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Yet Another Disney Adventure Begins

29 Jun

I have a secret, well not so secret vice, I love all things Disney. My kitchen includes Mickey/Minnie dishes and silverwear.  I have Disney tea towels and bath towels. I even have a Mickey toaster that burns the Mickey ears into my toast. 

I have been to Disneyland in California five times. The first was in 1980 when we still used coupons to get on the rides. And DisneyWorld. I think I have been here nine times. And to be honest, I have gone several times without any children.  I go for my own enjoyment.  

I am back in Orlando for another Disney holiday. My husband has a meeting and I came along for the adventure. While he is giving lectures, I will be at Magic Kingdom with my brother in law and his significant other. They have season passes.  Yes, my brother in law loves Disney even more than I do! He has even run in the Disney marathons. I think just to get the medals. 

In any case, two days in Orlando means a day at Epcot and a day in an enchanted world. And for those Universal addicts, I was there last year and I do love Harry Potter World and Susical Land. But really nothing compares with Disney. 

Since I live in the Kansas City area, I feel another point of affinity. Walt Disney actually started his career in KC, and there is an effort underway to restore his original studio. 

And yes I know that that Mr Disney was not always the nicest of people even though he gave us wonderful animated movies. But on the other hand he opened Disneyland the year I was born! I grew up watching the Wonderful World of Disney on television. Who can ever forget those shows? Not me. 

Some might say that Mr. Disney was a bit anti-Semitic. It could be true. But I am the proud owner a several Disney Hanukkah decorations, including a hanukkiah.  

My parents never took us there. But I have made up for this many times.  One of my favorite trips, besides the many times with different family members, was taking a childhood friend for her first Disney adventure over seven years ago. It is great going with someone who has never experienced it before. What a trip. 

I will say, the only time I would not return is on December 26.  I did that once in California.  My cousin and I took three children.  It was a bit of a nightmare!  So many people. So many long lines.  But I got the best hat ever, a wizard hat from the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” that lights up. It was great for the kids to stay with us as it got dark out.  I still wear it for special occasions. 

I even purchased special Minnie ears for my daughter to wear at her bridal shower. I guess the purple ribbons and veil called out my name.  And my understanding daughter wore it! 

So here I am back in Orlando. I am so happy to be going to DisneyWorld tomorrow. Another adventure begins. 

A Wonderful Gift At Crystal Bridges

20 Jun

With so much focus on people acting in mean and nasty ways, I think it is important to focus on people who do unexpected nice actions.   My friend and I were the recipients of one such wonderful gift.


Outside Chihuly Exhibit 

This past weekend I went to Bentonville, Arkansas, to see the Chihuly exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum.  I love Chihuly’s art and was looking forward to seeing both the inside and outside installations.   My friend was kind enough to buy our tickets in advance, so that we had no problems getting in and seeing this amazing sampling of his work. (See link below for more on Chihuly.)

While we were walking outside, I saw the Frank Lloyd Wright House that had recently been moved and renovated on the museum’s grounds. The Bachman Wilson House is a wonderful example of his style. We walked up to the house, even though there were no longer tickets available for the day, hoping to at least see the outside.


Kiosk with info about the house… And the couple who gave us the tickets!!! How lucky that I had unknowingly taken their photo.

On the way to the house is a small kiosk with information about Wright and his more famous structures. We spoke to a couple who were also reading the information. And had a lovely conversation about Wright. Then we all walked up to the house.

When we got there, we asked the attendant if we could at least walk around the house even though we did not have tickets to enter. She said, “Of Course.” So we went on our way.


Frank Lloyd Wright house.  No photos are allowed inside.

A few minutes later she called us back. The couple we had met, had been to the house when it first opened, and gave us their tickets!!! They wanted us to be able to see the inside as well. My friend started to cry, she was so happy.

At first, we declined, we did not want to disrupt their visit. But they insisted. I turned to the attendant and said, “That is so nice.” She agreed and said to them, “Why don’t you go into the house as well.” So they had the opportunity to see the house as well, but without the headsets to hear the history of the house. Those they insisted that we use.

Visiting Bentonville and the Crystal Bridges Museum is well worth the trip south.   But the added bonus is meeting such lovely people. Seeing this house from both the outside and the inside made such an impression.

We thanked them several times that day….as we crossed their path in the museum. It was such a wonderful gift!

Making Music On St Maarten Is Magical

7 Jun

Listening to an expert on the steel drum. He was amazing.

Yesterday in St Maarten we decided to go on a different type of tourist adventure. We have been on this island several times and had no desire to tour around the island or go shopping. But we did find the perfect experience. We learned to play steel pan drums. 

A tour from our cruise ship went to the school run by Dow’s Musical Foundation. There we experienced the Caribbean music of the steel pan drums and practiced with a group to actually play a song on the drums.  

Who knew there were several types of drums?  Well there are: tenor, bass and one in between. Some are for the melody, others to hold the beat. Most of the drums comes in sets of two. There are two octaves, but the notes are devided between the two drums. Except for the base.  Those playing the base had to play on five different and much bigger drums. 

A magical moment playing the steel pan drums!

At first I was a little slow. But eventually I got into the beat with the help of one of the teachers (who is from Kentucky!). 

 Going back and forth between the two drums was a bit confusing at first, but soon my brain caught up and my hands used the drum sticks. It was sort of like playing the hammered dulcimer. A gentle snap of the hand to get the best sound! 

But the highlights was a short performance by one of the school’s founders. His passion for the music, his sense of rhythm and his joy were contagious and amazing. We then had the opportunity to listen to a group of school children as they preformed a song. These were students from one of the schools who take music lessons there. 

Over 1100 students have the opportunity to learn music. To support the foundation, we purchased a cd adding a liitle extra.  

It was worth it to see the smiles on the children’s faces as they focused on their playing, on their instructors and us. 

 I am so glad we took the opportunity to do something different and put a little musical magic in our lives!

Cruise Conversations That Linger In My Heart

6 Apr

When I travel I have learned to expect the unexpected.  You never know who you will meet or what will occur.  The best is to be flexible.  But occasionally you meet someone who makes an impression.

The first time this happened was on a cruise over 25 years ago.    At lunch time, on a cruise, you get to sit with many different people.  You never know who you will meet or what you will talk about.  On the second day of this Caribbean cruise, we ate lunch with an older man, who when he reached across the table,  I saw numbers tattooed on his arm, numbers obviously from Nazi days.

I said nothing.  I remember as a child, in the early 1960s, I saw numbers on the arm of my parent’s friend.   I asked the question, “Why do you have numbers?”  The room grew silent, and I was taken from the room and told never to ask that question again.  It wasn’t until I was much older I understood that  in the early 60s people did not talk about the numbers.

But this was the early 1990s and I was no longer a child.  Since we were seated next to each other, I waited.   When most of the people left, I asked.  I had the most interesting conversation.  The man next to me was a retired priest.  He was on board to hold services.   He had been in the camps as a young man because he and his parents resisted the Nazis and were part of the intelligentsia and were ardent Catholics.  He and I had several conversations over the week-long cruise. We spoke about his experiences and the death of my grandfather’s family in the Shoah. Although I have forgotten his name,  I have never forgotten him.

But when we went on a cruise this past March, I did not think I would meet another survivor. So many years have passed, and among those survivors who are still alive, few still travel.   At lunch one day, I found my husband speaking to a much older couple.  The man was obviously elderly and perhaps recovering from an illness.  But he spoke strongly with a distinct British accent and he had a much different life experience.

His story touched my heart.  He and his brother were sent away from his home in Germany on a Kindertransport to England when he was 14.  He was one of the lucky ones.  His parents survived as well!   “We had a wonderful life in Germany,” he told us.  “We were more German than Jewish.”

But of course that did not help.  His parents were quite wealthy and aware enough to start the search for visas and relief early on.

When he turned 18, he enlisted in the US army and was sent to the United States.  His service helped him become an American citizen, because until then he was a man without a state.  While in the USA, just before he left for Germany, he became a US citizen.  His commanding officer advised him to change his name from Adolf and the very Jewish last name to something less Jewish sounding.

“If they capture you in Germany with that name, they will not keep you as a prisoner, they will kill you,” his commander told him.  Since he was getting citizenship he should change his name now.  So while he traveled to court he kept thinking of a good name.  He decided on Ralph for his first name.  For his  privacy I will not relate his last name.  He did go to Germany and was a translator for the Army during the closing days of the war and afterwards.

I have read about the Kindertransports and heard speakers discuss these train rides to freedom,, but I never actually met someone and had an informal conversation with someone who survived through this path.

Although I have read many books about the Shoah and spoken to many survivors, these two men will remain in my memory. My conversations with them linger in my heart.

Missing the Frank Gehry Museum, My Only Regret

2 Apr

Now that my trip is over, I must admit my one disappointment: not seeing Frank Gehry museum building in Panama City. 

Although I have never studied architecture, there are certain architects whose works intrigue me. I have written about Gaudi and Hundertwasser in a previous post (see below). 

But I also love the work of Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry. I just love his whimsical style just as I love the unusual designs of  Gaudi and Hundretwasser, who built structures before him. And although they worked in more natural materials, for me Geary’s modern  metal structures seem to meld into my love of slightly weird edifices. 

I think I also have an affinity to him as he was born one day after my mother’s birthday in February 1929 to an  immigrant Polish- Jewish mother, as was my mom.  

I love the Stata Center, the University building he designed for MIT in Boston. Walking around and inside and outside of this building just gave me joy. I loved the unusual angles.  

In Minneapolis viewing the museum from a bridge.

In Minneapolis we enjoyed time meandering through the Weisman Art Museum he designed near the University of Minnesota campus. When we walked away, I noticed a bridge which I immediately said had to be designed by Gehry as well.  I was right. My confirmation was a quick text to a young women I know who studied architecture at the university. 

Concert time

In Chicago I have enjoyed concerts at Millennium Park in the outdoor Jay Pritzker Pavillion theater that Gehry designed. The massive metal structure that surrounds the stage provides great acoustics and, for me, a welcoming embrace. It seems to reach out and say, “Pay attention!” I have meandered along the Millennium Bridge in the park. And I have yelled at teens trying to skate board along its lovely metal sides.

I have seen Geary’s famous fish sculpture in Barcelona, the city of Gaudi. This gives me joy I love that there are structures built by both done a century apart.  Although Gaudi’s famous church is still under construction. 

At the Museum of Pop Culture, the Gehry alien.

I visited the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle and loved the Science Fiction Museum inside. I, of course, love the alien inspired figure over the entrance to the science fiction section. I enjoyed walking along the outside of this unique structure, loving the different forms and bright reddish color center.  

So it is not a surprise that I had signed up for a tour of the Biomuseo in Panama City that Gehry designed. Unfortunately, this tour was cancelled due to lack of registrations. How frustrating!  People signed up to go shopping in Panama City, but not tour the museum. 

And no we could not go on our own. We had docked in Colon for a short stay. The only way to get there was by a ship offered tour. I would have loved to really see the building, not just photos. Also the topic focusing on the changes in Panama due to the Canal would have been fascinating. 

So I must admit,  my only regret of our South American/Panama Canal vacation was missing a trip to this museum. I guess I will have to go back.

Cartagena, Columbia, Last Stop But Long Awaited

1 Apr

It was with both anticipation and trepidation that I arrived in Cartagena. I so wanted to see this city where one of my favorite movies, “Romancing the Stone,” took place. At the same time I was a bit nervous due to all I had heard about Columbia and its major drug cartel problems. 

But all was fine.  By taking a tour through the cruise, I had a bit more feeling of security.  And, although Cartagena has had a major influx of refugees from Venezuela and a large number of street venders looking to sell their wares, I felt safe. 

The Castillo

Our first stop was to see the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.  Although we did not climb to the top of this fortification that kept the city safe, just seeing it and hearing its history was impressive. We learned how it was built from the bottom up to keep pirates and English from overtaking this Spanish port.  

Next to the walled city of old Cartagena. Over 11 kilometers of a bastion was built to surround this island city which basically became a fortress in its own right. Although Francis Drake did destroy half of it at one time, after his short time there the city’s defenses were reinforced.  

This lovely park hides its history s the place the Inquisition used to burn people to death.

We visited three important stops within easy walking distance in the heart of the city. Walking along the narrow streets in the heat and humidity did make me feel for those who lived here without air conditioning. But it was well worth it. 

The entrance to the Palace of the Inquisition

First stop the Palace of the Inquisition.  As our guide said, not really a place to welcome some one. Over 4000 people were tortured and put to death here in the 200 years the Inquisition was in Columbia. And if you were denounced by someone you were presumed guilty. The park in front of the building was once the place where so-called heretics were burned alive.  This horrible practices only ended in the early 1800 when the slaves were freed and the slave trade stopped. In Columbia the Inquisition targeted Africans who continued their religious practices while professing to be Catholic. 

Among the many golden objects

From there a short walk to the Gold Museum to see the ancient treasures that the Spanish came to take back to Spain. It is sad to think that many of these objects were melted down. But the ones that still exist are stunning. Spain has returned some to Columbia and we were able to see them at this well guarded, secure, and air conditioned museum. 

St Peter Claver is entombed in this new altar.

We had some time here to shop for coffee and other gifts in some lovely little shops along several close by streets before we went to our final stop: The Church of St Peter Claver. Peter Claver was a Jesuit priest who focused on helping the slaves in Columbia.  The church and its surrounding garden and museum buildings are lovely. 

This  visit to Cartagena was much more than I anticipated. I learned that Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Orize Laureate lived there. I do enjoyed his books, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera.” I am looking forward to rewatching. “Romancing the Stone” when I return home and reliving my visit to Cartagena.  

Panama and The Canal 

31 Mar

Finally, we reached the Panama Canal.  The entire focus of this trip was to pass through the Canal locks and to see the workings of this major engineering endeavor. Of course the ports of call were interesting. But this was the impetus of our trip. 

We reached the entrance of the Canal early in the morning and entered the first lock of Mariflores at about 9 am. It was a Party atmosphere as everyone was on deck to view the lock process.

The electric mule at work

It is intriguing. First lines have to be attached to the electric, ‘mules,’ a small train engine, which helps guide the boats through the Canal. 

Entering the first lock.

The water used in the Canal is all fresh water from Gatun Lake and the locks are filled by gravity. There are no pumps that are needed. It helps that Panama has nine months of Rain each year with well over 200 inches of precipitation.  

Since we started by going up, 85 feet over three locks, it was fun to watch the water bubble up and slowly lift our cruise ship! We went through the first two licks, then traveled a short distance to the Pedro Miguel lock, then into the pass where we passed the mountains that has to be cut away to form the Canal. 

Gatun Lack was larger than I anticipated and filled with lovely islands and birds. A beautiful, peaceful sanctuary. 

Finally to the Gatun Locks, where the process repeated, but which slowly lowered us through the three locks to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Two boats in the locks going in opposite directions. The big beige walk is actually a giant freighter

Then on to Colon, Panama. The next morning we returned to the Gatun Locks by land and were able to see the lock process from a different view. Still intriguing and amazing to watch the boats side by side, one going up and the other going down in the two separate lanes of the Gatun Locks. 

One of the two Spanish fortifications in Portobello

But our trip to Panama was not complete till we traveled to the small town of Portobello.  It is here that the Spanish originally brought the gold that they stole from Peru and other South American countries and took overland for the trip back to Spain. 

The black Jesus is in the cabinet adorned with his golden embroidered robe.

It is also here that the Pirates, among them Sir Francis Drake (who died there) and Henry Morgan, attacked the Spanish empire and stole the gold. We visited the Custons House, the destroyed fortifications and the Church that houses the famous Black Jesus that accidentally was delivered to Portobella. Once there it was destined to stay as each time the town attempted to send it back a big storm occurred. 

It was wonderful to see the technology of the Canal used to connect the Pacific with the Atlantic. But also wonderful to see a bit of the history of this region of Panama.