Sunday, May 23, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010 – Los Angeles, CA – 60s - Overcast

It is time to go home…

Up before the wake up call.  The room was very quiet.  We’ll need to remember this place the next time we wind up in LA.

The breakfast was great…fresh scrambled eggs and pancakes along with the usual La Quinta cereals, bagels, and muffins.  It’s nice when there is a restaurant in the hotel.

We caught our shuttle around 7:45 AM and it was only a few minutes to the airport.  Ellen’s gold status got into shorter check in and security lines and we were at our gate in plenty of time for our 9:30 AM flight. 

  767 to Chicago (Small)

Our 767 is ready to go home

Our flight – on a 767-300 – boarded on time.  Our exit row seats (bulkhead) were very comfortable.  We also found out that seats in row 17 (attendant rest rows) are available on domestic flights.  Those seats fully recline and have their own curtain.  It’s better than first class.  Need to remember that.

The climb out is through the famed “marine fog layer” so we don’t see blue skies until the plane makes it turn back over land.

Climbout LA (Small)

Above the clouds LA (Small)

Climb out over LA and blue skies at last

Lunch was great – salami on challah and chips.  We could have sold the food to other passengers. 

The flight was generally smooth – some thunderstorms over the plains put us in our seats for a while.

Being veterans of transatlantic and South American flights, the 3 hour and 30 minute flight seemed like a short hop.

Back Home Chicago (Small) 

Final Approach – Cloudy Chicago

The landing was smooth – we were about 30 minutes early and had to wait for a gate – the luggage was there and the cab showed up as requested.  

I would rate this trip as great…

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010 – San Pedro, California

A successful trans Panama Canal Cruise

San Pedro CA (Small) 

The Island Princess is the only ship here today.   We have enough time to get a good breakfast and still make our meeting location, the Explorers Lounge.  When we do arrive at the lounge, we find that, due to a shortage of immigration officers, the disembarking is about an hour behind schedule.  As it turns out, the process through immigration was relatively quickly and soon we were on our way.

We picked up our car and made our way to the Rodeway Inn on Beverly Blvd across from CBSTV City.   The room turned out to be a smoking room so we had to have the room defumed by an air cleaner – only slightly effective.  We will move to a different room tomorrow.  We did some food shopping for the weekend and had a nice dinner at my sister’s house, and then back to our motel room.. 

The windows had to stay open all the time to air our the cigarette smoke odor. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010 – Los Angeles, CA – 70s – Mostly Sunny

A better night without the smoke…

The plan today is to visit the cemetery where all of our parents are buried (for me it’s been over four years since I’ve been in LA).  We all went in Sid’s new SUV and spent a few minutes at the cemetery. 

Back to Nalsey’s place for a nice Sunday Brunch.  Lainna and Mirin were there – we had seen Lainna about three years ago when we were in New York for a cruise but it has been a pretty long time since we had seen Mirin.  The brunch was very good and it was good to chat with the girls a bit – another highlight was Mirin’s basketball highlights DVD (the one you send to prospective college coaches).  It was set to either rap or hip hop music and pretty entertaining.

It was a very nice day and we had our car (a Jetta by the way), so we drove out to Beverly Hills to see both Rodeo Drive and environs as well as an Art Fair along Santa Monica Blvd.  Parking is tough in this area but we did wind up parking for free in a city lot.  As we walked along, I did get a kick out of a parking meter that took credit cards.  Pretty soon, you won’t need to carry any money at all.

Parking Meter BH MC capable (Small)

Credit card enabled parking meter – Beverly Hills

We did get to Rodeo Drive, which hadn’t changed all that much since we last visited.

Rodeo Drive (Small)

Ellen at the famous Rodeo Drive

On our way back to the car – without spotting a single celebrity or at least one we knew – we arrived at the Art Fair.  The Fair spanned several blocks of Santa Monica Blvd and sported some neat works of art in various media.

From Beverly Hills, it was off to the Pico Robertson area for a kosher meal that needed to include some kind of meat.  We checked out an Iranian restaurant before choosing the Chinese-Persian combination restaurant we used to go to with Louis (Ellen’s father).  We shared a very tasty Almond Beef dish.  After having fish for so long, it was nice to have a prepared meat dish.

Tonight we are staying at the La Quinta LAX so we can be close to the airport for our morning flight back to Chicago.  The process is a little complicated – return the car, take the shuttle to LAX, catch the hotel shuttle at LAX to La Quinta (on Century Blvd).  We pulled it off with no big problems.

The La Quinta LAX is a massive hotel.  We got our keys to room 712 and headed to drop off our bags.  There was only one slight problem; we opened the door only to find a women in bed watching TV.  I am pretty sure that she missed part of what she was watching.  We called the front desk from the floor and soon a security guard came up with another key.  Those darn computers.  The room was very nice and quiet. 

Got to get up early tomorrow to catch the 7:30 AM Shuttle…

Saturday, May 15, 2010 – Los Angeles, CA – 70s – Mostly Sunny

Survived our smoky night at the Rodeway Inn room – the open window helped somewhat.

The included breakfast at this hotel is very modest – dry cereal, bagels, sweet rolls, and coffee.  The lobby (which is small) and the courtyard, which is usually filled with smokers, are the only two places to eat breakfast.  Today, we lucked out and the courtyard was empty.

The plan today is to attend the Library Minyan at Beth Am – this is the minyan that my late father-in-law, Louis, used to attend.  The minyan is very nice with a lot of exuberant singing and very good attendance.  The kiddush had the legendary Cholent.  We also had a chance to spend a little time with some folks from the past.

Our hotel is pretty close to CBS Television City, Farmer’s Market, and the Grove Shopping area, so a walk is indicated.  Just across the street, I recognize some familiar faces on one of the walls of CBS TV City.

CBS TV City NCIS (Small)

NCIS Poster – CBS TV City

We started first at the Grove and were met by a literal ocean of people – mostly girls in the 12 –15 year old category.  This should have been a clue to what had just transpired.  We asked one of the police providing security and he told us that a concert had just ended.  As it turned out, the Jonas Brothers had just given a free concert at the Grove and we were in the middle of the crowd dispersal.

Jonas Bros Concert the Grove (Small)

Jonas Brothers Concert Stage – concert ended just minutes ago

It was more difficult than we thought, but we did make it through the crowd and wound up in Farmer’s Market.  There are so many new stores in Farmer’s Market.  Some of the oldies are still there – DuPars Restaurant – but there are plenty of new and upscale eateries in the Market.  One of the neat things we ran across was a reproduction of a vintage Gilmore Gas Station.

Vintage Gilmore Gas Station (Small)

Gilmore Gas Station (18 cents per gallon – Jurassic Period)

Our route home took us through Gilmore Park (the site of the art deco theater in the Movie “Xanadu” and originally known as the Pan Pacific Theater).  This park will house the new Los Angeles Holocaust Memorial, which is under construction, and has quite a way to go to completion. 

Logging enough miles for the day, we returned to the room to do some reading and move to a different and smoke free room.  The room, just down the hall in this small hotel, has such a different feel because of lack of the smoke smell. 

A quiet evening…

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010 – At Sea – Pacific Ocean – Coast of Baja Mexico – 59F – Mostly Sunny

Beautiful sunrise on a chilly day at sea

Sea Day 5-13 (Small)

Today to do list:

Finish the book I am reading (“By My Hands” – supernatural thriller written by a pastor; I also finished “Third Degree” by James Patterson) – done.

Present my final talk: “DNA Testing: Solving History’s Mysteries”.

The talk, scheduled for 2:30 PM in the Princess Theater was well attended – again about 250 plus people attended.  Great feedback from the attendees. 

I played some team trivia in the afternoon – only the second time for trivia on this cruise.  Our team won and I donated by prize (a tote bag) to the team.

Mike Marino, a very funny comedian, was the final act on this cruise.  A good one to quit on – very funny guy.

We are not walking off tomorrow so the bags are out in the hall by 10:30 PM.

This one is about over…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – 80F - Mostly Sunny

A beautiful day in the Baja Peninsula…

We had originally requested an excursion but it was sold out – the office offered another tour but we decided to decline since all the tours departed at around 7:30 AM (we have to be there an hour earlier).  So today, we will explore Cabo San Lucas on our own.

Cabo Early Tenders (Small)

Sunrise over Cabo San Lucas (the tenders are already operating)

Cabo is a tender port – we boarded our tender at about 8:30 AM for the short ride to the tender pier.   The ride gives us a great view of the Los Arcos rock formation (the arches are not visible from this angle) and the Island Princess.

Cabo View of Rocks from Tender (Small)

Los Arcos Rock formation

Cabo Isl P from Tender (Small)

Island Princess from tender

Cabo Heading to city on Tender (Small)

In the tender

E and Cabo Marina (Small)

Ellen at the Marina at Cabo San Lucas

Cabo Pelican and Friend (Small)


Island Princess from Cabo Marina (Small)

Island Princess anchored (from the Cabo pier)

It was pleasantly warm in Cabo so we were able to walk through a good deal of the town (the population is only about 40,000).  Lots of shops, restaurants, and bars.  All in all, not much purchased but a very nice exploration of this resort town.  It’s an early departure today (2:00 PM) so we took an early tender back to the ship.

Isl P returning on Tender Cabo (Small)

Island Princess from the returning tender

I had volunteered to give an additional talk on this short port day and the Cruise Director took me up on my offer so “Forensic Science: Novel DNA Testing” was scheduled for 2:15 PM in the Universe Lounge.  This is a smaller venue perfectly suited for a port day talk.

When I arrived at the Lounge at 1:45 PM there were already a fair number of people present.  I estimated at least 75 people attended this time and was told later by a number of passengers that they went to the Princess Theater (and thought my talk had been cancelled).  The venue worked out well and the talk was successful.

While I was talking, Ellen was capturing the scenic sail away from Cabo.

 Cabo Sail Away (Small)

Sail Way - Cabo

Cabo Sail Away Los Arco (Small)

Los Arcos Rock Formation (a mysterious fogginess present at the arch)

Cabo in distance sail away (Small)

Adios Cabo San Lucas

The Princess Singers and Dancers performed their final production number tonight - “Motor City”.  The show, a tribute to Motown, was very entertaining.  The dancers don’t stand still very long but I was able to capture some of them during the show.

Motor City Show (Small) Motor City Show 1 (Small)

Motor City Production Show

Some lounge music, perhaps a dance or two, and this day is in the books.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 – At Sea – Pacific Ocean – Coast of Mexico – 77F – Mostly Cloudy

Another relaxing day at sea…

Sea Day 5-11 (Small)

Another wonderful sunrise

The only real item on the schedule today is Presentation 5:  “DNA Testing:  Secrets of the Royal Families” in the afternoon.  The turnout again was very good – about 250 attendees – and the talk went well.

Performing in the Princess Theater tonight was Canadian singer, Lovena Fox.  She has done a lot of traveling Broadway Shows and has starred in Evita, Jekyll and Hyde, and Ragtime.  She was great, singing a wide variety of songs.  What made her show very interesting and different was the use of videos of her past performances (while she changed costumes). I was hoping she would include more of her Broadway songs – maybe next time.

Some lounge music and the day is over.

Monday, May 10, 2010 – Acapulco, Mexico – 82F - Sunny

A sunny warm day in Acapulco….

Acapulco has a population of around 2 million people living in various communities around Acapulco Bay.  The neighborhoods range from Old Acapulco to very ritzy sections known locally as “Acapulco Gold” and “Acapulco Diamond” (top tier). 

E Acapulco 1 (Small)

Ellen and Acapulco Bay

H Acapulco (Small)

I am here as well…

We are tour today - “Acapulco Highlights and Cliff Divers” (in a van because all of the huge busses are all full).  We pass Fuerte de San Diego, a fortress built by the residents to protect the city from the buccaneers intent on raiding the town.

Ft San Diego (Small)

Fuerte de San Diego

The van makes its way through the heavy downtown traffic on its way to the other side of the bay (“Acapulco Gold”) where we have a great view of Old Acapulco and the Island Princess at the pier.

I Princess in distance (Small) 

Acapulco Bay and Island Princess

H and E acapulco bay (Small)

Looking good in front of the Bay

View Spot to View Spot:  We now have a great view of Diamond Point – part of “Acapulco Diamond”.  This is where the celebrities of the day have homes or stay (Bruce Willis and Madonna et al.)

H and E Diamond Point (Small)

Diamond Point in the background

The tours continues through Acapulco Diamond and the various top flight hotels and condos – there are two golf courses, one of which has a teaching academy run by Lorena Ochoa (Mexico’s newly retired golf star).

Lorena Ochoas GC Acapulco (Small)

Lorena Ochoa’s Golf Course

The tour decompresses by going back to Old Acapulco passing the Central Plaza on its way to Quebrada and the famed Cliff Diver Show.

Main Square Acapulco (Small)

Acapulco Central Plaza

At Quebrada, which is in the old part of town, the van parks a few blocks away from the Mirador Hotel.  The Perla Bar at the hotel is where the Cliff Diver Show is held.  I thought I heard that the divers do this show on the half hour but it is more complicated than that.

H and E waiting for divers (Small) 

Perla Bar (Mirador Hotel) for the Cliff Diver Show

There are about six divers in the show – after warming up with a feet first dive from about 20 feet or so, each diver then scales the steep cliff to the 100 plus top.  When they all arrive at the top, the show actually starts.  Two divers go off of a lower ledge and a lone diver makes the plunge from the very top. It was pretty warm and we were lucky to get a good vantage point (complimentary diet coke also helped).

diver 3 (Small) diver 3 (Small)   diver 7 (Small) diver 7 (Small)

Cliff Divers of Quebrada (Top Left: Two divers enter water simultaneously – Top Right:  Close-up view; Bottom Left:  A single diver in mid dive from cliff top; Bottom Right:  Close-up view

The La Perla Bar has a storied history and has been visited by famous folks throughout the years and going pretty far back.  This is documented by their famous room of autographs.  We found a good spot for Ellen to stand – she is pointing to Vera Ellen’s autograph.  Look carefully and you will see some other recognizable names.

la perla bar autograph wall (Small)

We got back about 40 minutes early from the tour but it was so hot that we opted not to walk around the neighborhood near the pier (just didn’t look inviting).  A cool ship and something to eat seemed to be the better decision.

Tonight’s show of choice is in the Universe Lounge:  Dan Bennett – Comedian Juggler (“Antics and Semantics”).  His references are lightning fast – reminds me of Dennis Miller.  He said he was a math professor at UCLA before becoming an entertainer and his act contained a lot of scientific terminology (I checked him out and he did get a master in math from UCLA – go Bruins).  

A nice day ends…

Sunday, May 9, 2010 – Huatulco, Mexico – 86F – Sunny - Humid

We finally get to see Mexico…

Awakened by the movement of the ship.  The sea is a little rough and my first thought is that we are experiencing wind driven waves from Caribbean fetch.  At breakfast, passengers tell me we went through a spectacular thunderstorm about 5 AM – that was the cause of the rough seas.  We missed the whole thing…

 Rough Morning 5-9 (Small)

Rough seas at the start

Hualtuco sits in Santa Cruz Bay

Huatulco approach (Small)

Approaching Hualtuco

Santa Cruz Bay Homes (Small)

Estate size homes overlooking the bay

After  lunch we make the very long walk from the ship to the tour bus pick up spot.  It is very hot and humid making it seem all that much longer.

Our tour today: “Highlights of Huatulco” (Guide: Lalo) takes us to various scenic overviews of Santa Cruz Bay.  The Mexican government wants to develop Huatulco into another Cancun so we also see many condos and hotels in various stages of construction.  One stop has a great view of the beaches and waves of Tangolunda (“Beautiful Woman”) Bay.

Tangolunda Bay Huatulco (Small)

Tangolunda Bay

The bus then returned to the city for a stop at the church and museum.  We went on our own and found an Internet Store ($1 per hour).  A little bit of shopping and we rendezvoused with our bus (too hot to walk around).

Even though it was nearly 5 PM, our final stop was at a local restaurant for a Mexican Lunch. The passengers really enjoyed the spread but we opted only for drinks.

Heading home, the bus gave us a million dollar view of the Island Princess berthed in the Bay.

 Santa Cruz Bay and Island Princess (Small)

Island Princess docked in Santa Cruz Bay 

The beaches at Huatulco are white sand and nice.

 Santa Cruz Bay Beach (Small)

The beach at Huatulco

Mexican Navy patrol (Small)

Mexican gun boat provides security

After an excellent dinner, we attended the final performance by pianist Mac Frampton in the Princess Theater.  Great show – he also gives a bit of history behind the music which I find enjoyable and informative.

Some lounge music and we call it a day…

Saturday, May 8, 2010 – At Sea – Pacific Ocean – 86F – Mostly Sunny

Just a relaxing day at sea…

Sea Day May 8 (Small)

Today’s talk: “DNA Testing:  A Genetic Eyewitness” is at 1:30 PM immediately followed in one hour by a showing of “Avatar”.   I had a very good turnout today - 250 attendees – and got very positive feedback from passengers on this presentation.

Showtime:  Universe Lounge: Garry Carson, Comedy Magic

Garry Carson was mentioned in Fred Klett’s comedy routine a few days ago– a story about an attacking moose in Alaska.  He performed a little magic along with comic interaction with guest volunteers.  He didn’t confirm or deny the moose story.

Tomorrow’s tour is in the afternoon so no wake up calls and hopefully some sleep…

Friday, May 7, 2010 – Puntarenas, Costa Rica – 84F - Mostly Sunny

Another day in paradise…

Puntarenas - “Sandy Point”

We are on tour today - “Scenic Costa Rica”, which includes a visit to a coffee plantation and the orchid botanic garden.  The tour also involves about two hours of driving each way but that will give us a chance to see the countryside and maybe spot one of the volcanoes in the area.

  Leaving Puntarenas (Small)

Leaving Puntarenas

Countryside CR (Small)

One of several rivers along the way

Mountains CR (Small)

Mountains formed by earthquakes – no volcanoes

Our first stop is at a tourist store that carried all types of clothes, coffee, and souvenirs.  I tried the coffees and the coffee liquors, and even found a nice cap that actually fit (for a reasonable price).  Can you find Ellen in the picture below of the store?

Where is E CR (Small)

Our next stop was in the small town of Palmares, where we walked around a bit to catch a flavor of the local culture.

Palmares CR Church (Small)

In front of the church (all sandstone)

Town Square Palmares (Small)

At the entrance to the town square

Iguana in Palamares Town Square (Small)

One of the locals in the tree in the square

outskirts of San Jose CR (Small)

Outskirts of San Jose,the capital

Our main destination was the Doka Estate Coffee Plantation in the hills in the outskirts of San Jose.  Our guide, Lee, took us through the plant.

 Coffee Plantation (Small)

Doka Coffee Plantation – Main Entrance

Coffee Processing Plant (Small)

Machinery used to strip the skins from beans

Raw Beans (Small)

Someone famous holding raw beans

During our tour of the coffee plantation, we were told that the raw beans were dried in the sun (right there on the cement surface) – I was hoping that there would be a more Hi-Tech way to do this.

air drying coffee - really (Small)

Raw coffee beans drying in the sun

After the tour, we were treated to lunch at the Plantation’s outdoor cafeteria.  We had a totally vegetarian meal consisting of rice, beans, and candied plantains.  Of course, there was coffee with the meal along with some fruit cake so thick and gooey that it literally took five minutes to chew each piece (molasses was the not-so-secret ingredient).

I tried to get some coffee beans to chew – they had them in the Doka store but they had been handled by everyone.  A nice server told me she would get me some and she did – a literal handful.  Next time, maybe.

Coffee Plants covered most of the land comprising the Doka Estate.  I was hoping to be able to spot the Arenal Volcano from the lookout tower at Doka – maybe it was there covered by clouds.

Coffee Field from obs tower (Small)

Doka Estate from observation tower

Volcano in the clouds 1 (Small)

Coffee plants and perhaps the Arenal Volcano in the Clouds

Soon after starting our return to the port, we spotted a familiar (but not quite right) symbol – a K Mart Store.

K Mart knockoff (Small)

Our final stop was the Botanic Orchid Garden, a nice facility with orchids, other plants. and a few exotic birds.

Me at the bot garden (Small)

Entrance to the Botanic Garden

giant bamboo from burmaq (Small)

Ellen and giant bamboo from Burma

H and E Bot gardens (Small)

We standing because of the ants on the rocks

E by the lake bot garden (Small)H and the lake bot garden (Small)

There is a very pretty lake on the grounds

Heading home, we crossed over the “Rio Grande” river.

the other rio grande (Small)

Back at Puntarenas the Island Princess (left) had been joined by the Carnival Elation (an old “friend”).  The Elation looked different – perhaps it was a newer ship with the same name or the ship had undergone some upgrading.

Carn Elation and I Princess (Small)

View from pier Puntarenas East (Small)

View West Puntarenas (Small)

The Puntarenas beach front looking east (top) and west (bottom)

Before we boarded the ship, we visited the Internet store ($2 an hour) to catch up with everyone and  send the latest pictures.

A rushed shower and equally rushed dinner in the buffet so we could attend the Shabbat Evening service.  The service was a bit more orderly this time with more attendees participating.

Showtime – Universe Lounge

“Adrian Zmed in Concert"  Who is Adrian Zmed?

He is a 56 year old Chicago born former star of Broadway (original Danny Zuko in Grease), television (sidekick in TJ Hooker and host of Dance Fever) and Las Vegas.  The show was great – it looked like he had taken his Vegas Show to sea (Princess must have him on regularly because the complicated sets are specific to his show).  He was joined by the Princess Dancers and Singers – he also used multimedia to summarize his career.  It all worked very well.

 Adrian Zmed in Concert (Small)

Adrian Zmed in concert

A long but enjoyable day in Costa Rica…