Hello Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii!…An unexpected outing!…New photo of us in Hilo…

Here we are at Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo. Sam, our overly friendly taxi driver, took the photo.

It was tempting to get off the ship to go see the two houses we rented on the Big Island for the holidays with our family. But, we’ve decided to wait in order to be surprised.

The scenery along the shores of Hawaii is lovely.

The pier in Hilo is located in a highly industrial area and we’d have had to walk for miles to get to any points of interest. 

As we entered the Port of Hilo, Hawaii.

Also, we’ll be back on the Big Island for six weeks in less than two months, saving sightseeing to do with our family members when they start arriving on December 6th.

The last time we went to a Walmart, a store we never visited in our old lives, was in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico on January 6, 2013, when we got off the ship, the Celebrity Century, to purchase our first camera. Here’s Tom in front of the Hilo, Hawaii Walmart. See below as to how we ended up at this store, an entirely unplanned outing.

However, we decided to take the free shuttle into downtown Hilo. Well, of all things, we accidentally got on the bus going to Walmart! We couldn’t have laughed harder. 

Leis for sale in a refrigerated case at the Walmart store.

After spending $126 in Walmart, we weren’t laughing quite as hard. We purchased nuts, a couple of shirts, self tanning cream, shampoo, toothpaste and a few odds and ends.

Our ship is behind the Pacific Princess in the foreground.

Tom got “overly grumpy” when we had to buy a cloth bag to carry our purchases since Walmart in Hawaii doesn’t use plastic bags. I couldn’t have been more thrilled with their concern for the environment. 

Near the Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo.

After we made our purchases, we found our way to the waiting area for the free shuttle to return us and others to the ship. The expected wait time was 15 minutes at most. 

At the Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo.

As we waited while sitting on a bench, a friendly-looking taxi driver asked if we wanted a ride back to the pier.  Did we have food stuck in our teeth proving we were passengers of the latest cruise ship to arrive in Hilo?

I asked Sam, “How much?” 

Sam answered, “$12.”

I answered, “Na, too much!”

Sam answered, looking at the camera hanging from my shoulder, “How about $10 with a stop at a gorgeous site to take photos?”

The park was lovely.

We couldn’t have jumped up quicker, taking Sam up on his kindly offer. As soon as we got into his air-conditioned minivan, we all engaged in animated chatter as Sam drove us to the Liliuokalani Gardens, an exquisite park on the way back to the ship.

Oddly, Sam told us he lives on “Lyman Ave” in Hilo, pulling out his driver’s license to show us. Serendipity.  We’re hardly wanted to say goodbye to Sam after an outrageously fun time with him during the drive and at the gorgeous park. Its funny how the least expected situations turn into the most fun of all. 

An enchanting footbridge in the gardens.

Over the extended periods we’ll spend on each of three of the four islands we’ll have plenty of time to see everything that appeals to us. No paid excursion would have been more fun than our time with Sam.

As for Hilo, we searched for a bit of general information on the Hawaiian Islands and found the following. As time goes on, we’ll acquire knowledge that we’ll share with our readers as opposed to quoting other web sites. 

For now, we’re Hawaiian newbies and we prefer to be careful of that which we write until we become more knowledgeable over the next many months:

“The Hawaiian Islands (Hawaiian: Mokupuni o Hawai‘i) are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and undersea seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) from the island of Hawaiʻi in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll. Formerly the group was known to Europeans and Americans as the “Sandwich Islands“, a name chosen by James Cook in honor of the then First Lord of the Admiralty John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. The contemporary name is derived from the name of the main island, Hawaii Island, as a pars pro toto.
The US state of Hawaii occupies the archipelago almost in its entirety (including the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands), with the sole exception of Midway island, which is instead an unincorporated territory within the United States Minor Outlying Islands.
The Hawaiian Islands are the exposed peaks of a great undersea mountain range known as the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain, formed by volcanic activity over a hotspot in the Earth’s mantle. The islands are about 1,860 miles (3,000 km) from the nearest continent.

In these short few days in Hawaii, it’s odd for us to grasp that Hawaii is a part of the US, other than for its abundance of US products, services and of course, its economy. It appears comparable to other many other resorts/vacation/holiday island we’ve visited in other parts of the world.

Of course, we enjoy the easy availability of products and services from which we’ve been far removed for much of the past two years. Seeing the familiar products, chain restaurants, markets, and hotels is both refreshing and disappointing when we’ve found great pleasure is being detached from all the hype.
We’ll have ample time in the future to once again feel removed from the hustle and bustle of life in the US when again we take off for more remote locations in not too distant future.  
In the interim, we’ll enjoy every aspect of living in Hawaii, experiencing each of these  islands, each with its own unique persona. From what we saw on Tuesday in Honolulu, the prices may not be any higher than we experienced in the past locations.

With only five days and four nights until we disembark the ship, we have that wonderful feeling of not being disappointed that the cruise is ending, knowing that which lays ahead will be equally enjoyable.

                                          Photo from one year ago today, October 2, 2013:
None of our photos were posted on this date. However, we did post a story about “worrying” we loved to share with our readers who may have missed it. Please click here for details.

Hello, London!…The Eurostar from Paris under the English Channel…The hotel peculiarities…Tom’s reprimand!…

Our train came into the station. Tom, my railroad guy, explained that the train is operated from either end never having to turn around for the return trips.

Every country has it’ss own peculiarities in comparison to the American way of traveling and of simply living life.  As we experience more and more cultures, we quickly attempt to adapt to avoid being regarded as the “ugly American.”

Our new hotel, the London Regency, has a few characteristics that are different from what we’ve encountered in the past when staying in hotels in many countries. In this 4.5 stars rated hotel, in a matter of minutes, we find ourselves realizing how quickly we’ll need to adapt.

While we waited for the train.

For example; there are no ice machines available to guests in the entire hotel. We either have to order ice from room service (pay a tip each time) or go to the bar to have the bartender get it for us. The expectation of tipping several times a day for ice is frustrating, to say the least.

Another unusual feature is the fact that there are fees for using the health club. My principals make me flinch at the idea of paying for this normal inclusion when the “gym” is located directly in the hotel. It’s not a lot of money at US $16.69, £10  per night for the entire 15-night stay. But, it irks me. After all, we’re paying over US $200, £120 per night. That would cost the extra US $269 on top of the already pricey fees.

The station while we were still in Paris.

There are no bars of soap. I was thrilled when Tom called me into the bathroom to see the roomy bathtub. But, the only soap is a built-in dispenser high up near the showerhead. Am I to stand up every few seconds while taking a bath, to pump another tiny dollop of soap from the dispenser?

Overall and to our pleasure, this hotel is upscale in the lovely Kensington neighborhood close to many points of interest, including the Royal Palace, a short walk, several museums, and many fine restaurants.  Complaining? Observing, I’d say. I’ll ask for a bar of soap. If none is available, we’ll find a grocery store and purchase one. 

Tom was finally smiling again when I told him we wouldn’t have to “walk” the bags downs the steep steps.

There is a daily fee of another US $16.69, £10.   encouraged them to reduce the fee to US $13.35, £8. At this reduced rate, it adds an additional US $214 to our hotel bill. Anyway, enough “observing” for now and onto the Eurostar, the train under the English Channel from Paris to London. We had a great time! It was easy compared to flying, excess baggage fees, and long lines a thing of the recent past. 

Taken from our seats, which were wider than airplane seats. I had pictured four-seat configurations with a table in front of us which was not the case with our seats.

As usual, we arrived at the train station too early after a quick drive through Paris with light traffic on Saturday.  We’d looked online for answers to some of our questions about taking the Eurostar with conflicting answers on various websites. 

One question was regarding baggage handling and storage. The second was purely out of curiosity; how long does the train actually travel under the ocean across the English Channel? 

The scenery along the tracks was mostly limited to industrial areas, although we passed a few areas of the French countryside.

Based on Eurostar reviews we’d read online, we made a plan how, without the use of a large cart or porter, we’d handle all of our luggage ourselves, something we’d never done for any distance. Tom hauled the two large rolling bags and I hauled the rolling cart with the two smaller bags and the duffel bag containing my purse and the pill bag. Tom kept the computer bag over his shoulder.

Eurostar allows two bags each and one carry on. We each had two bags and one carry on. For once, we complied. Weight wasn’t an issue. 

A church steeple at a distance through the glare of the glass window.

With two new bungees wrapped tightly around the contents of the wheeling cart, I was able to pull it behind me using both hands without any problem. My bad shoulder prevented me from using only my right hand and the left is simply too incompetent to manage the wobbly wheels.

Off we went, surprisingly at a decent pace with little difficulty, if at all. To finally be able to handle all of our worldly possessions on our own was uplifting. Once we checked in with UK immigration, getting our passports stamped, we unloaded everything for the security check without incident.

Cows. Not really wildlife but, we enjoy seeing animals wherever we may be.

In all, it took 10 minutes from showing our tickets to entering the waiting area where we searched for a place to sit for the 90-minute wait for our train’s departure. 

As we sat there checking out our surroundings, it appeared that the only way to get down to the platform was a steep stairway. Oh, no. The idea of maneuvering those steps set my mind spinning. 

Within seconds of entering the tunnel, I took this shot of blackness resulting in only a reflection of the seats in the glass.

Suddenly, Tom became grumpy spewing out a dozen possible scenarios: injuring ourselves, dropping and breaking something, and on and on. He does this at times. I usually ignore him but this time, I said in a calm voice, “Quit being overly grumpy!”

Without a moment of time to think, he blurted out, “Quit being overly bubbly!”

Hahaha! I couldn’t stop laughing! In seconds, he was laughing with me, tears in our eyes over the irony. Quit being “overly bubbly.” Oh, would that all of those whom we love biggest problem is being “overly bubbly.” An eternal optimist that I am, I could easily accept his accurate assessment of me. 

Within seconds of departing the tunnel.  We were now in the UK.

After our good laugh and to put his minds at ease I jumped up and found a guard who explained that we could use an elevator down a long hallway.

Luckily, when the time arrived to board as we made our way down the hallway we were able to see that there was a moving ramp, an escalator without steps that we easily managed. We didn’t need to use the elevator after all. 

We arrived in London at the St. Pancras station.

Tom managed to lift the heavy bags from the platform onto the train into the small storage area.  We only had to manage the duffel, the computer bag, and the cart to our seats. 

The seats are comparable to an airplane seat, only slightly roomier with a helpful retractable footrest.  Immediately, we grabbed for our seatbelts, out of habit. We looked at each other and laughed. Habits. They never fail to unconsciously overtake us.

After exiting the train station we had to walk a distance to the next street and around the corner in order to flag a taxi. No taxis were allowed to stop at the main entrance.

Food and beverages were served in two other train cars. We noticed several passengers walking past us loaded up with paper bags filled with fried foods. We had no interest.

After the first hour and twenty minutes of the total two hours and seventeen minutes, we’d yet to enter the tunnel. Although, in several instances, we thought we had as we passed through several other tunnels.

On the way to our hotel, we passed Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.  Not quite our cup of tea.

Moments later, an announcement was made that we were indeed entering the English Channel. My heart skipped a beat with excitement. What was I expecting? Water to flow around the train?

I was expecting “black” and, black it was. It was dark as night when looking out the windows. Moments after we entered the tunnel a kindly steward stopped to ask if we needed anything, giving us an opportunity to ask a few questions. Here’s his response:

  1. The trip under the English Channel takes approximately 20 minutes.
  2. The maximum speed of the train is 300 kilometers per hour, 186 miles per hour, less through the tunnel
  3. The deepest part of the tunnel is 195 meters, 640 feet below sea level.
  4. There are three tunnels, two for trains and one as a service tunnel.
  5. There are multiple trains per day to Paris, London, and Brussels. 
  6. No passenger trains other than the Eurostar brand may use the tunnel.
There are lots of double-decker buses in London.

We thanked the steward for the information and for stopping by, sitting back enjoying the odd experience. For a moment I felt like a kid at Disneyland on a ride through a dark tunnel fearlessly enjoying the ride.It was amazing to be on a train traveling under the ocean.

In no time at all, we were at the station ready to disembark (Tom said “de-train”). Once again, he managed to haul the heavy bags. As always, we’d planned to be the last off to avoid blocking the line. In no rush, all we needed to do was flag a taxi to our hotel.

Although London was bombed in World War II many beautiful historical buildings remain.

With most taxis requiring “British Pound Sterling” to pay the fare, the driver stopped at an ATM where Tom loaded up enough of yet another new currency to learn, to last to few days. A short time later, we were checking into our hotel, paying the huge amount for 15 nights, the WiFi fees, and a refundable deposit for extras.

There’s our travel day story, folks. Last night, we had a fabulous experience we’ll share in tomorrow’s post!

Taking photos from a taxi is always tricky and we were unable to determine the name of this building.

By the way, this morning we blew yet another power strip and both of our pricey international adapters (UK certified), tossing them all in the trash. Tom grumbled about how we wouldn’t be able to use our equipment while in London; no computers, no camera, no books.

I replied, “Take your shower, honey. Your “overly bubbly” wife will go see the front desk for a solution.”  Problem solved. A new day begins in London.

Our hotel in the Kensington area of London is close to many points of interest.

Photo from one year ago today, August 17, 2013:

Due to Internet connectivity issues in Boveglio, Italy we weren’t able to post on this date one year ago. We’re fast approaching the time, a year ago, when we began to post every day with photos. Stay tuned.

A crazy, funny, busy day…A new lesson learned…A year ago, Naples, Italy…

These are the roses Gina picked for us last night from the massive rose bushes growing outside her aunt’s house.
Yesterday, was a fun day, unplanned and unexpected.  In essence, those are often the most memorable occasions, laced with humor and warm feelings.

I must preface this by starting with my terrible faux pas…twice in one day, I left the house without the camera, something I hope never to do again.  On both occasions I was distracted by the events on hand.

All over the mountains there are long steep steps as such as shown in photo, most without handrails.

Although, there are other unrelated photos I’ve saved for today, we’ll kindly ask our readers to use their imagination for these few stories.

In the morning, I reminded Tom that we are in need of fresh vegetables.  We always keep a few bags of frozen veggies in case of such an emergency but, fresh is our preference. 

Another steep set of steps without handrails.

Most nights, I roast a pan of fresh, cut-into-chunks veggies in the oven tossed with olive oil and seasonings, cooking them on high heat for 35 minutes tossing them a few times.  They tend to caramelize and are nothing short of amazing.

With enough veggies left for last night, I was more concerned about Sunday’s dinner.  The obvious solution was to listen for the produce guy’s musical truck.  There’s a trick to catching him when usually he and the other trucks seem to zoom past our house not giving us ample time to get out the door.  We wear our shoes in the house with Tom’s wallet nearby so we can dash outside on a dime.

This old unoccupied house is buried under vines and vegetation.

At around 10:00 am, we heard the music.  Quickly, we jumped up going though our little routine of getting out the door, Tom grabbing the wallet, me dashing to the street.

Alas, the musical truck had already passed us.  Tom said, “Let’s drive after him!”  I agree as he grabbed the car keys and off we went.  Luckily, we can see up the steep road that winds from our house and we saw the truck had stopped for another customer a half mile up the hill.

This photo does no justice to how steep this road actually is. 

Quickly maneuvering the winding road, we made our way to the truck in no time, excited to know we’d be able to restock our vegetable supply.  I was the first to jump out of the car and run to the open back of the truck.  The driver was engaged in a conversation with another man on the side of the road, paying no attention to us.

Approaching the open back of the truck, a sinking feeling came over me when I realized there were no vegetables.  As I looked further, I gasped, as Tom approached the truck.  “It’s not vegetables,”  I said as I began to laugh, “It’s live chickens!”

These are mailboxes in our neighborhood.

Peering into the back of the truck, we saw a cage filled with live chickens ready for purchase by an ambitious cook.  My first thought was that I didn’t have the camera.  My second thought was that I’m definitely not that ambitious a cook. Tom agreed that neither was he.  We giggled, waved to the chicken truck guy and returned home, hoping the vegetable truck guy would soon appear. 

He never did.  The fish truck guy drove passed once again but, we had no room in the freezer for more fish after our recent purchase of the “catch of the day.”

This old run down house is out of place in the charming area.

It was a windy day and we’d decided to stay in.  I was cooking two different dinners; grilled tuna for me (the second night) and meatballs with sauce and grated cheese for Tom, salad and the remaining roasted vegetables.  Plus, I had a few loads of laundry to do which we’d have to dry indoors in the high winds.

The remainder of the day was relatively quiet.  I spent time posting for the day.  Tom worked on our future travels.  We paid the final payment on the upcoming cruise from London to Boston leaving on August 31st, a mere 74 days from today.

The colors of flowers on the island is breathtaking.

Dinner was delightful as always. We watched an episode of “Last Comic Standing” laughing all the while, content to be healthy, together and loving our home in Madeira, now three weeks into our stay.

After dinner, we heard a knock at the door, jumping up wondering who it may be.  Of course, it was none other than our dear friend Gina, stopping by to see if we needed anything.  I had wanted to give her some of the “atum,” (tuna) anyway so her timing was perfect.  She was especially thrilled when she told us that the fish truck doesn’t come to Funchal, where she, her husband and daughter live.

Are these gardenias?  The smell was lovely!

The only request we had was for her to describe where we could find the two local restaurants here in Campanario.  Immediately, her eyes lit up and she announced, “Come, let’s go. I show you!”

We all jumped into the blue rental car and took off up the hill as Gina directed us.  As soon as we were on our way, once again, I realized I’d forgotten the camera.  It was getting dark and it wouldn’t matter anyway, I justified to myself.  How sorry I was. 

A yellow rose we found on a walk.

Gina’s bubbly enthusiasm is contagious. We love being with her.  She directed us to her aunt’s house first so she could pick roses for me.  The sprawling house was charming surrounded by flowers in full bloom.  Oh, camera.  Her aunt who has been ill for some time, waved to us from the rooftop.  Her uncle bantered on cheerfully in Portuguese and we were instantly charmed.

Roses picked and in my hands, we were back on the hilly, curvy roads to the restaurants. Three times I asked Tom, “Are you sure you’ll remember how to find these?”  Three times he smiled assuring me he would.  He’s so patient with me when I ask the same question several times, getting the same answer each time.

As darkness fell, we arrived at the restaurants, close to one another by no more than a few long blocks on winding roads.  Over the next few weeks we’ll try them both.  One of them has a very unusual theme which we’ll go to first and share here with photos and details.  We can hardly wait!

Tourists walking on the “levada” the path above our house.

Gina had Tom return over a different route showing us the “levada” a long walking path in the mountains which we’ll soon explore.  As we returned to our street, we let her off at her sister’s house, another gorgeous vacation rental she insisted we come inside and see. 

It was beautiful. Her husband had designed and built the house as he has many of the houses in the area. Gina had been busy cleaning getting ready for the next arriving guests.  As it turns out most of the homeowners in this area are Gina’s relatives, as she pointed out one house after another on the beautiful street.

She asked if we liked “our” house more than the sister’s and if we’d have preferred it.  We confirmed that we love our house as she smiled from ear to ear, happy that we’re happy.  She’s asked this question several times in the past three weeks and each time we’ve assured her that we are very happy.  (Perhaps, Gina has the same question asking syndrome that I do).

These tangled vines are at the base of a palm type tree.

After the house tour, now fully dark, we decided to head home.  It was 10:00 pm. We hugged Gina and her husband goodbye and made the drive down the hill to our house. 

Tom couldn’t find the keys to the house.  He thought he’d brought them with us when we headed out realizing that he’d locked them inside.  Hurriedly, we drove back up the hill hoping Gina would still be there.  Thank goodness, she was still there but, didn’t have an extra set of keys.  She called her father who lives nearby and keeps an extra set of keys. We waited for him to arrive and he appeared a short time later.

Terraced gardens are seen everywhere on the island.

We were thrilled to finally meet Antonio.  We’ve waved at him several times when we’ve seen him working in his massive gardens.  Shaking his hand, calloused from years of hard work, brought back memories of my grandfather who’s large calloused hands never hesitated to hold a hand or gently pat a cheek.

Soon, we were back home after Gina’s daughter insisted on running the keys back to Antonio after we were safely inside. Our keys were on the inside of the door where we’d left them.  Had Gina left, we’d have been in quite the predicament.  Once again, we dodged a bullet or, in other words…safari luck.

Tomorrow, we’ll be back with more new photos from today’s outing. I  promised I won’t forget to bring the camera! And, Tom won’t forget the keys!

Here is the photo from one year ago today, June 8, 2013:

Our ship docked in Naples, Italy.  With the few excursions available and at this point, having seen so many historical buildings, we decided against going on a crowded bus tour. For details for this date when we had issues with our rented MiFi which continued for the next three months when we lived in Tuscany, please click here.

The magic of Skype…

Willie waiting to Skype with his “aunt” when we were in Nevada for business.

As a kid, I remember fantasizing about being able to “see” using the phone. In the 1950s there was talk about such technology eventually existing, being referred to as Phone-A-Vision (or something like that).  Here we are many years later and this technology not only exists but works rather well.

With the advent of cell phone service providing free long distance in the US, we weren’t frequent users of SKYPE in our old lives.  

For a period of time, I had worked in Nevada, leaving my husband and family behind. (Knowing I’d be gone for several months I brought along our precious little dog WorldWideWillie). With the ease of calling family members on my smartphone, there was little need to use SKYPE. Shortly after I arrived in Nevada my little sister Julie suggested we talk via SKYPE rather than on the phone.

For those of you unfamiliar with SKYPE please click here for a detailed description.

Julie and I began to use Skype on a regular basis.  Willie, a huge fan of Julie, went nuts when he’d hear her voice coming from my laptop while seeing the live video of his “aunt” who had often visited our home.  After only a few occasions, he’d anxiously wait by the computer for me to Skype Julie. He’d bark at my laptop looking up at me with pleading eyes, to make the call.

With both voice and video turned on while talking to Julie, I was able to walk around the house with my laptop showing her where I lived, the inside of the refrigerator, a new gadget I’d purchased, or the bruise I got on my leg when making the bed;  lots of “sister” stuff.

Since leaving the US we’ve talked to family members and friends using Skype.  As soon as we moved into our villa in Laru Beya, I immediately called Julie to “show” her our new place while we giggled in awe of this amazing technology. 

It was necessary to work out a few glitches with Julie to ensure a clear connection.  Discovering that turning off the video aspect along with her calling me using the Skype app on her iPhone, I was able to answer for perfectly clear reception on either my Android phone or on my laptop using the Skype app installed on both devices.

You may wonder, if we no longer have cell service, how can we make a Skype to Skype call using our smartphones? LaruBeya has free WiFI throughout the resort. Our unlocked smartphones (meaning we aren’t locked into a cell contact, our phones are classified as unlocked GSM and thus enabled for SIM card use) don’t currently have SIM cards but are able to pick up a WiFi signal wherever it is available: at this resort, at a Hotspot or any other location that offers free or a pay-for-use wireless Internet connection.

Using Skype, we have no bill to pay and no account to maintain.  All we need is a Skype name for others to easily reach us.  As long as the computer or phone’s sound is turned on, an incoming Skype call rings to a familiar musical tone.

What if both the computer and the phone’s sound is on and a Skype call comes in?  Whichever device we use first, to “pick up the receiver” via clicking on the old fashioned phone handle icon, is the device on which we will take the call.

Since arriving in Belize, we’ve discovered a vital fact about Skype that has saved us a considerable sum. We can call any US toll-free numbers at no charge.  This enables us to handle business matters back in the US calling a landline.

However, if one is calling a non-toll-free number, for instance, a friend’s regular cell number, as opposed to their Skype name using Skype, it is necessary to place funds into a Skype account using a credit card and to pay per minute use. For example, while here in Belize, if we call the local cab company for a driver, we’d have to pay for the call on Skype.  Why?  They don’t have a toll-free number.

We deposited $10 into my Skype account for this purpose which remains intact in the account, less $2.10 for one local call we made at the end of January when inquiring about a golf cart rental. Were we to call family or friend’s landlines or cell phones without their using Skype on their end, the call on Skype would be approximately $2.89 per minute.  As you can see, this adds up.

Back in Minnesota with a shared cell service plan, our average minutes use was a combined 800 minutes per month, resulting in approximately 22 minutes per day for each of us. While outside the US, if we each used the 22 minutes per day, our monthly cost through SKYPE (or through our old Verizon account which we’d investigated) would be $2312!

You may ask, why don’t we have SIM cards installed in our phones for use in Belize?  Simple.  We can use Skype for free.  Why use up minutes on a SIM card when we can use Skype at no expense?  If we had SIM cards, we’d suddenly find we’re frequently loading minutes onto the card while spending huge amounts a month in cell calls.  Plus, we’d eventually end up with dozens of unused balances remaining on SIM cards from all over the world.

As for the magic…my eldest sister, Susan, living in Boulder City, Nevada has been unable to use a computer these past years due to a medical condition. We last spoke on January 3, 2013, the day we left the US. 

In her career she owned a successful travel agency, traveling the world experiencing many cruises, mostly on upscale cruise lines.  How fun it would be to share our experiences with her!  She educated us on cruising when we visited her in Nevada over Christmas, tips that we’ve treasured from the moment we boarded the ship.

Without a laptop and only recently receiving a Kindle Fire, a gift from her daughter, Susan had yet to load Skype. I wanted to speak to her!  While “Skyping” with sister Julie a few days ago, an idea hit me! 

What if I call Julie on Skype at a prearranged time.  She picks up the Skype call on her iPhone verifying that we have a clear connection, (without using video which requires more bandwidth). With her landline next to her, she dials Susan’s landline while pressing the SPEAKER button. 

She sets both phones down on the desk and says to Susan, “I have a surprise for you on the phone!”  Susan cringed.  She doesn’t like to talk to people she doesn’t know on the phone.  Who does?  She made the assumption that whoever was on the line was a stranger. 

Speaking in a normal voice, I said, “Susan, it’s me, Jessica!  I’m calling from Belize through Julie’s Skype!”  

The three of us squealed with delight. Once again, we were together! The sound was clear, free of background noise or static.  It was as if I had called her directly on Skype.  We chatted on endlessly in our usual way with an enthusiastic interest in one another’s lives and well being. 

Well, of course, I can’t expect Julie to be an intermediary on all future calls to Susan. But now, she is highly motivated to take the easy steps to install Skype on her Kindle Fire, making it possible for us to chat anytime we’d like at no cost, anywhere in the world. I’m looking forward to that!

Another “workaround” worked for us in our world travels!

Last week, while talking on Skype with son, Richard in Henderson, Nevada, he was using his smartphone and I was using my laptop, both voice and video were clear. His funny pug Monty, heard my familiar voice, snorted, and licked the phone. See, dogs like Skype, too!

Thanks, Julie!  Thanks, Skype!

Playful night in Belize despite “24/7″…

 Tom and I enjoyed the balmy evening, sitting on the beach in front of our villa.
I’ve never cared for the expression, “24/7,” thinking it sounded as if it were a lazy way of saying, “all the time,” “around the clock,” or “every minute of the day.”

The words “24/7” never crossed my lips until a few days ago while lounging at the pool, chatting with a guest at Laru Beya, it fell out of my mouth when she asked me, “Now that you both are retired, how does it feel to be together all of the time?”

Without hesitation, I blurted, “Being together 24/7 has worked well for us.  We don’t whine, snip or pick on each other. It works!”  I let out a little gasp, shocked at myself for having said the dreadful expression.  24/7?  Yep, that’s us. 24/7?  Yep, that’s most retired people. 

A few hours later, while again lounging, this time in the comfy chaise on our veranda, I allowed my mind to wander to the conversation with the woman.  After 22 years of being together with busy work schedules and personal lives, we’re finally together.

We shot this coconut tree photo in the dark on the beach in front of our veranda. 

How do couples make it work?  Over the years we observed many couples on their way to, and eventually into retirement.  Some made it work.  Some didn’t. 

Early on in our relationship and in many years to come, Tom and I surrounded ourselves with a role model couple we adored, Sue and Chip, our dear friends and neighbors four doors from us with whom we spent many enjoyable hours. 

Entrenched in lively conversations on countless occasions we discussed every possible topic, over fabulous food and drink, during holidays, special events, as well as on Chip and Tom’s shared birthdays on December 23rd. 

Hold it steady, Honey.  Its a little blurry!

As a couple, Sue and Chip personified the ideal of retirement.  Chip, retired as an orthopedic surgeon, used the finite hand skills he’d acquired as a surgeon to fulfill his artistic bent busying himself as a sculptor, artist and singer.  Sue, a charming hostess and friend to many, played tennis and entertained guests, surrounding herself with meaningful social and academic adventures.

Well rounded as individuals, they came together fulfilled and content, lovingly and unselfishly reveling in each other’s interests and activities.  Observing them during our countless times spent together, we knew we needed to follow suit into our own retirement with caveats we learned from Sue and Chip (never spoken but observed):

1.  No nagging, no complaining, no snipping and no negative tone of voice when asking or responding to anything at all.
2.  Expand on or develop new interests to fill a portion of your time in gratifying endeavors, sharing what you’ve learned with your spouse opening new avenues for conversation.
3.  Spend time with friends and family building relationships of your own.
4.  Socialize together always speaking well of one another with a twinkle in your eye.  Never complain about your partner’s bad habits (which seem to worsen as we age) to others, including family.
5.  Share financial status with one another on an ongoing basis especially if one handles the money more than the other.
6.  Discuss life’s concerns in a productive manner, inspiring solutions and resolutions together as a couple.
7.  Compliment each other, always seeking new ways to express your interest and attraction to many aspects of your partner, not merely complimenting their outfit for the evening (which in itself always earns brownie points!). 
8. Always give one another credit for accomplishments even if only one of you did most of the work.  After all, it is a partnership.
9.  Have fun!  (This can be achieved in many ways, if you know what I mean!)
10. Have more fun!

This is what we learned from Sue and Chip.  This is what we strive to achieve every single day.  It’s a choice, isn’t it?  It’s not a matter of circumstance one falls into via good or bad luck.  Do we accomplish it “24/7?”  No, but like any good habit, its easier to fall back into the goodness, if one so chooses.

We lost our dear Chip the end of May last year (see blog post in archives for June 1, 2012).  We miss him.  We’ll always miss him.  But, in us (and in Sue and many others who knew him and easily loved him) his legacy of love, laughter and passion for life continues on,  along with the fine example of a happy and fulfilling retirement as an individual and as a couple.

Last night we had fun, as we so often do, prompting our silly pictures posted on Facebook and again here in this blog today.  May it serve as a reminder that this, dear friends, is what retirement means to us, not traveling the world on one adventure after another but, being together living our lives to the fullest, living in the moment, with a “twinkle in our eyes” of what is yet to come.

Be well.

We survived it all..December 21 and MIFI rental for world travel…

As Tom’s three sisters and two brothers-in-law walked out the door yesterday, the day after Christmas, they asked us of we were getting excited. 

Tom, not giving me a chance to answer, chimed in, “You know what?  Jess planned all of our world travels.  And I just went along with it, figuring that the world was gonna’ end on December 21st and it wouldn’t matter.  So now, it does matter, and it’s time to start getting excited.”

We all roared with loud bursts of laughter. I had nothing more to say after that.  They were all headed back to their winter homes in Apache Junction, Arizona, and us, today back to our awaiting vacation home in Scottsdale to hook up with them again on December 30th for final goodbyes and sister Colleen’s birthday party.

Yesterday morning, we met up with my dear sister Julie and her significant other at son Richard‘s office in Henderson to have our wills and health care directives witnessed and notarized which will be secured in the family member’s hands while we travel. Yes, it was morbid doing this, but a necessary element of our travels and life itself.

Handing Julie our complete medical files put our minds at ease that should we ever need anything she’ll have it readily available. Julie like me, embroils herself in the details, making her a logical choice.  Of course, she would immediately notify all of our children if anything happened to us.

In addition, we have designated Julie as our contact person.  We will report to her with the contact information, phone numbers, and email for property owners prior to departure and arrival at each location. For instance, if we are due to arrive in France on a certain date and Julie doesn’t hear from us within 24 hours, she will immediately notify our adult children and begin the process of finding out what has transpired.  This is important.

We’ve all heard stories of travelers being kidnapped, lost in a jungle, or any other possible scenarios. It’s unlikely any of this will occur to us. In the event, an unforeseen situation does occur Julie will be highly diligent in tracking us down.

This provides all of our families with a sense of security. Although a little time consuming, it’s also a comfort to Tom and me to know that a nearly immediate effort would be instituted to “find us” if we’re missing. Julie, a TV producer, is an experienced world traveler with many worldwide contacts.  It’s logical for her to be assigned this task.  Thanks, sis!

Yesterday, we ordered our MIFI from XCOM GLOBAL that provides us with global wireless Internet access for up to five devices from a small wallet-sized device.  I’ve mentioned this many times on this blog finally placing our first order.  Pricier than we anticipated at $538 for the first month, we bit the bullet. 

The usual cost for using the device in one country is $399 a month plus shipping which may be as much as $100 each time it is shipped to us, with the high cost of international shipping.  We refused the $3.95 a month insurance for the device, at another $120 a month. 

The reason this particular first month’s rental was so high is due to the fact that we chose to try the device while cruising through the Panama Canal, which including it being set to work not only in Panama but also Mexico, Columbia, and the US while we’re in ports of call.  While at sea, it won’t work being too far from a cell tower. 

During those periods of time, we’ll use the ship’s Internet access at $395 which provides us each with one hour online per day for each of the 15 days for this first cruise.  This is expensive at $26.33 at roughly $13.17 apiece per day. 

MIFI from XCOM GLOBALalthough represented on their website that they offer unlimited access, will not allow more than 750 megabytes in any three day period.  If we do, they will turn off the system.  This allows us each 100’s of email messages per day, many more than either of us currently receive. 

We had decided that this would not be sufficient online usage for us.  We have personal business to conduct, ongoing travel research and arrangements, and of course, email messages from family and friends.  Thus, when Internet access if of poor quality or unavailable, we will order the device to be sent to us.  At this point, we anticipate using the MIFI approximately six months of the year since many vacation homes will have high-speed Internet access.

We are asking everyone to please continue to send us an email with text only beginning January 1, 2013, while we’re using the MIFI.  Receiving text-only email messages will mean “the world” to us being so far removed from everyone we know and love. Please keep the communication coming minus the videos and multiple photos.  Posting those videos and photos on Facebook will enable us to see them when we aren’t monitoring our usage.  We love hearing from you.

Today we’re heading back to Scottsdale, after more sorrowful goodbyes, for our final four days before our trip to San Diego for two more days before boarding our cruise to the Panama Canal, taking us away at long last. It’s hard to believe it’s finally only one week away. 

We have to repack all of our bags, clean our condo, finish our insurance planning, go to a birthday party, and brace ourselves for what is yet to come.