San Juan Islands Day 3

BaldEagleOnce again we made our way down to the Spring Street Landing to board the Chinook where breakfast was served as we cruised north toward Sucia Island. We took a side trip around Spieden Island where we saw deer grazing on the hillsides and harbor seals lounging on the beach. The highlight, though was a whole family of bald eagles sharing a fresh kill. I think it was salmon but they were far enough away it was hard to tell. But the parents were standing guard on the hillside while the juveniles dined. JBEThen all five took off and were circling and calling to one another.

We continued on to Sucia where we disembarked and split into two groups. My group started with a short hike to some Fossil1fossil beds. Mostly seashells embedded in rock. Then we waited for the other group to return from Shallow Bay which, when our turn came, proved to be a lovely walk through the woods to a secluded inlet.

Back on the Chinook around 1pm we were served a yummy lunch of fried chicken and potato salad accompanied by an individual bottle of kayakschampagne! The afternoon was spent cruising leisurely back toward Friday Harbor  with views of boats and lighthouses, bald eagles and harbor seals, lots of Islands and many fine views of Mount Baker.

PatosLightWe got back into port around 4:30 and said goodbye to the Chinook and her crew. I went back to my room and fell asleep while trying to read. Then roused myself for a walk downtown to dine on more Dungeness crab at the Cask and Schooner, a local pub.

Bald Head Island

Well, it’s been a wild few days getting to North Carolina and adjusting to the time change but the results have been well worth it. I had to choose between being at the Medford airport by 4am for a 5 o’clock flight or leaving in the evening to catch the redeye from Portland to Atlanta and then on to Raleigh. I opted for the redeye. Well, I thought it would be a good idea to get to the airport a little early and grab some dinner at the restaurant there. Oh, Medford, how can you call yourself an International Airport when the one restaurant isn’t even open at 6pm?  So, I grabbed some snacks from the gift shop to tide me over until Portland, where I had a two and a half hour layover. Fortunately, there was a Rogue brewery outlet right next door to my gate. I highly recommend the Chocolate Stout and the Mahi Mahi fish and chips.

Unfortunately, it was a full flight and sleeping wasn’t really an option. Even if I could sleep sitting up with a 250 lb man encroaching on my space, there was so much turbulence it woke me up every time I thought I might drop off.

My vision of coffee between flights was quickly dispelled when I realized that the redeye was half an hour late and I had only 45 minutes to change planes if it was on time. Of course, the flight to North Carolina was departing from a different terminal. By some miracle I arrived at the gate just before they shut the door. Though I feared for my bag it turned out my bad baggage karma was over for now and it arrived in Raleigh on the same flight as me at 8:30 local time.

Ferry_BHIAlas, I still had a 2 ½ hour drive and a 20 minute ferry ride ahead of me. Fortunately the traffic wasn’t too bad and I was fortified with Starbucks. After two rest stops and a killer Carolina barbeque lunch I made the 2pm ferry to Bald Head Island where I was greeted by my old and dear friend Betsi.

After dropping my bag at her house we proceeded on a tour of the island.Gulls The cool air on the ferry and lunch had bucked me up for a while and I enjoyed a walk on the beach where we scared off some birds and looked for sea shells followed by a home cooked dinner before I finally crashed completely at 9pm. I should mention that Bald Head Island is mostly car free (service pickups are allowed) and we zoomed around the Island in a golf cart. There are only 200 year around residents on the Island so it was pretty quiet this time of year and we mostly had the roads and beaches to ourselves.

FenceNext day we set out to photograph some of the things I saw on the tour the previous day including this falling down fence and to take another walk on the beach. We found lots of shells and lots of feathers but it took some time to turn up the elusive goal…a perfect sand dollar!  Betsi found this one but graciously gifted it to me and it is Sand_dollarnow carefully packaged in bubble wrap and a box for the trip back to Oregon. The weather, I have to say has been absolutely gorgeous.

Just before dinner the first night Betsi said “Come here, I want to show you something.” So we walked across the street to a gazebo overlooking a lagoon and here were upwards of 30 great Great_blueegrets come in to roost for the night. Of course, it was too dark to photograph and when we came back the next day they all flew away but this great blue heron wasn’t budging and as we were waiting for the egrets Turtlesto come back a whole herd of turtles swam by. We then went down to West Beach for the sunset which was
spectacular and I once turned around and there was Old Baldy (the lighthouse) surrounded by pink Sunset_BHIOld_Baldyclouds. I went back to see if I could capture the egrets and though it was pretty dark I did get this one shot.Egrets

After a good breakfast and a short nature walk it was back on the ferry for me the next day and a totally different kind of experience in downtown Wilmington which I will tell you about later.

 

Cuba Day 1 – Santiago

We gathered in the lobby of our airport hotel in Miami at 3am in preparation for our 6am flight to Santiago de Cuba. Fortunately we had a “handler” to guide us through the process of checking in, checking baggage, filling out forms including our visas and paying the fees required to get our luggage on the plane and ourselves in and out of the country. It was interesting to see our fellow travelers checking boxes of TV’s, appliances, and heaven only knows what as if they had just been to Miami to do their Christmas shopping, though I have a hunch the black market may have been getting in supplies as well.

It is still unclear to me whether Cubans are restricted from travelling or whether the cost is just prohibitive for most of them but I believe these folks were mostly Cuban Americans going to visit relatives. We were later told by our guide that the largest group visiting Cuba are Canadians, the second largest Cuban Americans and the third largest American tourists like ourselves with over a quarter of a million non-Cuban tourists from the U.S. expected to have made the trek during 2016.

We made it to the gate by 5am and boarding came shortly thereafter. The plane was only a half hour late getting off the ground which I guess is good for “Cuban” time. We arrived at Jose Marti Airport in Santiago around 8. Getting through customs was not too bad but then the nightmare began. Apparently due to Castro’s funeral, airport security had been tightened and we had to go through security to get out of the airport. The line was jumbled at best, there was only one scanning machine and people kept jockeying for position and looking for friends to move them up in the line. Finally, an hour after deplaning we were through the line. I think I was one of the last ones through. I had watched my suitcase go round and round the conveyor belt so at least I knew I had luggage even though I could not get to it. Next we went out the door and around the corner to change our American dollars into CUCs, a sort of monopoly money just for tourists that is separate from the real Cuban money supply. I understand there is a movement to change this so there is only one money system. All of our transactions had to be in cash because while Cuba does have ATMs and credit cards, American banks are not yet recognized.

We were whisked away to breakfast in a private home where our local guide explained to us that due to the high demand for hotel rooms by dignitaries and journalists we had been bounced from not one but two hotels and would be staying in Casas. These are rooms in private homes, somCasaewhat on the order of a B&B. From some of the stories others were telling, I got lucky, my room had air conditioning, hot water and American style plug ins, a private bath and a little room with a table and refrigerator.  Many in our group were complaining about plumbing and electricity being dysfunctional. Here is a picture of the outside of my Casa.

Parque_CespedesSo, after a short rest we proceeded to Parque Cespedes where Castro‘s ashes would be on display the next day.  There were displays with pictures of Castro and loudspeakers apparently broadcasting some of his speeches. He was famous for his two or three hour orations. The Parque also features a beautiful Cathedral dating to the 16th century.Cathedral I’ll say more about religion in Cuba in a later post. The Parque, which is really just a large square is named for Carlos Manuel de Cespedes who is considered the founding father of Cuba. A large plantation owner, Cespedes freed his slaves in 1868 triggering the first revolution, a war for independence from Spain. Across from the Cathedral is the town ParqueC_Birdseyehall where Castro made his first speech to the Cuban people on January 1, 1959.

We were left free to wander for three hours and I was exhausted after about one but got many nice images of the colors of Cuba. I sat for a time on a doorstep with photography guide Nancy Ori  (www.nancyorifineart.com) and as she suggested the photos just cHotelmaname to us. Including this one of a hotel worker looking pensive just across the street from where we were sitting.

There are old cars in Santiago but not as many as in Havana because OldCar1they have a hard time negotiating the hills in this town. I suppose it is fitting that the first picture I took in CubaFlag was of this old car. Cuban flags were flying everywhere and people with brooms were tidying up for the big event.  Because the country was still in mourning we (and everyone else) could not purchase alcohol and there was no live music allowed. ThCellPhonee Parque also serves as a wifi hotspot and people in our group who had been to Cuba before noted that one of the
biggest changes they saw was the widespread presence of cell phones.

In the late afternoon we hopped on the van (gratefully I might add) and were driven to Castillo del Morro Don Pedro de la Roca, an old fort overlooking the Caribbean sea which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The fortress dates from 1638 and was ElMorro1constructed to defend the city from pirates. Unfortunately, all the interpretive signs were in Spanish and our guide wasn’t into interpreting so most of what I know I learned from my guide books after I got home. We stayed for sunset and witnessed soldiers in period dress marching into the castle to fire a canon as the sun went down. Our first dinner was at a government owned restaurant near the fort. We were served family style, fish, chicken and pork, soup and canned beans and beets, rice, french fries, and chocolate ice cream.

ElMorro2

ElMorro3

I made it back to my casa around 7pm, downloaded images and made notes on the days activity. Then took a cool shower and fell into bed.

Dublin

Although we are staying four nights in Dublin we really only had this one day as we will be traveling out the next two days then going home on Thursday. And one day just isn’t enough. We had a guided bus tour of the city this morning followed by an all too brief half hour at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Then we had a guided tour of Dublin Castle, which is really more of a palace where the Viceroy’s used to live and where state functions still take place. We were given a free afternoon but after nearly having to go into therapy over trying to decide what to do I ended up realizing that what I most needed to do, painful as it was to admit, was go back to my room and chill out so that I could enjoy the play we are going to see tonight.

So here are some pictures from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

StPats_Glass

StPats_Floor

StPats_Cross

And here are some from Dublin Castle.

Castle_Chapel

Castle_Organ

Castle_Chandeliers

Galway

Today I’m going to do something a little different. We had free time in Galway and I just want to share a few of the found art pictures from strolling around downtown without the commentary. Other than to say that fitbit says I had nearly 18,000 steps today and I am really tired.  Here they are, enjoy:

Bike

Coca_Cola

king

Guiness

Window

Butcher

Tricycle

Musicians

 

Derry and the Inishowen Penninsula

City_HallWe started this morning with a walking tour of Derry. Here is a shot of the beautiful city hall. I suppose since I am a protestant and of British decent I should call it Londonderry but I am also a champion of the underdog and I’m convinced the Catholics have gotten a pretty raw deal over the years so I’m going to side with them and call it Derry. Our guide told us the town took the name to court recently and the Judge threw up his hands and said “I’m not getting in the middle of this.” So they muddle through with the dual name.

It seems that Derry has two claims to historical fame. One was the siege of Derry back when King William and King James were going at it, I forget who won and am a little perplexed about why something that happened nearly 400 years ago still matters, except, I guess when nearly a quarter of your town’s population dies you probably woBirduld remember for a long time, and apparently those memories and resentments played into the “Troubles” of the 20th century. The other event, Bloody Sunday, I’m a little more sympathetic about, maybe because it happened in my lifetime (1972). Maybe because it was all about 13 civil rights marchers getting caught in the cross fire during the “Troubles.” Maybe because apologies
from the British have only recently been issued.

Derry is also known for being a walled city and for being the UK “City of Peace_BridgeCulture” in 2013. Here is a picture of the peace bridge opened in 2011 and financed by the EU. It has been made very clear to us that Northern Ireland did not vote for Brexit, has benefited greatly economically from being part of the EU and hopes the whole thing will be turned around.  DoveDerry also has its own set of murals regarding the troubles but my favorite was the dove rising out of the darkness into a brighter future.

After our walk we hopped on the coach and headed to the Inishowen peninsula. We crossed the border into the Republic of Ireland without noticing and added county Donegal to our list of conquests. Our first stop was a ring fort dating to the 5th century. I made the mistake of ring_fortclimbing to the top. The views were spectacular but getting down again was a bit tricky for an old fat woman. Notice the heather that was blooming on all the hillsides.

Lunch was at a pub in a small town which served up a delicious fish chowder and open faced crab salad sandwich. We then proceeded to MalinThatched head which is not only the northernmost point in Ireland but the location of the shooting of the latest star wars movie. We also got our first taste of thatched roof cottages and sheSheepep. And we learned all about peat bogs, of which there are a lot on the
Inishowen Penninsula.

 

San Antonio – Day 1

Day one of my Road Scholar adventure in San Antonio was very full so I am just now getting around to writing it up. We spent the morning listening to a fascinating lecture on the history of Texas then set out to make it real with a tour of the Alamo.

Alamo - Copy

Well the Alamo is well loved and well visited so I had to shoot over the crowds on this one and I grunged it up a bit because the skies were so boring. One thing the morning lecture did for me was put the battle of the Alamo into perspective because though the battle was lost the war was won. Possibly through dumb luck from the perspective of the lecturer. In any case Texas was born after the battle of San Jacinto and the Alamo defenders were vindicated if not revenged. Another thing I learned is that the famous hump on top of the Alamo wasn’t even there at the time of the battle(note the different colored stone). It was added many years lateMenger - Copyr when the ruined misson chapel was turned into a military supply depot.

The next stop on our tour was at the historic and reportedly haunted Menger Hotel. No ghosts were seen but the decor was worth the trip.

We then prRiverwalk_Barge - Copyoceeded via trolley to La Villita an old neighborhood now turned into shops.

We stopped at the theater to learn about the history of the Riverwalk which was originally envisioned as a Venitian canal flowing through downtown San Antonio. It took some tBarge_View - Copyime to put the dream into reality but the results are quite stunning. I did a painterly treatment to simplify this view of a barge passing by. Our own barge ride was at night and after dinner. The lights on the water make for lovely views.

Lights - CopyWe ended the day at the San Fernando Cathederal where a laser light show projected on the face of the building provided another perspective on Texas history. I only wish I could share all the amazing views of the Cathedral I shot during the show.

Next up the King William District and more on the Riverwalk.