Yesterday we went snorkeling at Maluaka beach, which is another of our favorites. But, we were too nervous to enjoy it, for different reasons, both stemming from the fact that the swells were moderate. What made me nervous is that I didn’t want to be directly over the coral because I was afraid of being slammed in to it on a downdraft (probably not the right word). What made Lis nervous is that the swells kicked up sand and made the water murky, which are the conditions that are more conducive to shark attacks. Plus this beach is the site of a few shark attacks over the last several years, plus we learned that Makena Landing, just up the coast, is home to some reef sharks (no idea if these are the same sharks that did the attacking – probably not, as their presence seems to be a draw for divers). So I kept wanting to go farther out to avoid the coral, and Lis kept wanting to stay close in to avoid the sharks. Too bad, because on good days we’ve had some amazing snorkeling here. Ah, well.

It was a beautiful day, though, and standing in the water looking at the sea and other islands, I got the idea to do a picnic lunch at one of the easily accessible Kihei beaches so Mom could experience it, too. So we grabbed some burgers at Stewart’s Burgers, then sat at a picnic table at Kalama Beach Park and watched some surfers. It was a bit windy, but otherwise very pleasant, and the burgers were good.

After lunch we went back to the condo to rest up for the evening’s activity, which was the hula show in the lounge at the Four Seasons, which we try to get to whenever we’re on Maui. It is a very low key affair – just a single, modestly attired hula dancer, accompanied by a couple guys on guitar. They used to include a torch lighting ceremony as part of the hula show, but now it takes place separately, with even less fanfare than the hula show. I miss it being more featured.

We sat in the lounge and ordered pupus and drinks and enjoyed the show and the open air lounge. When the band took their first break, we headed home. It felt like we had been out late, but when we looked at the clock, it was only 7:30pm! We didn’t last much longer than that – I think we were all in bed by 10.

This morning we were all up early, and Lis and I hit the snorkel beach early. We went back to Ulua beach this time, as we figured we’d be less likely to freak out about sharks there. The surf was a little lower, so visibility was good, and soon after entering the water, Lis spotted an octopus. In getting my attention so she could show it to me, she lost sight of it. But soon thereafter, I spotted it, too. He looked just like the surrounding coral when he was on it. Then he would take off and swim, turning a deep reddish-purple. Then he would land on some coral and immediately assume the color and texture of his surroundings. Once I saw a YouTube video showing an octopus doing this and wondered if it was doctored, it was so unreal.

Then our sea turtle came by again, and he was moving slowly enough that we were able to swim with him for a long time – really one of the best things on earth, swimming (at a respectful distance, of course) with a sea turtle. Eventually, though, he started heading out to sea, and we decided we’d best not go with him, so we headed back to the coral and the fishies.

We’d noticed before, and noticed again today, that there were a ton of what seemed to be baby fish at this reef. At Ulua beach there is often a person from a local society whose aim is to protect the reefs, and we asked her about it. She said yes, there are a lot of juvenile fish here. (She also said the reef is having a small bleaching problem due to El Nino (or maybe La Nina? I forget), but it should bounce back when (if?) the weather goes back to normal.) When we were de-sanding at the beach’s showers, another woman there said that the vast numbers of juvenile butterfly fish (literally hundreds of them) only happens every 15 years. Who knows if this is true, but it’s a fun story and we decided to believe it.

For lunch today we went to Pita Paradise in Wailea. The owner is Greek/Sicilian, and a fisherman who in the morning personally catches the fish served that day in the restaurant. So there are Greek and Sicilian family recipes and incredibly fresh fish. It was super good and not too expensive – we might go back.

After lunch we went upcountry. We wanted to check out the Surfing Goat Dairy, and we wanted to check out some of the art galleries in Makawao, particularly the Jordanne Gallery, as we had bought some of the artist’s work on a previous trip to Maui and thought it would be fun to check in with her.

It was a pleasant drive up the mountain, and we went to the goat farm first. Lis had her heart set on taking the every-half-hour tour of the farm, where they let you pet goats and taste cheeses. Alas, they only do the tour if at least 2 people sign up, and no one had, and neither Mom nor I could be talked in to traipsing around a farm in the heat of the day (it was about 2pm and about 85 degrees). Poor Lis! She did manage to talk one of the guys there in to a mini tour where he took her over to a goat pen and she petted a goat. Mom and I ate passion fruit gelato in the shade while we waited.

Then on to Makawao, which is a cute little town. Our artist’s gallery was closed, though – we could only peer through the glass at some of her artwork. Plus the general store no longer had the vegan pineapple upside down cake we’ve gotten there before. We went home through Pa’ia, with the intention of stopping at Pa’ia Gelato – but traffic was jammed and we couldn’t find parking. All in all, then, except for the drive itself, which was scenic, upcountry was a bit of a bust.

We had leftovers from lunch, and some wine in the fridge, which made for a lovely dinner on the lanai. And so another great day in Maui comes to an end.

On Tuesday Lis and my mom and I arrived on Maui. Our friend Jane was supposed to be coming, too, but she had a bunch of stuff come up at the last minute and had to cancel. This made us all very sad, but it was still exciting to be headed to Hawai’i (Miss you, Jane!).

Mom was last in Hawai’i in 1972, and has been wanting to come back since then, so Lis and I are pleased to be taking her. She (Mom) is a little bit trepidatious (word?) about Maui, because when she was here before it was stormy and miserable, but it’s the island we’re most familiar with, so we thought it would be best to come here so we’d have a better idea of how things are laid out and which things might be more taxing, as Mom doesn’t get around as well as she used to. (Aside: she does have a walker, which I made her get and which she hates, and which we were going to make her bring so she’d have more options. But she sneakily refrained from reminding me about it when I picked her up, and I didn’t remember it until we were at the airport and it was too late, and she had a slight but unmistakably triumphant smile. So, Mom 1, Lis & Mary 0.)

The flight was pleasant, and soon enough we were on the ground in Maui. We were at the back of the plane, and as we were waiting to get off, Lis said “What’s that smell?” It was Maui – the doors were open and all the scents of all the flowers were wafting in. Gotta love it.

We are staying in a two bedroom condo in the Grand Champions in Wailea. It’s comfortable and well laid out, and includes all the local guides that you would expect, and also an English-Hawaiian dictionary, which is fun. Mom and I have been looking up all the Hawaiian place names. For instance – kama’ole means ‘childless’ or ‘barren’, and kaiwahine literally means ‘sea’ (kai) ‘woman’ (wahine) but idiomatically means a feminine or gentle sea. Gotta love that, too :)

Yesterday I got up early and came and sat on the lanai and listened to all the birds (which is what I’m doing right now, too), and also all the power mowers and leaf blowers from the adjacent tennis courts and golf course. But on the whole, the birds outnumber the grounds crew, so it is mostly great. Then we all got up and had some breakfast, and then Lis and I went snorkeling while Mom stayed in and caught up on the news.

We went to Ulua beach, which is my favorite. But the surf was up a little – nothing scary, but enough to stir up the sand and make for somewhat poor visibility. Still, it’s just so great to be in the water, and we did see lots of fish. I thought some of the coral looked white and wondered if it was sick, but when I Googled it back at the condo nothing came up, so I’ll hope that all is well.

We snorkeled for about an hour or so, and then decided to head back in. As we were heading back to shore, a huge male sea turtle came lazily by in the other direction. He swam directly under us, I’d say about 5 feet below. And, because of the limited visibility, we didn’t see him coming – it was normal, normal, then BOOM! sea turtle. So exciting! We followed him for a bit, then headed in. I’ve decided to think that having a sea turtle materialized before your very eyes on your first snorkel is a good sign.

Back at the condo, we got dressed and headed out for lunch. The previous evening, we had eaten at the Maui Coast Hotel’s Kama’ole Poolside Cafe and Bar. We chose this because Lis had called one of our favorite restaurants, Cafe O’Lai, and asked if they had a happy hour. They said no, but their sister restaurant at the hotel pool did. It was nice to be all tropical and poolside, plus the food was affordable and excellent – we definitely recommend it.

For lunch, we went to Maui Tacos in Kihei, which we read about in one of the condo guides. It was cheap but good, and in the same strip mall as Snorkel Bob’s, where I wanted to pick up some sun protection shorts if they had any (I forgot mine at home, dangit!), and as Hawaiian Moons Natural Foods, where we wanted to get some ezekial bread and almond butter. The natural foods store trip was a success, but I struck out at Snorkel Bob’s, so still on my quest for shorts.

Then we went off in search of Hawaiian Shave Ice. We had never tried this before, or even been tempted to, but our friend Louise (hey, Louise!) came back from a recent trip to Maui raving about it, so we decided we better try it. Lis’ research said the best shave ice was Ululani’s, so off we went. Lis and I each got a micro shave ice (which was still huge), with optional ice cream at the bottom – Lis chose coconut, I chose macadamia. Mom was dubious and just sampled ours. Lis LOVED her shave ice and can’t wait to go back. I liked mine, and Mom remained dubious.

Ululani’s is next to a bakery, which is next to an ABC store – trifecta! We got some banana bread at the bakery and some booze at the ABC store, and then, with our basic food groups covered, headed back to the condo, where Lis took a nap and Mom and I watched game 7. I was disappointed that KC couldn’t pull it out (sorry, Rosemary!), but it was fun watching a historic pitching performance.

For dinner we went to happy hour at Manoli’s Pizza in Wailea, which was also affordable and good. So far, we are doing very well with our cheap happy hours ways! We watched the end of the game there, which was fun, except for the one sad lady in the KC shirt, sitting right behind the cheering ladies in SF shirts. But soon after the game ended, they were all chatting and laughing together – so there was a happy ending after all.

For years, we’ve had this plan – go to Scottsdale in the summer when it’s a zillion degrees, and get cheap rates at the Four Seasons. Then, just hole up in the air-conditioned resort. Last year, we finally did it, and it was great. And, we found that we didn’t even need to hole up all that much – the Four Seasons provides lots of shade and misters, so it’s quite comfortable to be outside even in the heat of the day. And the desert landscaping is beautiful and the food is great (though spendy) – our plan was a rousing success. We did wonder, though, if it would have been as successful if it had been more scorching hot. Only the first day or two was in the 100’s – the rest of the days were in the 90’s, and one day it only got up to about 87. What would it be like on those 112 degree days we’ve heard tell of?

This year, we were able to find out. As we flew in late on Saturday afternoon, the pilot announced that the temperature in Phoenix was 110 degrees. It was definitely hot, but as we were mostly moving from air-conditioned airport to air-conditioned rental car center to air-conditioned car, we were pretty comfortable. We stopped at a mall on the way to Scottsdale to get something to eat and a few things at a supermarket, but by then it was evening and, while definitely hot, there was no sun beating down from directly over head. (I guess being farther south affects this, too – by 7:30 pm it was full-on dusk – don’t usually see that in Portland until around 9pm.) We got to the hotel around 8pm and were comfortable ensconsed in our room by 8:30.

Sandra, our travel agent extraordinaire, had arranged for us to have a DYI sangria kit and chips and salsa awaiting for us on arrival, and it was all laid out in the room. It was a great little spread – they really pay attention to details here! But we weren’t hungry and decided to save it for later. We called down to the front desk and asked for a refrigerator for the room, which the poor maintenance guy had to lug up to us on his shoulder (we’re on the second floor of a building on a hill, so he had to climb lots of steps, plus it was still over 100 degrees out) – big tip for him! We plugged in the fridge and put away our sangria fixin’s for later.

So now to the heat part. Sunday and Monday were both 110-plus degree days, and we spent the bulk of both of them outside: meals on covered patios with misters going, and several hours of each day in a cabana by the pool. Both days were awesome, and the only time I felt really hot was in the walk from our room (which is at the edge of the property) to or from the lobby/restaurant area. But even then, the desert landscape is so gorgeous and so full of little critters (birds, lizards, even little bunnies) that you don’t care (or we don’t, anyway). It’s just so nice – I love it here so much that sometimes I even get a bit teary!

Sometimes I start to feel guilty about the misters, and the water being used. But, unlike other desert resorts, there isn’t much greenery here that requires watering – the vast majority of the landscaping is desert plants. So I figure they are probably using less water than comperable properties, and I’ve decided that that is going to be good enough for me :)

The pool area has a large upper pool, with a lower adult-only pool and a separate kids’ wading pool. I prefer the larger all-access pool to the smaller adult-only pool; the kids in the all-skate pool can be fun, while there are sometimes gross PDA’s in the adult pool. The best thing about the pool area is that it is ringed with cabanas. These are free of charge (except, I guess, the couple three that are really big and have ceiling fans and TV’s in them – thankfully, no one is ever watching the TV’s, or if they are, you can’t hear them) and even on Saturday, when the resort was at 80% occupancy, we were able to find one.

I’m not usually much of a hang-out-at-the-pool vacationer, but I really like hanging out at this pool. I think maybe it’s the cabana – makes it feel a bit like being in a tent; I can pretend I’m camping. Because it’s so hot, we have to get in the pool about every 20 minutes or so, but that is all it takes to be perfectly comfortable.

The staff at the pool are very attentive (more so at the upper pool – the lower adult pool I think is a little more out of the way and they don’t seem to make as many trips there) and regularly bring around complementary things like Otter pops and corn nuts. I feel for them, having to work in this heat, but there are misters all around the pool so hopefully they benefit from these, too.

When we arrived on Sunday afternoon, the attendant was taking Otter pops around, but stopped to help us get set up in a cabana with fresh towels and ice water. In so doing, of course, she had to set her bucket of Otter pops down, and they weren’t going to be long for this world in the heat, so Lis finished taking them around while the attendant helped us. The other patrons were amused by this, and the attendant was bemused by this. She said to me “I’ve never had anyone do that before”, but I couldn’t tell if she meant this in a “that’s so nice” way or in a “maybe she needs her medication adjusted” way.

Last night after our pool day, we came back to the room and had room service out on the balcony. We split a club sandwich and a salad, and broke out our sangria mix, and even though it was still over 100 degrees, we were in the shade and there was a breeze and the sun was going down and the sky was purple and the hills were pink-ish and it was awesome. No misters on the balcony, either, but still perfectly comfortable – I’m a little afraid that once we get back home I’m going to be cold for the rest of the summer, but Lis says she doesn’t think that will happen.

As we sat on the balcony sipping our Sangria, I heard a soft rustle and looked down just in time to see a bobcat walk by right below our balcony. Have I mentioned that I love it here?

It’s our 14th anniversary (yay!) and we are at a lovely beach house in Manzanita, OR. Mostly lazy lying about and reading, or beach walks, so not much to say. But, I wanted to remember the two adorable birds that we saw out the window here, that I don’t see out my window at home.

First, an American Pipit. This was a cute little guy I heard singing in the shrubbery just outside the window. I located him and then watched him through the beach house binoculars. He would make two or three little chirps, and then throw his head back and his mouth open and do an extended trill, which vibrated his whole throat. It looked like the incarnation of joy to me. One of the online bird sites I saw when looking for a link described him as drab. Hmmph! The very idea!

Then I saw a White Crowned Sparrow. I was sitting on the window seat and he came walking down the path directly outside the window, like 2 feet from me. He looked just like an ordinary house sparrow but with a crazy grey-and-white-striped hat.

So, as long as I’m listing things, I’ll mention the 2 places we’ve eaten so far that we thought were really great:

Last Saturday was my 50th birthday – huzzah!! We have a birthday trip scheduled for mid-January (The Lodge at Whitefish Lake – probably won’t blog that one as I intend to be completely lazy), but I didn’t want to just ignore my actual birthday, so we had a plan.

A while back I had seen an ad that Denny’s offers a free Grand Slam breakfast on your birthday. Lis said “Neat” in a totally unenthused manner – I knew her plan was to just agree and expect me to forget all about it. An effective plan under normal circumstances, but in this case I actually put it on the calendar, so we seemed good to go. Luckily for Lis, even though Denny’s was on the calendar, her humor-me-and-hope-I-forget plan still worked, because I forgot to actually check out the details until the evening before my birthday. Turns out you have to sign up for their dang rewards program (back in the day, you could just show up on your birthday and show them your driver’s license), and even though I did so, I didn’t receive the acknowlegement until 2 days later (stupid Denny’s). After I signed up but failed to receive anything in response, Lis very sweetly said “We can still go to Denny’s if you want, but what if we go downtown to the Heathman for brunch instead?” Diabolically effective, that girl is.

So we went to the Heathman for their brunch, which was quite delicious, and which put us in prime position for part 2 of our plan, a trip to the Portland Art Museum. The current exhibition is called “The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece,” a collection of sculpture, vessels and jewelery on loan from the British Museum’s collection of Greek and Roman art, with a focus on the nude athletic form so popular among the Greeks (and, really, among us all – am I right, people?)

We had been seeing the posters for this show around town, and kept planning to go and not making it. The show closes in early January, so we were worried we wouldn’t get there, but then I said “Let’s go on my birthday,” and so it was. (Lis did make a couple unsuccessful efforts to reschedule to the Friday preceding, but I wouldn’t let her. It can be hard for my travel planner extraordinaire girlfriend to just let go and let me do my own planning ordinaire – she is always coming up with improvements and refinements. I finally had to make her just stop and let things play out as they would – it was difficult for her, but she did it – brave sweetie!!)

In the first room of the exhibit there was a lifesize marble statue of a completely nude young male athlete. A little girl of about 11 had her phone up to take a picture, and I was very impressed that someone that young was enjoying an art show enough to take pictures, until I wandered close enough to see that she had zoomed completely in on the peepee and was frantically snapping away. I’ll bet hordes of 11 year old girls are still shrieking and giggling over those pictures.

I really enjoy sculpture, and so really enjoyed this show. Lis said she got a little bored after a while, especially since there was less sculpture and more vessels and vases than she had been expecting. Still, it’s always fun to go to the art museum. While we were there we checked out the modern art section (hit and miss, in my opinion – some stuff is interesting, some just weird and/or boring) and an exhibition of black and white photography of the human form that was running in concert with the “Body Beautiful” exhibit. We both really liked the photography – Lis said she would have been happy to just do the photography exhibit.

Originally this was the extent of my birthday plan – we figured we would just go out to dinner after the museum. But after the shooting at Clackamas Town Center (an aside – I cannot believe all the shootings over the last month – CRAZY and tragic and sad), Lis saw on Twitter that Crystal Bowersox was going to do a benefit concert for the victims’ families at Duke’s Country Bar. For the uninitiated, Crystal Bowersox was a finalist on American Idol the only year we watched it, the year that Ellen Degeneres was a judge (we are such lesbians). We knew that she (Crystal, not Ellen) had moved to Portland, and were interested to see her and also to help the families, so we bought tickets.

Lis was very worried that we wouldn’t get a seat, and wanted to get there at 3pm, which is when she had read the music started. I knew that Crystal would be the headliner and didn’t want to be there for 5 hours (the benefit ended at 8pm). I really had to work to get my way on this one, and then had to work harder still to get Lis to stop fretting about it, but eventually she gave in to my refrain of “we’ll get in or we won’t, and either way we donated to a good cause” and agreed to do it my way and see what happened.

So we went home and fed the cats and rested for a bit, and then headed out to Duke’s Country Bar (SE Division and 140th) around 5:30pm.

When we arrived, the parking lot was full to overflowing (with more pickup trucks than I have seen in one place since I left Idaho – Duke’s Country Bar made me feel very nostalgic) and we figured we wouldn’t get in, but we thought we’d take a pass through the lot and the surrounding streets just in case, and ended up finding a spot on a side street a couple blocks away. Then we showed our tickets at the door and were asked to show ID, which I found totally delightful, even though it looked like it was a matter-of-course thing that they were doing to everybody. Still, I can now say that I was carded on my 50th birthday – I was liking this Duke’s Country Bar more and more!

Once inside, the place was a total madhouse, and I wondered again whether we would be able to stay, as there was no place to sit. After a couple circuits of the bar (which is very large, with several rooms plus a dance floor and a stage), we found a tall table in a back room at which we could stand. This was progress – at least we’d have a place to put food – but I wasn’t sure I wanted to stand for a couple hours. There were about 5 booths along one wall, most of which contained 1 couple and 2 extra seats, which I regarded covetously and even toyed with the idea of seeing if anyone would be willing to let us join them. Just then Lis noticed that one of the couples looked like they were getting ready to leave – she went over to claim their booth, and DID end up sitting with the guy while he waited for his wife to come back from the bathroom. I couldn’t get myself to join their awkward little tete a tete, and let Lis sit there holding our spot until they left (it WAS my birthday, after all…).

After taking possession of our booth, I said “maybe we should ask someone to join us” (the sting of my previous booth longing was still strong). Lis said “Sure, why don’t you ask those two lesbians there.” I saw who she was indicating, and also at that moment noticed that there was a LOT of family at Duke’s Country Bar – hmmm, said I to myself.

The two women we invited were very happy to join us, and we chatted pretty comfortably during our time together, which was good as they didn’t seem terribly outgoing and we often aren’t either. I asked if they had been here before and they said “Never.” “You just came out for Crystal Bowersox, then?” “Yes.” So, apparently Ms. Bowersox has a sizable lesbo following – who knew?

It was very busy, and it took us two hours to get our food, primarily because our very cute, very friendly, very trying-really-hard waitress was also very incompetent – we kept having to be rescued by another waitress who would wander by and notice that we still didn’t have any food, or any drink, or the wrong food, etc. But we did eventually eat, and the food was pretty good.

There were several other country acts preceding Crystal Bowersox, which we missed while we were eating but didn’t really care about anyway. Crystal was just coming on as we were finishing up, but we hadn’t gotten our check yet. We were in the back room, where we couldn’t see the stage. Our rescue waitress came along and said “Go ahead and go up front – you can settle up later, I’ll find you.” She was so awesome – we gave her a big tip (we gave our actual waitress a tip, too, as she was trying really hard and we are softies).

Note from Lis: one of my favorite parts of the evening was as we were sitting, starving, at the table waiting for our food, or water, or… anything, and listening to the music from the stage two rooms away. We had all just disclosed that none of us really knew country music. Then a woman started singing and Mary said, “Is that so and so?” (one of the acts opening the show) to which one of our new friends replied, “No, that’s Lady Antebellum.” To which I replied, “See, I told you. We REALLY don’t know country music.”

The show was short, which was fine as we were standing on the dance floor in front of the stage, rather than sitting. And it was good – Crystal Bowersox has a good voice and a great range, from soft to belting and back again. She did some of her own material, including a couple duets with her husband, Brian Somebody, who came up on stage and bantered weirdly with her for a while, and an excellent cover of a Jewell song and a truly awesome version of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ to close the show. It was really great – I’m glad we went.

As we were making our way out of the bar, suddenly the national anthem started playing and everyone stopped what they were doing and faced the giant flag behind the stage. Lis whispered to me, “Why are we doing this?” I said, “I don’t know, because we’re at Duke’s Country Bar?” But we both stood at attention like good girls – our mamas raised us up right!

And then it was home and to bed with a totally awesome 50th birthday in the books :)

Tomorrow we are heading out to Los Angeles, and the day after that we are boarding a Virgin Atlantic red-eye flight for Jolly Olde England. We are very excited. I have never been to Europe before – the extent of my international travel is Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Lis has been abroad a couple times (she is so continental), but not since she was in her twenties – so, fifteen years ago or so (you’re welcome, sweetie).

Here is our itinerary:

  • England – we are going to be staying in Reading, England, about 40 minutes outside of London.  When Lis was in college, she did a Study Abroad program thing and lived with a host family in Reading for a month.  We will be visiting them the first part of our trip.  Nothing fancy in terms of lodging – just the local Holiday Inn.  Note from Lis:  It actually sounds quite fancy – large pool, sauna, steam room, spa….
  • Amsterdam –  when we first started planning our trip to England and Germany, I begged Lis to include a stop in Amsterdam, as I’ve long wanted to go to the Van Gogh Museum.  We will be staying in a Bed & Breakfast right on a canal and just around the corner from the Anne Frank Museum and the Homomonument.  The B&B gets excellent reviews (Lis checks Trip Advisor for new reviews almost daily) and we can’t wait!
  • Germany – the original impetus for this trip was an art exhibition by David Hockney – we desperately wanted to see it when it was in London but couldn’t; then we learned it was going to Cologne and were ALL OVER IT!  The exhibit will be at the Ludwig Museum, and we’ve already purchased our tickets.  We’ve also been reading about Cologne, particularly the cathedrals and the Christmas markets that will just have opened when we get there – we think it sounds fun.  We will be staying at another B&B in Cologne – Bed & Breakfast Cologne – and the breakfasts are supposed to be out of this world.
  • England – then back to England, this time for some relaxation in the countryside.  We will finish up our trip in Jane Austen country, in the lap of luxury at the Four Seasons Hampshire – I shall pretend that I am at Downton Abbey. (Regular readers of our blog will know that we LOVE us some luxury travel, and will stay at the Four Seasons whenever we can afford it, and sometimes when we cannot).

At first we were a little bummed to be traveling in November, but I figure the weather will be similar to Portland in November and so at least familiar, plus I prefer off season traveling with its reduced crowds anyway, and now I’m pretty excited about the German Christmas markets.  Can’t wait to get started!

Second note from Lis:  I’m a little concerned about this “having to beg Lis to go to Amsterdam” business and how it might make me appear.  First, I would like to say that I believe there’s a little bit of hyperbole there.  Second, I will admit that I am the planner for all of our vacations, but this one is kind of my 50th birthday trip, even though I won’t be turning 50 for another 21 years.  Thus, Mary did have to work a little to get Amsterdam in there.

Yesterday and today are sea days. Yesterday we met Sandra for breakfast – Sandra is full of life and good humor and good stories, and we ended up talking and laughing together until almost lunch time. She invited us to her cabin for drinks later, and I said I would bring some of my hard-won beer.

We went back to the cabin for a bit, and then to lunch. The lunch was a special lunch – Asian buffet in the Lido area. On our last Crystal cruise, I had actually found these specialty buffets annoying, because they closed down the other lunch options, so everybody came, so there were lines and noise and tumult and you couldn’t find a table – might as well be on Carnival. Thus, I entered the cafe area with trepidation, and almost bolted when it sounded louder than usual and there appeared to be a line. My sweetie made me stay, however, and it was fine – there wasn’t a line, and it was only a little louder than normal. There were all kinds of little Asian dishes in little cute bowls – I got a little bit of everything. Once we got to eating, though, we discovered that most of the fare was only mediocre – definitely my most disappointing dining experience on Crystal.

After lunch we went to the Trident Ice Cream bar for dessert – I got one scoop of Peanut Butter with Reese’s Pieces in a home-made waffle cone – delish!!

The afternoon was glorious – just lay about the cabin reading, dozing and listening to podcasts. The seas are a bit high, which means the ship has got a pretty good pitch going (I guess this is pretty common when sailing the Pacific Coast), which can make walking a little bit difficult, but makes lying in your bed divine – rocks you to sleep.

I did make a trip to the ship’s gym mid-afternoon to ride an exercise bike for a while. The gym on this ship is less impressive than most; it is small and dark and cramped-feeling, and the exercise bikes are just up against a wall – usually the treadmills and bikes and such look out on the ocean, but here only the treadmills do. Still, it was pleasant enough, and the staff are very nice.

We are heading north back to LA now, and our cabin is on the port (left, for you land lubbers) side of the ship, which means that we can watch the sunset from our balcony. Because of the swells, no one was out walking the promenade deck (directly below us), and because it was rather windy, no one was out on any adjacent balconies. And so, I was able to do my forward-bow-music-singing thing from my own balcony, rather than having to go up on deck. Lis had gone to a Yamaha music class (she’s such a joiner, my sweetie!), but got back just in time to watch the sun drop in to the ocean.

Note from Lis: The Yamaha class was fantastic. I am so excited now to get a keyboard and continue my musical education!

There was a Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party right before dinner. We timed it so that we arrived early enough to get some free booze, but too late to have to hear any speechifying – the whole thing broke up right as the waiter handed us our champagne. We took our drinks and headed to the main dining room.

This was our last night in the main dining room, as today we have reservations at Silk Road. Our waiter (Zoltan, from Thailand by way of Hungary) was particularly attentive, and our sommelier (Kremena, from Bulgaria, with whom I am now officially in love) (Lis: Hey now!) scolded us for bringing in our own wine. Zoltan has a helper (Juhan, from Estonia) who is new and inept and causing Zoltan much aggravation – but he (Juhan) is sweet and earnest and trying really hard and is very boyish and tall and has cute dimples, and I’m a little in love with him, too :) (Lis: Hmmmm.)

After dinner we went to Sandra’s room for drinks. I brought along my special beers for everybody. Now was the moment of truth – I had been worried that, after all this trouble, the beer wouldn’t be as good as I remembered. But, luckily, it was – Sandra and David were impressed. We had a lovely time, and then it was time for them to head to dinner (they are late-seating, we are early-seating).

Lis had read that the gym and women’s locker room were open until 10pm, so we made our way up there for a steam. The steam room is beautiful and the steam was divine. Then I took a shower in their special 5-way-jets shower, and then back to our room and to bed, to be rocked to sleep – it was a great end to a lovely sea day.

Yesterday we docked in Puerto Vallarta. I was hoping to be up early enough to watch us come in to port, but, alas; we had to set the clocks ahead the night before, and so I missed it – when I looked out the window, we were already tied up. But, I could tell we were in Mexico for real, by the giant Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club visible from our balcony…

Earlier we had thought that we might not even leave the ship in Puerto Vallarta, but since we had come up empty on our cerveza search in Cabo San Lucas, we thought that maybe we’d take another shot, and so set out in search of beer.

We stopped at the Information booth just outside the ship and asked where we might find Noche Buena cerveza. The first answer was Wal-Mart, which we found highly depressing (or I did, anyway – Lis said it would probably be great, because it wouldn’t be tourist-y; we’d be shopping with locals. Today at breakfast, Sandra confirmed Lis’s view). But then another tour guy said there was another store called Soriana just a short distance away, so we headed for that.

From a distance, the Soriana SuperMercado seemed easy to find, but as we got closer, it disappeared behind another building, and we kept having to stop and ask for directions. As before, we did this mostly in Spanish, and as before, were pleased to find that we knew enough Spanish to make our way. We also can read most all the signs we see.

We finally got our bearings, could see the store, and were about to set off, when a cabby drove up. We’d already been offered several tours (these previous cabbies and tour people are whom we’d been asking directions of), and were going to decline this guy’s, too, but then 2 things happened. One, he began speaking at length about all the different parts of town, and his spiel sounded less like generic ad copy than most. Two, I realized that we’d come a fair way and were about to buy a 12-pack of beer, and it might be nice to have a ride back to the ship. So we struck a deal – take us to the store for our cerveza, and then give us as much of a tour as our forty bucks cash will buy us.

So, off to the SuperMercado we went (I actually found wandering the store and then buying our beer the most fun part of our tour, as I think Lis did, too), and then through the streets of Puerto Vallarta. Our cabbie’s name was Carlos and he was great fun – took us around town, told us interesting stories, and was just generally a good time. His English is very good (he actually grew up around the Klamath Falls area (Southern Oregon), and much of his family is still there – he was excited to learn that we are from Portland) and he is very nice – I recommend him to anyone who wants to do a private tour by taxi (VIP Taxi Hire by the hour or day, Carlos Alexis Inda, Cell: 044 322 137 32 33, Email:

And so, around lunch time, we were dropped back off at the ship, having seen some of the town and, most importantly, with beer in hand!

After lunch we hung out in the room, then went up on deck for the sail away – the plan was to get some fruity drinks and be in position before the Louis Armstrong started (on Crystal, they play Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” whenever the ship leaves a port – we find it strangely moving, and try to always be on deck for it). Sadly, we blew it on our Cabo San Lucas stop – rushed to the deck and got there in time for the last three notes. As this was our only other chance, we were determined to get there on time, but still almost blew it – the drinks took longer than expected. But, happily, we just made it, and had a lovely sail away – Puerto Vallarta is beautiful from the sea, with mountains and greenery and curving bay – very nice.

I was already dressed for dinner, so stayed up on deck listening to music; Lis went back to the room. While on deck I saw 3 whale spouts and one dorsal fin, plus a couple dolphins/porpoises. Then I went to get Lis, and we headed for the dining room and our special-order Chateaubriande.

This was only the second time we’d eaten at our assigned table in the dining room, and our waiter and sommelier made a big deal of our finally being present. Our sommelier is a particularly beautiful young woman from some Eastern European country (I haven’t been able to make out her name tag, as that would require staring at her chest, which would be fun but inappropriate). I hadn’t been planning to have wine with dinner (I have beer chilling in my room, after all), but she made such a charming fuss over us that I had to :)

The waiter brought out a cart and carving knife and serving plate, and then the head waiter came over and, with some fanfare, carved up our Chateaubriande for us. It was very fun, and the meat, as always, was spectacular. I had planned my day so that, this time, I was able to eat most of it, too.

The head waiter said that he was doing his famous Bananas Foster for dessert. Since we were spending most of our room on the meat, we said we’d share a dessert; he nodded and brought it to us. But then our regular waiter came back and was appalled – “What, I leave for one minute and you are sharing dessert? If I am here to take care of you, this never would have happened!” And then our sommelier came by – “Cheaters! Cheaters! They are sharing dessert! Cheaters!” They are very cute. The shared dessert in question was delicious (though not as good as last night’s sorbet and prosecco).

After dinner I went to one of the bars and watched the first quarter of the Philly-Seattle game (Marshawn Lynch! Yeah, baby!!), while Lis went back to the room. Then we went to the theater and watched the evening movie, which was “The Help.” And then to bed – a very nice day :)

Yesterday was our second day in Cabo San Lucas, and we spent it puttering around the ship. I tend to get up earlier than Lis, and so I’ll take my netbook up to the pool deck and write the blog for the previous day. Yesterday morning, after posting the blog, I came back to the room, and noticed that Lis had put the “Do Not Disturb” sign out, which struck me as odd, but maybe she wanted to make sure she could sleep in. I attempted to open the door with my keycard, but it didn’t work. This is not unusual – the doors often take a few tries before they’ll open – so I tried again, oh, about A MILLION TIMES, before I finally noticed that I was at the wrong room. Oops!! :( About 5 minutes later, Lis and I walked by this room again on the way to breakfast – “Do Not Disturb” sign was gone and the little faux-newspaper had been taken in. You’re welcome, neighbor :)

After breakfast we lay around the pool for a while. Lis actually attempted to swim laps, and I think mostly succeeded in getting in a workout, but she had to contend with some rude and/or oblivious behavior from some of her poolmates.

(An aside: the 2 luxury lines we like are Regent and this line, Crystal – we’ve sailed both twice. And it’s interesting the differences between the 2 lines vis-a-vis passenger behavior. On Regent, everyone is nice but indifferent – no one is rude to you, but no one is especially friendly, either. On Crystal, most everyone is nice, a few people are really friendly, and a few people are really rude. All in all, I think I prefer the Regent way…)

We had lunch in the Lido buffet (we’ve been having most breakfasts and lunches in the Lido, and are quite happy with it. Often I find cruise ships’ buffets awful, but Crystal has very good food, and this extends to the buffet. My only complaint is that it can at times be a little clamorous if you don’t time it right) and then hung out in the room in the afternoon.

For dinner we had reservations at the other specialty restaurant, Prego. Lis had talked with the maitre d’ yesterday and so had already pre-ordered her meal so that they could make it dairy free. The head waiter came over and reviewed her order, and spent a lot of time talking with us and going over everything to make sure it was all OK – we was very attentive, and also rather handsome, which is always a nice little bonus.

Lis had the antipasti appetizer and the spaghetti pescatore for her entree. I very bravely ordered a scallop appetizer (I’m not a seafood fan in general), and found that I enjoyed it very much. For my main entree, I had a butternut squash risotto that was delicious but rich – couldn’t eat it all. For dessert we both had strawberry sorbet with prosecco, and it was DIVINE! Probably the best dessert I’ve had so far, and I have had some lovely desserts.

After dinner we just wandered around the ship, stopping to listen to music, browse the ship’s stores, look at the passenger photos from formal night – it was quite pleasant. And, I made a happy discovery. Often we like to sit and watch the ball room dancing after dinner, but by doing so you are likely to run afoul of the gentlemen hosts – older men who know how to dance, and who get reduced or free cruise fare in exchange for spending the evenings dancing with the lady passengers. If you are female and sitting in the vicinity of the dance floor, you are likely to be asked to dance at least once, and maybe more, by the various gentlemen hosts. And they don’t go down without a fight, either – “I can teach you! It’s easy!” But this trip, I’m still in my walking boot from my recent ankle sprain (tendon is healing slowly, and the physical therapist said to wear it for a few more weeks). So when the gentlemen host came, I smiled and said thank you and pointed to my boot, and he just WENT AWAY! I told Lis (she had gone to the dining room to talk about the next day’s menu) and she was jealous. But I think I’ve hit on something for next time – I’ll have an Ace bandage wrap on my ankle, and Lis can wear a sling, and we’ll be able to watch the dancing in safety :)

As we were walking back to our room, Lis said, “I have a surprise for you!” Previously we had been commiserating about how sad it was that we weren’t going to having the Chateaubriande again. But, my sweetie had special ordered it for us – we will be having Chateaubriande for Thursday’s dinner – can’t wait!!

Yesterday we arrived in Cabo San Lucas. we have two days here. Originally, we were supposed to be in Cabo San Lucas yesterday and Mazatlan today, but the Mazatlan stop was dropped due to safety concerns, and the Cabo stop was extended. We’ve never overnighted before, and it was nice to know that if we missed something, we could come back the next day – though, most likely, we will just stay on the ship today.

We didn’t actually reach Cabo San Lucas until about noon, which was great, because then we got to watch the ship come in to port, which usually happens around 6am and so I miss it. Lis and I went up to the bow to get a better view of El Arco, the arched rock formation at the very tip of the Baja peninsula, as we passed by it. There were some other people up there, but it wasn’t crowded, and we also saw a whale and a few porpoises/dolphins (I don’t know which) swimming along the ship and crossing under the bow – once they came head on toward us and then disappeared under the ship. It was pretty awesome.

Then we moved down a deck, to get out of the sun, and were standing with some people at the railing next to the golf net. After a few minutes, we started to hear “plunk…plunk…plunk.” We turned around – a 2 or 3 year old boy was in the golf net, picking up the golf balls and putting them back in the wooden container where they belong. His mother looked a little sheepish and said, “He likes to clean.” There was another ship in port (Carnival Splendor), and as we approached it, the boy (from inside the golf net still) shouted, “Daddy! Look at the big ship!” His dad said, “Yes, it’s really neat – come look at it.” “I’m straightening up.” “OK, when you’re done, then.”

All was quiet for a bit, then I heard his mother say, “No, honey, that stays there.” I turned around and saw that the boy was trying to lift up the astroturf mat that you hit the balls off of (which was bigger than he was), in preparation for folding it and putting it…I don’t know where. I don’t know if he knew, either, but he certainly knew that it didn’t belong just lying on the ground, because he gave his mother a VERY dubious look, and was clearly unconvinced. He stood there for some time, holding the mat, while she strove to persuade him that it really was OK to leave it where it was – yet another little boy having great trouble abandoning an obviously superior plan. I want him to come to MY house for an afternoon.

Normally we like to either arrange our own tours in a port, or just get off the ship and go to a beach or attraction that we’ve read about in Frommer’s. However, this being Mexico, and the security situation in Mexico being what it is, we decided that this wasn’t wise, and so booked an excursion through the ship.

The excursion we booked was called Eco-Kayaking. The brochure described paddling through the Sea of Cortez, viewing wildlife, to a pristine beach where we would snorkel. I wasn’t sure about the kayaking part, because I am not a strong kayaker, and figured 1) I would struggle to keep up, and 2) this would make me cranky. Lis thought it would all be fine, and convinced me to try it. And so we crammed in to a van with a bunch of other people and drove to a beach where the kayaks were. I turned out to be correct about the kayaking – we both struggled to keep up, which made us both cranky. Plus the wildlife we viewed was mostly the million tourists from the 3 cruise ships in port. But, it had its moments – at one point there was a sea lion swimming along about 30 yards away, and we saw a pelican skim along the surface of the water right in front of us, which was cool to see at water level. Plus, we kayaked out to El Arco, which was pretty neat.

The beach, as expected, was full of people, and the snorkeling was a couple rocks completely surrounded by swimmers with masks – I decided I didn’t want to join them, and so just floated around and watched the pelicans and frigate birds. The water felt lovely, though, and the birds were fun. Lis had abandoned swimming – she was having trouble with her mask, and having trouble with the large-ish swell that made getting in to an out of the water difficult. After a while, I joined her on the beach, and we agreed that these ship’s tours were just never worth the trouble, and we would cancel the one we were wait-listed for in Puerto Vallarta.

Soon it was time to kayak back (I thought my arms would fall off on that last paddle) and we were done. We walked around the tourist area for a little bit, trying to find this particular beer that we had had the last time we were on a cruise to Mexico 5 years ago. The beer is called Noche Buena, and it is a specialty Christmas beer that you can only get in Mexico, and then only during the months of November and December. We tried a couple shops that sold booze, but they only had Corona and Pacifico and Negra Modelo, all of which I can get in the States. The cool thing is that we conducted all our transactions in (probably bad) Spanish – we were very pleased with ourselves.

Back on ship, we headed straight to the pool grill for burgers and fries and a beer (Samual Adams, the only dark-ish non-stout beer available). It’s amazing how good food and drink tastes after an afternoon of exertion – the beer in particular really hit the spot (at times during the kayaking when I thought I might die, I kept myself going by imagining the burger and beer I was going to have back on the ship). Then we went back to the room to watch the sunset from our balcony.

Unluckily, our neighbor decided that sunset was the perfect time to loudly conduct a business meeting via phone on HIS balcony. I get so annoyed when I find myself included in meetings – once in Chicago I was using the wifi in a hotel lobby and suddenly a job interview started right next to me. The meeting continued throughout the sunset, and it was a little hard to tune out, but we managed well enough, and the sunset was spectacular. We are at anchor with a view of the rock formations and El Arco, and the sun set behind them – gorgeous.

We stayed in this evening, and I rinsed out all our sandy clothes and did a load of laundry (we are right next to the free guest laundry for our deck – awesome!). We had been invited to a cocktail party by I’m not sure who – some travel-related something affiliated with Sandra’s agency, I think. Anyway, cocktal party = free booze, and Lis wanted a fruity drink, so she threw on a skirt and went. I was not going to get out of my jammies, and so stayed in the room.

Soon Lis was back, and it was time for bed. About this time, I noticed that my left arm was getting kind of sore. This also happens to be the arm on which I have a big ‘ol spider bite (it is about the size of a 50 cent piece). I figured that the soreness was due to the kayaking, but part of me was a little worried that the bite was more serious than I thought. We discussed calling the ship’s nurse, but decided against it and went to bed.

Around 1am I woke up with my arm really hurting – again, only the left one. I lay there, half asleep, trying to gather the energy to get up and take some Advil. Then Lis said, “What’s the matter? Are you OK?” Apparently, while the half-awake part of me was thinking about Advil, the half-asleep part of me was lying there moaning. I had pain and tingling from my shoulder to me hand. We were both a little alarmed, and Lis called the nurse. They said “It’s probably just a bite,” which doesn’t sound like a very helpful response, but actuallly helped us both to feel calmer. I took the Advil, Lis did a quick web search to rule out anything terrible, and we went back to sleep. This morning I feel absolutely fine – no pain at all. Amazing what a little freak-out can do :)

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