Spring Fling #6 Cadìz, Spain and our First Flamenco

Cadìz is arguably the oldest inhabited city in western Europe.  The history is authenticated from 1104 BC.   It was inhabited first by the Phonecians, then the Carthaginians (beginning in 530 BC) Romans (beginning in 49 BC),  Moors (beginning in 711 AD) and Christians (beginning in 1264 AD).  Cadìz has been ruled primarily by Spain and its predecessors but was sought by the English, French and Dutch.

Cadìz sits on a small peninsula just west of the Mediterranean Sea and was an important port for trade and defense.

Cadìz is famous for the Watchtowers that were so important for shipping and times of battle.

The oldest walls in the city are from 800 BC.

These walls from the Islamic era.  

Walls of past eras were made from ostionera stone – a combination of crushed shells and small stones.

Cities in the Mediterranean region were built with narrow streets and buildings several stories high. .  This allows for shade and a cooling wind tunnel through the streets.

This pup was happy to greet us as we walked the narrow streets of Cadìz.

During the early 19th century, Cádiz was a stronghold for Spain’s anti-monarchist, liberal movement. A significant protest was held at the town hall in 1799.  As a result Cadìz was the site of the declaration of Spain’s first constitution in 1812.

This is the “Catedral de CadÌz”, begun in 1722 and completed in 1838.  It is called the new cathedral because the 15th century cathedral was destroyed during a battle with the Dutch.

It is also called the Cathedral of the Americas because the wealth to build the cathedral was gained through trade with the new world.  The outside dome was gold so sailors could see it from a distance.

The Choir was built of the oak from ships, mostly from the Americas.

The organ is from the fifteenth century. 

This is the main branch of the cathedral.

This is the central altar. Mass is still celebrated in the cathedral.

The cathedral has 16 side chapels. 

There is a crypt underneath the Catedral de Cadìz.  Among many entombed, the crypt of Manuel de Falla is highlighted.  He was a Spanish composer who was born in Cadìz.  He died in Argentina but was returned to CadÌz.  

Manuel de Falla was important enough that he was on the 100 Pesatas currency of Spain.

Cadìz is in the Andalusia region along the southwest coast of Spain, one of seventeen autonomous regions. Andalusia is the second largest and most populous region of Spain.

Cadìz is in one of the warmest areas of Spain along the southern coast. Bitter Oranges, also called Seville Oranges, were grown along the roads for their beauty. A market developed as they are exported to Britain for Orange Marmalade 

This area of Spain is famous for sherry.  We had our opportunity to try local sherry when we went to a Flamenco Show.  The sherry was served with a variety of tapas (meats, cheeses, small egg dish) and all were delicious.

We enjoyed the Flamenco way more than we expected to.  We consider it a whole trip highlight.  This group included a guitarist, singer and male and female dancers. 

The expressions on the face of the dancers were so intense.  We had the good fortune to sit very close and we could see how hard they worked to entertain us.

There is one more thing the guide made sure we knew about Cadìz.  The James Bond film Die Another Day was filmed here.  If you are a fan of Bond movies, you may remember the beach scene when Halle Berry came up out of the water.  It was filmed on the beach near the port for our ship.

We loved this port in Spain.  We have several more coming up. The next is Malaga.

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Spring Fling #5: Ceuta – Is it Spain? Is it Africa? It’s Both!

When we purchased our transatlantic cruise, it included ports of Gibraltar and Monte Carlo.  However, we knew before we left home that those had been substituted out and our new ports were Cueta, Spanish Morocco and Nice, France.

Flexibility is required in travel. I didn’t care about Monte Carlo but I sure wanted to go to Gibraltar. 

We sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar, and past the Rock of Gibraltar on the port side.  We would pass it two more times as we went back out and in again over the next couple days.

The Rock of Gibraltar – maybe next time.

It was interesting to learn that Ceuta is one of two Spanish cities in Africa, the other is Melilla further to the east.

Ceuta was settled in the 7th century BC by the Phoenicians. It provided them strategic advantages due to the narrow strait. It later came under Roman and then Muslim rule.  Ceuta was conquered by Portugal in 1415.

Portugal and Spain were joined in 1580 for an unhappy 60 years. When they separated the citizens of Ceuta had the opportunity to choose whether they wanted to be part of Portugal or part of Spain.  They chose Spain and that was completed in 1668.  A Spanish monarch finally visited Ceuta in 1975 and then again in 2008.

We took a boat trip through the royal moat.  The left side was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese.   The right side was built by Spain in the 18th century.

We saw people “weeding” the moat.

And another kayaking the moat.

As we left the old part of Ceuta, we went by this sports complex showing Olympic Rings  Ceuta has had two Olympic medalists, one male and one female, both medaling in water polo in different games. 

We traveled out into the bay.   From there we could see Morocco in the distance.  There used to be a lot of daily travel back and forth but that has not occurred with COVID restrictions. Our tour guide said she worried about the Moroccan lady who works for her and wonders how she is getting by.

We could see this fortress on the hill.  In the past, if danger was present, someone would set fires to alert the people below.  In more recent years it was a prison and now a military post.

Ceuta Cathedral from the water.

We sailed back into the moat to have our land tour.

We went to Plaza de Africa.  It had all the power centers, the government, the military and the church.

This church is from the 18 century, built by the Portuguese.  It went through refurbishment in 2002.

This staff was held by the original Portuguese governor when he declared his rule in the 15th century.

The Inside.

We walked a bit and found the Casa de los Dragones. It was built in 1905, a mere youngin’ but fun.  The dragons were originally made of bronze and were removed in 1925. New lighter dragons were installed in 2006.

We saw the Ceuta Cathedral from land. It had a similar look to the nearby church on the Plaza de Africa but was much larger.

The inside of the cathedral.

The Pillars of Hercules – Hercules is separating the land to form the Strait of Gibraltar. 

Ahhh.  There is our ship, the Nieuw Statendam.  A welcome sight after a good day of touring in Ceuta, Spanish Morocco, Africa. Our very first time to Africa!

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Spring Fling #4: The Azores

The Azores are a group of islands spanning a length of 373 miles.  The islands formed 50,000 years ago through volcanic eruption. Ten major islands surfaced and two were later joined through another eruption, leaving nine primary islands in the archipelago. The Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, are 2100 miles from the US mainland and 900 miles from mainland Portugal. 

Flag of Portugal

Discovered in 1427 and settled in 1432, the primary language is Portuguese. The Azores dialect sounds slightly French because of the people who left Britannia during the Napoleon wars.

It took us six sea days to reach our first port –  Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel, The Azores, Portugal. 

The currency in the Azores is the Euro and we exchanged money on the ship.  This is really only a small sample of the denominations we eventually used both in bills and coin.  There are a lot!

As we were entering port, our captain commented on this ship, the Borealis of the Fred Olsen line.  She was launched in 1996 and christened in 1997 as part of the Holland America fleet.  She was the sixth ship in the line named the Rotterdam.  This ship was sold when the newest Rotterdam was planned.  The new, seventh, Rotterdam was in Fort Lauderdale with us and was in sight for much of of our journey across the Atlantic.

Our feet touched land for the first time in almost a week and we joined our guided tour – destination the Sete Cidades Crater.

However our first stop was at the A. Arruda pineapple plantation.  Originally brought from Brazil, pineapples are grown here in glass greenhouses.  A crop takes two years to grow as compared to six months in Brazil.

Smoke pots trick the plants to grow faster.

We tasted pineapple liquor. It was good.

On the drive up to the caldera crater, our tour guide told us a variety of things about his homeland.  

There are no snakes on the islands, but there are ferrets, weasels and rats.  They were stowaways on ships through time.

In the lush lands, they are able to grow food and sustain cattle.  As a result the Azores do not generally import foodstuffs.

Education for kindergarten through university is free.  All majors are available on the islands. Engineering, Medical and Law students transfer to the mainland to complete advanced degrees.

The United States still has an Air Force Base in the Azores, Lejes Field.

There are commercial flights from Boston every day.

At the top, we parked near to this abandoned hotel.   Built in the late 1980s, the Hotel Monte Palace was a five star resort and voted the best in Portugal, but lasted only eighteen months. It just couldn’t succeed financially.  The drab concrete seems like it could be featured on the TV show Mysteries of the Abandoned.

Just steps away was a viewpoint for Sete Cidades Crater.  We visited on an overcast day and, although still beautiful and lush, we didn’t see the lakes when the color differential was most vibrant.

This is a picture of an advertising photograph.

We passed another beautiful little lake on the way down into the caldera.

We journeyed to the town at the bottom and explored a bit.   There is always a church!

And there was food. This is fast food pizza – Azores style. It was okay, but cold. We didn’t know it then but it was foretaste of the challenge to come for us regarding the temperature of food in Spain and Italy.

After a good tour we had some time on our own at the port.  We walked to the Military Museum of the Azores, housed in the Fortress of Sao Bras  – a Renaissance military fortification.    

There were many interesting displays and objects throughout the museum,

The military objects and equipment spanned centuries.  We looked around and learned what we could but very few placards had information in English.

The Fortress had some lovely views.

After two more sea days we were to the part of the cruise that has a new port almost daily. Next up: Cueta, Spanish Morocco.

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Spring Fling #3: Entertainment and Covid

If Entertainment and Covid seems an odd title, it is unfortunately fitting. We first suspected that something was going on when the entertainment we could see scheduled out days ahead started changing.   

We had gone through pretty rigorous requirements to get on the ship including vaccinations and boosters, a Covid test a few days prior and then one more surprise test before we boarded.  Signs all over the ship indicated wearing masks was recommended and many passengers did. The ship’s crew always wore masks.  Cleaning measures were evident everywhere.

Yet, about a week into our cruise passengers received a letter saying that Covid was on the ship and involved a small number of passengers and crew. They indicated contact tracing had been done and all involved people were in quarantine.

This door was near our cabin area on Deck 4. Behind it was about a dozen quarantine cabins. We occasionally saw a crew member going in to clean.

So, given the addition of Covid, the changing entertainment schedule made sense. However, the musicians and entertainers covered and modified their programs and schedules. There was only one night in 21 that we had nothing to see on the main stage.

Shows included the ship’s featured dancers who integrated the circular stage with surrounding screens and lights so well!   The dancers did three shows in repertoire and we saw each of them over the course of our lengthy cruise.  Unfortunately, no photographs allowed. 

We also had shows by The Runaround Kids featuring 50s and 60s music.  They were excellent, even missing one band member who had been delayed.  The missing musician eventually made it on board and we enjoyed their second show as well.

World renown pianist, Tian Jiang, entertained us first in a solo performance and later in a concert including a few of the ship’s musicians.   It is common for performers such as Tian Jiang to sign on for a cruise or two to provide entertainment.

The ship’s resident musicians, in four different groupings, work along the Music Walk.  Three venues along the “walk” rotate their 30 minute shows each night and are rarely competing against each other.  

We went to Billboard Onboard a few times. It featured two pianists doing shows like Never #1 – a playlist of songs we all know well, but never made it to number one in the charts.  Across the hall was the Rolling Stones tribute band which was not our favorite. 

We went to BB Kings Blues Club a lot – the timing of their shows typically was right after the main stage show finished and it was a natural fit.  Over the course of 21 days we saw some of their sets multiple times.  There were usually 6-7 people on stage and a variety of passengers dancing.  

Sharing the same space as the BB Kings Blues Club was the Lincoln Center Stage.  Watching the transformation from one venue to the other was also interesting.    

The classical music quartet playing on the Lincoln Center Stage became one of Randy’s favorites and he could often be found there in the late afternoon.  

The Lincoln Center Stage players featured a piano, viola, cello and violin.  They also accompanied main stage productions of BBC Earth in Concert.  These shows were spectacular with visual beauty on the many screens of the main stage and the group’s music accentuating the show.

Randy went to a “meet the artists” talk for the Lincoln Center Stage group where they told about their process of coming to the Nieuw Statendam.   Musicians sent in audition tapes to Holland America from all around the world.  Some were selected to gather in New York City for auditions.  Those that were selected to be ship musicians were then put into groups.  They spent a couple weeks together learning the programs that are played across the Holland America fleet.  

The four that became the Nieuw Statendam classical musicians did not know each other prior to being chosen to play together.  The pianist is from Israel, the viola player is from Finland and the other two are American.  Although we don’t know for sure, we assume the assemblage of dancers and musicians for the other entertainment venues was similar.

We enjoyed almost all of the ship’s entertainment – there was a soprano and an illusionist that didn’t do it for us but that was a result of our taste, not a lack talent on their part.  But there was one thing we missed.

The piano sits quiet.

Every other cruise we have been on had a prominent piano bar experience.  The late afternoon drinks in the piano bar have been memorable on so many of our previous trips. I discovered chocolate martinis in one of those piano bars!   That just didn’t happen with regularity on this ship, or when a session was scheduled, it interfered with early seating dinner in the dining room.

We had appreciated the move by cruise lines to adopt anytime dining – where you go eat where you want when you want.  That sounds good in theory but if everyone else wants to go to the dining room at 6:30 there is a line to contend with and you take what you get regarding sitting alone or with others.   

Meeting others over a meal used to be enjoyable but in a Covid world we were hesitant. We were also hesitant because of “old white guy syndrome” that illusion that everyone wants to know what they think about everything – including US politics in the middle of the dang Atlantic Ocean. We wanted to avoid that situation so we always requested a table for two. (Others were avoiding it too because tables for eight gradually became the guy and his wife sitting alone at a large table.)

Shout out to the soup chef on the Nieuw Statendam. The soup was always excellent and frequently my favorite part of the meal.

The alternative to anytime dining is to make a reservation or have early or late seating at a specific table with consistent waiters.  About halfway through our cruise we made a reservation and happily landed at Anthony and Loki’s table.   We enjoyed them very much and decided to switch to early seating at one of their tables every night going forward.  It became something to look forward to.

Anthony (center) is a Holland America Cruise Line veteran waiter and has decades under his belt.  We are going on another cruise on the Nieuw Statendam later this year and will request early sitting dining at one of his tables.

Loki has many fewer years in service but is wonderful and engaging. It was so interesting to learn about his family and how they manage his time away on contract.  His wife and two children live in an area with extended family support and Loki is able to FaceTime with his kids at the conclusion of his day which is the beginning of their day. Face time, or similar, is such a great option for a dad trying to keep in contact with his kids.

Of course, as the ship changes locations, Loki’s time to contact his kids changes.  From the Caribbean towards the Mediterranean, we “lost” an hour every other day.  That had little effect on our relaxed sea day routines but did impact our sleep.

Our Phoenix Suns, as well as the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks were also entertainment of interest and, depending on where the games were played and how far across the Atlantic we had traveled, the radio cast was anytime from late in the evening to the middle of the night to very early the next morning.  Several times one of us would wake up in the middle of the night, check a score, and be awake for hours.  They were sea days – it worked.

Our middle of the night listening had to change when we started having port days.   Next blog  – Our first port in the Azores.

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Spring Fling #2: Those Sensational Sea Days

Our 21 day cruise started with six straight sea days. Actually it was eight out of the first nine days on board the Nieuw Statendam.  That allows for a lot of sea day activities and for sea day routines to develop.

We each spent a lot of time sitting on our balcony looking out at the sea. Sometimes we’d see other cruise ships on our same general transatlantic route or a cargo ship. Usually it was just wide open sea.

Each day with decent weather we would walk round and round the promenade deck enjoying our podcasts or audiobooks while looking out to see what we could see. This is a photo through one of the deck openings although there was lots of open viewing. One day we saw whales on the port side! Other people reported seeing dolphins but we never did.

One day we walked On Deck for a Cause with about thirty other passengers as a fund raiser for Ukrainian Refugees.

We got into the flow of going to whatever educational, interest, or entertainment activities were available on the ship each day.

This is a picture of lecturer Andy. We both went to his first lecture involving science, space, physics and DNA. That was the last lecture I attended because those topics just aren’t my thing, however, Randy was hooked. Andy lectured almost every day and then had question and answer sessions each afternoon. It was rare for Randy to miss a session.

I attended lots of other presentations including cooking demonstrations, an executive talk about Marconi’s development of the long distance telegraph, Pirates, Dressing Italian, and information about future ports.

Some of the presentations were of interest to us both. One was about women on the Nieuw Statendam. Five departments on the ship are led by women including Finance, Entertainment, Housekeeping, Shore Excursions and Cruise Director. The above photo shows Shore Excursions Director Diamente, and Executive Housekeeper Sonia being interviewed by Cruise Director Stephanie.

Diamante, Shore Excursion Manager, leads a team of five.  She is responsible for the operation of shore excursions for each port including ticketing, coordinating transportation, food availability, and arrangements.   She researches and gives port presentations to passengers.

Sonia reported that she has 152 positions under her management including tailors, laundry staff (for 24 hours per day operations), cabin stewards, and ship-wide cleaners. Contracts in housekeeping are eight to nine months in length. Sonia started her career at another cruise ship company and held all housekeeping positions at one time or another.

Two crew members on Sonia’s staff were Risman and Fatkhu – our awesome cabin stewards.

When asked if she, as a woman, had any problems leading the housekeeping group, Sonia said the mostly Asian men on her staff initially had difficulty reporting to a woman as that is not part of their culture. Sonia, a Latina, said “For a woman, nothing is impossible.” That remained true when she and twelve of her crew were tasked with maintaining the interior of the ship during the 18 month pandemic pause.

Stephanie reported that industry-wide, most cruise directors are young, white and male.  She made the point that she is none of those.  Stephanie came to the cruise industry just a few years ago after a career in the entertainment industry.  She coordinated her team, did multiple ship announcements daily, held informational discussions on sea days and introduced entertainment.  (Two thirds of the way through our cruise, another female cruise director came on without passengers being told Stephanie was going off contract.  That seemed strange but the new cruise director, Betty Ann, was great.)

In another presentation we learned about the history of the Holland America Line.  We learned how the line reinvented itself time and time again in response to world events. 

One in ten immigrants came to America on a Holland Ship.  Unlike other lines, they offered immigrants temporary housing in Rotterdam while awaiting passage and three meals a day while on the ship.

During war time, Holland ships were used as troop transports and hospitals. That kind of use continued recently when the Volendam, which had been in dry-dock, was used to house Ukrainian refugees. The fleet has only recently returned to full use.

Holland was the cruise line that developed the Alaskan cruise and the infrastructure supporting it. That new focus saved the company at a time when its survival was in question.

A presentation we went to twice was the Captain’s Question and Answer session. Captain Noel O’Driscoll was the best. He had a great sense of humor and we enjoyed the noon updates everyday in his Irish lilt. He felt very approachable when we saw him around the ship. Captain O’Driscoll joined Holland America Line in 1999 and became captain in 2013.

The Nieuw Statendam went under contract in Italy in 2015. The keel was laid in March of 2017 and it was delivered to Holland America Line in November of 2018. The ship weighs 99,902 tons although the captain likes to round up to 100,000 tons. The anchor weighs 26,000 pounds and has 1000 feet of chain.

One of the Captain’s Q & A presentations included his Chief of Engineering. The Chief Engineer leads a team of 72 people responsible for maintenance and propulsion.

Ship stabilizers reduce roll by 81 percent and three engines pull the ship along, not push it. There are actually four engines, each the size of a bus, with each engine capable of 18,800 horse power. Only three are ever in use at the same time. A rotation keeps all engines active and in good repair. The ship’s maximum speed is 22 knots but we usually saw 16-19 knots.

The engine room is manned 24 hours a day and has stations for propulsion and hotel services. Hotel services include electricity, water, steam heat and environmental. Air is filtered and UV treated as it goes in and out of each cabin through the AC system. Two water makers produce 2500 tons of water daily. Waste water is treated on the ship and is clean enough to be drinking water before it is dispersed.

The ship is able to connect to shore power to reduce emissions – a procedure the Nieuw Statendam has only been able to do once. That was in Norway but more opportunities are coming with improvement in port infrastructure.

Also coming soon on the Holland America Line – a female captain! Although not on this ship, there are two Staff Captains (second in command) within the company.

Our transatlantic cruise (the first fourteen days) was at 60 percent passenger capacity, and cost $1.1 million in fuel.  

There are 44 different countries represented on the crew.  Holland tries hard to take care of its crew offering Indonesian, Philipino and Western foods.  Recycling efforts support the Team Member Recreation fund.  

The crew usually numbers just over 1000 to care for the ship and 2600 passengers.  During the pandemic a crew of 99 stayed aboard – including the twelve I wrote about earlier. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Holland America spent a month getting every single passenger home and an additional three months getting every crew member home. Many cruise ships hung out in Manila Bay for 18 months waiting for a resumption of travel. That also kept them close to much of their crew. Most Holland America crew members returned when operations resumed. The process of gathering crew, mostly previously employees, took three months.

This really isn’t meant to be a Holland America commercial but everything we learned and experienced during our 21 day cruise made us happy enough that HAL has become our cruise line of choice.

Next time:  The entertainment on Nieuw Statendam during our cruise and… COVID arrives.

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Spring Fling: Embarkation

We recently returned from spending five weeks on a rather significant trip – a 21 day transatlantic cruise from Florida to Rome and then a two-week land tour of Italy.  Without hesitation, we declare it a wonderful trip.  We saw and learned so much. We were happy enough and busy enough that our thoughts turned homeward only in the last few days of the five weeks.

This trip was a second or third iteration of pre-Covid travel plans. Even until the last day, we were not certain it would really happen.

Because I planned to write about the trip,  I took notes along the way.  Putting our memories on the blog will give us an opportunity to remember.   I am assuming this will be a summer project because there is a lot to unpack and revisit.   Spoiler Alert:  There are a few cathedrals coming!

So –  

“Andiamo, guys”   (“Let’s go”  in Italian and a favorite phrase of Fabrizio, our guide)

As Randy and I have come to love cruising, we have grown to really, really like sea days – those days when you don’t have a port to visit.  We enjoy the extra activities on the ship and just sitting on our balcony watching the sea go by.  (Balconies are required in our opinion.)  

As such, we were booked on a transatlantic cruise where our ship was transitioning from Caribbean season to Mediterranean season. We were set to sail on a Sunday in April from Florida and were required to have documentation of vaccinations and boosters, and a negative Covid test within three days.  All of that was accomplished and we flew uneventfully to Fort Lauderdale the day prior to boarding.  

Usually embarkation goes very well for cruise lines but nothing is predictable in a Covid world.  The lines were very long for several ships – ours included.  We never learned exactly why but an additional Covid test certainly was a contributing factor!

None of our ship embarkation documentation or any research I did on-line prior to the cruise indicated there would be an additional test.   We were put into groups of about 30, tested, and then seated in a very large holding area until our results were known.  As we heard different groups called, most were told to proceed. We believe that meant everyone in that group passed the last hurdle.  Occasionally, there would be a hold up with a group, presumably because someone failed, or had to be retested.

Our group was eventually cleared (after 20 minutes) and told to proceed. As a result – once we finally got on board, we felt good about the safety precautions and the health of our fellow passengers. Masks were recommended in the communal areas and we usually wore ours.

This is our ship – The Nieuw Statendam, a member of the Holland America Line.  We have sailed a number of cruise lines but generally seem to gravitate back to Holland.

This is our cabin.  Cabins are similar industry wide but this one had an exceptionally efficient bathroom that I did not take a picture of.

Our cabin had a larger balcony than normal. I know it looks small, but trust me, it is twice as deep as most. We had sky above the outer half instead of just the balcony floor above. Research matters and I knew what to ask for when booking.  Sections of Deck 4, some port-side, some starboard, some forward and some aft, have extra large balconies.  We were starboard aft.

Holland America Ships all have a godmother – many from the monarchy of the Netherlands.  A few are from other areas of life including the Olson Twins and Oprah Winfrey.    Oprah Winfrey is godmother of the Nieuw Statendam.

We soon learned our way around and grew to love the ship.  We did think, however, that it had strange art.   Pieces would be in the central spaces near the stairs and elevators on each deck.  Here is a sampler.

I fully admit to being art impaired but…..
I did like this one.
But not this one…
There was definitely a music theme throughout.
A collage of miscellaneous items in the theme of Starry Night. Kind of cool.
This one I liked very much. There was a series of three women made from feathers.
No words.
A take off on Michelangelo’s David – this one with a cell phone, taking a selfie. Spoiler alert: We see the real thing later!
A grouping of people made with vertical beading. Interesting.

Even towards the end of 21 days, we would occasionally see a piece that we hadn’t seen before -depending on where in the ship we were going, and how we happened to go there.

We started our sail with sea days, heading towards Bermuda and beyond. Even though Bermuda seemed to be a logical port, we sailed right by. We’ve been there before so weren’t disappointed.

Everyday we would watch the course of our cruise on our cabin TV.

Our first four days were sea days, a wonderful respite after the business of trip preparation and wondering if it would actually happen.

Next time – our shipboard activities on those great sea days!

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A Copper Excursion

Our friend Beth was traveling nearby so we drove north to join her in the Verde Valley.   Randy and I spent February 2015 exploring the Verde Valley while in our fifth wheel and knew there was an abundance of things to do!

The three of us decided to go on the Verde Canyon Railroad – a repeat for Randy and me.   Our experience was quite different this time. During the COVID break, the railroad’s entire operation was reimagined. The car’s interiors were refurbished and each now has an attendant/bartender. A generous fruit and cheese platter (with champagne) is included with your ticket, as well as the opportunity to order a hot boxed lunch. 

Our car attendant/bartender, Mona, was on her last trip as she retired the next day.  

Our outside attendant, EC, was very knowledgable and engaging.  He narrated our ride along the river, pointing out rock formations and sites relevant to the former mining operations.

He told us the history of the railroad and the town of Clarkdale.   One of the Montana Copper Kings, William Andrews Clark, was described as the richest man you’ve never heard of.  He bought western copper mines and a Montana based US Senate seat.  His business acumen and ruthlessness were equal to Carnegie, Rockefeller and Morgan but Clark is less well known today. He did not trouble himself with philanthropic endeavors so has no lasting legacy to soften the rough edges. Clark County, Nevada is also named for William Andrews Clark as he and his brother were instrumental in putting Las Vegas on the railroad map.

In Arizona, Clark bought the Jerome copper mine in1888 and built the town of Clarkdale for his employees. This company town is said to be the first planned community in Arizona.  

In 1894 he built a 26 mile railroad spur to transport his copper to the larger line in Prescott. This railroad, abandoned when the mine shut down, was resurrected as a tourist venue, The Verde Canyon Railroad.

The three of us enjoyed a trip to the Arizona Copper Museum – a new venue in town.  

The museum was established by a Minnesota family who had amassed two very large collections of copper items.  They chose to develop the museum in Arizona because it is the copper state, the largest copper producer in the nation. A copper star is central on the Arizona flag.

Clarkdale was chosen because of the region’s history with mining and ongoing tourist opportunities connected to that copper past.  The long abandoned Clarkdale High School was refurbished to house the museum.

The family’s copper, assembled over decades, form the bulk of the museum’s collection although acquisitions by purchase and gifts continue. There are six to eight very large rooms holding copper pieces on every wall and in interior cases. There are also hallway exhibits.

We learned a lot about copper! Copper was the first metal discovered by man, the first to be worked by man, and the first to be alloyed.   

Copper and gold are the only metals that have color.  The world’s oldest copper mine still in operation (over 6000 years) is in Cyprus and that is why the copper element symbol is Cu.

Copper and gold exist in nuggets where other metals form in ore.  For 4000 years copper and gold were the only metals used by man.

There are seven metals of antiquity:  copper, gold, silver, tin, lead, iron and mercury.

Bronze is a mixture of 85% copper and 15% tin.

The museum includes a very large military art collection.  The various rows hold casings from the same weapon type and explain how soldiers were able to pass some time creating these works of art. Most examples were from WWI.

There are very large collections of copper pots, and dishes.

This display allows you to see the various forms of copper embellishment: verdigris (natural), patina, applied and polished.

Copper ceilings adorn most rooms.

Did you know there is copper in dark chocolate?

Or that copper is present in blue glass?  Adding tin makes glass yellow and adding gold makes glass red.

The museum is extensive and it is easy to go on copper overload.  It was also easy to go in, enjoy the displays and learn a few interesting things about copper.

Our life is so different now than it was when we lived in the mode of constant traveling, exploring, and learning new things everyday. It was a delight to be explorers and learners again!

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Historic Hotel Series: The Gadsden

When we decided to sell our trailer we hoped to include historic hotels in future travels.  With Tucson friends Warren and Connie we set off for the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, Arizona.

Douglas is in southern Arizona, very near the Mexican border.  This area, once part of Mexico, was purchased to enable a southern railroad route.  That 1853-1854 transaction was called The Gadsden Purchase.  

The Gadsden Hotel was built in 1907, in the era of Wyatt Erp, Pancho Villa and Geronimo.  I was originally interested in the Gadsden because of a picture of Pancho Villa on his horse, on the lobby staircase. Alas, that picture was fake but the hotel was still quite interesting!

The hotel became a gathering place for the movers and shakers of the day.

Gathering in the lobby – just like the movers and shakers of old.

The hotel boasted a manually operated elevator to escort guests to each of the four floors.  It remains one of the oldest operating elevators of its kind west of the Mississippi.

The Gadsden Hotel burned in 1928 and only the elevator car, marble pillars and marble staircase remained.  

The hotel was promptly rebuilt with added glamour and services.  In addition to the elevator, the Gadsden was one of the first hotels to have telephones and restrooms in every room.  

Added glamour included Tiffany style stained glass.

The lobby was (and is) quite elegant. 

There is a nice courtyard with seating between the wings.

An impressive list of politicians, celebrities and actors have stayed in the Gadsden.  

John Wayne bought tequila for friends in the Spur and Saddle Saloon.  His ranch brand is among the hundreds of area brands displayed on the walls.

We bought drinks there too and enjoyed spending time together and playing cards.

The rooms are simple but pleasant.  Only the floor surrounding the lobby has been renovated.  The upper floors are yet to be done. The hotel is reportedly haunted (aren’t they all) and the ghosts seem to live in the upper floors.

The rooms have TVs but the cable wasn’t working. The room telephones were removed because only the ghosts seemed to be able to operate them – and then at inopportune times for guests.

In the lobby, only the booth on the left had a telephone.

The hotel offered a history tour so we signed up right away and paid our admission. We went up the landmark elevator to the dark third floor.  The history tour ended up being a paranormal tour – kind of. The front desk attendant and restaurant waiter took turns walking us through the dark third floor while the other found a place to startle us.  I guess they weren’t depending on the real ghosts to show up.

Randy and Connie enjoyed it. I did not. I was trying to hang onto Randy’s hand but that just meant he kept pulling me towards the “danger.”  Eventually I hung onto Warren’s arm while Randy and Connie chased “ghosts.”  I knew they weren’t real but I didn’t like being startled! 

Our tour came to an abrupt end when the bartender, the only remaining employee downstairs,  had to come get our “ghosts” as there was an issue with one of the other guests.  I was not sad about that – except we never did get to the history part of the tour.

There is an extensive Veterans Museum just off the hotel lobby, very personalized to this part of Arizona.  An interesting event to come in the next week was the repatriating of Korean War remains recently identified as belonging to a local man.

We also explored Douglas a bit and the surrounding area.  We walked through Raul Castro park and then to Church Square, the only block in the nation containing nothing but four churches, one on each corner.  This included Methodist, Southern Baptist, Episcopal and Presbyterian churches.

We left Douglas and drove to Slaughter Ranch, a national historic site, so near the border that we traveled next to “the wall” for part of our trip.

The monsoon waters surging through the wash blew out the “gates” and they were swept away into Mexico.

On a happier note, we saw this ride along the road. We gave our quarter but none of us rode the pony.  

The Slaughter Ranch was originally known as the San Bernardino Ranch and was purchased through a Mexican land grant in 1822.  It encompassed more than 73,000 acres and cost 90 pesos – current value just over $4 US. The original owner, Ignacio Perez was run off by the Apache in less than ten years. 

The Perez decendents sold the property to John Slaughter in 1884. Slaughter was a former confederate officer, cowboy and a loved and feared Cochise County lawman. He acquired adjacent properties and eventually had more than 50,000 head of cattle on his lands in Mexico and the United States. The ranch had its own border gate that was sometimes manned by customs officials.

The Slaughter ranch house is very comfortable and markedly cooler than the outside on the day we visited – because of the two foot thick walls.

The children’s room was occupied by Slaughter’s own children, but also eventually by grandchildren and foster children.  One particular child, two year old “Apache May,” was left behind when an Apache village was attacked by Slaughter and his posse. Slaughter took May into his home and raised her as his own child until her accidental death at age six.  He was a complicated man.

Warren and Connie learning about the Slaughter family and enterprise.

There were a number of out-buildings to explore. This was the room of the Chinese cook.

For almost 40 years, the Slaughter family operated their extensive cattle ranch.  The Mexican lands were eventually sold in Mexico.  Portions of the American lands are now the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge and the Slaughter Ranch National Historic Site.

Our next stop was for wine tasting at the Hofmann Vineyards. Connie found out about the winery when the Visitor Center attendant and I did not.  Well done – as it was a blast!

Charles and his wife Karen bought “some cheap land” in the early 2000-teens. and had their first bottling harvest in 2016.  This is their (or maybe his) retirement dream as he is in his 80’s and I presume Karen is in his age vicinity. We were amazed that they would want to work this hard in retirement.

We had a very enjoyable tasting and then went exploring into the process. Unlike nearly everyone else making wine in the world (or so it seems) they do not use oak barrels.  He expressed concern about the sanitary status of reusing barrels and instead uses stainless steel pots with added oak chips for flavoring.

None of us are wine experts, and we were having such a good time listening to their story that we just enjoyed ourselves and bought some wine to go.

On the way back to the hotel we found the local hangout for migrating sand hill cranes. This is a phone picture – and not a very good one.  Unfortunately Connie didn’t get a good one either, although several of her good pictures are in this blog. Photo credit Connie!

The four of us deemed this a successful venture and look forward to exploring more of Arizona’s historic hotels.

PS.  Our trailer sold and I deposited the check today (November 23, 2021).  Life moves on but we had a most excellent run in our Montana.  May her new owners enjoy and love her as much as we did.

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The Cabin Projects

When you last heard of our cabin, our rocking chairs were glad to have a new home and I was glad to have a home out of the heat!  

We really liked the cabin when we bought it but almost immediately started thinking of tweaks we could make to make it ours.  The first tweak didn’t seem like a huge deal but absolutely dominated our first few days of occupancy.

I was not a fan of this corner unit.  I wanted to move it out to slide the desk into that space. 

That meant removing the bottom cupboard, moving some wiring, repairing-texturing-and-painting the walls and those weren’t the bad parts of the project.

The worst part was the hours Randy spent trying to build an insert to fill the floor space.  There was some leftover material from the two floors that had gone over the original and he did the best he could.  It is not up to his usual standard but is also something no one would notice if we didn’t tell you about it.

We both like the desk moved into that space and Randy likes that we decided to keep the shelves above it.

The second thing I thought I wanted was to remove these upper cabinets in the bedroom.  This picture is how we first saw the bedroom and it seemed small and dark with that big cupboard above the bed.

In the end we decided to keep the cupboards and hide the shelf storage with canvas prints of colorful flowers we had photographed over the years.  It is nice to use the quilt my Grandma Dee made us as a wedding gift all those years ago.  We have had a dog on the bed for most of our marriage so rarely had the quilt on top.  One side of the room is mirrored closet doors and usually the shades are open so the room doesn’t feel small at all.

We finished that first trip with a new kitchen faucet, bathroom light fixture and a new shower fixture.

The focus of our second trip was to replace this vinyl accordion door going into the bathroom.  Yeah, it is tacky. We didn’t have a lot of options and decided on a barn door.  Great idea but tricky to implement in this miniature space. Barn door kits were too large and too heavy for our park model construction.

A saleswoman at Lowes suggested a 30″ interior door that cost $5 on clearance and separate barn door hardware.Randy had to use his engineering skills and his camera scope to get placement positioning and we measured and measured and re-measured.

Randy sanded, painted, touched up and installed the barn door and it looks MARVELOUS!  

The previous owners came over to see the barn door and asked if we wanted to sell the cabin back to them.  It is that great!

We took up a new entertainment stand with an electric fireplace and put that together.  It was time consuming but low drama!

Randy took down the previous owner’s satellite dishes and put up our DISH dish from the RV.   He set the dish and configured all the wires inside so it is a five minute task to hook up our home receiver and wireless Joey for the TVs in the cabin.

Then he installed our new bedroom TV.  It s a little big for the room but better too big than too small!

He installed a Lazy Susan triple shelf in one of the kitchen cupboards.

The sliding door lock was marginal so he replaced that.  It was another project that doesn’t sound like it would take all day but did.  He eventually won the battle.

I spent most of those first trips assisting Randy when needed, weeding our walkways and little forest and sitting on the deck.  I love reading on the deck.  The weather was superb and we have been very glad for our cabin in the woods.

Our little vacuum robot, Eufy, thought she wanted to escape to the deck as well.

By the time we went up for our third trip to the cabin, I was glad for Randy that we had come to the end of our list!   He could now enjoy life on the deck as well.  He sat there for a couple hours and dreamed up his own list.  I was not responsible for anything in this part of the blog.

He discovered that the stair supports (stringers) for both the front and back stairs to the deck were rotting and needed to be replaced.  

He wanted to have a ten foot section of rain gutter put up at the rear of the cabin.  He called the company who had put in another section in the front and found they were scheduling twelve weeks out and the cost would be $350, their minimum charge. That is a lot for a ten foot section of gutter.

He decided to do both projects himself but was unable to get supplies anywhere close.  He spent half a day driving to Payson and back but got what he needed.

I wouldn’t say the rain gutter project was quite as bad as the desk floor project but it was close.  At one point he considered abandoning his efforts and just letting the professionals do it for $350.

He eventually prevailed over the gutter demons and it works very well. It’s too bad that something that took so much time and energy isn’t supposed to be noticed.

He hadn’t been able to find stringers that weren’t already cracked so he got to buy a new saw to cut his own from 2″ by12″ pressure treated boards.

He prepped and painted the supports so our stairs should be safe and stable for a long time.

Randy was able to spend a lot of time inside his little storage cabin seeing what he has and organizing things. 

Then he decided it needed to be painted with a stain protectant!

When we left the cabin last week, the aspen leaves were starting to turn color.  Randy winterized the cabin and we heard that it snowed a day or two later.  We have tentative plans to drive up for a few days this winter and see how it is to be there with snow.  We bought a snow shovel just in case.

Randy installed a new thermostat with wifi to be able to monitor things but wifi is a problem.  We left our AT&T wifi device there from our RVing days but it is very marginal.  In fact, our biggest challenge going forward with the cabin is internet availability.  Cell phone coverage is also bad and there really aren’t any good choices given our location.   So, we are in the queue for Elon Musk’s Starlink. It is still in Beta testing phase but we know it is working well for a few people in our community. Randy has paid our deposit and we are hoping our equipment will be shipped to us sometime over the winter so we will be good to go next spring.

We love our little cabin. It is too small for overnight guests but there is a hotel a couple miles away and a couple community cabins available on Airbnb. We hope to see you in Show Low sometime in the future.

PS  Our fifth-wheel is still on the consignment lot.  We are a little surprised it is still there but the lot people set the price and they haven’t reduced it yet.  It will take as long as it takes and we are still content with letting it go.

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The Swan Song Trip

We thought as we prepared for this Summer 2021 RV trip that it might very well be our last.  With a house in a fun 55 plus community, and now a cabin in the mountains, we just are no longer interested in being gone for months at a time.    As the trip progressed, we became more and more comfortable with the idea of this being the swan song trip.

It was fitting that we spent our last couple weeks with family. We visited our cousins Marilyn and Lynn in Wyoming, something we’ve done several times over the years. Who knew how many times we’d pass through Wyoming!

We had smokey skies for our tour along the Wind River Range but still enjoyed ourselves.  

We followed it up with a trip to the Museum of the Mountain Man.

We got our grandson and spent five days at Henry’s Lake State Park, the only Idaho park we had never visited before.  We missed out for years. It is a great park!

He experienced his first leech! I’m glad Randy was on leech duty!

We went kayaking a couple times.

We watched the visiting moose for several days.

We enjoyed a dinner show at the Yellowstone Playhouse Theater in Island Park.

Of course, we took our grandson to Yellowstone National Park and he enjoyed the bison….

and the stinky mud pots!

We went to Boise for a few days, seeing more family and friends, and then went on to Sumpter, Oregon for our family reunion camping trip.  It was good to all be together again after missing for the COVID year.

We had planned a few more weeks on this trip but our water problems in Arizona flared up again and it was just time to go home.

And it is also just time to let this era of our lives go. 

Allow me to look back.

This was our first night in our new 2012 Montana Fifth Wheel in March 2012.  Of course it was at Three Island Crossing State Park in Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho. We went there so many times while we were still working for spring and fall weekends.

We lived full time in the Montana from 2014 to 2019 and this blog is mostly about those years.

Our last night in the Montana was at the Ely KOA in Ely, Nevada, August 8, 2021.

Throughout our RVing years, 2004 – 2021, I journaled each stay.  That was true for this trailer and our earlier Laredo.  For the Laredo I kept a running “cost per night” with that first night costing $22,000!  Over the years, at an average of 30 nights per year, our costs in the Laredo got below $100 per night. (Those calculations never included campground fees – just the trailer cost.) I stopped doing that calculation when we bought our Montana but still kept the journal.  It is fun to sit down and read both journals.

Today we took our beloved Montana to a consignment lot.  It was bittersweet but we are in agreement that it is time.   We are grateful that we are in agreement!

And what of finishing the map?     And what of the blog?

We carefully removed the map and mounted it in our hall.   

The plan is still to finish the map as we travel.  Our rule has been that we had to spend the night in a state to get the sticker and it is possible we will amend that going forward.   We hope to fly in, rent a car, and experience areas in much the same way we did in the trailer.   We enjoy historic hotels so we will likely add that to the mix.

And the blog…. we’ll see.  We hope to travel nationally and internationally, and perhaps the writing bug will bite as I learn things in new places.  Handy Randy has been making modifications in the cabin – so perhaps that will show up too.

And if the writing bug doesn’t bite again, we thank you most sincerely for caring about us and our RV travels.

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