2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 7

The day after Christmas our cruise stopped in Bonaire, on of the best places in the Caribbean to dive. Heather, again, had her own tour booked, so once I’d seen her off, I waited for mine to begin. We had a short walk from the pier where the ship had docked to the dive shop, where we paid our fee to the marine park and did our pre-dive orientation. We then walked back across the street, got on the boat, and headed for our first dive site.

The boat was a little smaller than the one in Dominica, so we felt the waves a little more. Once there, we got our gear on and got in the water to do a buoyancy check before descending. The divemasters did a buoyancy check and told me to add two pounds to my weighting, which I think was too much based on needing to add air to my BC, but I’ll review that with the local dive shop later. We went down and were treated to some amazing corals and fish. Where Dominica had some here, and a little more there, Bonaire was just a continuous scene of coral, plant, and animal life. Unfortunately, my dive was cut short because my buddy had some equipment problems that caused her to go through most of her air in about 20 minutes. So we surfaced and did a surface swim back to the boat.

On the way to the next site, we stopped and got some replacement gear, and then got the rest of the way over to site two. Back in the water and down the wall, swimming in to the current on the way out, and seeing some really amazing coral. There is a little bit of bleaching, but very little, with the vast majority of the reef looking extremely healthy. I saw lots of parrot fish, urchins, and other small reef fishes. But the treat of the dive was after we’d turned and were actually under the boat, using up some air before surfacing. We ran in to a Hawksbill sea turtle just swimming along. So, of course we followed it, taking pictures and video at a respectful distance.

After surfacing, we went back to the shop, rinsed our gear, updated the log books, and returned to the ship. Somewhere along the line, my fins got misplaced and didn’t make it back to the ship with me. Everything else is accounted for, but they’re gone.

2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 5

The day before Christmas saw us in port at Dominica. This was the first of two SCUBA diving excursions that I had booked. Heather doesn’t dive, so she booked her own excursion. We got off the ship together, and I saw her off, then waited for my own tour to start. We caught the Dive Dominica boat right at the dock, and headed out to the first dive site. The guides were professional but still fun, helping us get set up and ready to go. Our first site was called Soufriere, a wall dive along a vertical section of coral reef. This was my first ever ocean dive, and I’ve got to say that it was one hell of a way to kick things off. We saw an incredible variety of coral, in all the colors of the rainbow, as well as many species of colorful fish. Maximum depth for this dive was 62 feet. We surfaced, changed tanks, and headed to our next site while chatting through the surface interval.

Our second dive site was along Champagne Reef. It got its name thanks to the geothermal and volcanic activity. There are underwater hot springs and gas bubbling up in areas, all a remnant of the volcanic forces that created the island. We started off diving another wall, heading down to 59 feet maximum depth, before heading back up and over to the geothermal activity area. It was really interesting to see the gas bubbling up from the ocean floor, and feeling the hot water flowing out of the springs. It was hot enough that you’d get some pretty severe burns if you kept your hand in there too long. Sadly, that was the final stop on the final dive of the day, so we surfaced and headed back to the ship. Once there, I went back to the cabin and started rinsing and cleaning the gear.

Coral in Dominica

Coral in Dominica

After cleaning the gear and myself, I got changed and headed back out to meet up with Heather and do a little shopping at the open air market that had set up next to the ship. We found some nice gifts, and some spices, as we browsed the wares. Finally we made our way back to the ship, and repeated our dinner and laps routine.

New Orleans – Day 2

Today’s plan was to take the walking tour of the courtyards in New Orleans’s French Quarter we had booked with Le Monde Créole, so we got up early and headed out to Café Du Monde for the obligatory beignets and coffee. It was really crowded, but we managed to shark a table and get our order in. The beignets were really good, as was the coffee. And to make things better, we had a some great people watching opportunities thanks to where our table was. Unfortunately, it also gave us a good view of the rain that decided to start coming down.

After breakfast, we made our way to the starting point to meet up with our guide. It had been raining off and on by this point, but was getting to be more on than off, so on the way I picked up an umbrella. The tour was interesting, though we did have to deal with some weather related disruptions. But none of that interfered with the stop at St. Louis Cemetery #1. That was the high point of the tour for me, and I used the time to take a bunch of pictures of the tombs. From there, we walked back in to the French Quarter and finished the tour off.

By this point we were both soaked, so we made our way back to the B&B, with a stop for lunch at Port of Call. It had been highly recommended by our hosts, and it was pretty clear why. The burgers were excellent, and instead of french fries, they came with baked potatoes. That was different, but pretty tasty and filling after all of the walking we’d been doing. The bar was packed, standing room only, and more soaked people kept arriving. It definitely lived up to its name today! With full bellies, we headed back to get out of the wet clothes and relax for a little while.

Dried off and feeling a lot better since the rain had finally stopped, we went back out to do a little shopping and get some dinner. We ate at the Crescent City Brewhouse, which was pretty darned good. I ordered a flight of their current offerings and really wasn’t disappointed in any of them. The waitress tried to talk us in to dessert, but we had a recommendation from one of the locals that we wanted to try out, so we walked down to French 75 to finish stuffing ourselves.

The desserts definitely lived up to the recommendations we’d received, with Heather having a crème brûlée and me having a bread pudding. I got talked in to ordering a cocktail, not usually something I like all that much, and asked the bartender to surprise me. He asked me a few questions about what I liked and then went to work. What I got was something like a Bobby Burns, but with Ardbeg, and with some amaro added in. It was delicious, and has made me re-think cocktails.

This was the end of our night, and we were beat, so we took our wiped out selves back to the B&B and crashed out.

Alaska Cruise – Day 9

Even though today wasn’t really a sea day, it felt like it because we didn’t get in to Victoria, BC until 7:00 PM. We had Reese’s cake for breakfast and it was deliciously light and fluffy. The weather had improved, so we were able to eat out on the balcony without freezing. After breakfast, Reese headed back up to the kids club to hang out for the day and we continued to back our bags.

Around lunch time we went down to one of the dining rooms to track down one of our waiters. She’s from Ukraine, is Orthodox, and wanted to see pictures of our wedding. We did manage to catch up with her and, I think, made her day with the pictures.

From there we went up to the passenger services desk to make sure our accounts were correct. We had some minor billing errors on the last cruise, and didn’t catch them until it was almost too late. This time we took care of it early. While the girls were sorting something out, I did a little shopping and found a good deal on a Citizen Eco-Drive watch. Nothing too flashy, but it looks good and will never need batteries.

Later in the afternoon we had high tea, which was interesting. There were some nice finger sandwiches as well as some good brewed tea, as well as some fun conversation with the people we shared the table with. After that we went and sorted through our pictures, placing our orders for prints and a thumb drive with the digital versions.

We pulled in to Victoria, BC on time and Reese and I got our paperwork together and headed off the ship for his first visit to another country. Once we cleared Canadian immigration, which amounted to walking through a building with no paperwork checks, we popped over to the local information kiosk to get some information on local restaurants and pubs. While waiting in line we ran in to the stereotypical ugly American, who was upset that his mobile phone wasn’t working. I asked him who his carrier was, but he didn’t know. So I asked him who he paid his bill to, he said he didn’t have one and that he just bought minutes when he needed them. To that I replied that he was out of luck because none of the prepaid carriers would have negotiated any meaningful kind of international roaming. His response was to tell me that he didn’t like my answer. At that point we were all sick of him so my response was that whether he liked it or not didn’t make it any less right. He stormed off in a huff, probably to make someone else miserable.

We got our information, including a suggestion for a local restaurant, and shared a cab in to town with another couple. We got dropped off close to 10 Acres, the restaurant recommendation from the docks, and got our names on the list for a seat. The menu wasn’t something Reese would enjoy so we walked down the street to a burger place and got him fed. It was perfect timing because we walked in 10 Acres just as our table became available. I ordered a local IPA and had their charcuterie for dinner. The food was amazing, delicious meats, cheeses, pickles, and this chicken liver spread that was absolutely fantastic. This place deserves a visit if you’re in the area.

After dinner we walked around town, did some souvenir shopping, and some picture taking. Since it was such a short stop, we didn’t do too much, but we got to walk around town a bit before taking a cab back to the docks. We got back before Heather and Sandy did, but they were doing high tea at the Empress Hotel, so that was to be expected. I actually got to see them walking back down the dock from our balcony. We finished the last of our packing and got to sleep at a reasonable hour. We’re getting off the ship pretty early tomorrow, so having everything squared away tonight was a must.

The 2013 New Mexico Trip – Day 4

We got up, grabbed some breakfast at the hotel, and headed towards Carlsbad. We got going a little earlier than we thought, and made good time on the drive, so we decided to stop at Living Desert State Park. It’s a small park, and was undergoing some maintenance. While we couldn’t do everything there, we did get to enjoy some of the walking tour. On it we got to see lots of plants and animals from the area, as well as learning about the local geology.

After finishing up there, we went over to Red Chimney Barbecue for lunch. The food was amazing, even Reese liked it. If you’re in the area, you should check them out. It probably won’t be a wasted trip.

With full bellies, we made our way out to Carlsbad Caverns. This was the highlight of the trip and Reese was really looking forward to it. We had reserved the King’s Palace tour, a ranger lead tour of parts of the cave that aren’t available if you just pay for the the general admission ticket. With all of the rain they’ve been getting, there was more dripping than I remember from the last time. Reese really enjoyed the tour, and we spent a lot of time taking pictures, both on the tour and afterwards in the main cavern. When we were done underground, we took the elevator back up and did a little shopping and grabbed some dinner before heading over to the amphitheater to watch the bats come out. We had a short wait there, but were treated to quite a few bats emerging. A number of them even flew over our seats, instead of just heading out in their usual direction.

We then hopped back in the car and returned to Artesia, stopping at Kaleidoscoops in Carlsbad for some ice cream. It was a long day, and we’re all beat, but we had a really good time. Tomorrow we’re heading to Alamogordo and White Sands…

Tennessee Ride – Day 5

I got a little earlier of a start today, thanks to not having any more work to do on the bike. I headed down 411, topped the tank off, hydrated, and then continued on to the Cherohala Skyway visitors center. They’ve really improved things since the last time I was here, and this visitors center complex is nice. There are a couple museums and some gift shops to hopefully encourage you to leave some of your cash behind. I picked up some free maps of the area and a not free t-shirt before putting the GoPro on and heading up the skyway.

The ride was great, with really nice views and light traffic. The slower vehicles got out of the way when needed, so that the rest of us could cruise along at whatever speed we wanted. If’s a long-ish ride, a little over 40 miles long, dropping you off in Robbinsville, NC. From there, I continued up US-129 back to the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort where I downloaded the raw video from the camera and recharged it while I had some lunch. After finishing that and a little more shopping, I got back on the bike for a run up The Dragon.

This run was better than my last ones, moving a little faster, and turning a little sharper. I got passed a few times, pulled off once to let much faster traffic by, and continued on at my own pace. At the northern end, I pulled off and shut down and removed the camera before heading back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. While working on the videos, I came to the realization that the MacBook Air just doesn’t have enough storage to do the job. I’m going to have to wait until I get home to do the editing and posting, so just hang tight…

Reese’s Birthday Trip – Day 8

We went in to Maryville with Heather and the aunts to get some steamed sandwiches and run some errands before heading over to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to do the Roaring Fork trail with Reese. We were hoping that there was going to be some water flowing thanks to the storms last night. It wasn’t as much as I was hoping, but it was still good. Reese is getting comfortable with the new camera and got some good pictures. We hiked over a bunch of rocks to get to some good picture taking spots as well as some of the easier stopping points.

Reese at Roaring Fork

Reese at Roaring Fork

After we got back we had some dinner and then sang happy birthday and had some birthday cake and ice cream.

Reese’s Birthday Trip – Day 3

We got up, got showered, got dressed, then went over to the restaurant to have some breakfast. After that we packed up the car, got our cameras ready (Joi gave Reese a PowerShot A1300 for his birthday), and queued up for our tour. We decided on the Historic Tour, a two hour long, two mile hike through some of the more historic parts of the cave. This was Reese’s first trip underground, and he really loved it. We got some good shots throughout the route we hiked. I think he wants to come back to do the Trog tour, a ranger led, no parents tour that gets them down and dirty in the cave. I’m really hoping that taking him to these parks will instill a love of the outdoors (and yes, I rewrote that line a few times and it still sounds cheesy). Time will tell, but he’s still getting dragged to as many National Parks as possible.

Reese and I at Mammoth Cave

Reese and I at Mammoth Cave

After we got done with the cave tour we hopped in the car and started for Tennessee. Thanks to construction just over the border, we didn’t get in until late. But when we did get in we met up with Heather’s Aunt Sandy for dinner at Calhoun’s over in Pigeon Forge. Good burgers, great beer, and wonderful company makes for a nice end to a day of driving. From there we headed up to Douglas Lake and got settled in to our home away from home for the next week.

New Camera – PowerShot G12

I cashed in some credit card rewards and picked up a Canon PowerShot G12.  I’ve been thinking about getting a smaller, lighter camera to take with me on motorcycle rides because the full-sized DSLR just takes up too much room.  I’ve been a little picky though, because I absolutely would not compromise on one point.  Whatever camera it was, it had to have the ability to save images in RAW format.  I’ve gotten extremely spoiled by the flexibility RAW gives me, so no compromising on that one.  I settled on the G12 after a bunch of research, and it arrived today.

The battery is charging, so no time to do picture tests, but they’ve been covered to death on photo sites, so I’m not going to bore you with that.  The big deal for me is that it’s SMALL.  I could fit it in one of the pockets of my riding jackets.  By way of comparison, the bag with the DSLR, a 17-40 f/4, a 100mm f2.8 macro, and accessories took up about half of one of the RT’s panniers.  I’ve quite literally gotten back room to pack a few more days worth of clothes thanks to the much smaller size.

Is it the equal of a good DSLR with good lenses?  Probably not.  But that’s not the point.  Image quality is good, the reviewers are pretty much in agreement on that, so it’s not going to be taking crap pictures.  It’s just that carrying the DSLR was taking up so much space that I really couldn’t spare.  Look for pics from the upcoming trip up to see Reese for his birthday and judge for yourselves…

Adventureland

When we woke up it was raining, so we went out to get some breakfast and watched the weather radar hoping for a break to get over to the park. Luckily the weather cooperated and we got over there a little before 11:00. We made a beeline for the roller coasters, just in case the weather didn’t cooperate. The Tornado was as fun as ever, and I got to take Reese on The Dragon, their steel track, looping coaster. He loved it. We got to do a few more rides that he was too small for the last time we were there. After a return trip to the coasters we headed back to the hotel, and just in time because the skies opened up as soon as we were in.