After our long rest, we are set to begin traveling again in August. Sure, Covid impacted our ability to travel but hopefully the world has settled down a bit and we can take off again. We fly to Paris in August where we will stay a week or so rediscovering this lovely city before taking a train to the village of Livarot – in the Normandy region of France. Ryan, our youngest and his husband Chris have purchased a property and will be opening a B&B. They are calling it, Le Douet Fleury. Check this out. Our other son, Jason and his family have moved to Germany – specifically Wiesbaden. So given that our family are all now living in Europe, we have gotten an extended stay visa for six months and are heading across the pond.
So, as we begin to travel again, follow along as I hope to post stuff from time to time of interest.
After leaving Aruba, we motored along the north coast of Venezuela getting read to enter the “cue” for the Panama Canal transit. It took the better part of a day and a half to get from Aruba to Colon the entrance to the Canal.
The main reason to take our cruise in January was to transit the Panama Canal. Sure, it was enjoyable to visit Aruba and be entertained by the on-board activities, but the highlight was clearly the Canal. In anticipation of this adventure we both read David McCullough’s book The Path between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 first published in 1978. This book tells the story of the men and women who fought against all odds to fulfill the 400-year old dream of construction an aquatic passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Our passage through the Canal was early morning – really before sunrise but that didn’t stop most of the passengers from being out to view the process.
Having been on a number of river cruises that had to pass through various locks on rivers, the canal passage wasn’t as amazing as it might have been. Sure the size of the ship was significantly bigger but the system operates just the same.
We arrived at the first lock at 5:45 and began the process. I’m guessing our Captain has done this kind of thing before so it went very smoothly. Transit through the first lock took about 45 minutes – most of that time taken up by the inflow of the water to raise the ship. Overall the ship was lifted some 85 feet from sea level and by 7:30 we were through both locks and on Gatun Lake.
This man made lake was the largest man made lake when it was created – 164 square miles. Covering approximately 21 miles of the transit between the seas, it is staging space for ships waiting passage through the locks. We were required to anchor for several hours until our time slot for the next part of the journey.
Once back underway we passed through the Culebra Cut.
This area required one of the most difficult construction challenges: excavating the Culebra Cut through the continental divide to connect Gatun Lake to the Pacific Panama Canal locks. Seen from the deck of the Pacific Princess it’s amazing to think how much mountain had to be removed to create the passage.
Once through the cut it was a quick transition to the Pacific side locks and we were underway.
We passed through the final sections and into the Pacific Ocean by mid afternoon.
Overall the transit took about 10 hours and was a wonderful experience.
If you are going to make plans to go through the Canal, I do strongly recommend McCullough’s book. It really gave some wonderful insights into how it was created and the difficulties involved. Today more than 14,000 ships transit the Canal using both the old locks (which we used) and the new larger locks for the bigger ships.
Aruba was our first port of call on our trip through the Panama Canal.
Aruba is a lovely island in the southern Caribbean and still a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is 19 miles off the coast of Venezuela in the west part of the Lesser Antilles. The island measures 20 miles long and 6 miles across at its widest point. Along with Bonaire and Curacao, Aruba forms a group referred to as the ABC Islands.
As a result of its link to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the citizens are all Dutch nationals. Unlike much of the Caribbean, Aruba has a dry climate and an arid, cactus-strewn landscape. This climate clearly has helped tourism as visitors to the island can reliably expect warm, sunny weather – and our visit in January was certainly was beautiful.
Early human presence on Aruba dates back to as early as circa 2000 BC. The first identifiable group, the Arwak Caquetio Amerindians migrated from South American about 1000 AD and there is Archaeological evidence on many parts of the island.
We visited the Ayo Rock Formations – with one area showing rock drawings dating back thousands of years.
The first Europeans to visit the island were from Spain in 1499 – who of course claimed it. The early explorers described Aruba as an “island of giants” as the locals seemed to have a comparatively large stature. Spain began colonizing the island in 1508 and controlled it for the next 100 years or so. The Netherlands seized Aruba from Spain in 1636 in the course of the Thirty Years’ War and it has been under Dutch control ever since.
With not a lot of resources on the island there wasn’t much industrialization. There are ruins of a gold mine but no active work being done at this time. In the 1920’s two oil refineries were built to process crude oil from the vast Venezuelan oil fields. This brought greater prosperity to the island and it grew to be come one of the largest processors in the world. These closed around 2009. Another industry on the island is Aloe.
First planted on Aruba in 1850, aloes seem to love the desert conditions. With a healthy demand for aloe products, it has become a continuing part of Aruba’s economy. One of our tours was to the Aruba Aloe plant where a new modern facility is active and selling a number of Aloe products in their gift shop.
In 1947, Aruba presented its first constitution as an autonomous state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Ultimately the Netherlands Antilles was created that united all of the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean into one administrative structure.
Our visit to the Island included an excursion out and about the island – The Butterfly Farm, Ayo Rock Formations, Aloe Plant and a general overview of the island. As we had some free time before our actual tour, we headed off the ship and walked around the town Oranjestad. Located on the northern end of the Island, it was lovely to walk around, pick up a few post cards and explore. We did find a Starbucks (I was asked to get a coffee mugs for one of Jason’s coworkers) and walked past, but not into, the Casino. We also were able to get a stamp in our passport!
First stop on our tour was the Butterfly Farm (www.buterflyfarm.com).
Started on Aruba in 1999 with hundreds of exotic butterflies from all around the world. Among some of the favorites are the iridescent beautiful Blue Morpho from the rainforests of South America. We started off with an introduction by a
member of the Butterfly Farm Team and learned about all the various examples flying around us in the enclosed area.
Butterflies all around us – landing on us, drinking from the various fruit plates set out for them and generally a lovely environment.
After getting our fill of the beauty of the butterflies, we re-boarded the bus and headed out to Ayo Rock Foundations. It is clear the island is arid – lots of cactus along the way and dry desert plants for sure. The place is so dry they have to import water – and you see lots of rain catching systems on houses to collect what rainfall the do get. Ayo Rock Formations are monolithic rock boulders located around the island mostly on the northern end. While there are a number of areas, the one we stopped to view included an enclosed area with early cave paintings – most likely from about 1000 years ago or so. The boulders have unusual shapes resembling birds and dragons as well as other things we noticed as we traveled along. After visiting the rocks, we went to the Aloe plant.
Located across the street from a major school, and next to a large field of Aloe plants, the Aruba Aloe Company is clearly a going concern.
A demonstration was given on what parts of the Aloe plant are used, how they are processed and what kinds of products are created. The history of the plant, how it’s been part of the Aruba culture for 150 years or so was interesting and filled out the day with a pleasant tour.
Once back to the ship, and everyone on board, we slipped away to continue our adventure towards the Panama Canal.
This past January, we took a Princes Cruise through the
Panama Canal. Our voyage started in Fort
Lauderdale, Florida made stops in Aruba, Costa Rica and two stops in Mexico –
Puerto Chiapas and Cabo San Lucas before ending the journey in Los Angeles
This was a much
different cruse then we experienced over Thanksgiving on Carnival Cruise –
first, this is a small ship, only 650 passengers and didn’t do anything like a
round trip cruise as we did in November.
In fact, we boarded the ship on its first leg of an around the world
trip lasting 111 days. Our part of the
overall trip was only 15 days so just a small piece of the trip being taken by
a lot of the passengers on board. The
entire trip had only the four stops so most time was spent at sea.
We had booked this cruise after a long conversation with our
friends Jim and Sally. They have been on
a number of cruises but never on a small ship such as the Pacific
Princess. As a matter of fact, Jim had
recommended we try this ship for our Alaska cruise that is scheduled for June. After we booked that cruise,he started
looking at it’s overall itinerary and found the Panama Canal leg of the around
the world trip (the ship goes completely around before we re-board it in Alaska
in June). Once he discovered the Panama
Transit trip he booked passage and we did too.
Pacific Princes, as I mentioned, is the smallest ship in the
Princess Fleet – with 11 decks and is 592 feet long as compared to their other
ships with 19 decks and over 1,000 feet long.
The smaller ship still provides many of the same amenities found on the
larger ships, specialty restaurants, bar entertainment and cabaret shows, but
certainly nothing like the crowds for sure.
Yes, there was a small Casino on board – with various game tables (no
craps for some reason) and slot machines but we were not tempted to play.
Our cabin was on deck 7 as was Sally and Jim’s. We had a nice room with a balcony but we didn’t spend a lot of time in the cabin, as there were things to do and places to explore. Dining was either in the dining room with wait service on deck 4 (most evenings were there) or in the buffet on deck 9. Also on deck 9 was the spa (Janeen spent several relaxing hours there) with the pool in the middle. On deck 10 forward was the Pacific Lounge Bar where we met each evening for an adult beverage before dinner or to just hang out and see the sights. A nice library and reading room on deck 10 aft was also a quiet place to enjoy the afternoon. At the opposite end of the ship from the dining room was the Cabaret Lounge with entertainment in the evening and various presentations during the day.
Our Dinner seating was early, 5:30 or so, and we shared the
table with 2 other couples along with Sally and Jim. One couple – Al and Denise – were on board
for the entire adventure of 111 days while the other couple – Ron and
Carol – were getting off with us in Los
Angeles. I would have to say we had a
good group of people at our table and really all the people we spoke to seem to
be having a good time and enjoying the adventure. I did speak with one passenger who was on his
10th around the world cruise (on the same ship!) and he had his
grandson with him as his full time caregiver. I’m not certain about going on a
cruise for 111 days ,but to do it 10 times seems a bit much ,however if you
enjoy it and have the money why not?
Over the next few blogs I will try and give some highlights
about the various port of call and of course the adventure of going through the
Panama Canal. Until then, as Rick Steve’s
always says, “Keep on traveling”.
On our last adventure in New Orleans, we Traveled back in time to the era of the antebellum South on a guided tour from New Orleans to the Whitney Plantation, a former indigo and sugar plantation on the River Road now dedicated to promoting an understanding of slavery in Louisiana and after lunch, visited Houmas, also known, as Burnside Plantation, a historic plantation complex and house.
These two Plantations couldn’t be any further apart. The Whitney Plantation is a collection of buildings but the main focus is devoted to slavery in the Southern United States. German immigrants Ambroise Haydel started the Whitney Plantation in 1752 and his wife and their decedents owned it until 1867. After the Civil War (1867) the plantation was sold to Bradish Johnson of New York, who named the property after his grandson, Harry Whitney. Over the next 100 years or so it changed hands several times. In 1999 John Cummings, a trial attorney from New Orleans, who has spent more than $8 million of his own fortune on this long-term project, purchased it.
The museum, comprising main portions of the 2,000-acre plantation property contain imaginative exhibits designed by Cummings representing persons born into slavery before the Civil War commissions original.
The site includes the main house, several slave cabins, various out buildings and a church (not original to the property). There is a large memorial that includes the names of number of enslaved peoples that includes their personal histories (where known) on the property.
Not all of them were directly associated with the Plantation but in the general area and time frame. The only interior tour was of the slave cabins and the church – the main house isn’t included at this time. The entire property is dedicated to how enslaved people were treated throughout this dark period of the US history.
By contrast, the Houmas, really is a focus on the plantation owner, not the slave population. Dating from the late 1700s, with the current main house completed in 1840, the Houmas Plantation is named after the Houma people who originally occupied this area of Louisiana. The complex contains eight buildings on about 10 acres. Alexander Latil and Maurice Conway ‘appropriated’ all of the Houma tribe’s land on the east side of the Mississippi River in 1774 to create the plantation.
Similar to the Whitney Plantation, the Houmas was a working sugarcane plantation by the early 1800’s. Purchased by Daniel Clark in about 1805, he began to develop the property and built one of the first sugar mills along this stretch of the river.
Changing hands several times over the years it grew to over 12,000 acres with approximately 750 slaves. After 1900, the house and ground began to fall into disrepair further damaged by the Mississippi River flood of 1927 and during The Great Depression it fall into worse condition.
George B Corzat purchased the house in 1940 and began an ambitious program of restoration of the house and gardens.
In the spring of 2003, the Estate of Dr. George Crozat auctioned off the entire contents of the mansion and grounds. Kevin Kelly, a New Orleans Businessman, purchased the mansion and surrounding grounds and began the task of restoring the mansion and gardens. The mansion, having undergone over 200 years of construction and remodeling by various owners, reflected a multitude of styles. It was impossible to restore the house to a definite period without sacrificing elements from other important periods of its history. The choice was made to select the best features from various periods to showcase a legacy of each family in the mansion. After extensive restorations to the house and grounds, the Houmas re-opened for tours in November of 2003. Mr. Kelly allows tours of the mansion and gardens, however the Houmas remains his private residence, as it was for its previous owners for over 240 years.
The tour of the main house reflects a period of opulence reflective of the ‘gold era’ of plantations in the South. Furniture, artwork and decorations all depict a rich history of the area and are well maintained.
The view out the front porch is quite lovely with stately old Oak trees lined up along the drive. Unfortunately the levee along the Mississippi River is just out the front blocking what would have been a lovely view of the river.
Today the property is used for weddings, film shoots and private events.
This was the final adventure as part of our Road Scholar – Signature City New Orleans: City of Mystery & Intrigue. We had a good time, learned a lot and achieved our goal of learning about this wonderful City. There is no question that we will be back sometime in the future to explore more of this city.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the other things we did while in New Orleans – lots of good times, lots of great music for sure. Wedding Procession . Just as we walked out the front of our Hotel this wedding march was passing by. There were several that occurred during our stay.
One lunchtime, our Road Scholar Program included a couple of hours with Doreen Ketchens.
Blowing a clarinet on the corner of Royal and St Peter streets for some 32 years as the leader of Doreen’s Jazz New Orleans Band is a far cry from Ketchens’ ambition of being the principal clarinetist in the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra. Over the course of a couple of hours, Doreen treated us to some history of Jazz in New Orleans, how the street musicians survive and some insights into the reasons for the traditional music we hear all over the City.
It was a foot stomping, hand clapping session so we purchased one of her CD’s.
One evening, we had a pass to go to Fritzel’s – the oldest operated Jazz Club in New Orleans. We arrived early, which was good given the limited seating, and had a wonderful hour of Dixie Land Jazz. Housed in a 1831 building it is home for some of the city’sbest musicians. In addition to regular weekend programs, there are frequent jam sessions in the wee hours of the night.
Janeen attended the lecture by Joanne Sealy introducing the writers and authors who have been influenced, and reflected the City. G.Washington Cable and Lafcadio Hearn were outsiders who found a home in the Crescent City, as did Mississippi transplants Wm.Faulkner and T. Williams. Gumbo Ya-Ya by Lyle Saxon has been republished as a treasury of Creole and Cajan sayings. We visited Anne Rice’s writing arie in the Garden District where she enlarged tales of Yellow Fever and Dysentery and Malaria that wiped out entire districts and households, leaving the almost dead to cope. Lillian Hellman followed in the steps of Kate Chopin and Truman Capote recorded the eccentrics of the area, perhaps not as concisely as John Kennedy Toole in A Confederacy of Dunces.
On one of our excursion days, we went to the National WWII Museum. We have been in a number of museums both in the USA and in Europe over the last couple of years and this place ranks right up there at the top. The museum focuses on the contribution made by the United States to Allied victor in WWII. Founded in 2000, it was later designated by the U.S. Congress as America’s official National WWII Museum. One of the highlights is a movie narrated by Tom Hanks which covered both the Pacific and European theaters and was very moving.
There were displays for both areas and well documented with lots of interesting things to look at.
One afternoon, I took off and Janeen went to the New Orleans School of Cooking.
Over the course of an hour or two they made Gumbo, Shrimp Etouffee Pralines and Bananas Foster – getting to eat everything at the end of the meal.
Sure, New Orleans is clearly a ‘party city’ but it is steeped in history and interesting architecture. The buildings and architecture are reflective of its history and multicultural heritage. In the morning, Nellie Watson, a local architect and long time resident, held a discussion about the culture and architecture of the City. After spending time in the ‘classroom’, so to speak, we boarded the Coach and headed out for a tour to see some of the fantastic homes throughout the City. From Creole cottages to historic mansions on St. Charles Avenue there is a rich diversity to explore.
Creole Cottages (The term “Creole” was created to describe citizens in New Orleans after America took control of the city in 1803. French and Spanish descendants who were early settlers of the city adopted the name to distinguish themselves from the influx of American citizens occupying the city.) These are scattered throughout the city with most being built between 1790 and 1850. Creole cottages are 1 or 11/2-story, set at ground level almost touching the street with steeply pitched roofs. They have a symmetrical four-opening façade wall and a wood or stucco exterior.
American Townhouses ,a style found in the Central business district and Lower garden District, are narrow brick or stucco three-story structures featuring asymmetric windows and iron balconies on the second and third floor. Built between 1820 and 1850 in the area mostly occupied by the ‘new’ residents coming into New Orleans.
Creole Town Houses – these are the most iconic pieces of architecture in the city of New Orleans, comprising a large portion of the French Quarter. Creole townhouses were built after the great fire of 1788 that destroyed much of the city. They were built from about 1788 through the mid 1850’s or so. The original wooden buildings were replaced with structures with courtyards, thick walls, arcades and cast-iron balconies. The façade of the building sits on the property line with an asymmetrical arrangement of arched openings. These come with steeply pitched roof with a parapets, side-gabled with several roof dormers and strongly show their French and Spanish influence. The exterior was usually brick or stucco. These are the beautiful buildings spread throughout the French Quarter with many having retail or restaurants on the first level with either additional restaurant space above or homes.
Found in the Garden District, Uptown and other areas are Raised Center-Hall cottages. These homes were raised enough above street level that there is sometimes a garage or work area on the ground level. They feature porches that stretch all the way across the front with columns. Greek Revival and Italianate center Hall Cottages are most common but Queen Anne and other Victorian styles stand proudly in between. These were built between 1803 and 1870 supporting the influx of new Americans coming into the City and usually away from the old section – French quarter.
Found all over New Orleans, and built between 1850 and 1910 are Shotgun Houses. These are long and narrow single-story homes that have a wood exterior and are easy to spot. Many feature charming Victorian embellishments beneath the large front eve. The term “shotgun” originates from the idea that when standing in the front of the house, you can fire a bullet clear through every room in the house. Some of these have been converted to have what is called a camelback – a second story set at the rear of the house.
One of the last styles of housing is the Double-Gallery house. Found in the lower Garden District these two-story houses feature stacked and covered front porches, box columns and front door off to one side. They look a lot like townhouses but they are set much further back from the sidewalk. These were built between 1850 and 1910.
After WWII, the California bungalow style of home started to be built in neighborhoods. These are noted for their low slung appearance, being more horizontal than vertical with exterior wood siding maybe with a brick, stucco or stone porch with flared columns and roof overhang. Not the most pleasing of the styles as it really doesn’t “fit into” the general architectural style of most neighborhoods where they have been built.
Nellie gave us a great tour and a good appreciation of the different histories and styles being built reflecting changes over time. Glad we had this as part of our Tour of New Orleans.
New Orleans – reflections about this lovely City. We had visited many years ago when we drove across country in 1978 on our way to Los Angeles. So, when we found the Road Scholar Tour of New Orleans, City Of Mystery & Intrigue it seemed like the right thing to do.
After checking into the Hotel Monteleone we joined 28 other Scholars to learn about this wonderful city.
Dubbed affectionately by some as the northernmost Caribbean city, New Orleans revels in its giddy blend of European refinement and carefree effervescence, a place where virtue and vice are celebrated in equal measure. We where invited to surrender to the intoxicating charms of “the Crescent City” that have long fascinated artists, writers, musicians and scholars. We experienced live New Orleans jazz, took field trips inside and outside the French Quarter and Garden District; got perspectives on architectural and literary landmarks, and enjoyed the unique culinary adventures as well as the National World War II Museum.
New Orleans is a consolidated city-parish located along the Mississippi river. With a population of about 391,000 it has the most residents of any city in Louisiana. The Port of New Orleans, that extends to Baton Rouge on the Mississippi river, is considered the economic and commercial hub for the broader Gulf Coast region and the gateway to the world, both with shipments out of the port and products brought in from all over the world.
Founded in 1718 by French colonists, New Orleans was once the territorial capital of French Louisiana – was ruled by the Spanish from 1762-1801,given back to France and ultimately sold to the United States by Napoleon in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. In 1840, New Orleans was the third-most populated city in the United States and was the largest city in the American South until after World War II.
Needless to say, the flat elevation (New Orleans is actually below sea level) has resulted in flooding, resulting in various levees being created, large drainage pumps being installed and general a fear of the Mississippi and any hurricanes (think Katrina in August 2005).
Our first day started with a general introduction by Ms Ann, a lifetime resident of New Orleans, covering its history culture and discussion about levees and the role Lake Pontchartrain plays in protecting the City from flooding.
Following our “classroom intro”, we boarded the coach and drove around getting a feel for the city and learning about the various areas.
This included a visit to the one of the famed St. Louis above-ground cemeteries of the City.
Along the way, we stopped at the The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture. Atypical of most sculpture gardens, this garden is located within a mature existing landscape of pines, magnolias and live oaks surrounding two lagoons. Lots of very interesting sculptures including some familiar artists and pieces we have seen in other locations.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween in Uptown! The Skeleton House, an annual tradition, is back in all its glory at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and State Street in New Orleans.
The owner has been decorating it for years — and both locals and tourists love it, especially the puns! Louellen Berger, who lives in the home and is in charge of the decorations, says it’s something she looks forward to year after year.
“To see people of all walks of life, and from in town out of town and whatever get excited and enjoy this, because I don’t want it to be scary, want to be funny,” Berger said. “I want to be lighthearted and make everyone laugh. I hope I created that.”
We stopped here during our Architectural tour of the City. It was great to see all the decorations – kinda reminded me of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland (well, not really but hey, it’s my Blog and I can say what I want). In any event it was a nice quick visit to an interesting part of this wonderful City.
How does one make a visit to one of the seven “must see” wonders of the world a personal experience? It certainly helps to have a bright clear autumn day as a lens to view it. Then you hire a driver/guide (Marvelous Marv Tours) ) who has spent his life in Williams, Arizona (except for service in Vietnam) pick you up at the hotel and point out regional wonders en route to the south rim.
Although thousands of world visitors come to view the canyon every season, our fellow tourists were mostly burgundy- robed and civilian pilgrims to the opening of the Buddhist Temple in Williams.
Route 64 north sent us through Ponderosa pine, Pinon pine and the wild National Forest suffering from long-term drought. The Forestry service is clearing the forest floor and will light controlled burns of the cleared debris as snow approaches.
Elk groupings graze calmly along the highway, but they are an invasive species competing with antelope and native grazers.
Cliff Rose bush edges the walks toward the viewpoints along with Utah juniper and Yucca family Bandolear spikes. Cliff Rose provided wool dye for rugs from “spurs”, lanolin in the branches to wash the wool and a sunny yellow flower to guide natives to its growth. The points of the yucca plant worked as needles and the sturdy leaves release “threads” which helped early inhabitants bind and sew tools and coverings
Ravens, turkey vultures and California condors float on the upstream from the canyon a mile below. Clouds shadow the geology and highlight the green of trilobite layers and Redwall limestone.
Black volcanic rock thrusts up from the base schist and golden Coconino sandstone layers at upper levels
Marvelous Marv tours showed us Canyon views at Yavapai Point with the North Rim background; the muddy Colorado below, and Phantom Ranch Bridge visible as white water rafters glided though, pinpoint spots from our perch a mile above. The Yavapai Geology Museum added historic and reviewed guide points made during our trek. Grandview Point views provided expansive, yet closer photos of the layered canyon.
We could have taken the Grand Canyon Train from Williams to the South Rim but we really enjoyed our adventure with Marv, plus the train takes 2-1/2 hours each way giving you only a couple of hours to explore. Marvelous Marv had us at the South Rim in just over an hour and we spent almost 5 hours in the Park before heading back to Williams.
It was a beautiful day with only moderate crowds and the weather could not have been nicer to view this amazing National Park.