
a glass door leading to an enclosed outdoor patio wth a fountain, viewed in the second photo.


Since the name of this post is Flushing Around Florence, I included a picture of the most common flushing mechanism found in Italy.






Saturday, October 31, 2015

Italy Slightly Off the Tourist Track

Sightseeing in Europe comprises a variety of experiences touring churches, old buildings large and small, churches, castles and palaces, churches, museums, churches, viewing picturesque landscapes, churches, and gift shops.

Every place has a gift shop situated at the end of the tour. You must pass by and usually through the shop to exit.

We spent hours walking and saw additional sites not normally pointed out by tour guides. A few of the hidden gems discovered are pictured below.

Electricity is very expensive. Hanging wash out to dry is one way to save money and conserve resources.


This glass blower works in a factory on the Venetian island of Murano. It is hard to see from my picture, but he is fashioning a horse. Murano has been a center of glassmaking for centuries. Another interesting comment about this photo is it illustrates that not all Italians are slim (only most of them).


Artwork is everywhere. These pieces are part of a display in the middle of a vineyard.


Laundry and brightly colored houses. many old homes - old as in hundreds of years old - are not painted, but some towns excel in brightening their environment. These houses are on the Venetian island of Burano, originally a fishing village. legend goes that the men would return drunk after weeks at sea and often enter the wrong house - and wrong bed. The women got fed up with their wandering spouses and came up with the idea of painting their houses different colors so the men could recognize their own home. Truth? Fiction? Who knows...


An almost universal sight - rain, traffic, and too many trucks. 
We are in a van on our way to Verona. We were supposed to see the picturesque, scenic, beautiful (so we were told) Lake Garda, but rain and fog forced a change of itinerary to Plan B. We drove through wine country and up a windy road (in the rain and fog) to a restaurant on top of a mountain and enjoyed a gourmet feast. Luckily we were oblivious to the dangers of driving down the mountain on wet roads, thanks to the wine.


Relieving oneself turned out to be an adventure at times.
More on this subject in my next post.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Old Friends and New Ones Together in Florence

It is exciting to be in the middle of one of the iconic places on earth, a city studied in school, read about in history books, seen in pictures and movies.
Florence, Italy is one of those magical places characterized by huge old buildings, cobblestone streets and sidewalks, a river and numerous stone bridges, narrow alleyways, and lots of people. The city is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance and the home of artists and artworks for centuries.

But traveling is more than architecture and landscape. It is also about people.  Meet some of my new acquaintances and traveling companions.

Meet Pinocchio, the puppet who became a real boy. The author of this well known children's story, Carlos Collodi, was born in Florence.


My three traveling companions performing a favorite activity of most travelers. Street vendors sell selfie sticks on every corner.


Visiting museums and viewing art is an essential part of the Florence experience. Everyone sees the front view of statues in person or pictures, but many statues offer a 360 experience. One of my favorite views...


We met Leonardo on the street. He did not say much.

Q
Street musicians enhance the travel experience in Florence and surrounding towns.


This meerkat was spotted in Siena, about 40 miles from Florence. These animals are found throughout the city. Eventually they will be rounded up and recycled.


What exhausted travelers do at the end of a long day sightseeing.