Tuesday, December 19, 2017
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.
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.
Even 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On your return from the Darkwood or Turner Beach find Mystic Bakery located at the West Bay Bus Terminal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It's a little later start to Lake Almaty as it is much closer to the city than Charyn Canton.
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 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.
I'm sure in winter and spring the area take on another form of beauty that is all its own.
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.
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.
Next it is a laser light and fire show which turns out to be an enjoyable way to end our Expo 2017 experience.
Saturday, September 2, 2017
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.
Our 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Our next stop is too far a walk away so it time to take a 2000 KZT cab to Expo 2017.