Wednesday, December 30, 2015

From Florence to Florida

Tuesday, December 29 & Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I just love the name Piggly Wiggly -- too funny.
Today we drove from Florence, SC to St Augustine, FL. As with our previous drives we encountered numerous delays due to heavy traffic on I-95. I don't think that we will be attempting to drive to Florida via I-95 on the week between Christmas and New Year's again. There are major portions of I-95 that are only two lanes which means that it doesn't take much for the traffic to back up quite a distance. At one point today we even left the highway and drove parallel to it on a state route. We were obviously not the only ones attempting this maneouvre because the traffic was backed up on a portion of the alternate route also. Eventually, we were forced back on to the highway before the traffic jam had cleared anyhow so I am not sure our diversion accomplished much other than giving us a dose of the local scenery which one does tend to miss while driving on the interstate.
Yes it's blurry. It's also 83 degrees.
What are gizzards anyway?

I think I will get some sliced jowels but $149 per pound does seem rather a lot 
Camelias in bloom.
Also Star Magnolia

St. Augustine City Hall
Flagler College in St. Augustine -- why didn't I know about this place when I was applying for college?
Tonight at The Present Moment Cafe (ohhhhhm)
Florence, SC was an interesting stop. There isn't a whole lot going on in downtown Florence as we discovered during our mid to late afternoon car ride around the area. The primary business activity seems to have moved out by the interstate (think shopping malls, big box stores and chain restaurants) while the downtown area is struggling. Normally I would attribute this phenomena to my least favorite corporation (Wal-Mart) but in this particular instance I didn't see evidence of my forever foe. Even though national chains dominated the business scene we were able to find some evidence of how different life in Florence, SC is from say Hockessin, DE. See photographs for proof of some of this "local flavor."

Today, like yesterday, was warm and mostly dry. When I say warm I mean above 80 degrees so that's pretty warm even for these here parts. We saw in Florence many camellias blooming and here in St. Augustine the tourists in shorts were out in force.

Tonight's dinner was much better than last night's which was at a sixties-themed pizza chain restaurant called Mellow Mushroom (clever, huh?) that advertises that it can accomodate vegans. I ordered a Very Veggie pizza (also clever -- I mean who comes up with this stuff! They are truly gifted!) complete with vegan "cheese" and Russell had a veggie burger with "roasted" potatoes. My pizza was drowning in vegan cheese which is not my favorite (some things just shouldn't be attempted in the vegan-o-sphere) and the vegetables (that I assumed would be roasted) were raw and consisted largely of peppers (both green and strangely, banana peppers, which, last time I checked, had yet to make an appearance in the vegetable category of the USDA food pyramid). R's burger was best described as adequate and his roasted potatoes were sweaty rather than crispy meaning that they must have been microwaved. The waitress named "Ayers" (yes that's spelled with a "Y") was friendly and Russell and I have decided that sometimes we just need to consider food as "fuel" rather than as an epicurian experience. So, if you hear us referring to our meal as "fuel" in the future then you will be able to read between the lines.

Tonight however we had better luck eating at a local vegan restaurant called The Present Moment Cafe. Despite its Zen title, the place was positively hopping and the food that we had (cream of tomato soup, veggie burger for me and BBQ tofu sandwich for R, brownie sundae for dessert) was more than adequate. My soup and burger were good and Russell's sandwich despite the presence of dulce (seaweed?) and a side of "weeds" (his word) was mostly eaten.

After dinner we drove to the "Premium" Outlet Mall and walked around for a bit. I find these places rather depressing. A combination of superficiality (all of the emphasis on brands) with poor quality that I find uniquely American (perhaps I am wrong) and unquestionably dispiriting. We left pretty soon after we arrived.

Tomorrow we drive from here to R's Mom's place in North Palm Beach, FL. Looking forward to spending more than one night in a place and also to having an opportunity for exercise. All this time in the passenger's seat is making me feel fat and sore. I have been working on a set of needlepoint acorns (yes, that's right, acorns -- they are ornaments in the shape of an acorn, each with a different design, one for every month of the year -- don't ask me, I don't know why you would do them either nor do I know what you would do with them when they are completed but still in all they are very cute and I've enjoyed working on them for the store). I would prefer to work on my Nordic Christmas House but it is mounted on a lap frame and I am a little worried about what would happen if, God forbid, there was an accident and the airbags were deployed. That is definitely not how I envision my life ending -- impaled by a K's Creations needlepoint lap frame holder (even if it is the nicest, biggest lap frame holder that they sell and the needlepoint piece is by Melissa Shirley who is one of the most expensive needlepoint designers out there). Hah. Now who's the superficial one?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Richmond, VA

Monday December 28, 2015

Today we started our 2016 World Adventure. Left Hockessin on schedule around nine this morning. Surprisingly, we were well-prepared (luggage packed and in truck, Christmas decorations put away, garden "put to sleep," kitchen cleaned, laundry done, needlepoint selected, destination entered into navigation, etc.) and we encountered no last minute snags.

Our luggage (more about that later)
Before lift-off

R decided to be adventurous with our route (following the nav instead of the usual route) departing from the loathesome Washington Beltway in favor of some Parkway or another. This took us "up close and personal" with the Capital building (dome is currently under scaffolding), the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. Eventually we arrived in Alexandria where we visited with our two fun-loving, wise-cracking friends named Gordon and Jen. Their two girls are teenagers now (how time flies!) but they still came over to us and shook our hands and gave us a big "Hello." So polite. We were shocked (as you can tell we are accustomed to much less from ... certain people who I will refrain from naming in the interest of family harmony). 

Gordon, Jen and their eldest (yes I know her name but in the interest of privacy am refraining from sharing it)
Lunch was at our favorite Indian restaurant called Raaja (sp?) They make the best Butter Chicken but we resisted its allure in keeping with our freshly proclaimed status as vegans. After lunch we hit the road again -- this time we encountered heavy traffic and light rain.

We arrived at Hotel Quirk in Richmond around 5:30 pm. The hotel has a lively reception area complete with bar, restaurant and ... gallery (of course). Our room is smallish but has high ceilings and a loft-like feel which makes one not immediately notice that there is no place to sit other than the bed or the desk chair.

Across the street from our hotel is a restaurant called "comfort" or should I say "lower case C space O space M space F space O space R space T period"?

Dinner necessitated a multi-block walk from the hotel to Ipanema, a self-proclaimed "Vegetarian Cafe" which featured numerous vegan options. It's a funky place with low ceilings, tattooed twenty-something staff members and a single menu on the chalkboard by the front door. I had a Ceasar salad and chicken-fried tempeh with dirty rice (we are in the South now, y'all) and R had mushroom ragout.

Notice the tattoo parlor upstairs. As Russell said "We are going to have to go outside our box" to find the vegan food options!

Thoughts for our first day? Anxious about leaving of course and concerned that our fourteen pieces of luggage (no joke) will prove to be too much for both Captain Charley's Limo Service and ultimately for Holland-America. We have luggage issues, what can I say? Fortunately for you, you will only have to hear about our luggage once at the beginning of this trip and then again at the end but since we are staying in one room for the entire trip there will be no need to repeat the luggage transfer debacles of our previous vacation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday September 22, 2015

Final port of call today! Only NYC and home left! Very excited.

St. John's, Newfoundland 
Also St. John's

We were in Halifax today. Russell and I have been here several times so didn't feel the need to do much sightseeing. Instead we focused on a brisk walk and some shopping. We did pretty much the same thing in St. John's, Newfoundland the day before yesterday. We had awesome weather in St. John's and another good day weather-wise here in Halifax. Of course our day at sea was mostly cold and gray but I suppose that is to be expected on the North Atlantic.

Goofy Newfies--not sure what they were doing but they were having fun doing it!

Departing St. John's

I haven't got much profound to say right now but wanted to check in and let you know that we are still alive and looking forward to life post-vacation. R is busy looking at some diet/healthy cookbooks that he picked up today so I know that some healthier living is in the works. Which is a good thing. I am looking forward to renewing my exercise regimen and to doing some projects around the house. I am also looking forward to doing little things like driving my car and visiting my favorite bookstore. 

Halifax, Nova Scotia 

Details, Halifax

Going home will probably be overwhelming at first. It usually is. I'll go into my office and start to go through the mail and get overwhelmed and have to go lie down. Seriously.  It takes me awhile to get through all the mail! Eventually I am left in my office with a pile of books and periodicals to be read and television shows and DVDs to be watched and a garden that needs planting and a craft room to make my own and so many options regarding what I could be doing that I'll probably end up just needlepointing!

Not so different than what I'll be doing once we finally get home!
The Penguin Stocking -- almost finished

Speaking of needlepoint, I "finished" the penguin stocking. I say finished in quotation marks because there is still a little more to be done but I don't have the thread I need. Same with the Halloween House. And with the Valentine's Day House. It's frustrating to have been away for five months and not to have completely finished anything but that's the way things go sometimes. I know that in the next couple of weeks though I will finish three major projects so that's going to feel good.

Next time I write we will be home!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday September 18, 2015

Last two days have been spent exploring two small towns with long names in Greenland, specifically Nanortalik (today) and Qaqortoq (yesterday). The weather here continues to be cold (low forties) and gray with on and off light rain. Both towns are what you might expect -- small, poor and with not much to see. But it's interesting because even though we were in each of these towns only for a couple of hours I think we still got at least a vague feeling for the place.

Qaqortoq harbor 
Drying fish -- can't even imagine how long it would take for this fish to dry in 40 degree drizzle 

Both towns necessitated tenders and for Qaqortoq there was an obvious breakdown in the ship's tendering process. Apparently everyone wanted to get off the ship at the same time and they could only unload one tender at a time at the shoreside dock. Translation: major lines and packed boats, time spent waiting and no personal space. Also, the towns are not really set up to accommodate two thousand people either so even though there may be a store selling stuff that you want (a big assumption) you might not want to wait in the half hour plus line to actually make the purchase. So there you have it -- the ugly side of cruising.

Line for tender back to boat in Qaqortoq 
The one and only souvenir store in Nanortalik (it was hot and humid in there too! I should know -- I fought my way in!)
Native Greenlandic costumes

Now, as for the two towns, here are some of the sights I remember seeing (in no particular order):

1.) I saw not one but two baby carriages parked outside the front of stores -- with babies in them! I guess the mothers figure, "Where is someone going to take them?"
2.) Checked out grocery stores in both towns. They were fairly impressive. Lots of processed and frozen food of course but most everything you would want and even a few things you might not expect such as lemon grass (in a jar) and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream (kind of like selling ice cubes to Eskimos?)

3.) Fish is obviously a big part of the culture. We saw fish hung out to dry in several places and freshly caught fish for sale.

4.) Dogs are outdoor animals. Most are mutts but generally well-behaved.

5.) Houses are small and brightly colored

6.) There are some cars but interestingly no ATVs. Maybe it has something to do with being Danish? (Greenland is part of Danish kingdom)
7.) Post Office service is privatized and seems to work well

8.) It's possible to purchase an LG washer and a big, flat-screen "smart TV"
9.) Helicopters are used quite a bit. No two towns in Greenland are connected by roads. Imagine that!
10.) Mostly single family houses but some apartment/condo buildings

11.) Nanortalik has three polar bears in its town symbol and in the last couple of years several polar bears have made their way into the town. Where they were promptly shot. Don't ask me.
12.) Although both these towns initially appear God-forsaken, they each possess some charm. In Qaqortoq it's the fountain square and in Nanortalik it's the church.

Nanortalik church (they're Lutheran)

13.) Carving is an important part of Greenlandic culture 

Sorry I couldn't string all these observations into a less random whole. I know you'll understand though.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wednesday September 16, 2015

It's been an exciting 24 hours here on the Eurodam. Last night after I published the blog, the ship's captain announced that the Northern Lights were visible from the starboard (our) side of the ship. So, Russell and I quickly went out on our balcony and there before us was indeed the Northern Lights, stretching from one end of the ocean all the way to the other end. Russell quickly got the camera and began taking pictures. It was a great show. We had seen the Northern Lights the other night but it was very faint and brief so I figured it didn't really count. This time we watched for a good half hour plus.

The photos that Russell took turned out terrific. In some ways they are even better than the real thing (the color green was much more subtle in real life) and in some ways not as good as the real thing because a still image can't  convey how the lights were shifting and pulsating, constantly changing. It was a very special experience and we were lucky to be "In the right place, at the right time". Frankly, I didn't even think that we would be able to see the Northern Lights on this trip because I thought they only appeared in the winter and although it's been very cold here (high today = 43 degrees) I am pretty sure it's not yet winter.

Speaking of things I didn't expect to see, this morning Russell and I were up in time to see the sunrise and what a spectacular sunrise it was too. The only reason I was awake in time for the 6:20 a.m. event was because as I mentioned yesterday we've been moving our clocks back as we head west and obviously my body's clock has yet to adjust. 

We had another pleasant surprise today in terms of the scenery. Today was described on the itinerary for this trip as a day of "Scenic cruising -- Prins Christian Sund". Both Russell and I figured "scenic cruising" was just advertising-speak for another "day at sea". How wrong we were! This Prince Christian Sound is absolutely stunning. It's a narrow fjord that cuts through the southern part of Greenland allowing one to get up close and personal with several glaciers, icebergs and six thousand feet rock mountains. Unbelievable. We also saw icebergs calving (separating) from their glaciers complete with a big splash of water and a deep rumble. And I saw a Minke Whale. We never did see a seal but we saw a couple those the other day.

The whole day was a great surprise. My expectations for Greenland were rather low. I figured that there couldn't be much to see in Greenland because you don't hear about it and nobody goes there. We are going to be here for two more days so we shall see whether the scenery stays good but man oh man so far, so good. Enjoy the pics.