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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Cruising, Jewel Of The Seas Back To Back


Although we already had one week of cruising planned on the Jewel when the opportunity came up to add a second week for basically the same price we jumped at it.


IMG_20171210_100340We had previously sailed on the Jewel Of The Seas last March and really enjoyed the ship and crew so this was a “no-brainer” decision.





However, we did have a little understandable disappointment as our initial itinerary for both weeks of sailing was changed as some of the ports are still recovering from the 2017 devastating hurricane season.


IMG_20171210_153739Even around San Juan trees are still down and traffic lights are without power. A walk to Old San Juan and we sense however that spirits are still high as we see families and friends out and about enjoying festivities around the city.



Our first port of call Crown Bay is new to us although we have cruised to St Thomas numerous times. We leave the port for a walk to a nearby beach but as luck would have it we are offered a ride by a storm repair utility worker from upstate New York. We do get a bit worried when he tells his co-workers he is off to do his “double tourist murder” routine.



IMG_20171204_141406Brewers Bay Beach


As it turns out one of the staging areas for the utility trucks is just opposite Brewers Bay Beach. We escape from the mass-murderer and enjoy a few hours at the beach then on his recommendation have lunch at a food truck parked nearby. The salt fish pate for $4 and the fried “Johnny Cake” for $2 are both filling and delicious.


IMG_20171204_124707A walk back towards Crown Bay and we again witness first hand some of the damage from the last hurricane season as we see some airplanes in pretty bad shape at the nearby airport.





IMG_20171204_135520Later we hop on a local bus for $1 each then it's a short walk to the Crown Bay Marina for a Coney Island Hard Root Beer.





St Kitts and Nevis our next port of call is visited twice on our 14 days of sailing. Our first visit again has us at an unfamiliar port although we have sailed here before. A free shuttle ride and in less than fifteen minutes we are at the familiar Basseterre Cruise Terminal. The area is nice for walking around and we end up at St George's an interesting place.



IMG_20171205_131752St George’s Anglican Church


This site was first the home of a Catholic Church, Notre Dame but was destroyed by the British who then built the now Anglican Church.

On our second visit we take a walk to what we discover is the now defunct as of ten years ago St Kitts and Nevis Sugar Manufacturing Plant. It still turns out to be a rewarding walk as we do get a treat of hearing a group of students practicing “Silent Night” on steel drums.

Antigua is also visited twice and both times it's a trip to one of Antigua's 365 beaches.


IMG_20171206_113846Father Of The Nation. VC Bird. 







From the West Bay Terminal we take Bus 22 for US$1.50 a person to Darkwood Beach and then spend another $25 for two beach chairs and six small but cold Wadali's, Antigua Lager Beer.



IMG_20171206_125450Darkwood Beach


At the far end of Darkwood Beach we camp out in the shade for awhile before enjoying the beautiful and crystal clear waters that are continuously crashing on shore.


IMG_20171212_231344On our subsequent visit we go a bit further and enjoy Turner Beach with views on Montserrat and its active volcano in the distance.





On your return from the Darkwood or Turner Beach find Mystic Bakery located at the West Bay Bus Terminal.


IMG_20171212_160155You won’t regret it!







On our second sailing after visiting Antigua our next port of call is Fort de France, Martinique. A first for us as a cruise destination. A short walk from the ship and we are on a local ferry heading for Pointe du Bout for some more beach time.


IMG_20171213_134320Although we had been forewarned that it might be difficult to make purchases because the Euro is the local currency we have no problems using US dollars.




Prices are steep on Martinique but the views and being able to enjoy Pointe du Bout and the beach there made the $7 a beer worth it.



IMG_20171213_130629Coco Bar Pointe du Bout







Back in Fort de France we feel like we are in Europe as we walk around the town. Sidewalk cafes and beautiful buildings like Hotel de Ville, Government House, St Louis Cathedral and Schoelcher Library give this island city a very European flavor.



IMG_20171213_214134Government House


Did you know that the grapefruit originated in Barbados? Or that George Washington sailed here in 1751? Just some of the fun facts we learn on our double visit to this beautiful island nation.


IMG_20171207_124438On our first visit we have lunch at a local restaurant. I have Stew Marlin and Bajan Rice with a refreshing and cold serving of Golden Apple juice.

After lunch its a nice $10 haircut of what hair I have left.



Even though we have been to Barbados on several occasions we are still drawn to Carlisle Beach. This beach is nice walk from the cruise ship terminal and depending on your pace will take you only about 40 minutes.



IMG_20171207_151740Carlisle Beach Home Of The Boatyard


The walk is easy and you will have the opportunity to stop in town and take in some of the local happenings. For an affordable local meal check out Chefette. They also have a nice hard ice cream selection. Maple Almond is delicious.

Barbados Wildlife Reserve is about 40 minutes away by car and is offered as a stop on many tours. If you want to do it on your own like we did on our second outing Courtesy Rent A Car is available right at the cruise terminal. For US$110.00 per day with everything included we set off on a road trip with our first stop at Chefette then Barbados Wildlife Reserve.


IMG_20171214_134528Our US$15 per person admission fee is well worth it and we regret not being able to spend more time there.






IMG_20171214_140425If you go be sure to be there in time for one of the scheduled animal feedings. From monkeys to birds, deer and even tortoises everyone is welcomed.




Our drive back is through sugarcane fields then across a mountainous landscape with amazing scenic views. A brief stop at Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill home of the Caribbean's largest and only working windmill then we cruise along Barbados Northeast Coastline.

We cannot leave Barbados without another swim at Carlisle Beach even if it has getting back to the Jewel as one of the last passengers to board.



IMG_20171214_144512Barbados Northeast Coastline



The sun is setting as we leave Bridgetown for St George, Grenada the final port on both of our seven day sailings. Our first visit involves an island tour with Stanley for US$10 per person.


IMG_20171208_125735We make a stop at a local shop for an introduction to the various spices grown on the island and I opt for a Rum Punch sampling that is topped with fresh nutmeg.




At Annandale Falls we are in time to see one of the “Fall Divers” in action. Although you can swim at Annandale we all take a pass. As we head to our next stop an afternoon tropical storm is brewing and although it is short lived we cut out our planned beach visit.


IMG_20171208_145018We leave Stanley and venture back to the ship on our own but not before meeting a “Woodman”.

If you get the same opportunity make sure he has his friend Lemon Bitters along unless you want to grow some hair on your chest.



Our final visit to Grenada and again we are on a local bus this time headed to Grand Anse Beach. Loud but comfortable music is playing as we ride along making multiple stop along the way. By chance we exit the bus right next to what turns out to be a great place for lunch.


IMG_20171215_123047At Grill Master I enjoy a fish roti and Carib as we are entertained by a steel drum player. Lunch for two, US$15.





From Grill Master it is less than a ten minute walk and we are on one of the nicest beaches in the Caribbean. We end up away from the popular tourist spot and find beach chairs for US$5 each in the shade of a huge what I grew up knowing as an almond tree. Interestingly at this spot we are told there is free Wi-Fi available.



IMG_20171215_141820Grand Anse Beach


As we are relaxing on the beach we hear in the distance a somewhat familiar tune. A Princess cruise ship is about to leave port and I think it is under the command of Captain Stubing.

“Love, exciting and new. Come aboard. We're expecting you.”


IMG_20171215_153806No “Love Boat” for us as we board the Water Taxi back to port but the scenery is lovely as we say goodbye to Grand Anse until next time.





In about 20 minutes we have a close up view of Jewel Of The Seas and our balcony cabin. In less than an hour we will be sailing North to San Juan with a “Quest” ahead and a full day at sea.

Jewel Of The Seas Destinations From San Juan

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Kazakhstan, The Old Capital

Our original plan to travel to Almaty is scrapped as 12-15 hrs in a second class upper bunk of a non air conditioned train just does not seem like much fun.

IMG_0004However, I know I will have some regrets as I have been told the scenery is much better than from 37,000 feet.

Besides taking in the local scenery there are three reasons we are in Almaty, to see Lake Almaty, to hike Charyn Canyon NP and finally to get to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Although gently warned about driving in Kazakhstan and the possibility of encountering difficult traffic police we still opt for the adventure of a car rental.

IMG_0002Roadside Scenery

Equipped with small currency notes we set out early in the morning for about a 4 hour drive to Charyn Canyon NP. Carefully monitoring my speed and road signs along the way, we make it to our destination without having to unwilling part with any of our dinero.

IMG_0006A small entrance fee and we park among some of the first cars to arrive at Charyn Canyon.

Descending a steep set of stairs we begin our hike in what some consider “The Baby Grand Canyon”. The morning sun is already blazing and stops to be awed by mother nature are welcomed.

IMG_20170830_124509Charyn Canyon National Park

Our turn around point is at an Eco-Tourism Resort along the banks of a shaded and refreshingly cold river. From here you can take a taxi for your return trip although we decided to walk back and are still amazed by the scenery.

Dried Cold Sliced HorsemeatBack in Almaty we end up by accident at the very cool and almost “chic” Line Brew for dinner.

A plate of “Dried Cold Sliced Horse” and I am having a sampling of local cuisine.

After dinner we stroll a few blocks and join a lengthy queue for a 24 hour Almaty favorite. Since this is our second time to enjoy this cool delight we are going to try the competition for a taste test comparison. Earlier we were told that the two vendors use two different formula with one producing a more watery product. I guess I am going to need a third or fourth tasting to really tell the difference.

Almaty Cool TreatAlmaty Cool And Colorful Treat

It's a little later start to Lake Almaty as it is much closer to the city than Charyn Canton.

Street Corn On The CobHowever, we make a stop at the “Green Bazaar” for souvenirs and a giant sweet corn on the cob before we head up the mountains.

About 30 minutes outside of the city we pay a small toll to enjoy a landscape with jagged and majesty mountains as we drive a curving road to Lake Almaty. At a split in the road we come to an abrupt stop as the road is closed by local police due to construction. Our delay is only about 25 minutes and the scenery continues to be amazing.

Lake Almaty AwesomeLake Almaty

Lake Almaty with it's powder blue waters surrounded by mountains still capped with winter snow and perfectly planted dark green pine trees is as mesmerizing and as beautiful as I imagined.

Lake Almaty HillsideA drive around the area and brightly colored wildflowers can still be seen decorating the slopping hillsides.

I'm sure in winter and spring the area take on another form of beauty that is all its own.

Kazakhstan, An Afternoon At Expo 2017

Besides it's main focus on “Future Energy”, Expo 2017 in Astana provided a lot of opportunities to learn about other countries and their cultures along with a full venue of entertainment.

IMG_20170827_194013From an exhibition standpoint touching a block of ice from the very “top” of the world courtesy of the Russians and checking out some virtual reality gear from Serbia are highlights for me.

P8270061However, if after dressing like a Saudi Arabian Sheikh I could have rolled with his bank account that would have been nice too.

Expo 2017 ParadeElectric Light Parade

Although unable to get a relatively inexpensive (less than US$10.00) Cirque Du Soleil ticket an Electric Light Parade of sorts followed by a free amazing concert is a decent compromise.

Expo Ochestra

Next it is a laser light and fire show which turns out to be an enjoyable way to end our Expo 2017 experience.

IMG_0027Show Performers

Laser ShowLaser Light And Fire Show

Thanks, Astana!

Sightseeing Around Astana And Almaty Kazakhstan

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Kazakhstan, Astana Sightseeing

It is already blistering hot as we leave our hotel at 11am for a walk around Astana. Under a clear blue sky even the occasionally breeze is warm and gives us no relief from the blazing sun. Along dry and dusty streets we find some comfort among trees that show signs of having been thirsty for a long time.

IMG_20170827_134207Our initial destination is Bayterek Tower and our route there basically retraces our taxi cab drive from the airport to our hotel. Although we now have time to smell the flowers along the way, what we did miss under last night’s darkness was the huge U.A.E embassy along the way.

Crossing an extended bridge we watch a river tour boat pass belong us and then descend a set of staircase. Our ears take us on a path towards music as we hike through one of the many parks around the city.

In the main square of the park there is a festival of sorts going on with children enjoying toy rides and bounce houses.

Park Dancers

With laughter and happiness all around, we stand in front of a stage and spend a few minutes enjoying a free show of entertaining musicians, singers and dancers.

P8270009What would a festival be without ice cream? With a few vendors around I gladly depart with 200 KZT, about 0.60 US, for a sampling.

Exiting the park our destination is in sight. Although it is only 700 KZT for a visit to Bayterek Tower the entrance line although in the shade is too long for our comfort and we take a bypass for now.

Bayterek TowerBayterek Tower

Not too far away there is an egg I am interested in and we head that way. As it turns out this huge gray egg shaped building is not accessible and we don't get to unscramble the mystery of what it is. Sacrebleu!

P8270023Lunch at a nearby food court in a mall is inexpensive and delicious although I sure could use another scoop or two of ice cream to top off my slice of cake that is drizzled with honey.

Futuristic SkylineRecharged we continue our stroll around Astana while taking in a sometimes futuristic skyline before a brief stop at Nur Astana.

Fountain View Nur AstanaNur Astana

Some more criss-crossing the city and we end up at Khan Shatyr another interesting structure around the city which from the distance looks like a big Hershey's Kiss.

Inside Khan ShatyrTurns out that Khan Shatyr is a giant transparent tent that is a high-end mall with a small amusement park inside.

Our next stop is too far a walk away so it time to take a 2000 KZT cab to Expo 2017.

Khan ShatyrKhan Shatyr

Friday, September 1, 2017

Landlocked In Kazakhstan, Expo 2017 And More...

We arrive in Astana around 11pm and it is an efficient process through Immigration and Customs with English speaking guides readily available to help. At an currency booth inside of the baggage claim area we exchange $100 US for about $33300 KZT. Once outside of Customs ATM's are available to your left.

IMG_20170828_225127Since it is pass 10pm public transportation is not available to the city center and are only option is a taxi. Fares to the city range from 2500-3000 KZT.

Not wanting to do much bargaining after a long day of travel we settled on 3000KZT with a “Uber Like Driver” who initially wanted 4000 KZT. It is about a 30 minute drive to Orion Hotel but along the way we get to see the impressive lights of the city and some of the displays from Expo 2017.