Marvelous Day in Seattle

Friday, July 20, 2018

The day started out cloudy and a little misty, not unusual for Seattle. The city’s average rainfall is just under 40 inches, but that number had been higher in the last few years, with 48 inches last year. It rains about 150 days out of the year, generally a light drizzle. We felt a little drizzle as we walked to Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, Museum of Pop Culture, the Pacific Science Center and more. Many festivals are held here, including The Bite of Seattle, a food fest, which is going on this weekend.

We started with a ride to the top of the Space Needle, which provided beautiful views of the city and harbor.



The Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair with its theme of science and space. The Space Needle is 605 feet tall. A 45 second elevator ride took us to the observation deck at 530 feet. Glass walls that lean out over the city were installed this year, replacing the former concrete and metal cage. The final piece was being installed this morning, so we did our share of gawking at the crew and equipment. Each wall, 48 in all, is three pained and weighs 2,500 pounds. All of the glass was brought up to the observation deck by crane, then stacked on the deck until installation.



Our next stop was the Museum of Pop Culture. The main attraction was the Marvel Exhibit, with displays of artwork, costumes and props from the 80 years of Marvel’s history. When I was young, we weren’t allowed to have comics, but my cousin had plenty. The highlight of a visit to Bill’s house was the stash of comic books and Mad Magazines in his room. My brother and I would spend hours reading these forbidden manuscripts. I learned at this exhibit that, in the 1950’s, comic books were considered dangerous for young readers – full of violence, sex, evil characters, absolutely no redeeming qualities. The Comics Code Authority was formed in 1954, with rules about nudity, marriage and divorce, violence, criminal behavior (no anti-heroes allowed,) treatment of religion, respect for authority, etc. We’ve come a long way since then.



We also enjoyed exhibits about mythology and fantasy, Jimi Hendrix, and horror films.



We walked from Seattle Center, past the Olympic Sculpture Park to the waterfront for a harbor cruise with Argosy Cruises. This hour long cruise provided us with great views of Seattle’s skyline, made even better by the sunshine that had greeted us after we left the museum.



We still had a little time, so we visited the Seattle Aquarium, which was also enjoyable.



All in all, it was a very enjoyable day.

Posted in USA Travel, Seattle, Road Trip, Washington State, Seattle Aquarium, Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle Space Needle, Marvel Comics | Leave a comment

Northwest Road Trip

Thursday, July 19, 2018

We were going to take this trip last year, but decided to change our plans due to the widespread wildfires. Only two days ago, it appeared that we would not have that issue this year. However, we learned yesterday that there are over 100 wildfires in Oregon, sparked by lightning strikes, so we may be changing our plans on the fly.

We are flying into Seattle, then renting a car, with the intention of seeing as many national parks as we can, along with other attractions along the way. We’ve had several recommendations from family and friends about where to go and what to do. Based on this recommendations, we’ve made some changes to the itinerary, and will likely make more before we are finished.

Among the National Parks we plan to visit are Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, and Crater Lake National Park. Besides that, we hope to visit the Seattle Space Needle, the Museum of Pop Culture (Marvel Exhibit,) Seattle Aquarium, take the Argosy Harbor Tour, the Boeing Factory Tour, see both Mount Rainier and Mount St Helens, and Powell’s City Book Store in Portland.

We had hoped to visit Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge, but those destinations are questionable due to the wildfires. As an alternative, we may visit Cannon Beach near Portland.

It’s an ambitious itinerary, but we are always open to the unplanned adventure. We’ll spend a couple of days in Seattle, then hit the road, heading north. The weather looks good, mostly sunny and warm.

We had some great views of Mount Rainier as we approached Seattle. We think we also saw Mount Adams, which is about 90 miles south and a little bit east of Rainier.


Far left: Mt Adams? Far right: Mt Rainier

We arrived in Seattle in the early afternoon, checked into our hotel, then walked to  Pike Place Market. This market was established in 1907, one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the country. The market sits on nine acres near the waterfront, and has more than 200 owner operated shops and more than 80 restaurants. You can buy flowers, spices, jewelry, fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and fish, breads, wines, and much more. One of the Market’s major attractions is Pike Place Fish Market where employees throw fresh fish to each other rather than passing them by hand. We got to witness this activity, but I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo. Visiting the Market was a great way to start our road trip.

Most of the places we want to see are within two miles of our hotel, easy walking distance. The traffic is so heavy here that we can make as good time on foot as by car. We’ll find out tomorrow!

Posted in USA Travel, Washington State, Wildfires | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Oregon Trail – Another Road Trip Book

My brother recommended that I read “The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey ” by Rinker Buck. I figured that I should read it simply because I loved the author’s name. The name Ri51xuy5BQbrL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_nker is German in origin although the author defines himself as Irish, and it means “buckle maker.”

Rinker Buck is a journalist as well as author, having written for several publications and winning a few journalism awards during his career.

A few years ago, Mr. Buck decided to follow, in a covered wagon, the Oregon Trail which was traveled by thousands of settlers looking for a new start in the 1800’s. He invited his brother, Nick, to join him, then got to work pulling together what he needed for the trip. They hooked up three mules to a replica 19th-century wagon and rode from St. Joseph, Missouri to Baker City, Oregon.

The trip tested and refined the relationship of the two brothers, whose differences occasionally irritated, but more often complemented each other. Their adventures were were challenging, but the brothers continued on in the spirit of the pioneers who went before them. They made many friends along the way, many who just wanted to hear the store and many who also provided much needed assistance, as when wheels rotted, wagons broke, or the mules ran away.

I learned much about the history of our country as well as of the Oregon Trail. Books like this make history come alive for me. Perhaps it will for you as well.

Posted in Book Review, Rinker Buck, Road Trip, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

High Over Dubai

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

We have such a short time here in Dubai. There’s absolutely no way we’ll be able to see everything. To make it easier, we signed up for a Hop On Hop Off Bus with City Sightseeing Dubai. We’ve used this type of tour in several other communities and find it to be a good way to learn some history and see some of the highlights, of which there are far more than we’ll see today. By using the bus, we don’t have to deal with traffic ourselves. It is horrendous here, with a spaghetti network of freeways. Merging can be challenging, with two of more lanes of traffic aiming for the same exit or turn. We listened to one taxi driver honk and yell his way through to our destination. That was the exception, most of the drivers were competent and calm.

The Dubai Metro is designed to combat the heavy traffic burden. Construction began in 2006, with the first stations opened in 2009. There are currently two lines, and more will be added. We have a station just outside of our hotel, but we don’t have time to learn how to negotiate it on this trip.

We boarded the bus and started our tour, going through some of the residential areas, outer commercial and retail districts and beaches. Many buildings and structures are quite colorful. There are many medical facilities here. It’s clear to us that Dubai is competing directly with the Mayo Clinic for those wealthy middle east patients.

We went to Palm Jumeirah, one of two artificial palm shaped islands, made from sand and rock, in Dubai. In addition to the palm islands, there are 300 artificial islands that are intended to represent the world. Most of those islands remain undeveloped and some are being reclaimed by the gulf.

We stopped at the Atlantis Hotel on The Palm, to take a helicopter ride with Fly High Dubai. Although the sky was still hazy, we enjoyed the flight which allowed us to see some of the more impressive sights, like the Burj al Arab with its helicopter pad, the islands, Ski Dubai (enclosed ski resort,) the downtown landscape and more.

Back on the bus to view more of the city, including the soon-to-be completed Dubai Eye (intended to be bigger than the London Eye,) Dubai Creek, and more skyscrapers.

Our last stop was the Dubai Mall to see the water fountain show. Needless to say, it was pretty crowded, but I can usually find a way to see. It was an impressive show, but we still like the one at Las Vegas’ Bellagio better. Tomorrow, we have a 28-hour day, and a temperature drop of 50 degrees (not bad, really) from the time we arise in Dubai to the time we hit our bed in Minnesota. Then, it will be time to start planning the next trip to “?”

Posted in Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates | Leave a comment

It’s Just Too Much!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

We arrived in Dubai at about 5:30 this morning. This airport is enormous, sitting on 7,200 acres of land. Our bus ride from the airplane to the arrivals hall must have taken 15 minutes. It’s also the busiest airport in the world for international travel, third busiest for all passengers.

Even though we got a few hours of sleep on the airplane, we were exhausted. We knew that we probably wouldn’t be able to check into our room until 3:00, but we were hoping for the best. Thanks to loyalty programs, we were able to get a room, upgraded as well, right away. It’s so nice to take a shower after traveling all night.

The view from our 44th floor window wasn’t great because the air is pretty hazy, a combination of salt air, dust and pollution.


We had considered going to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building as well as in the world, at 2,722. However, with the haze, we figured we wouldn’t see much anyway. We did see the the structure, though, when we went to the Dubai Mall. The Burj Khalifa is indeed an impressive structure.

Although not the largest mall in the world, the Dubai Mall comes in at 5th place, just ahead of Minnesota’s own Mall of America. The Dubai Mall boasts 3.77 million square feet, with more than 1,200 shops, an indoor waterfall, an ice rink, 22 cinema screens, and one of the largest aquariums in the world. You can find all of your favorite chains, both stores (Banana Republic, Gap, Levi’s, etc.) and restaurants (IHOP, TGI Fridays, Pizza Hut, Subway and more,) as well as Arabic specialty shops.

The mall is part of a larger complex that includes a 5 star luxury hotel, office buildings, and a lake with a fountain show rivaling the one at Las Vegas’ Bellagio. It plays twice in the afternoon plus every half hour from 6pm – 11pm. We might have to go back at night to see it.

There are plans to build an even larger mall here in Dubai, 48 million square feet, to be called the Mall of the World. There’s construction going on all over the city, in preparation for hosting Dubai Expo 2020. It really is excessive.

Posted in Burj Khalifa, Dubai, Mall of the World | Leave a comment

A Full Day in Mauritius

Monday, January 22, 2018

Our cruise ended early this morning. Since we have an 11pm flight to Dubai, we decided to take a private tour – we figured that would be better than spending most of the day in the airport. It was.

We stopped first at Pride of the Island, a ship model factory and shop. All of the ship models are handcrafted at this site, with workers specializing in specific techniques, such as carving the pieces, sewing the sails, assembly, painting and varnishing. These are truly beautiful pieces of work, very detailed. They are available for sale, but we have no room left in our suitcases!

Our next stop was at Trou aux Cerfs crater. This dormant volcano is believed to have erupted here only once, less than 2 million years ago. It’s not dead, though, and could become active again. According to our guide, scientists say that it’s not dead because the ph level of the water in the caldera changes occasionally. It’s surrounded by trees and other foliage. We walked around the caldera, a fairly short walk, and were rewarded with some great views of the surrounding mountains and towns of Mauritius.

We made a quick stop at Mare aux Vacoas, the largest reservoir in Mauritius. It was a little larger than normal because of all the rain the island had received in the recent cyclone.

The Black River Gorges National Park is home to so many beautiful features. We stopped first at Alexandra Falls, where we were greeted by some Macaque monkeys, and more great views.

Then, there was the gorge itself.

We paid a visit to The Rhumerie de Chamarel, a rum distillery. It was necessary to taste about nine different rums, dark, light, and flavored, each containing from 35-44% alcohol. After making sure we were no longer in total control of our faculties, we were shunted into the shop, where, of course, we made a purchase. I’ll find more room in those suitcases one way or another.

Lunch, then Chamarel Falls, simply stunning. Even though we’ve seen some of the most famous waterfalls in the world, Gullfoss, Iguazu and Victoria, we never cease to be in awe of each one we see.

Then, to The Seven Colored Earth, a field of sand dunes, that evolved as they converted from basalt to different clay minerals that naturally repel each other. Supposedly, if you mixed the sands together, they would eventually separate into various layers again.

Our last stop before going to the airport was at Ganga Talao, the Lake of Ganga, a crater lake that is considered by Hindus to be the most sacred place in Mauritius. The first thing we saw as we drove up was a huge statue (108 feet in height) of Durga Mata Murti, the Hindu warrior goddess. This statue was just dedicated in late 2017. Further on is a statue of Mangal Mahadev, the Hindu God Shiva, also 108 feet high. There are many other statues of various gods on the premises.

Pandi Sanjibonlal originally came to Mauritius in the mid-1800’s as a contract laborer from India. He later became a successful merchant in India, then returned and purchased the land to establish this temple, which was consecrated in 1866, and declared a sacred lake in 1998. Once a year, most Hindus on the island make a pilgrimage by foot from their homes to the lake.

We were free to enter the temple as long as we removed our shoes.

Then, to the airport for our 11pm flight to Dubai.

Posted in Ganga Talao, Mauritius, Rum, Volcano | Leave a comment

Pamplemousses, Mauritius

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Like Réunion, the island of Mauritius has gone through many name changes: Ilha do Cirne (Island of the Swan, Dodo bird was mistaken for a swan,) Isle de France, and Mauritius, as control passed from one European country to another, Holland to France to Great Britain. At the end of the war between France and Great Britain for control of these islands, Réunion was awarded to the French and Mauritius to Great Britain.

Named for Prince Maurice van Nassau of the Dutch Republic, the island gained its independence from Great Britain in 1968, and became a republic in 1992, including the island of Rodrigues, with only about 400 citizens. Sir Seewoosagur Ramguolam became the first prime minister of the newly independent Mauritius. The botanic garden that we visited later in the day was named for him.

The island was uninhabited until Europeans landed here. Now, it’s home to about 1.2 million people. Mauritius was the home of the Dodo bird, which became extinct within a few years of sailors stopping here for food. The Dodo was a flightless bird, thus easy prey. In the early days ebony was exported, but due to its very slow growth, taking between 60-200 years to mature, it was soon nearly wiped out.

We were greeted by dancers as we left the ship this morning.

Mauritius was hit fairly hard by the tropical cyclone and suffered some damage throughout the island. We could see cleanup continuing in a number of areas, and there are still some flooded fields. Mauritius has been suffering from drought for about ten years so this rain was truly welcome. The island is surrounded by coral reefs that protect it from tsunamis.

We went to the town of Pamplemousses, which means pomelo, a citrus fruit that looks a bit like a grapefruit. Our first stop was St Francois D’Assise Church, constructed in 1743, one of the oldest buildings of Mauritius. It serves the oldest parish on the island.

From there, we crossed the street to the  Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden, established in 1736, the oldest Botanic Garden of the Southern Hemisphere. We saw giant water lilies, beautiful lotus flowers, many palm trees, including the Talipot palm, which flowers only once in its lifetime of 30-80 years and then dies. The garden is home to quite a few fruit bats, the only mammal that is endemic to Mauritius.

The giant water lily pads live about three weeks, but the blooms live only 4 days. On the first day the flower is white, on the second day it is pink, the third day dark pink, and the fourth day it dies. The pads have thorns on the underside to protect them from predation.

We were fortunate to be able to visit the lotus pond which was inaccessible yesterday because of flooding.

Our final stop was L’aventure du Sucre L’aventure du Sucre (Sugar World Museum, ) which chronicles the history and production of sugar here in Mauritius. It rained fairly hard while we were there, but it’s a warm rain, so we didn’t mind too much.

We sampled a few types of sugar, from light to very dark (full of molasses,) as well as a few rums. Now we have to find room in our already overpacked suitcases for a few bottles of rum and packets of sugar. Oh well, I suppose I can throw out some useless shoes!

Speaking of packing, we have to have our bags out the door by 11pm. Every time I think I’m almost finished, something else shows up in the closet. I think the few items left there get busy reproducing when I turn my back.

Posted in Crystal Cruises, Gardens, Mauritius, Rum | 1 Comment