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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Laguardia to Bush Intercontinental



Laguardia to Bush Intercontinental

The Caribbean Princess sailed into NY Harbor this morning around 6:00AM. We were to disembark at 7:30. MA had booked our flight on Continental for the 10:30 flight to Bush Intercontinental. Well that meant we had to get off the ship asap, being one of the "walkoffs". Our plan was to be the first in line by getting there an hour early but six others had the same idea. As long as we could get a cab and get to the airport quickly we would make our flight. Well the time came and we said goodbye to stateroom A522 and made our way to the Coral Dining Room. The ship got clearance from the Port Authority and we were off. We walked down the gangplank pulling our luggage, cleared Customs, and out the door to the taxi stand. I ran ahead of everyone coming out of the building because I wanted to find the "Cash Cab". There were ten cabs in line waiting for passengers and I started checking them for the guy on TV that drives and asks questions. I couldn't find him and finally MA caught up with me and said get in the taxi we have to go. I was just trying to win enough to pay for our cruise.

Anyway, we got into the second cab and the driver looked Chinese. I told him we needed to get to Laguardia, chop, chop(quickly). He said $40 and I just put the bags in the trunk. We got in and MA took over. He said $40 again and MA told him to turn on the meter! He mumbled $40 and she said turn on the meter and he did. I found out his name was Tashi and he was from Nepal. He made it clear he was NOT Chinese. It seems that China has ruled Nepal with an iron hand but we didn't have time to get into a conversation about that. What a wild ride to Laguardia. We left the Port at 7:45am and arrived at the Continental departure curb at 8:15. Not bad. Oh, and the meter said $31.50. MA still gave him a $6 tip. But we had plenty of time to check in, drop our luggage, and walk to MA's Continental Club and have coffee and a bagel. The Continental lounge had a TV on and another couple also waiting for a plane. The TV was on NBC which I cannot stand. I asked the couple if it would be OK if I changed channels. They weren't watching it anyway. I flipped through a couple of hundred channels and finally found Fox News. I glanced at the guy sitting there with us and he kind of grinned. Well time passed by and we pulled our carry-on bags to the gate and boarded the plane.

I asked MA to put us in the seats by the emergency doors as the leg room is double that of other seats. I asked her if I could sit next to the window cause I wanted a photo of New York as the plane cleared the runway. We were sitting there as other passengers squeezed down the narrow aisle with there luggage. Then this huge man plopped himself next to MA and I thought she was going to come unglued. This guy was so big the flight attendant had to bring and extension for his seat belt. He took up his seat and half of MA's and half of the aisle. The plane took off and he kept trying to put the arm rest down and MA kept putting it up. Finally he and the lady sitting in front of him traded places. It seemed his wife was in the row of seats in front of us. Once he moved MA was happy, I was happy because she was happy. She worked her crossword puzzles and I listened to Mozart and read half of the book of Psalms. We landed in Bush, got out luggage, caught our parking shuttle and found my truck. It stared right up and we made our way home. I think the drive home was more dangerous than the flight home. We arrive home in time to make our Saturday Bible study class at Second Baptist.

I've started to upload some of my photos from the trip to my web site. I'll email you the link when that is done.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rocking and Rolling at Sea

Rocking and Rolling at Sea!
Our one and only day at sea was spent rocking and rolling with gale force winds and 20’ seas! The captain announced that they were expecting 70 knot winds. Makes getting around loads of fun as you hang on to the rails or watch your water bottles roll all over the place in the cabin. Fortunately neither one of us gets seasick but I’m sure there were a lot of folks who didn’t venture out of their cabins today.
We packed up because we have a tight connection for Houston and are in the first group off the ship at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. How quickly the time goes by. Seems like just yesterday when we waved goodbye to the Statue of Liberty.
Since we were ship bound we did a few things differently. For example we skipped the lunch buffet (time to taper off) and opted for the English fish and chips in the Crown Room. We checked out the “Family Feud” shipboard game where teams of passengers compete trying to guess the top five answers to certain questions like “Name the top five places a guy would take a date to the first time they go out.” The answers were very creative to say the least.

For my bird watching friends I found 4 life birds flying next to the ship; Great Skua, Cory’s Shearwater, Greater Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater. Shearwaters are easy to identify by the way they fly, kind of a soaring 8’s and their wings almost touch the waves. A good pair of binoculars also helps.

We say goodbye to our table companions at dinner this evening and the maitre d’ will probably serve baked Alaska for the grand finale.
We are looking forward to getting home in time for our Bible Study class and seeing Susan and Jacob and getting to talk to the family in Chicago.
Thanks for checking in on our adventures! WW & MA

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Best for Last; Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada













Best for Last-Halifax: Nova Scotia
Of all the ports we have visited this time, I really like Halifax the best. This past year MA and I were blessed to have visited Victoria, BC on the west coast of Canada and now Halifax on the east coast. We had three days in Victoria and I only wish we had the same here. There is so much we didn’t get to see that I’m thinking we may have to come back when we have more time.
We were greeted at the Port of Halifax this morning with sunny to partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 40’s. It was cold and windy when we got off the ship but the sun seemed to warm up things up along with the great people we meet on these trips. After breakfast (Again, not breaking the pattern here!) we got our coats, camera gear and headed for the gangway.
MA had signed us up for the “Photographers’ Tour of Halifax” because they tend to be smaller groups and more flexible. This tour was larger than I had expected but our guide, Joe McSweeney and bus driver Floyd made it seem like we were the only ones on the bus. Today’s highlight was the hour we spent at Peggy’s Cove, a small fishing village located on the Atlantic Coast. On our way there we made two stops, one at a lake with beautiful fall foliage and the other at a small fishing village.
Peggy’s Cove is one of those places you see on calendars and post cards. The day was gorgeous. There were several lobster boats anchored in the cove, lobster traps lying around everywhere, old floats tied to the walls, rusty anchors, 1800’s style homes right on the water one of which seemed to be supported only by a homemade pier of large rocks.
To all my photography friends: You remember how I emphasize the importance of having and using a tripod! Well this photo day demanded it. I normally set my ISO at 100 (lowest possible) and shoot Aperture Priority and vary the aperture for background in focus or out of focus. It is a neat way to photograph scenic shots. With a polarizing filter screwed onto the front of the 18-200mm lens, the shutter speed varied between 1/6 second to 1/30 second. I don’t know anyone who could hold a camera still at that speed. If you don’t have a tripod, get one, use it. I met this photographer from New York City with a D700, 28-70 2.8 lens and some others, carrying a large tripod with him. He left it in the bus because it was too bulky. I later asked him what ISO he was shooting and he told me between 800 and 1600. Folks you don’t get any “noise” at 100 ISO.
Joe, our guide, had several Irish blessings that I wish I had written down but I do remember one thing he told us about being Irish. He said, “If you’re lucky enough to be Irish, you’re lucky enough.” He won a lot of points when M.A. asked him about her great-great-great Irish grandfather who became a famous politician in Canada and who unfortunately was assassinated on the steps of a local courthouse! Joe recited his whole history for her right there at the door of the bus.
On our way back to the city we stopped at a small church with a very old cemetery and also at the “Citadel”, an overlook of the city. There was a uniformed soldier in full dress kilts and I think MA was smitten by this guy! You can judge this for yourself with the photo I took!
We arrived back to the ship and MA went on aboard while I wandered along the “Harbor Walk” spotting some more great photo opportunities. I made it back to the ship to find MA fretting about where I was and what she was going to do if I missed the boat. We sail this evening, full day at sea tomorrow and early arrival in New York Saturday with a mad dash for the airport so we don’t miss our flight home! So, take care, more later. May the Lord bless you richly with good health as He meets all your needs.



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada









Sunny Skies in Saint John, New Brunswick
Ever wonder where all the British Loyalists went after the American Revolution? Maybe not, but just in case, I found the answer. Certainly some went home to England and kissed King George’s ring, but about 6,000 others got on ships and sailed north to Saint John, New Brunswick, the same place we sailed into this morning under bright blue skies and very chilly temperatures.
Breakfast first (don’t want to break the pattern here!) and then a walk to the City Market and I’m glad we decided to do this. When we got there we took the escalator up three levels to arrive at the “old market”. We were immediately met by a plethora of aromas; fruit, sausage, flowers, and fish. You might think this sounds like something to be avoided but actually it was really pleasant.
As you enter the market you’re met by a large fruit stand featuring apples and oranges. A lady in 1800’s dress poised for a photo for me. We walked by a fish stand with a huge octopus ready to be taken home to someone’s crock pot; photo coming. There were all kinds of arts and crafts from dolls to angels to T-shirts and jellies and jams. I finally took as many photos as I wanted to and we braved the brisk and chilly wind walking back to the ship to get ready for the Photographers’ Tour at 12:00 noon.
We were met by our tour guide, David and along with 22 other camera buffs we all boarded the tourist van trying not to be obvious while we all check out what kind of cameras the other guys had. The first stop on the tour was the “Reversing Falls” in Fundy Bay. When the high tide meets the Saint John River the force of nature causes the water to reverse direction and flow back the opposite way, thus “Reversing Falls”.
From there we made our way to a gorgeous waterfall, then a local fishing village with lots of lobster boats. The next stop was a nature park and some very curious red foxes came out of hiding to check us out. Weather-wise, the day was very nice compared to yesterday’s storms. We are just thankful for all the blessings God has bestowed on us. On to Halifax, Nova Scotia, weather should be full sun, high of 45, just perfect for these two temporarily transplanted Texans!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Cold and Rainy Day in Bar Harbor








A Cold and Rainy Day in Bar Harbor
We arrived in Bar Harbor, Maine this morning to the sound of rain hitting the deck. Our plan for the day was to get on a National Park Service bus and tour Acadia National Park. But breakfast came first and then the tender shuttle to shore. Bar Harbor like Newport does not have a dock to handle cruise ships so the only way to shore is by small tender craft. The rain was steady and I did not expect to take many photographs.
We walked up the street and found the park bus vendor and got our tickets. I had a small umbrella and tried to find MA one but we had to make do with just one. The tour bus is an old school bus and forty-six of us wet tourist packed aboard. Our tour guide was a retired scientist, Dick Fox. He was very knowledgeable about the history of Acadia, plants, animals and birds. I did manage to take a few pictures of some of the foliage but not like I could have if it weren’t raining so steadily. In fact I had to hold my umbrella over my camera for the images I did manage to take.
Bar Harbor is in the heart of Maine’s coastal heritage. It is nestled between the mountains of Acadia National Park and the blue Atlantic Ocean. The town of Bar Harbor gets its name from the sand bar which connects one of the islands and is drivable during low tide. The opposite is true in high tide. We made our way back to the ship and had lunch and a nap. The captain just announced that on the next leg to St. John we are expecting strong winds and high seas. This boat should be rocking pretty good! I’m finished for now, more tomorrow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Beautiful Day in Boston




A Beautiful Day in Boston
I was up and about early this morning, just before the sun about to peek its nose over the horizon. Grabbing my camera and tripod I made my way to the stern on the Promenade deck and set up the tripod and D200 for some photos of the sunrise. The low clouds and clear sky made for an unforgettable this sunrise portrait. Never miss a sunrise or sunset as that is when God becomes a painter of the sky.
The ship cruised on into Boston harbor escorted by the Pilot boat and an armed US Coast Guard patrol boat. M.A. and I grabbed some breakfast at the buffet and were one of the first folks ashore at 10:00AM. The weather was cool and sky clear blue, just a beautiful morning.
We didn’t purchase any shore excursions for Boston electing to do it on our own with the “Old Town Trolley Tours”. MA had pre-purchased two tickets on line but first we had to find where to board this thing! So we jumped on a public bus for $2.00 and then onto the subway ending up in greater downtown Boston. We still could not find any trolleys so after asking around we finally were directed to Central Station and found out where we needed to be. One thing we noticed about Bostonians is that they are very friendly and courteous especially to obviously lost tourists standing on street corners with maps in their hands!
Our intention was to see as much as we could today of the Freedom Trail with all the colonial landmarks. The first stop was in a part of town known as Little Italy where the Paul Revere House is located. It is the oldest house in downtown Boston, dating back to 1680: a very unimposing wooden home painted dark gray.
Brushing up on our history here! It was Paul Revere who warned the Minutemen about the British coming by sea after receiving signals from the tower of the Old North Church; one by land, two by sea. The sea was actually the Charles River and the British army crossed over in longboats going after the leaders of the rebellion. They were met at Concord and Lexington by the colonists who fired the shot heard around the world.
After visiting the Old North Churchyard, we hopped on the trolley again and got off at the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides.” There was a long line to actually tour the ship, so we just took a few tourist pictures and continued on our way. The plan was to make have lunch at the original Cheers Pub but there was a 10-K race on the streets of the city so that part of the route was closed. We elected to have lunch at the “replica” Cheers at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. After lunch we walked around downtown and found the site of the Boston Massacre.
We made our way back to the port terminal where we boarded the Caribbean Princess once again. It was a full day of walking, photographing and taking in the sights. The ship departed Boston a little after 7:00PM headed north to Bar Harbor, Maine and we’re headed for the Palm Dining room. We’ve enjoyed the company of two other couples assigned to our dinner table. One couple is from Oregon and he is a retired Chevron executive. The other couple is from Philadelphia and he is a thirty-year veteran of the fire department there. It’s fun to get together at the end of the day and compare notes.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

First port - Newport Rhode Island




First Port: Newport, Rhode Island
The Caribbean Princess arrived in Newport, Rhode Island at dawn this morning with the Pell Bridge brilliantly lit up as if to welcome us. I didn’t know much about Newport but this place is older than dirt. We actually walked by a tavern, the White Horse Inn that was established in 1673. That’s a long time ago.
This little state, which is about the size of the greater Houston area, (i.e., Conroe to Galveston) goes back to 1663. It was founded by Roger Williams in the name of political and religious freedom. Seems like old Roger thought the strict Puritans in Massachusetts were too legalistic. Rhode Island soon became a place where piracy and smuggling thrived. They really hated the British king for imposing a tax on their imported sugar and molasses and exported rum. Later this place became famous because the rich and famous built some huge estates here, notably Cornelius Vanderbilt.
M.A. and I started our day at the breakfast buffet after which we followed the signs to the tender boat departure area. There is no dock to accommodate the Caribbean Princess so it anchored in the harbor and you go ashore in groups of about a hundred at a time on these tender shuttles.
Once on dry land, we walked around the local yacht harbor. MA picked out one with for her retirement someday, as sort of an advance present. I tried to find a salesman but unfortunately for me they were closed on Sunday. I told her that we would look around a little more and to just be patient. These yachts are really small ships. They actually have their own versions of “tenders” attached to them that in reality are larger than some of the boats you see in Galveston Bay.
We located the local visitor center, found a map and decided to grab a bus to the “Breakers” where all the famous Rhode Island mansions are to be found. We hopped aboard #67 and got off at the “Cliff Walk”. This 3 ½ mile trail along the cliffs overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and it takes you behind some of the mansions and trust me, they are huge. We finished at the Cornelius Vanderbilt Estate and walked back to the bus stop to get back to town.
One of our table friends said not to miss having a bowl of clam chowder, so we stopped at a small restaurant and had a bowl of the stuff. I am not impressed. I’ll take some Texas chili any day over clam chowder!
We didn’t want to miss lunch of course and a nap, so back to the dock area we went, grabbing a shuttle tender back to the ship. Later found the Fox NFL game and enjoyed a fine Sunday afternoon. Tonight is formal night so we’ll get all dressed up for that.
Next port of call: Boston! Later!

A stroll through Brooklyn

MA and I got up this morning camped out at the Holiday Inn Express in Brooklyn. There was no morning newspaper which I get for MA every morning so she can do the crossword puzzle and Sudoku. She went into withdrawal symptoms until she remembered that she could do the crossword on line. Thank God for the internet because I never heard, “You couldn’t find a paper anywhere?”
Our cruise left the Brooklyn Port Cruise Terminal and boarding time was 1:00pm. So after breakfast we decided to do a walk around Brooklyn, unarmed mind you. Well we had about three hours to kill so it was walk or stare at each other for three hours. Our plans were to get on the subway again and go back to Times Square but the City of NY closed most of the subways for “maintenance”. We just learned that they probably closed them down because of the latest “terrorist” arrests in NY. There are some unaccounted for friends of the main suspect. Well, we thought we would just face the muggers of Brooklyn instead. Our walk, which was for about an hour and about a mile and a half was very interesting. I just took my little Canon and got some great shots of life in Brooklyn. One hot dog vendor thought I was going to grab a Coney and run, gave me a really weird look and pushed his cart faster and faster. This neighborhood has no stores to speak of, only bodegas, corner grocery-delis combo. Brooklyn is the home of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and they have a large presence in the area. We saw that most people love their Obama and see him as the reincarnate Martin Luther King. Do I have to tell you what I see him as? The hotel called a private cab for us and it arrived at 12:45PM. Our driver this time was Carlos, from Ecuador. He has been in the States for 16 years. He got us to the dock for a flat fee of $15 and we tipped him very well.
There were luggage people waiting for us and they took our luggage. We cleared security and then had to wait for 2 hours to board the ship, Caribbean Princess, because of a high tide there was only one gang plank. Well when they stopped their required picture taking and made it optional the loading time really speeded up. We got aboard and into our room on the 12 floor, room 522 and our luggage was waiting for us. Very efficient operation, Princess.
I got my Nikon and loaded an 18-200mm lens and tripod and went starboard and started shooting pictures. I got some really nice shots of two tug boats pulling the ship away from the dock and then escorting us to the open channel. We sailed past the Statue of Liberty again and I got some really great photos of the proud lady with her arm raised. The weather was beautiful with high light clouds with some sunshine. We crossed under the Verrazano Bridge and into the Atlantic.
We had arranged our supper at “Second Seating” which is at 8:15pm and we met our table-mates. They seem like really nice folks and we are looking to seeing them every night. Well, it’s late and tomorrow we dock at Newport, Rhode Island. See ya.

Friday, October 9, 2009

New York City

Well, here we go again. We're off to NYC. We got up this morning at 3am, got the suitcases and other bags in the truck and we were off by 4am. Let me tell you there's no one on the freeway at this time of the morning except cops. We got parked and shuttled to Terminal E, checked into Continental, had to wait for TSA to open its gates and managed to stop at Continental's President's Club for a quick breakfast. The flight left on time and we arrived in New York City, LaGuardia at 9:30. We grabbed a NYC Cab. I heard that all the cab drivers were Indian, Middle Eastern, Sikh. Ours was from Pakistan. Mohammed, what else would you expect for a first name. He was a friendly guy but I think he went out of the way to make the trip longer and more expensive. It was $31.50. We just didn't tip him like we were going to.

MA made reservations at the Holiday Inn Express in Brooklyn of all places. We dare not venture out after dark. We could not check into the hotel until 3pm and our harbor boat ride was at 3pm. So we left our bags in a secure room at the hotel and I grabbed my little Canon G9 because I can put it in my pocket. We got our bearings and walked about 7 blocks to a subway entrance, "Pacific Station" and the "N" Line. We bought a one day Metro Pass for $9 and made our way down the bowels of NYC and got on the subway. I have never seen more weird people in my life! Everyone had a cell phone and if they weren't talking to someone, they were texting, listening to music or taking pictures of their friends. I do wish I had bought some Blackberry stock a couple years ago. The subway ride was not long and we found ourselves in downtown Manhattan, 42nd St. Times Square. Hurry, hurry, cars honking, people shoving, it looked every thing you've ever seen on tv and more. What really caught my senses was the smells; baked bread, hot dogs, Chinese food, vegetables, cooking chicken, and people. Well we were hungry and so we looked for some place we could grab a quick bite of lunch and not get sick. We spied a McDonalds one block south. Two hamburgers and cold water and we were good for a hike down 42nd St. to the Hudson River to the Circle Line Harbor Tours.

The huge boat had about 250 people on board. It left at 2:30 for a two hour cruise down the Hudson to Brooklyn and back. I was wishing for my Nikon but the little Canon did OK. I took some panos of the skyline from the boat and will try and stitch them later. The cruise took us past where the World Trade Center towers once stood and of course the Statue of Liberty.
After the cruise we caught a bus with the same Metro pass and rode up to the subway entrance at Times Square, got on the Brooklyn bound subway and made it back to the Holiday Inn Express while it was still light. We grabbed a pizza at Papa Johns, walked back to the hotel and got checked into the room. The only complaint I have is this TV has no TBS channel and no baseball playoff games. I think I'm going to be sick.

Tomorrow we check out by 11am and board the ship at 2pm. I have no idea what we are going to do so see the next day's blog. So long for now and God bless.