Thursday, January 31, 2013

January of Traveling, Pt. 2: Cruising (St Lucia)

We are finally settling into this time zone. We got up around 8:30 a.m. After breakfast, we got our stuff together and headed out to St. Lucia. We decided to just walk around and see what we could see. We got past the crowds of demanding taxi guys and walked in toward town. Some of the first people we saw were a couple of elders in the back of a truck - funny. We kept walking and were soon joined buy a St. Lucian guy, suspiciously making small talk. We chatted with him for awhile and, sure enough, after a couple of minutes he pulled out some little wooden things he had made, pushed them into our hands, and said they were for us. We assumed he wanted us to buy them, which we weren't looking to do, so we didn't want to officially accept them, so we stood there awkwardly for a minute, admiring them and finally said “thank you,” at which point he asked us to pay for them, at which point we gave them back and went our separate ways. Looking back, it might have been fun to buy them, considering we saw almost no authentic markets our whole trip, but since I don't like being manipulated into buying things at home, it didn't occur to me to play along this time.

We kept walking, angled way around one street, and went to walk around a beautiful old cemetery. Pretty much every grave was above ground, and some were massive. Jon thinks it’s to avoid bodies washing out to sea during a hurricane. It was interesting to look at the names and dates on the headstones (some handcarved into the cement before it dried) and think about what their lives might have been like.

We saw some guys working on fixing part of the road, and we even saw a funeral in progress. We went through the cemetery to the other side, and it turned out there was a small, uncrowded, beautiful little beach right there. The cruise line had told us there was no beach within walking distance, which was too bad because we didn’t bring any swimming stuff, so we just walked around and then headed back. I did get to watch some kids playing soccer on the beach and falling flat on their backs over and over. That was hilarious.

The funeral:

We went to lunch and then went to the theater on the ship and saw “The Bourne Legacy," after which we got some quick dinner and then went to see "Moonrise Kingdom" on deck chairs for "Movies Under the Stars." Which, by the way, they brought us blankets and then, partway through the movie, they came through carrying pizza for us and then later came through carrying cookies for us. Awesome.

The indoor theater:

The outdoor theater:

When the movie was over, we went to another ballroom class (the first one being merengue); this time it was cha-cha. It was interesting because they taught international style, which, I was expecting to see American cha-cha, and they started the count on the 1 instead of the 2. I can see this for a cruise ship class, because it can take a long time to teach people to listen for the 2, but it was different ... is there an international-style mambo? The international style actually made it a little harder for me because I am used to doing international figures as part of a routine; I don't know the leads to look for in international figures. It's probably partly because I'm out of practice, but some of the turns in international figures are also much quicker than in American ones. The weird thing was, when I asked the teacher (who moved like he knew what he was doing) what the lead was, he seemed to not understand what I was asking. That was frustrating, because he kept trying to show me what the steps were instead of answering my question. It took three re-phrasings before he got it, and once he did answer it, I am not sure he really even gave the right answer. Oh, well. It was still fun!

January of Traveling, Pt 2: Cruising (First Port: Antigua)

           Last night, we hung a thing out on the door so they would bring us breakfast this morning, so we got up at 8:30am when our guy, Danilo, knocked on our door with the food. We took it and ate while we finished the last hour of “Batman Begins.” We bought an "excursion" that started at noon, and it was a kayaking/snorkeling/hiking thing, purchased through the ship. We ate another, bigger breakfast right before we left, to tide us over til we got back.
When we got off the boat, it was raining and a little chilly. We wandered around some shops for awhile at first, which was SUPER lame because they were all expensive duty free shops, so basically airport shopping. Then we met our group and took a van ride across the island to the place where we needed to meet up with the tour guys. The van ride was actually pretty awesome. It was long, maybe 20-30 minutes, and we saw a lot of Antiguans just living life. (It's ‘ann-TEE-guh’ - not 'gwuh.') I felt like I was looking at missionary pictures or something. Here's a video from the ride back to the ship:

When we arrived, first, we went kayaking. We paddled around and our tour guide, Nicholas, showed us sea cucumbers and upside-down jellyfish and sea stars. He also told us about the mangrove trees that surrounded the water – it was interesting because those trees filter the salt and take just the freshwater for nourishment. They also act as a buffer from hurricanes and their roots make good fish nests. It was pretty interesting. Right at the end of the kayaking, the sun came out! That was great.
We took speedboats to another area, where the tour guides gave us masks and snorkels, had us clip on flotation belts, and we got in the water to snorkel. At first it was boring because we got dropped off a little ways away from the coral, so for awhile there was nothing to see. It was weird; they didn’t tell us we weren’t there yet. I kept swimming around and the current kept pushing us back, but finally we found the coral. Jonny kept getting saltwater in his mouth, which kind of turned him off to the whole thing. But I think we both saw some cool stuff. I realized while I was down there, though, that the only snorkeling I have done is at Discovery Cove in Florida ... a stocked pond. I was a little disappointed when there weren't schools and schools of every color of fish right in front of me until I remembered that actual snorkeling is maybe not always like that? Either way, it was fun :) Then we finished up and went to a little beach, where they had rum punch and regular, non-alcoholic fruit punch (which was great for getting the salty taste out of your mouth), and some banana bread for us. Nicholas took us up a little hill to show us a super-great view of all the island and ocean and everything (that was the 'hiking').

Then we took the (jarringly bumpy) speedboat ride back to the mainland, where they had more drinks and also monkeys and tropical birds (one of whom spoke to us, as you'll see in the last video), and then we took the vans back to the cruise ship. It was really fun. We’re not sure if it was quite worth what we paid, but it was good to do once. (All our pictures of kayaking and snorkeling are on our disposable underwater camera - yes, 17-year-old Target employee, those still exist, you do sell them, and I am going to buy one.)

Dinner was one of the best meals I’ve had yet – short ribs, which were braised and soooooooo tender. Jon had roast beef. We had pretty good desserts, too. Then we got a couple more tiny desserts from the International Cafe and headed back to the room, where we read our books for the next couple hours and went to bed.

Monday, January 28, 2013

January of Traveling, Pt 2: Cruising (Sea Days)

The first sentence of my journal for our first sea day was: "THE BOAT ROCKS SO MUCH. It’s like if you put the whole room on wheels and just shook it gently and never stopped." I think I wrote that during a particularly violent moment, haha. (We are pretty sure the first couple days just had choppier ocean, because many of the later days were much calmer.) Tip: We learned that if you don't want to feel the rocking, get a stateroom lower down on the ship. We just felt like it was a small, slow earthquake all the time. Still, the novelty was fun when you knew it was going to go away in just a few days.

Anyway, the first day we were just kind of figuring out what we wanted to do. Jon was more into exploring and I was more into catching up on my journal, reading books, and laying out. It took a little bit of back and forth, but we figured out some good ways to balance our time so we both got the experience we wanted. We spent a lot of time discovering the food :) We got up early the first day in a failed attempt to watch the sunrise (we were way too early; we think there were time zone issues) and had some pastries from the 24-hour pastry shop (the "International Cafe"). After waiting around for the no-show sun, we went down to the dining room and had a full buffet breakfast. That was great. It was just about the same food every day: baked apples or baked pears, yogurt, melons and pineapple, waffles, French toast, pancakes, bacon, sausage, made-to-order omelets or those weird runny scrambled eggs, oatmeal, pastries, croissants, rice pudding, chocolate flan, and a whole array of English breakfast food that we never touched. (Smoked salmon and cheese ... brats ... baked beans ... salted tomatoes ... no thanks.) The sun was STILL not up so we went back to bed.

Here's the thing about an internal (no windows/balcony) stateroom: With the lights out, it's always pitch black and your body never has any idea what time it is, so it is ALWAYS hard to get up. I slept until 11-something. Then again, at our farthest point, we were five hours ahead of California time, so maybe it wasn't all my fault :).

To shorten things up, here are some things we did on the days where we were at sea:
  • a merengue class
  • a fruit-and-vegetable art carving demonstration (see above)
  • the pool and hot tub
  • played chess in the library
  • read books (Wheel of Time for Jon, Blood, Bones, and Butter for me [a memoir by a New York chef who kind of fell into the career])
  • played a sort of Jeopardy game, where we did pretty well but did not win the bottle of champagne :) Better to go to someone who could use it, I guess.
  • went to a classy bar and listened to a jazz band
  • got a virgin mojito, which was nothing like the Rose brand mojito mixer ... it was mainly just grapefruit juice with mint leaves and limes. Expected more sugar :) Oh, well. It was fun to try. 
  • watched the movie "Cars," which Jon had never seen
  • dinner: Jon got a small filet mignon and some shrimp and vegetables. I got a fettucine alfredo in a parmesan basket (awesome). We also got some desserts – they do okay with food on this boat but they do great desserts. We got a rhubarb napoleon with nectarine ice cream, and a New York cheesecake.
  • day 2 lunch: breaded catfish and calamari, mashed potatoes, gnocchi, fruit, and we shared FOUR desserts because they all looked so good!
  • recorded audio journals
  • bought ridiculously expensive internet to race against the clock, taking care of some business online, mostly following up on parts of my grad school applications. It was expensive internet ... $.79/minute.
  • watched "Batman Begins"

On the second day, there was a Formal Night. That meant that the dress code for the restaurants was formal, so if you wanted to eat there, you had to dress up. We had a lot of fun with that. Here's a picture, albeit dark and blurry:

On the formal  night, we shared a table with six other people – a couple from south England and a parents/son/daughter family from northern England. It was cool getting to know them. The kids especially, they were around our age and were in college. They were in a pretty academic mindset and were fun to talk with, except the son kept wanting to talk politics (which was fine by us, but after awhile his parents kept trying to change the subject, so we had this little dance of not ignoring the son's questions but still trying to engage the other topics ... pleasing everyone and all that. We felt very diplomatic). I had lamb with mint jelly, which was surprisingly awesome.

Overall, it was really relaxing and also so great to not have internet or phone access. So nice.

January of Traveling, Pt 2: Cruising (Embarkation Day)

On Sunday, we went to Sacrament Meeting with Laura and Michael's family. They attend a ward that provides ASL interpreting of meetings, so I watched some interpreting and got to talk to a few of the deaf members afterward. It was testimony meeting, so that was fun. Those are usually my favorite meetings to visit. It's fun to see the character of a ward.

After church, we said good-bye to the family and drove our rental car down to Ft. Lauderdale, where we got on a giant ship to sail away! We had a few small holdups along the way (mostly traffic-and-detour-related) that were slightly stressful, but in the end we made it to the ship in plenty of time. We dropped off the car at the airport and took a taxi to Port Everglades (our embarkation port), where we put our pre-printed tags on our luggage and handed it over to the porters. (It showed up in our stateroom over the course of the next few hours.) Then we showed our passports in the terminal and received cards with barcodes and our names on them. We went through security (much like the airport) and then headed through a hallway and through a doorway and suddenly we were on the ship! They scanned our cards and took pictures of us that would be associated with our cards from then on. We walked in and took some pictures of the grandiose atrium, and then headed off to find our room. It was compact but very functional. Here's a video tour of the room (actually taken much later in the trip):

We got settled and I chatted with my family for a few minutes since it was our last chance at phone service for a week and a half. We did a mandatory emergency drill and then went to get a little food before the ship left. Our first cruise food was pizza, which turned out to be not worth the calories. We only had it twice the whole time because there was so much other food that was so much better (and also because it just wasn't very good). After we ate, we found the highest point we could to watch the ship sail away. We took a bunch of videos and tried to e-mail a couple out to our parents as we left the harbor, but Jon's phone internet lost connectivity right away as we were heading out of the port. Here's what we tried to send:

Then we went to get real dinner. It was fun. We split two meals - salmon and tri-tip - and then two desserts - a chocolate brownie mousse thing called the Princess Dream Love Boat (haha), and a creme brulee. It was kind of weird because we were still in the mindset of how we eat out when we're paying for it - just the entree and sometimes dessert - so we confused the waiter by ordering just one salad to split (he actually argued with us over that one) and no appetizers. Haha. It was a relaxing night. We pretty much just explored and watched the ocean and hung out, especially because it was Sunday.

OH. Also. The ship's rocking was way more intense than I expected. I thought I would barely feel it, but it was always noticeable. We both felt a little dizzy at first, but the motion sickness meds took care of it really well. Still, it was a novelty and a much more present effect than I thought it would be.

So, welcome to our cruise!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The January of Traveling .. Pt 1: Florida

Soooo ... our awkwardly scheduled holiday plans!

We have been wanting to go on a longish, relaxing vacation for awhile now, so we have been researching cruises. We thought we'd go on a cruise for Christmas, but as we were researching (let's be honest - as Jon was researching), we realized that cruises are, like, half the price if you wait until after New Year's. So, we decided to go ahead and book for January. (Hence the need for a short, local-ish trip for Christmas Day.)

We went to visit Jon's sister and her family in Florida for a few days before the trip. It was relaxing and awesome. We went to Downtown Disney for some excellent fried chicken ...

painted nails ...


played like dogs ...

used sign language (seriously, Jessica was a master. I've never seen that kind of focus in a kid her age - she LOVED signing and we spent hours on it while we were there. She learned probably 20 new signs by the time we left) ...

and learned cookie decorating from a master.

Chandler got his very own decorated hammer cookie that looked like a hammer. "Mom! It looks just like a real hammer! Thank you so much!!!" If all of parenting sounded like that kid's reaction to that hammer cookie, I would have fifty kids.

Oh! We also went to the church for a little basketball, and Michael made sure we had spectacular Florida cuisine for nearly every meal. While there, we had great bbq ribs, sausage and chicken fried steak biscuit sandwiches, that fried chicken, and home-grilled wings. Laura also made hot ham and cheese sandwiches, which was sort of astonishing because it was almost exactly the same recipe that my family uses for lunch on Christmas Day, and I have never seen it anywhere else. Laura and Michael were great hosts and it was a fun visit!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On the Way Home ... the Nixon Museum

Soooo, as a journalist and a friend of another comms person who made me read "All the President's Men" one day (thanks Gracie), I am really interested in learning about Richard Nixon and Watergate stuff. I've read a bunch of books on it and I guess it's a little silly, but, too bad?

Anyway, since we were in southern CA, on our way back home we stopped in Yorba Linda at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. It was pretty awesome. When it was owned and operated by the family, the place was very focused on everything BUT Watergate (understandably), but recently it ran out of money and is now run by the federal government (I think). Sooo, now there is a big Watergate section at the end, with a very different tone and presentation.

Jon and I thought all the non-Watergate stuff was really interesting, as it gave context to all the Watergate stuff we knew about and put it in perspective. However, I do wish that I had spent a little less time on everything else so I could have spent more time in the Watergate section (we were there for three hours, which meant we were a little burned out by the end). Still, it was pretty fascinating. Excuse the blurry pictures, camera flashes weren't allowed in the museum.


(In the last picture I am listening to the 18-minute gap!)

Probably the coolest thing was to see and hear all the original stuff I've read so much about, like the 18-minute gap, Rosemary Woods' testimony, and the "smoking gun" section from the tapes. So ... yay Nixon Museum!

The day after Christmas

This was California Adventure day. This park ended up being more fun (IMO anyway) because it was all totally new to me (whereas I had done many of the rides at Disneyland before). We went as soon as the park opened so we could get Fast Passes to the new Cars ride, which we heard are so popular that you can't get one at all after like 10am, and we didn't want to have to wait in a two-hour line. We got in a line and got a mid-morning time, and then went to ride some other rides. Throughout the day, the lines were nowhere nearly as bad as Disneyland. There were a lot more Pixar rides and other, newer attractions, which made it fun. The Cars ride was pretty fun, although we aren't sure it would have been worth a long wait. You get to see scenes from different places in Radiator Springs and also race another car on a fast-but-not-steep rollercoaster-y section. It was fun for us, but we decided if you were six years old and obsessed with Cars, you would be over the moon.

We really liked Soarin' over California, I loved the Little Mermaid ride because I have always loved "The Little Mermaid," we liked Cars Land and the Imagineering museum associated with it, and above all, WE LOVED THE "WORLD OF COLOR" SHOW. Seriously, I am a little obsessed with it. It's a "hydrotechnic" show (colors and videos projected onto spraying water). Here are pictures, and then do yourself a favor and watch the video. It doesn't quite do it justice, but it's still pretty good. (Disclaimer: I was watching the show, not the camera screen, so it's a shaky beginning.) My favorite part is the Pirates of the Caribbean section. You can go here to find out more about the show.

Aaaand, the World of Color! My favorite part (the Pirates section) is from about 9:15 to the end of the video, so if you just want to watch that part, that's okay I guess. Oh, and the "Brave" section starts at 2:15, which was also cool:

At the end of everything, we did do one other fun thing - the Mad T-Party. It was basically a crazy fluorescent world with super loud music, based on Alice in Wonderland. We took fun pictures there.

Second-to-last, we went on the Monster's Inc. ride, which was strange because at the very end the animatronic secretary lady talks to you, and it seemed tailored but I couldn't tell. She had crazy cat-eye glasses, and we were the only ones in the car because the park was about to close, and she said, "Hey, lady in the front row! Cool glasses, wanna trade?" And since I recognize that I have fairly distinctive glasses, I was totally thrown off. and then after a minute she said, "Well? I can't wait all day!" and we just jumped out of our car and left. haha.

After that, we ran over to the Radiator Springs Racers ride (the main Cars ride) to see if there was a bad wait, and there wasn't, so we jumped in the regular line. They cut off the line when the park closed, so there were only maybe fifty people behind us. Our turn came probably fifteen minutes after the park had closed, which was really fun, and then we left.