Today, Tom talks…To mustache or not to mustache?

Tom with the beard and mustache.

When I asked Tom if he’d write a post, he declined. It’s just not his thing.  Oh sure, he writes wordy quips at Cruise Critic asking and answering questions about particular cruises, having built himself quite a reputation as an active contributor on their boards.

Clean shaven for the first time since we were in Barcelona, Spain, sitting in a café across from Segrada Familia. See photo below.

Then, of course, he spews endless comments and observations on Facebook, often keeping him busy for hours. But, write a post? That’s not so much in his wheelhouse, so he says.

Tom, the last time he didn’t have a mustache in May, 2013. We were at a café across the street from Segrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, he’s an active participant in what I have to say in our daily posts by  researching, fact checking and proofreading each post immediately after it’s uploaded. Then, upon his suggestions, I edit each inconsistency he catches to reload the post once again. 

It’s a good system. Writing a post every day, at times rushing through it to get on with our plans, is a breeding ground for errors and I certainly have made my fair share. It’s a rare occasion that he doesn’t catch at least one mistake. 

We dined in a traditional Italian restaurant in the walled city of Lucca in July, 2013.  Note Tom’s Fu Manchu mustache. I still laugh over this photo when I know this look was all about the fact that he wasn’t thrilled about the pizza menu that didn’t have all of his favorite toppings.

There are numerous situations when neither of us had noticed an error and a year later one of us stumbles across it. Immediately, I take action to make the corrections. It’s an ongoing process that will never end as long as we continue with our story.

As for Tom’s story, in person, you’d have no trouble getting it out of him as any of his/our friends out there can attest. He’s a great conversationalist and fun to engage in conversation. He’s well read with an opinion on almost any topic that comes to light.

After unsuccessfully prodding him to tell me what he’d like to say here, I decided my only option would be to interview him and post his answers, in his words, exactly as he responded. Here we go:

Pretty carvings in the hotel in Kuta.

Are you enjoying traveling the world? 
“Yes, it’s even better than I’d anticipated”

What is your least favorite aspect of traveling?
“Airports; arriving many hours early, the long lines, the schedules with layovers, the delays and all the other BS.”

What part of traveling the world do you enjoy the most?
“The weather, being away from ice and snow.”

When you look back over the experiences of these past four years, what has been your favorite?
“The next one.”

Of your upcoming plans, which do look forward with the greatest enthusiasm?
“Of course, seeing family and friends in Minnesota.  As for our continuing journey, experiencing places we’ve never seen and, meeting the locals.”

Flower arrangement in the hotel in Kuta.

You often mention how much you love cruising? What is it about cruising that appeals to you?
“Relaxing. It’s a great means of transportation. Meeting new people, making new friends and the bread. I can eat like a normal person on a cruise!”

What do you like least about cruising?
“The muster drill on embarkation day.”

How do you feel when getting settled into a new vacation home?
“Pleasantly surprised when there’s comfortable furniture and bed. Happy if we don’t have to purchase bottled water. Looking forward to checking out the area.”

What food concerns do you have at a new location?
“Will they have the ingredients to make our pizza?  Do they have streaky pork bacon?”

Flowers in standing bowl in hotel.

What items do you find lacking in a vacation home that you wished were always available?
“Good WiFi, an electric coffee maker and a flat screen TV we can use to plug in the HDMI cord.”

How long does it take you to pack?
“It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to pack. I seldom unpack my entire suitcase. I take out underwear, shorts, tee shirts and swimming trunks. The rest stays in the bag.”

How do you feel about renting cars and driving in other countries?
“The turn signal and wipers are on the opposite side of the steering column than I’m used to.  Every time I go to use the turn signal, I turn on the wipers. We laugh every time!”

What booked plans for the future are the most exciting to you?
“The upcoming Alaskan cruise in May, 2017; a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Chile in November, 2017 when we’ll traverse the Panama Canal, a second time (since 2013) to see the new locks; a cruise we’ve booked that sails around the southern tip of South America (Cape Horn) in December, 2017: and of course, the Antarctica cruise in January, 2018.

Precious statue near the hotel pool.

Is there anywhere you’ve lived in these past four years that you didn’t enjoy?
“Marrakech, Morocco, two weeks would have been plenty, not two and a half months. The house and staff were great, but we felt trapped living inside the souk. Didn’t like the spicy food.”

Do you ever think about stopping this year’s long journey?..
“No, it never enters my mind. In this crazy world, we’d better hurry to see everything we want to see. Who knows what the future holds?”

Why did you shave the beard and the mustache?
“The beard was just a fluke to see if I could grow one. I found out I could. At night it was irritating on the pillow.When it needed a trim it was too difficult to do so I shaved off the beard and also the mustache. Jess likes me either way.”

There it is folks, all Tom has to say for now. Perhaps we can do this more often. I know many of our readers are curious as to what he thinks about living this peculiar life. Feel free to inquire by email or via comments at the end of any post.

Have a great day!

Photo from one year ago today, October 27, 2015:

Ratnesh took this photo of us, in from of the Vuadomo Waterfall. We were hot and sweaty, but the long trek was worth it!  For more photos, please click here.

More than we expected of Vietnam, fascination, awe and wonder…It has it all…Where does familiarity fall into the mix?

This, dear readers, so much bespeaks Vietnam in today’s world.

Yesterday afternoon, when we took off on foot from the hotel, we were excited to be walking. With the cruise officially starting tomorrow, I needed to get out walking to test how I’d do on the many upcoming treks over the next two weeks.

The streets are packed with locals, drinking famous Vietnamese coffee, tea while happily commiserating among friends.

Determined to be able to participate fully, we decided to walk until I couldn’t take another step which lasted nearly two hours. Not only was exercise my mission, but capturing as many possible photos to share here was on my mind.

Vendor cooking on the street with the barest of essentials.

It was raining off and on during the entire walk, although at no point were we soaked. There were plenty of overhangs and trees to shelter us during the downpours. We continued on when each block we explored provided its own unique flavor of Vietnam.

There are over 5 million motorbikes in Hanoi.  Walking across any road is challenging.

The sights, the sounds and the smells of lemongrass wafting through the air created a unique persona, unlike any we’ve experience anywhere else in the world. 

Colorful lanterns, balls, balloons and toys line the streets.

As we’ve begun to explore Southeast Asia in our worldwide travels, no doubt these assaults to our senses will become more familiar and less intoxicating. You know how it is…familiarity…well, in this case it doesn’t “breed contempt” as the saying goes. 

Folding cut paper art.

For us, it instills a familiarity that we incorporate into the vast experiences we glean in this special life we’ve chosen to live. Now, that I’m  feeling better and hopeful again for the future, I’ve become philosophical in the enormity of it all. 

We stopped in a tiny shop to find grandma aka, Bà nội  (in Vietnames) asleep on the floor.

This morning after breakfast on the elevator back up to our floor, Tom picked a tiny bit of food out of my hair and said, “I can’t take you anywhere!”  In a flash, he added, “But I take you everywhere!”

Vegetable in the basket of a shopper’s bicycle.

We both laughed over his usual instantaneous wit and…the irony of it all. We ask ourselves, “What are we doing in Vietnam in a five star hotel having the time of our lives…once again?” We’ll never become too familiar with the excitement and adventure to ever take it for granted.

Eggs tied the a motorbike handle for a hopefully safe trip home.

Last night during happy hour/buffet dinner in the Club Lounge we met a fabulous couple, Sally and Richard and their lovely teenage daughter Isabel, originally from the UK, currently living in Singapore, also with vast world travel experience. We joined them at their big booth for an outrageously delightful evening.

A Hoan Kiem lake and park across the road.

Within moments of engaging in light conversation, we all clicked and magic happened. The complimentary cocktails flowed (iced tea for me) along with the laughter and endless animated chatter. 

Ho Chi Minh artistic piece on an office building

It couldn’t have been more fun!  We’re planning to do the same again this evening, if time allows for all of us. If not, we leave behind one more memorable night in our ever growing repertoire of social interactions we’ll always treasure.

Many large beautiful trees remain in Hanoi.

Add what we’re finding so far during this short period in Hanoi and we’ll leave with a happy heart even before the cruise actually begins. Tonight at 5:00 pm, we’ll attend a Viking cruise meeting to get our bearings including a description of the itinerary and activities over the next many days.  With a maximum of only 60 passengers on the entire cruise/tour, it should be enjoyable in many ways.

An old woman selling fruit on the street.

We’ll be back with more photos tomorrow with an update on the timing for future posts based on the upcoming cruise/tour schedule. 

May familiarity enhance your day in many ways.

Photo from one year ago today, July 7, 2015:

A year ago today, we posted this photo of Nash’s remaining fuzz  which didn’t deter him from being ready to fledge out to sea. Only five months old, he’d yet to shed his chick fluff but the dark lined eyes were very grown up. Our friends in Kauai sent us videos of the  actual which we missed having left before the momentous events. For more photos and videos, please click here.

One week from today…Leaving Kauai!…A long haul in Paradise…Tom’s funny expression…Thrills?

Our favorite bird aptly named Birdie, lives in our yard with his significant other, waiting for us when we open the blinds in the morning and looking at us as we have dinner each night.

It’s hard to believe that we’d make a comment about being in paradise for too long. How can that be?

Looking back, we could have spent less time in Hawaii.  Good grief, we’ve been here for eight months, certainly long enough. At the time we booked the long stay we had two reasons to be in Hawaii; one, our family coming to Big Island for Christmas, and two, taking the cruise to Australia on May 24th from Honolulu. 

The waning sun at the overlook.

Those two reasons resulted in these required extra months with the remainder on the front end in Honolulu/Waikiki, Maui, and Big Island.

For some odd reason, we assumed time in the US would be useful while doing US-type things; doctor appointments, dentist appointments, and some arbitrary paperwork which we’ve discovered we can easily do while living in other countries. We’ve never had the doctor appointments (other than my recent illness which is slightly improved again today) or the dentist appointments we’d planned. We hope to do this in Australia.

The overlook last evening.
We’ve learned a valuable lesson to never spend a straight, four months in any one location. It’s just too long for us.  We aren’t staying long enough in any one location to feel totally settled in and we aren’t leaving soon enough to give us that feeling of excitement and adventure we both so crave.

Not to contradict ourselves, we must admit that we’re booked in Bali for four months total but, in two separate two-month stints, separated by over two months. Hopefully, that will work out well for us. But, let’s face it, whatever the circumstances, overall we always have a good time, even if the only friends we made were the household help, the non-English speaking butcher at the meat market, or if available nearby, the property owner or manager.

A miniature orchid, smaller than a dime, growing along the railing at the overlook.

We’ve managed to do well without a living room only sitting outdoors all day in 100-degree heat (38C); living in countries where no one speaks English and we never made friends; living in Marrakech a year ago in the confines of the riad, the souk and the Big Square with little else to do and now this extended period in Hawaii. 

It’s like everything else in life, too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing. Tom has an expression he uses from time to time: “The most beautiful woman you’ve ever laid eyes on, there’s some guy who’s sick and tired of her “sh_ _!” He always qualifies it by saying that it goes both ways when I eyeball an adorable muscular 20 something at the beach. 

This yellow flower is not much bigger to the eye than a pea. Zooming in to capture its beauty is exhilarating.

This always makes me laugh out loud including moments ago when I asked him to repeat it. This comment reminds me that no matter how beautiful and friendly Hawaii has been it’s not perfect for us for the long haul. 

Why are we living this crazy life anyway? We could say to enrich our knowledge and experience by exploring various parts of the world. We could say to expand our personal horizons in this final hurrah of our lives to become more well rounded. We could say it’s to stretch ourselves beyond the confines of our previously pleasant but mundane lifestyle.

A colorful sunset.
The reality? I say this with a little bit of trepidation over a possible backlash from the few naysayers and haters that lurk out there. WE DO IT FOR THE THRILL!

Yes, there is a thrill in stretching oneself beyond our limits; a 4×4 day-long adventure in the mountains of Iceland; cruising through pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Aden with specials forces on board; sitting in a tiny vehicle with 25 elephants blocking the road; dining at night in the bush with armed guards to protect us; standing outside for an hour and a half in the pouring rain in Versailles with no umbrella and yet a smile on our faces; taking the strenuous long trek to Petra to see The Treasury; chasing a fish truck up the steep road to ultimately catch it and buy an entire yellowfin tuna to watch the fisherman fillet it with a machete. We do it for these kinds of thrills.

Although this bloom appears to be a future flower its actually a growing leaf.

And then, there’s the joy and satisfaction of promoting local artists and businesses with positive reviews, stories, and photos posted here hoping that our worldwide readers will consider partaking of their services should they travel to their locations. We do it for these kinds of thrills.

Then, the other piece, however repetitive it may be for our less than interested readers, sharing our way of eating with information, links, books, and recipes, hoping that one person along the way may be able to make it work for themselves, relieving pain, improving health or eventually getting off or reducing the need for medications. We do it for these kinds of thrills.

Pretty flowers on a bush near the albatross.

We’re ready to move on from beautiful, magical, friendly Kauai. It’s been heavenly living on the Garden Island.  We’ve made many wonderful friends at social events we’ll always remember. We’ve loved watching the hatching and growth of the Laysan Albatross, a bonus we never expected. And, of course, we loved Birdie and the Redheads who’ve visited us several times a day singing their songs in an attempt to successfully gain our attention.

We move on with a sense of freedom and adventure knowing we gave Kauai everything we had to give and Kauai, in return, bestowed its wonder upon us.

Happy Saturday, worldwide friends! Thanks for hanging in there with us during this extended stay in Hawaii.  Soon, the thrills will escalate…

                                              Photo from one year ago today, May 16, 2014:

It was one year ago today that we were on the move from Marrakech, Morocco to Madeira, Portugal which resulted in a much more lengthy travel time than expected. Tom and Samir are shown in this photo wheeling our luggage at the airport. For details, please click here.

What, no oven?…We made an error in booking a future rental…

Two intertwined white Hibiscus flowers.

In this past week, amid all of our busy days and nights, we realized it was time to start preparing for the upcoming trip to Australia and the South Pacific. In the process, we reviewed the upcoming rentals over the next year to see if there were any issues we needed to address.

Kauai always presents a beautiful mountain view.

Disappointed that we missed it during the booking process, we discovered that there is no oven in the first house in Fiji. There’s only a built-in stove top. How did we fail to notice this when we carefully read every detail before booking any property?

I suppose it was not unlike when we booked the house in Kenya, we didn’t think of asking if there was an indoor living room or lounge area or indoor sofa (there was not). 

Hanalei Beach is seen from one of the wraparound lanais at the St. Regis Hotel, where we often walk.

As a result of our failure to ask if there was a living room, we spent three full months from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm sitting outdoors on the screen-less veranda, getting bitten by mosquitoes and other insects, carefully stepping over poisonous centipedes seven days a week in scorching humid heat. (This proved to be a good thing when it toughened us up for the remaining almost nine months In Africa).

Who ever thought of asking if there’s a living room? (It was so hot and humid that the zippers on our luggage turned green). We now ask or verify in photos that there’s an indoor lounge, salon or living room. Lesson learned.

There’s always something burning in that area.  We aren’t certain what it is.

We booked Fiji after the no-living-room-situation in Kenya. In the fuzzy photos we could barely see a modern kitchen with a built-in stovetop assuming that there was an oven below. We also observed a microwave on the countertop assuming if there’s a microwave, surely there’s an oven We’d never discussed anything about an oven.

Lo and behold, a few days ago upon further inspection on the website, and based on the fact we’ll be moving into that particular property on September 8th, a mere 4½ months from now, we carefully inspected the listing to discover that there’s no oven, no toaster oven, no convection oven.

Savusavu villa rental - very spacious living room with fully equipped kitchen and dining of Villa B.B.
The kitchen in Fiji is along the back wall.  Its easy to see how we could have missed noticing if there was an oven or not by looking at this fuzzy photo.  We’ve never been in a property with a stove top but no oven. As a result we “assumed” if there was a stovetop, surely there would be an oven. We learn as we go.

For some travelers, not having an oven would be no big deal. However, spending 89 days in a single location cooking most of our meals, we need an oven. Plain and simple. Our way of eating requires considerable cooking in an oven.

View to the sea over African Tulip trees.

First step, rather than panicking was to contact the property manager Mario, to ask a few questions about the lack of an oven:
1.  What would the on-site cook charge us (its a resort) to come get our prepared items, bake them for us in whatever kitchen she uses to prepare meals for guests and return it, ready to be eaten?
2.  Is there a portable convection oven anywhere on the grounds that we could  use or have in our house for the 89 days?

Mario, a most thoughtful and helpful property manager, immediately went to work on coming up with a solution when I kindly asked for his assistance or suggestions.

Within 12 hours, Mario got back to me. He went to town and purchased a full-sized stove/oven which will be hooked up awaiting our arrival in September! We were both shocked and extremely pleased by his generosity and thoughtfulness.

View from several stories above this beach at the St. Regis Hotel. Tom has verbal slips, often referring to this as the St. Frances Hotel. His sister Beth is a nun and her order is the St. Frances. How that trips up his brain makes me laugh!

We never expected this amazing solution, nor would we have backed out of our commitment to end up booking somewhere else with an oven. The deposit we’d paid to date was only $300 and if we were different people, we may have forfeited the $300 and moved on. There are other rentals in Fiji.

Backing out is not our style. Mario had locked up that property for us over a year ago for our three-month stay.  Leaving them in the lurch just isn’t our style. 

We would have learned to cook everything on the stove top. I even went as far as looking online to see if there was a way to bake a low carb pizza or low carb muffins atop the stove. A microwave just won’t cut it. 

A bit of ocean, mountain and vegetation create an exquisite view.

We use an oven almost everyday for something; baked eggs muffins, Tom’s blueberry scones, a roast, a whole chicken (all low carb, starch, sugar, and grain-free) and on and on. It would have been very limiting. Plus, there’s no grill available on the property which would have been a difficult but acceptable alternative.

This kind of attention to detail and desire to please the customer doesn’t occur without the utmost of appreciation and gratefulness on our part. He didn’t even ask for a portion of the balance of the rent in order to buy the oven which isn’t due for several weeks. Wow!

We stopped for a moment to savor the view as we wandered through St. Regis Hotel.

Did we learn a new lesson? Most certainly. Added to our list of other items to verify in the future is now an oven. Here’s are some of our considerations for all of our rentals:

1.  Wireless broadband, directly in the property. TV not required.
2.  A living room with sofa and/or comfortable chairs. 
3.  Ceiling fans or if not available, air conditioning in the bedroom for hot nights (we’ve never used it here in Kauai).
4.  A full kitchen with an oven and stove top.  Dishwasher not necessary.  Microwave optional. 
5.  Ideally, an ocean view or other significant view if the property is located in the interior.
6.  A table and chairs or counter top area for dining. 
7.  A coffee pot, a large bowl, dishes, pots and pans, kitchen utensils, and knives.
8.  Bath towels. Believe it or not, some properties advertise to “bring your own linen.” This doesn’t work for us. 
9.  Easy access to a washing machine. We don’t need a dryer, only a drying rack or clothesline. We prefer to avoid taking our laundry to a Laundromat.
10. Access to a grocery store within a 30-minute drive.
11. A parking spot if we have a rental car. (In Fiji, we’ll use a driver).
12. An outdoor area of some sort. A pool preferred, not necessary.
13. Access to a safe area for walks or walks along the beach.
14. A comfortable bed, preferably larger than double. In the past, we’ve managed with a double bed provided it has adequate pillows and comfortable, clean bedding. There’s no way to determine this until the first night’s sleep.  In these past few years, we’ve adapted to some horribly uncomfortable beds. If a problem arises, we don’t hesitate to address it with the property owner. In December, on the Big Island, the owner immediately replaced an awful bed and threadbare linen upon at our request.

The chandelier at St. Regis Hotel is not necessarily befitting this tropical environment.

Anything included beyond the above, is considered a bonus and in many cases when we’ve walked in the door of a new property, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by some extras we hadn’t expected; a laundry basket, cleaning supplies, a vacuum, a blender or an ice machine (as opposed to using ice cube trays which is most often the case).

When we look back at all the abundance in our old lives such as possessing every kitchen gadget known to woman/man or TV’s with DVRs, high definition all access cable channels, or comfortable chaise lounges on a sunny patio or an outdoor table and chairs with an umbrella, it’s easy to see how much we have changed.

View across an indoor water display at St. Regis Hotel.

We’ve lowered our expectations, not only in what amenities we’ll expect in a vacation home that we rent for a period of time or, in a hotel for one night or, even at a restaurant. There’s nothing more satisfying than a pleasant surprise.

On the other hand, we make every effort to prepare ourselves for potential disappointments by figuring out workarounds rather than whining and complaining for two to three months. 

These commonly seen bright balls grow on various palm trees as future leaves, not always flowers.

I’ll send this post to Mario to ensure he realizes how much we appreciate what he’s done for us and how much it means to our level of enjoyment and comfort while in Fiji. Thank you, Mario. We look forward to meeting you and Tatjana in September.

Have a thought-provoking Tuesday filled with solutions for what may keep you awake at night. I only had to think about an oven in the middle for one night, thanks to Mario.

                                             Photo from one year ago today, April 21, 2014:

On the rooftop of our riad in Marrakech, a small area was designated for the washer. With Madame Zahra and Ouimama doing our laundry, we never had to use it. Of course, as is the case in many countries, wet clothes are hung outdoors. For details and more photos of the riad, please click here.

Today, the vernal equinox for the Northern Hemisphere….Super moon and solar eclipse to boot! How weather and seasons determine our itinerary…

I took this photo a few minutes ago from our lanai. It’s been raining overnight and the waterfalls on the mountains are clearly visible. What a beautiful site!

Weather and seasons hold a tremendous significance for us in our world travels. Today, the first official day of spring is described as follows from the famous “Farmers Almanac” a reliable source of information used for the past over 200 years after its onset in 1792:

“Astronomically speaking, the March equinox occurs when the Sun crosses the celestial equator on its way north along the ecliptic.  In the Northern Hemisphere, the March equinox is known as the vernal, or spring, equinox, and marks the start of the spring season.

In the Southern Hemisphere, this equinox is known as the autumnal, or fall, equinox and marks the start of the fall season; the vernal equinox for the Southern Hemisphere occurs in September.
The March equinox happens at the same moment across the world, but is converted to local time. In 2015, it falls on March 20 at 6:45 P.M. EDT, 5:45 P.M. CDT, 4:45 P.M. MDT, and 3:45 P.M. PDT, for example.

Meteorologically speaking, however, in the Northern Hemisphere the official spring season always begins on March 1 and continues through May 31. Summer begins on June 1; autumn, September 1; and winter, December 1.

Weather scientists divide the year into quarters this way to make it easier to compare seasonal and monthly statistics from one year to the next. The meteorological seasons are based on annual temperature cycles rather than on the position of Earth in relation to the Sun, and they more closely follow the Gregorian calendar. Using the dates of the astronomical equinoxes and solstices for the seasons would present a statistical problem because these dates can vary slightly each year.”

On top of the vernal equinox is tonight’s super moon, as quoted from this website containing more information, EarthSky at this link:

“On March 20 – the same date as the 2015 March equinox – the moon turns new only 14 hours after reaching lunar perigee – moon’s closest point to Earth in its orbit. Thus, this moon is a supermoon – at the new phase – not visible in our sky, but having a larger-than-average effect on Earth’s oceans. Plus, this new supermoon swings right in front of the equinox sun on March 20, so that the moon’s shadow falls on parts of Earth. Follow the links below to learn more.”

Total eclipse of the sun on November 11, 2012. Image via NASA
Eclipse photo courtesy of NASA.

As we peruse upcoming options for various gaps in our schedule, seasons and their weather patterns are a tremendous factor in where we decide to go. With our upcoming two years, most of which is currently scheduled, we’ve begun to contemplate how we’ll fill a 67-day gap from June 26 to September 1, 2016.

As we inch closer to this gap which seemed so long away just a short time ago, we begin to start reviewing our options. This is the gap between our two bookings in Bali, Indonesia for the house we wanted for four months total, in two increments of two months each, the maximum allowable time for a visa in that country.

This morning as the sun was attempting to peek out between the cloud cover.

Looking at a map as to where we could easily and quickly fly from Bali, there are numerous options at affordable fares. However, the weather is a factor. If we go back to Australia, we’d have to stay in the northern part of the continent to avoid the colder south with temperatures in the near-freezing range, not appealing to us.

As much as we’d like to return to New Zealand to the south island, the weather is definitely a consideration, when it tends to be cooler there most of the time based on its southern proximity. 

All of these factors weigh heavily as we contemplate our next bookings. Any suggestions from our readers would be greatly appreciated, keeping in mind wherever we go we’d like to stay in one property and, prefer warm weather. Feel free to email or post a comment or suggestion at the end of today’s post. 
Julie had the triple crab cake sandwiches on sweet Hawaiian bread.

Julie leaves tonight. We’ve so enjoyed the time together for the three of us and for she and I alone, sisters sharing great memories, private thoughts and hopes, and dreams, as sisters often do. I’m truly blessed to have my two sisters. As the one in the middle, Julie eight years younger than I, and Susan, four years older, we’ve always stayed in close touch and have been there for one another.

Yesterday, Julie and I had a delicious lunch at the Princeville Westin. This was my bacon burger which included a small side salad.

Tom and I will settle back into our easy pleasant lifestyle filled with social activities (more tomorrow night), sightseeing, visits to the club, and hanging out frequently with our dear friend Richard, our personal social director.

We still have many photos yet to share of my tours with Julie over these past eight days. Please check back for more.

Have a rewarding weekend beginning on this first day of spring.

                                            Photo from one year ago today, March 20, 2014:

We still laugh over our faux pas. On our way out to lunch, we approached the guard at this interesting building asking if we could look inside. The guards said, “No Madam, this is the palace of the king.” For details from this date, please click here.

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.

I forgot to upload this travel day post last night!…Written at the airport in Boston when heading to Vancouver…What’s the deal with that?

Oh, good grief.  I’m bombarding our readers with posts. I wrote this at the airport in Boston and was sidetracked when we didn’t get in until late and I was falling asleep in the taxi on the way to our hotel.  So here is the travel day post, minus photos (sorry about that). Tomorrow morning or at your familiar usual time if outside the US, you’ll see a new post with many photos and more each morning thereafter.

Misty cloudy day view over downtown Vancouver.

Yesterday’s check-in at Logan International Airport in Boston was a breeze. We had to walk through the “naked scanner” and take off our shoes. I was frisked and Tom wasn’t. My solitary large handbag was carefully scrutinized when its weight raised a red flag.

Once again, after all of our efforts to reduce our load, we still had to pay US $100 for 12 pounds in overweight luggage for my large suitcase. I can’t imagine what 12 pounds I’m willing to kiss goodbye. Every item in that bag has an important purpose.

Before we fly again from Oahu to Maui, Hawaii on October 16th, I’ll have figured something out. Tom says it, “Goes with the territory” and not to worry. I just don’t like throwing money away. 

Otherwise, the curbside check-in was painless when we’d already paid US $120 for our two large and two small bags. Our luggage for this leg was US $220 for a one-way flight. So it goes.

With 90 minutes remaining until time to board the plane, we sat at the gate, our mugs in hand while using the MiFi (handy little gadget). Since we can’t carry heavy books and our phone’s batteries seem to die quickly when we’re reading for a few hours, our laptops are always the best option for staying entertained when a wait is for an hour or more.

How did we like being back in the US? We have mixed feelings. Some things were odd to us, such as the low toilets everywhere. We’ve never experienced low toilets anywhere we traveled. Sitting down and getting up was comparable to doing deep lunges. Our knees cracked. What’s the deal with that? 

When we went to the post office a few days ago we felt as if we were from another planet. How quickly we forget simple procedures that were familiar to us in the long ago past.

The menus in restaurants blew us away. How fun was it that they were in English. The number of choices and sizes of portions was mind boggling along with the English speaking servers committed to providing great service and expecting 15% to 20% in tips.

As we drove to pick up Uncle Bernie and Phyllis on Tuesday, we couldn’t believe how many stores and shops lined the boulevards, one after another, every possible store one could imagine. We gawked in childlike wonder at it all.

People were very kind in Boston and yet we heard people yelling at one another on the street, something we hadn’t seen witnessed since Turkey in June 2013. What’s the deal with that?

In a perpetual state of observation, we are reminded of how much “excess” there is in the US; big, better, safer, nicer, easier.

To our surprise, we never watched TV in our hotel room in Boston. In about half of our vacation homes, there have been TVs with only one or two English speaking news channels, mostly BBC news. Overall, I suppose we’ve lost interest in channel surfing instead, watching a few recorded shows on occasion on our own timeline.

Hawaii will be less of a location of “excess” when everything is imported and prices are high. Other than our 11 nights in Waikiki, Oahu upcoming on October 5th, our vacation rentals are in quieter, less “touristy” areas of Maui, Big Island, and Kauai.

The three days in Boston were unquestionably a culture shock for us which is surprising after our relatively short time away. In our old house, we’d remodeled our kitchen in 2004. The placement of the kitchen door had changed. At the time we had two Australian Terriers, Ben and Willie. 

Willie, the younger of the two, easily adapted to the location of the new door. But, Ben, the old timer, would stand at the blank exterior outdoor wall exactly where to door used to be, tapping the siding to get us to open the invisible door. 

We howled when this went on for weeks. We’re like Ben, scratching at a blank wall, assuming that everything should be as it was. It’s not. We change. Things change. Somehow we adapt. We create new ways of living our lives, regardless of how old we may be or how many habits we have ingrained into our way of life.

What’s the deal with that?

                                           Photo from one year ago, September 18, 2013:

On this date one year ago, while living in Kenya, we had a small dinner party for Hans and Jeri. We had a wonderful dinner in our outdoor living room. For details of that date, please click here.

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.

In the process of wrapping up rentals in Australia and the South Pacific…Photos coming soon…

The blooming season for flowers is fading at this time of the season.

Although, it may seem as if we’ve been searching for a home in Australia for only a short period, over the past month we actually spent many days wrapped up in intense research. There are literally tens of thousands of listings throughout Australia on numerous vacation rental websites.

The owners are sending us their photos this weekend when they are off work and we’ll post them as soon as they arrive.

A hibiscus.

With the poor real estate market worldwide, many frustrated homeowners have turned their homes that didn’t sell into vacation homes listing them with one or more of the many vacation rental sites.  

With our cruise ship at sea for 18 days sailing from Oahu, Hawaii to Sydney, Australia in less than a year, arriving on June 11, 2015, we’ve been determined to find an affordable home with an ocean view on what appears to be a very expensive Australia.

Most homes on the island have a view or a partial view of the ocean.

Not having a home booked a year out can be cause for concern when one has no home at all. By no means, do we panic. Knowing that we have a place to live in a year definitely provides a degree of peace of mind.

I realized I’ve mentioned this in the past, but some of our readers have inquired as to why we book properties so far in advance. Why not “wing it?” For us, the answer is clear: Would you wait to book a long term holiday/vacation at the last minute expecting to get what you want, where you want, during the season you want, and for a price you want? Probably not. That’s our reason. Plain and simple. 

Is this a papaya tree?

As we peruse properties booked on owner’s calendars, often kept up to date on the various websites, it’s easy to see how quickly the properties are snapped up. Waiting until a few months prior to the time we’d need it, results in slim pickings and overpriced “leftovers.” Even in this poor economy, people are still traveling.

Over the past few days, we’ve begun the process of firming up rental agreements, paying deposits, and logging all the information on our spreadsheets, backing everything up on the cloud, the hard drive, and both computers, one means of backing up after another.

A scene from our veranda at sunset.

By the end of this week, we’ll be booked out all the way to March 4, 2016, which sounds like a long way out but it’s in only 21 months, about the same amount of time since we left Minnesota. 

Some vacation rentals require payment in for the entire rental period, others require half and a few are content with a small token amount deposit. Since at this time, we’re booking for almost a year beginning in June 2015, the outlay is more than we would have liked at this time. 

Another view from the cliffs.

Of course, once we arrive at each location, it’s satisfying to be paid up but then, we begin paying deposits on future homes so it’s all a wash. The odd part is paying one’s rent a year in advance is required as we travel.

After these past several days, we have two definite rentals, one of which we’ll share over the weekend with photos and the other which we’ll share in a few days, once the deposit has been received. We’re awaiting the app the manager uses in which we can pay the deposit using a credit card

It’s not easy to identify some of the unfamiliar vegetation when we can’t ask to find anyone to ask that speaks English.

It is imperative to pay deposits and balances using a credit card.  If one of the rentals proves to be a scam, at least with a credit card, there are some means of recourse. Some property manager/owners require wire transfers of which we’d done a few at the beginning of booking our travels but no longer do under any circumstances.  

We were lucky not to experience any issues as a result of doing this but, we’ve learned a valuable lesson. If a property owner has no means of by which we can use a credit card, we’ll pay using PayPal. 

PayPal is simple. With one’s own account linked to credit cards, PayPal’s secure site, we simply send the payment to the manager’s email address. Once they receive it they open their own PayPal account (easy), entering their bank account number and the routing number of their bank. 

Surely, these must be grapes. 

Once completed, the funds go directly into their bank account, available to them in approximately three to four days. Once we send the payment through PayPal, the funds are immediately charged to our credit card on file with PayPal.

There are fees associated with PayPal. If the manager/owner has discounted the rent for us due to our long term rentals, we pay the fees. The house we booked in Trinity Beach, Australia is signed, sealed, and delivered and had PayPal fees of US $98 which we gladly paid.

A garden flourishing in the temperate weather and occasional rain.

Although we’d ideally like to share our negotiated rental amount on each property, we only do this if we paid “full price” which is listed anyway, online at the link we post for the rental. 

More times than not, we receive a good discount due to two factors: one, the length of our stay; two, the fact that we’ll be promoting their property over and over again through our posts. With our readership fast approaching 200,000 worldwide, this can provide them with future rentals.

A tiny house tucked away in the vegetation.

If we were to post our discounted price, this may have bearing on the manager/owner future, shorter-term rentals. If a prospective renter chooses to book it the property they may be expecting to pay the same amount that we negotiated based on these two unique factors.

In any case, once we leave a property, we always post our total costs for our entire period while living in the rental including; rent, the rental car or taxi fares, groceries, dining out, entertainment, tips, fees, and taxes. If you’re curious about any specific costs, please email me directly.

I was so excited to see this cute kitten on our stone wall that I failed to hold the camera steady when taking what could have been adorable.  Shucks!

Please check back for photos and details of our future rentals over the next week or so, as we continue to wrap up details. We’re very excited about finding these wonderful properties and equally excited to share them here with all of our readers!

Last night when Tom came to bed his head hit the pillow and he said, “Safari luck!”  I agreed, falling to sleep with a smile on my face.

Photo from one year ago today, June 26, 2013:

We took a road trip from our home in Boveglio to the village of Bagni de Lucca driving across this narrow bridge to the town’s center. For details of the story with more photos, please click here.