Time To Say Goodbye

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The next day we were at sea all day, but no one was bored. That doesn’t happen on a Princess Cruise unless a person refuses to come out of his or her cabin. During the at sea days, there were movies, shows, demonstrations, and dance lessons. Some people hung out in the casino while others sat or walked on the Promenade Deck. Others opted to watch a movie on the top deck while sitting in a hot tub or huddled beneath a blanket in a deck chair. Some people shopped and others frequented the bar. Always, there was something to do, to enjoy. There was even a library!

On the morning of the last day of the cruise, we attended a demonstration by the sous chef and bakery chef. Quite entertaining. Towards the end of the performance, many of the staff walked on stage, and one of them, a Vietnamese man, regaled us with the most powerful rendition of “Time to Say Good-Bye” I’ve ever heard. Small in stature, his voice was “big” and touched everyone in attendance. At that moment we realized that the hour to say good-bye was quickly approaching. In less than twenty-four hours, all passengers would be disembarking.

I spent the afternoon walking on the Promenade deck as the ship eased its way to and through the Inside Passage into Canada. The ship’s naturalist was aboard and kept the passengers abreast of everything going on around us as we slowly cruised into Canadian territory. Whales, porpoises, tree-covered mountains, islands, and glaciers surrounded the ship with their natural beauty.

That night we dined with a three other couples whom we had not yet met. Although I can’t recall their names, we sincerely enjoyed their company. They, especially the women, were high-spirited and fun, and I even picked up an excellent recipe for cooking salmon on the grill. And lest I forget, a highlight of the evening was tasting Baked Alaska, a flaming treat that we had seen entering the dining room on trays carried by what seemed to be two dozen staff members.

Early the following morning, we put our bags outside of the cabin and made our to the Horizon Dining Room on the 14th deck. We had enjoyed breakfast there several mornings, and the variety and quality of the food were excellent. Usually a bagel and cream cheese gal, my cruise breakfasts were a little more substantial. Let’s just say I added a little something extra. Something like yogurt, fruit, wheat toast, banana nut bread, scrambled eggs, and bacon (only once, don’t judge). And then there was that morning when I opted for salmon and eggs…delicious.

That morning, the dining room was full, making it a challenge for the six of us to eat together, so we settled for “close proximity.” I met a new friend, a 79-year-old woman traveling to Canada for a family wedding. Chatting with her was a delightful experience, and I admired her willingness to follow The North Face advice to “Never Stop Exploring.”

Breakfast behind us, we reluctantly walked outside to the Lido Deck and asked a staff member to take our picture. It was time to say good-bye. Jeanita and Thomas were flying out of Vancouver with some other people that evening, and and Judy, Carl, Otis and I were spending the night in Vancouver.

Our plan was to take the ferry to Victoria for dinner, but those plans didn’t quite materialize. We took the ferry but went to Sydney, a picturesque coastal town a few miles from where the ferry docked. We walked, oohed and aahed, took pictures, and ate dinner at Subway (they’re everywhere!) before returning to the ferry.

The next morning we flew out of Canada towards the home of the brave and the land of the free. Seeing the words “Welcome to the U.S.A.” was emotional, and I pondered how people entering for the first time must feel.

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Last Stop–Ketchikan

Ketchikan, a word I’d heard quite often in the past several weeks. The very sound of it sounded mysterious and conjured up images of trappers, fishermen, and furriers. Named after the creek that runs through the city, it’s the southeasternmost city in Alaska. It’s also known as Salmon Capital of the World.

When we realized that this city would be the last one we’d visit before heading to Canada, we decided to sign up for an excursion. Jeanita and I chose one that allowed us to visit the Saxman Totem Village, and the others opted for a lumberjack competition.

The Saxman Village with its thirty-four totems, a carving shop, a clan house, and a gift shop was all we hoped for—and more. We listened to an interesting lecture by a native Tlingit who taught us about his culture and its clans, marriage customs, and way of life. To paraphrase, “It’s important to know about your people, where you come from and who you belong to, so that you’ll know who you are. You’ll have more of a sense of identify.”

Listening to him reminded me of one of the many reasons I had so easily embraced sociology in my younger years, and I walked out of the building wondering, “Who am I? Who are my people?” Oh sure, I know something of my genealogy, but I don’t think people can look at me and think, “Oh, she’s a native Tlingit from Alaska, probably a member of the Eagle Clan.”

Following the lecture, we looked at some souvenirs in another room and then followed a path through the woods to the clan house. Once inside, we observed a traditional dance performed by Tlingits, including two little children, who like their elders, were garbed in native dress. How rich their culture is, I thought. The smallest child was probably around three years old, and I couldn’t help but contrast her daily experiences with the tots I knew. Not that one’s lifestyle was superior to another, but rather that each had a culture, albeit quite different from each other.

After leaving the village and arriving back in Ketchikan, Jeanita and I met our husbands for lunch at Annabelle’s. It was an “interesting” experience. Leaving the restaurant, we took a left and headed to Creek Street, a wooden boardwalk in what was once a red light district. We even spotted a sign with a directional arrow pointing to “Married Man’s Trail.” Today the boardwalk is lined with restaurants, shops, and art galleries.

The menfolk soon tired of browsing and left for the ship. Jeanita and I found it absolutely necessary, however, to get online and do some work so we found Polar Treats, a combination ice cream/coffee shop, and settled in for about an hour. To be honest, we had been hankering to visit Sweet Mermaids, but as soon as we walked through the door, one of the employees let us know that they were closing at 4:00. It was 3:55. We took a quick look around at the creative artwork, sighed with regret that we hadn’t arrived earlier, and took off in search of Polar Treats.

Our work complete, we walked briskly back to the ship, passing the Tongass Trading Company on the way.

“Want to stop in for a quick look?” I asked Jeanita.

“It’s 5:20,” she said, grinning, and I knew what she was saying. Our curfew was 5:30, and we both knew it would be impossible for us to do justice to the huge store.

“Maybe next time,” I replied, knowing that we’d probably never visit this spot  again.

We were sad to be ending our last shore excursion but glad we had made it happen. Good-bye Annabelle’s. So long Creek Street. Farewell to the Tlingit people of Saxman Village.

Look for the Red Circle

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Brrrr. Sunday morning was cold. I woke up first and quickly showered and went down for breakfast before anyone else was stirring about. Say what you will about the Comfort Inn. Their waffles, especially the chocolate ones, are yummy. In this particular establishment, there was a gentleman standing ready to pour, cook, and put them on a plate for you. Nice. I got my waffle and perched on a stool overlooking the other diners and providing a nice view of  44th Street.

Before long, the other members of our little troupe were up and ready to hit the streets and avenues. We took a few pictures and then parted company for a few hours. The younger set went to Rockefeller Center and Little Italy, and the rest of us went to Liberty Island and Ellis Islands. While part of me would have liked to see THE TREE and then look for bargains in Little Italy and China Town, I wanted to immerse myself in the spirit that surrounds that Lady in the Harbor more.

The four of us got directions to the nearest subway stop two blocks away and rode the subway all the way to the Rector Street stop. Regardless of what you’ve heard, New Yorkers are helpful. I’m not saying they’re as warm and open as some people in the South. I’m just saying “Ditch that stereotype.” Ask questions and they will help you. Manhattan is in the tourist business.

Along the way to the subway stop, we saw Mickey Mouse and some other interesting things you don’t see in Camden, Elgin, Conway, or Pawleys Island, the places where we’re from. We got on the right subway but began walking in the wrong direction. Observing our perplexed and anxious looks, a woman came up and asked if she could help, and after hearing us, she said to get on the #1 train, the one with the red circle. At least that’s what I heard, and every time I saw a red circle, I said, “Let’s go this way,” and it worked.

I can still feel the excitement as we took a left turn with an incline and got caught up in the midst of hundreds of people. Seriously, if we hadn’t made note of each other’s clothing and hats so that we could keep up with each other, our day might have turned into a disaster instead of a success. Sure, we had our phones, but for some reason, our batteries kept losing their charge.

One of the things I love about the city is its diversity. Rich, poor, old, young, black, yellow, white, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, beautiful, and homely—all are there, and no one looks askance at those who are “different.” That said, we sat near an Asian couple with one of the sweetest, most adorable babies I have ever seen. Dressed for warmth and lying in his stroller, he stared at his pretty mother and made a lot of “ba” sounds. Clearly smitten with her chubby cheeked little cherub, she communicated joy at his efforts.

We made it to the Rector Street exit and got a little turned around once we climbed up the stairs to the street. It was cold and overcast, and although we could see the water, we weren’t sure how to get there. Finally, with the help of our iPhone maps we made it the whole two blocks to Battery Park. Told you we were small town girls.

Although it might sound clichéd, the four of us fell in love with the setting, including the huge squirrels, the barren trees, and the Urban Garden. We joined the rush of people streaming towards Castle Clinton to buy their tickets, and after going through security, we boarded the ferry headed for Liberty Island.

Despite the cold, I stood on the upper deck so that I could get a good view of the statue as we approached. No matter how many times I see her, the Lady always gives me a little thrill and a sense of wonder. How many immigrants to this great country have seen her? Did they feel awe, relief, fear, dread, excitement, or what?

I recall a story in which a son asked his quiet, somewhat morose immigrant father to tell him about the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Thinking his dad would tell him about some gorgeous but unattainable “real life” woman, the man was taken aback somewhat when his father stopped fishing, looked at him with moist eyes, and said, “The lady in the harbor.” A pivotal moment, that’s when the son, a teenager at the time, began feeling awe and a deeper love for his parents instead of embarrassment for their “old world” ways, language, and clothing.

Back to December 14, 2014, we got off the ferry at Liberty Island and walked on the grounds oohing and ahing with the appearance and “feel” of the place. We asked someone to take this picture, probably my favorite of the weekend. With the New York skyline behind us and Lady Liberty in front of us, we were a happy foursome. We took some other pics and then went into the gift shop/restaurant area for some hot chocolate.

After about an hour on Liberty Island, we boarded the ferry for the trip to Ellis Island. Next time………

Is It Already Monday??

Sad to be leaving and yet happy to be touring the Capitol before heading home, my sister travelers and I got up a little earlier on our last day in the capital. Knowing that it would probably take between eight and nine hours before pulling into my driveway that night, we needed to get an early start with our sightseeing.

After another yummy breakfast (this time with crispy, tasty waffles), we piled in my car, and Tilara drove to a perfect parking spot within a block of both the Capitol and the Library of Congress. Walking towards the Capitol, we again remarked on the statue that sits atop its shiny dome. It had to be a famous Native American chief, we figured. Wrong. That morning we learned that the statue is called “Freedom” and that it’s a female.

We excitedly waited in line with some other upbeat folks for our tour time of 9:50. As we walked through security, the alarm went off, and I was the culprit. Not too worried, I figured it was my bracelet. But no, it was my tiny pink Swiss Army knife. I was sternly told to take it outside and throw it away. I must have looked dumbfounded because the guard again demanded, “Go outside and throw it away or leave the tour.” I hated that! That little knife and I have been inseparable for years, and it’s come to my rescue on many occasions. It even had a nail file and a tiny pair of scissors. Nevertheless, I chunked it and decided to share this little episode so that others would know to leave their weapons outside.

The tour was magnificent. The young tour guide was knowledgeable and upbeat, two positive attributes for a good guide. As she pointed out many of the statues in “The Crypt,” the area beneath the Rotunda, she mentioned that John C. Calhoun from South Carolina had, hands down, the best hair of them all. I was fascinated by the star in the center of the floor that illustrates the point from which the streets of Washington are laid out. We also visited the beautiful Rotunda with its statues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan.  There was also a representation of three well-known suffragettes, including Elizabheth Cady Stanton. The fresco painted in the Rotunda’s dome is breathtakingly beautiful and beyond my ability to describe.

Capitol tour completed, we made quick stop in the gift shop for souvenirs before entering the tunnel leading to the Library of Congress. Even the tunnel itself was awe-inspiring with its posters of book covers. We learned that the Library is the largest one in the world by shelf space and in the number of books. Although the Library is open to the public, only people with a reader identification card can actually enter the reading rooms. The four of us quietly and almost reverently walked through the facility, taking pictures and absorbing the ambience. After a quick walk through Thomas Jefferson’s Library, we reluctantly left the building and headed towards my trusty Highlander.

With Tilara at the wheel, we cruised out of the city, wondering when we’d get back again. As we were riding along the Potomac, Tilara turned to look at people strolling in Potomac Park and inadvertently missed our exit. Upset for about half a second, she soon got over it as we all relished our last look at this historic river.

Within seconds we were on the interstate heading south. We chatted about our favorite sights and memories off and on for much of the trip back to South Carolina, and we realized that although we had done and seen a lot, there was so much more that we wanted to see. You know what that means, right? Another trip!

Day Two in Washington

After breakfasting on lox and bagels and omelets, we once again headed out into the capital city to do the tourist thing. Destination: the Capitol. Its shiny dome had been tempting and taunting us from the moment we had arrived in the city two days earlier, and now we were actually going to get to see it up close and personal. First, however, we rode the metro to Union Station. Too early for the shops to be open, the station was relatively quiet. Looking at its breathtakingly beautiful architecture brought back memories of an earlier visit with my son and some friends when we had taken Amtrak from Florence, SC.

Like millions of other visitors, we took walked out of the front door and were impressed with the statue of Christopher Columbus. As we busily snapped a few pictures of the man who sailed the ocean blue in 1492, we kept glancing up the hill at the Capitol. Then we began our ascent, all the while talking about the scenery around us. There at last, we were stopped by security guards who told us that the building was closed but that we could visit it at 8:30 the next morning. Happy to be so close, we couldn’t leave without taking several photographs. The one of the four of us standing against the wall was snapped by a man who jokingly told us that he was going to charge us. After all, he had six children to educate and every little bit helped. I hope he and his family enjoyed their time on “the hill” as much as we did.

Next stop, the Smithsonian. We began our museum visits with a trip to the American Indian Museum where we were treated to a performance of traditional dances. After about an hour of trying to read and study all of the exhibits, we hustled towards the next stop. My chums went to the American Museum of Natural History while I spent an hour or so walking around in a trance in the National Gallery of Art. Among other things, they wanted to see the Hope diamond, and I wanted to see art, art, and more art.  It’s huge! I was awed by its size and the collections. I was drooling over a poster by Georgia O’Keefe when my friends called to say they were headed to the Museum of American History.

I left Georgia’s poster and walked to the next museum to join my friends. In need of some energy, we ate snacks in the cafeteria before viewing the exhibits. Of my recollections of the afternoon, those moments in the cafeteria are among the finest. Here we were eating our yogurt and salads among some of the most diverse people we’d dined with in a long time, all the while looking out of the big glass windows at the sidewalk and the passers-by. It was marvelous. Fortified and refreshed, we went upstairs to view the exhibits of America’s past. LOVED THIS! From Dorothy’s red slippers to model train stations, we reveled in all of it.

We left the last of the museums at dusk, and as we scurried across the mall in search of the metro, I took a photo of the Washington Monument. Had to. There was something about its tall simple beauty that spoke to me. Weary but happy, we decided to grab some sandwiches at Subway in Chinatown and take them to the room. So much for our vow to eat ethnic food every night! At least the Subway was in Chinatown even if the food wasn’t noodles or bok choy!

Lights were out by 11:00. These Southern gals needed a good night’s sleep for touring the Capitol and the Library of Congress the next day.

Road Trip, Road Trip!

I thought I’d have much more time to write when I retired, but that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s because I’m only semi-retired. And maybe it’s because I’m so busy doing other things that I couldn’t do while I was working all the time. Then again, I actually have been writing quite a bit, just not blog posts.

Excuses aside, I’m taking a few minutes to write about my recent trip to Washington, D.C. that I took with some friends. Not only will it help me to remember all of the cool sights and sounds, but it might also encourage some other people to make the trip. Before I get into the nitty gritty details, let me just say that’s it’s an awesome city and one that every American needs to visit.

When Tilara called to invite me about a month ago, I thought, “Sounds great, but I can’t really afford it right now.” Coming on the heels of Christmas, the opportunity was tempting, but I needed to curtail my spending for a while. Then she told me about her time share. Hmmm. Maybe it would be doable after all if I had no lodging expense.

We agreed to look into transportation possibilities including planes, trains, and automobiles and talk in a day or two. By this time, I had begun to think, “Why not?” instead of “No can do.” When Jeanita and Connie said they could go, I knew it was a perfect foursome, and all of my reservations went out the window. We decided that driving was the best way to go and that my car would be the most practical choice. It would hold us and our luggage comfortably, it gets good gas mileage, and it had just had a check up.

We headed out on Friday the 13th the around 7:00 a.m., and before we even made it to the interstate, we had made some ground rules, the main one being that if we were hungry or thirsty or in need of a potty break, we’d stop. We four believe that the journey is just as important as the destination and that there are a lot of interesting experiences to be savored off the beaten path. We didn’t go crazy with this, but we did enjoy lunch at a Cracker Barrel in NC and snacks at a Wawa in Virginia. At Cracker Barrel, we leisurely browsed through the store without someone hurrying us along by saying, “You about through looking?”

Around 4:00 p.m., we arrived in the city and rode around looking for the hotel. Tilara, the Washington expert, was driving, and she was getting concerned that we couldn’t find it right away. The rest of us were loving every minute of riding around the streets and avenues. We were like schoolkids saying, “Oh, look at that!” and “Hey, there’s the Washington monument!!”

Connie spotted the Renaissance, and as soon as we walked into the lobby we fell in love with the ambience. The music and the décor were marvelous, and the feng shui was perfect. We especially liked the library room and took pictures so that we could redo our bookshelves when we got home. On Monday morning Tilara and I met an accounting professor who was studying for classes in the “library.” He and I talked a little about the background work of preparing for class. You can’t just walk into class and go into a programmed spiel unless you’ve read and studied and practiced and tweaked and read and studied some more. But I digress.

That evening when we finally got settled, we made a foray onto the streets for a bite to eat. First we visited Barnes and Noble, and although I didn’t buy anything there, I enjoyed browsing through the books and reading a couple of magazines. Afterwards we walked around a little, and I spied an Anthropologie that I wanted to return to the next morning. It didn’t happen, but it’s not on my list of regrets because there were so many other fantastic things that we did. Plus, there’s always next time.

Hungry and tired from all those hours on the road, we ate at Hard Rock Café. The food was delicious, especially the appetizer, but I wish we could have had a different side than fries. I’m wondering if the chain hasn’t gotten the word that America has a growing obesity epidemic.  Although I liked the music and memorabilia, I’ve been in these establishments in different parts of the country for over 20 years, and they’re starting to run together. My favorite is in Myrtle Beach, SC, maybe because of the staircase descending down, down, down into the restaurant. The sky ceiling is unique too. Oops, I’m digressing again.

We bid Mama, our male server with a unique accent, farewell and walked back to the hotel. Although it was cold and dark, we were caught up in the magic of the capital city, and we took our time walking home, remarking on places we wanted to visit the next morning. The only thing that cast a shadow over the evening was the number of homeless people we saw wrapped in gray blankets. Feeling greedy, selfish, guilty, and compassionate, we left our Hard Rock leftovers on a bench for one of them.

Exhausted, we fell asleep easily, each of us remembering the day of traveling and the memories we’d already made. Stay tuned for Day One in Washington. It stands as proof that one never knows what good things lie in store, even when (maybe especially when) you aren’t looking for them.