Sunday, November 26, 2023

2023 Recap

Greetings, friends. As I did last year, I thought I would write a recap of the year to close it out (and at least have two blog entries for the year). It has been a year of mostly ups and few downs and here are the highlights, snippets meets holiday letter style.

* It has certainly been a big travel year. I started things out by going down to Ecuador in January for a few weeks and collecting the accumulated interest (8%) from our CD. As always the friends, food and temps were perfect and it felt so short that I scouted out and found an apartment to rent for 10 and half weeks this upcoming January for a total of $1300 USD. This will be the longest period we will have escaped winter and I suspect this trend will continue. Ten blissful weeks with no freezing nor shoveling. And one-dollar tacos and twenty-five-cent cokes.

* Shorty after returning from Ecuador, we went on the camp camper cruise which I organized and got about 20 people to go on from Camp. It was a big success, everyone had a great time and it was fun seeing the first-time cruisers' reactions. I got roped into organizing another one this year which we weren't going to go on, but after going to Camp and being ground down by our friends, we are going to fly back from Ecuador for a week this Feb to go on another camper cruise out of Brooklyn and then fly back to Ecuador. (I'm exhausted just writing that sentence, let alone living it.) The things we do for our friends. (wink)

* A few weeks after the Caribbean cruise, we embarked on the trip of our lifetime, a six-week cruise out of Auckland, New Zealand. This was to celebrate our 30 years together. And celebrate we did. We gathered another crop of Facebook friends from the trip and also decided that six weeks is too long for us to cruise. If you are connected to us on FB, you've seen more than enough on this trip since we both posted lots of pics along the way. 

* After we got back from our amazing journey across the globe, we flew out to Grant's Pass, Oregon for a family gathering to say farewell to my grandmother who had died during the lockdowns of COVID. I honestly have no idea what I said at the memorial, but I'm sure Serge got it on tape. (wait, can we say that anymore?) It had been a long time (too long) since we had a gathering, but as is the nature with families, it was like little time had passed. What better thing is there in life than to have those who are always glad to see you, and you feel the same way?

* To continue with that vibe, our next door neighbors, as I know I've mentioned, have become a really important element in our lives. I don't know if I've ever had relationships where we arrive at each other's house unannounced, any time, to bring treats or ask favors or because the dog feels like getting a cookie. Sometimes family shows up in the most unexpected places. It feels like we have always been friends but we only moved here in 2021. It's like that. Would we dress up ridiculously like this for ourselves? Reasonably questionable.

* This is the title page to my master's thesis paper. It is done. I finished it. I can actually type those words. In the University system that I log into, it shows that I am diploma-ed, so it's really true. I started that journey in 2012 and although there were a couple years off in there to deal with mid-life crises, I plugged away at it and finished. The maximum grade point average you can get is 4.3 (A+) and I finished with 4.2. Not that I'm bragging. (I'm bragging.) Now that that task has been eliminated, I've got time to read again and I am really enjoying Libby, the app that lets me check out books from the library on my ipad. The app says it will be my turn for Britney Spear's memoir in 8 months. I just finished All Grown Up. I checked it out this morning and finished it this afternoon. It made me want to write a blog post. (Reading always makes me want to write.)

* This photo has special meaning for me. It was taken at this year's Campcamp. Earlier in the week I had choked on a banana in front of hundreds of people and had to be heimlicked. It was terrifying. I didn't announce that on social media, but all the secrets come out on the blog. I can't watch it anymore, but you can. I will never look at bananas the same way again. Nor eat them while alone. 

* Finally, we have to say goodbye to George, our best friend. We have already taken the appointment, which we made four weeks in advance but has not arrived yet. Each day is a mixture of sadness, love and quiet confirmation that we are making the right decision. But it is so hard. It is also hard to watch him decline, slowly but surely. We will always, always have him in our hearts like we still do Sara. 

* This holiday season, Serge will stay here in Quebec and visit with his family while I go to California to visit mine. I will also make a quick trip to Palm Springs for a few days to see friends (it seems like everyone is moving to Palm Springs these days). I'm sure you will see all that play out on social media. Here is wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season and health and happiness in the new year. Thanks for stopping by :) 

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Trip of a Lifetime

Greetings to the tribe. It's been a long journey from the holidays to June that included a three-week visit to Cuenca Ecuador in January and a 5-night Caribbean cruise at the end of February. If we are connected on Facebook, you've surely seen some pictures from those trips as well as the subject of today's post: Our six-week trip down under and back. It all started on March 21st as we flew to Newark, then San Francisco where we circled the skies for an hour and a half before getting permission to land. The pilot was 5 minutes from diverting the flight to San Jose, which would have made getting to New Zealand in time for the cruise problematic. As it was, we made our flight to Auckland but many others didn't as economy class was only about half full, which the flight attendant said never happens. 

We arrived at 6am in Auckland and familiarised ourselves with the area around our hotel and downtown. Jet lag was not really that bad even though it was a 9-hour time difference. By the next day, we were pretty much on New Zealand time and spent the day hiking up three old volcano mounts that dot the city. This picture is from the highest one with downtown in the background. We were immediately impressed with how friendly everyone seemed. 

The next day was embarkation day for Holland America's 39-day transpacific cruise. The weather was spectacular as we sailed away. There were exactly three children on board and I'd say the average age was over 70. 

On the first and third nights of the cruise, the ship had an LGBTQ meetup. As you can see there was a pretty good turnout on the first night. We ended up meeting for happy hour most days with 6-10 of us then heading to the dining room to eat dinner. 

The next day was our first port of call and we had an excursion to ride the luge in Rotorua. We enjoyed a bloody mary waiting for our group to be called. What? It made the bus ride easier.

Here we are on the chairlift to go up to the luges. In the background, you can see a very large lake which is actually a volcano caldera. There were various hot spots around town with steam rising into the air. 

The next day we stopped in Napier, New Zealand. We didn't have an excursion planned, so we walked around town and shopped for souvenirs. 

The next day we arrived in Picton, a very small coastal town with one main street. We looked up a trail on AllTrails and went for a hike. You can see our ship docked in the background. The weather turned rainy in the afternoon but we were already back on board by then. 

The next stop was supposed to be in Wellington, but due to the rain and high winds, we were not permitted to dock. The captain decided to go to Christchurch one day early for an overnight stop. The storm ushered in some cooler weather as fall was starting. 

We didn't get off the boat in the evening, but the next day we had an excursion to go wine tasting in the Waipara Valley. At the included lunch, we were the last to arrive in the dining area and took the last two seats. Wouldn't you know it, the guy next to us was from Quebec and he happened to be texting his friend at the table, who, wait for it, lives on our street. Small world!

The next day we stopped in Dunedin but again had no excursion planned so we walked around the charming town. New Zealand seemed kind of expensive but they had a version of Target there where Serge was able to get some new sneakers for under $30. Everywhere we went, people seemed super friendly. But it's a small place, only five million people, half of whom live in the Capital area. Quebec alone has nearly 9 million people by comparison. Dunedin was our last stop in New Zealand. 

The next day was a sea day. Finally. We cruised the fiords and saw dramatic scenery. This area is so remote, it takes a week to hike in. Put another way, it's a week's hike to civilization. It reminded us of Chile at the southern end of the South American continent. Largely uninhabited. 

The weather grew stormy when we entered one of the fiords and waterfalls were cascading down the sides of the steep cliffs. It felt like we were in National Geographic. There was narration on board which is how we knew how far from civilization we were. 

If that link works, it's the third stop on the Holland America bar hop. They really put on a show. And stuffed us full of drinks for $35. It all started with wang wangs.

The next stop was in Hobart, Tasmania. We didn't have an excursion planned but kicked ourselves for not doing the animal rescue visit. We would have seen kangaroos and wallabies which we never ended up seeing. That night, Lindsey took us out for dinner and we had wallaby steak. It was DELICIOUS! Incidentally, a group of wallabies is called a mob. 

The next day was a stop in Melbourne, Australia where we had an electric bike excursion in the morning. The guide took us on a stretch of the sparsely populated pedestrian walkway to get to a lookout point. We were a dozen people and when we passed by one lady, she screamed "CYCLE PATH" where the "path" sounds like "poth". It was hilarious, at first I thought she was screaming "Psychopath". Then later on she caught up with us to scream at the guide. Finally, as we headed back to the starting point, we passed her and she was SCREAMING with her cell phone out, "I'm sending this to the police!" as she filmed us passing by. The guide said he'd been doing this same excursion for 15 years and had never encountered anyone like her. We amused ourselves the rest of the cruise saying "cycle path" like Donald Sutherland shrieking in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

In the afternoon we walked around the city looking for souvenirs and having a beer along the river. We felt the visit to be too short as we wanted to explore more but we had to get back on board to go to Sydney the next day. 

On the way to Sydney, we had a two-hour electrical storm. It was so cool and I finally got one on video.

I was up in time the next morning to see the sun rise over the opera house. We had a tour of Sydney planned with a private tour of the opera house. We got a nice taste of the city but wished we had overnighted there. In Sydney, the 14-day cruise people got off (about 500) and the 25-day cruise people got on (about 800). About 1200 of us stayed aboard for the 39-day cruise. 

We danced almost every night on the cruise. For the first two weeks, Lynn would often break the ice and be the first one on the dance floor. The band was REALLY good and talented. Once Lynn left in Sydney, I took the baton and was then frequently the first one on the dance floor. Serge says why don't you dance at the discotheque where we live? I said because it starts at 11pm. On the boat, the dancing finished at 11pm.

After two sea days, we arrived in Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. New Caledonia is a French territory and it was so refreshing to walk around understanding everything. Their French was very easy to understand. It was really hot, but we still went on a hike to the zoo hoping to see Kangaroos, but no, they mostly just had birds. 

Since the cruise was split into two, they had a couple more LGBTQ meetups and the group morphed a bit as some got off in Sydney while others got on. This is in the Crow's Nest, where we met every day for happy hour. 

The next day we visited Lifou Island which is still New Caledonia and took an excursion to a beach on the other side of the island. It was a gorgeous day but we only had a little over an hour to go swimming before having to get on the rustic bus. I thought it would be the most rustic, but that was still to come in American Samoa.

Next stop was in Lautoka, Fiji where we took a catamaran to a tiny island for a day at the beach with drinks and lunch. We saw sea tortoises and baby sharks swimming around. I also got to try Kava which made my mouth go numb. The Fijians were SO smiley and everywhere we went folks shouted "BULA!" at us which is a catchall word for Welcome or Hello. We could definitely see coming back for an extended Fiji vacation.

Enough with the couples shots, right? We had another stop in Fiji in SavuSavu. There we had an excursion to go on a hike to a waterfall. It was very hot, and I swam in the pools under the waterfall. Back in town, we went to look for souvenirs and noticed how inexpensive clothing was. We got Hawaiian-style shirts for six bucks US. We wished we had bought more because when we got to Hawaii, they were all $40 and higher. 

We had another sea day and then arrived in American Samoa (pronounced SAM-wah) where we had an excursion on a bus with wooden boards for seats driving on terribly potholed roads. In the picture, you see Camel Rock. That was about the most exciting thing we saw there. 

The next five days were at sea. We passed the time playing games, taking mixology classes and learning how to tie a sarong and make Hawaiian bracelets. 

We made friends with the Hawaiian Ambassadors who led a bunch of activities on the way to Hawaii. 

One of the guys in our group was stuck in the infirmary all the way to Hawaii. He had gotten bitten by a spider in New Caledonia and his leg blew up like double size, angry and red. When we got to Hilo, he went to the hospital for 11 days before being able to fly home to Florida. Talk about bad luck! He's on the mend now which we are all thankful for. 

On the way to Hawaii, Holland America had their 150th anniversary, so of course they threw a party. We also crossed the date line and lived April 15th twice. That was weird. 

We didn't have an excursion planned in Hilo. This was not a stop on the original itinerary. We were supposed to go to Maui. We've done the big island before so we walked around town and went to the tsunami museum. 

The next stop was Honolulu for 2 days. We took an all-day circle island tour. One of the stops was the Dole Plantation - an insane place, like Disney threw up on pineapples. But they had these really cool trees called rainbow eucalyptus. We saw where they filmed Jurassic Park and toured the Valley of the Temples. We realized we could have done it cheaper and with more freedom if we had simply rented a car for the day. Just getting on and off the bus was a 15-minute ordeal each time. 

The next day we walked all around Honolulu and Waikiki. I bought a bunch of macadamia nuts and t-shirts. Serge let us have Mexican food for lunch.

Our last stop on the cruise was in Kauai. We walked down to the beach and swam several times. We knew it would only get colder and colder as we made our way back to Vancouver. 

It was a full six sea days before getting to Vancouver. The third day turned stormy and boy did the boat rock and roll. They had to close the outside decks as it was too dangerous. In the picture, we are experiencing a particularly big rocking of the boat. 

The last sunset of the cruise before arriving in Vancouver. We spent the day taking group pictures with all the friends we made on the boat. A lot of us have connected on Facebook and Whatsapp. 

So there you have the map of our trip. We had mugs made with this on it and good shots of us. We also had coasters made with some pictures from the trip. It was actually cheaper to buy a mug or a coaster than to buy the picture. 

I took hundreds of pictures. This is just a smattering. What else can I say? A few trippets:

* We ate like kings every day. When you are on the boat for so long, patterns emerge. It turned out my preferred breakfast was french toast and sausage. The perfect sweet and salty.

* Serge sometimes ordered two entrees. When he did, he ate them all. 

* The Italian restaurant on board had the most amazingly delicious lamb chops.

* We drank Victoria Bitter beer the whole trip. The bartenders were awesome and all knew our names. 

* At about the 30 day point, we started itching for home. We decided to limit any future cruises to less than that. 

* We had an inside cabin for the first time. We really don't spend much time in the cabin, so it was okay. Serge insists though that we at least have a window in the future.

* Everyone was wealthier than us. The only way we were able to go on this trip was because when we sold all our real estate, we put money away in retirement accounts which saved us a ton on taxes. So we used that to fund the trip. 

* There was no smoking in the casino. That was a first. It was also always really dead in the casino. Maybe those two things are related. 

* We were allowed 15 drinks each per day with our package (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). We exceeded the limit 4 times. OMG.

* Possibly related, I gained about a third of a pound per day on the cruise. 

I'm sure there is more, but this has gone on long enough. Hopefully, Serge will make a video of the trip and put it up. I bought the one on the ship which you can see here. Until next time peeps, peace out!