Friday, May 24, 2013


It was expensive to fly from Ft Lauderdale to Asheville, especially with luggage, so I opted for a cheap deal on a rental car and took two days to drive up (770 miles).  With hotel, food, and sightseeing, it ended up costing about the same as the flight.  After two years away, I thought the gradual "decompression" would be best.

I drove up the coast of Florida the first day, vaguely planning to stay in Savannah overnight.  Well, that was a ways off the highway and the hotels were expensive, so I opted to stay overnight near Brunswick, Georgia.  I visited the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation the next day and learned all about antebellum rice farming.  I knew nothing about this, thinking the South was all about cotton.  Rice was actually a major crop until they started growing it better and cheaper in the Western U.S.  Like the Biltmore House branch of the Vanderbilt's, the family turned to dairy farming to survive.  Unfortunately, the last unmarried daughter died in 1973 and the plantation ended up in state hands.  They did live very well in their heyday, traveling to Europe to furnish their more elaborate mansion in Charleston.  At one point the plantation had 357 slaves.

Hoftwyl-Broadfield Plantation-lots of oaks and moss

Plantation House circa early 1800's
The next day I continued the drive through Georgia and South Carolina, stopping occasionally to look at interesting things.  I finally arrived in Asheville that evening, and went to dinner with my next door neighbor, Deborah.  I stayed at her house for two nights before the movers came with all my stuff that had been in storage for two years.  It was really disconcerting to see all those boxes when I had been basically living out of one suitcase for so long.  But having a lot of STUFF is the American way.   I didn't get rid of as much as I thought I had, which was a good thing in that I didn't have to replace much.

Moving in wasn't hard, since everything pretty much went back where it had been before.  My only issue was that the renters, who moved out last October after a military transfer, took all the cleaning stuff I had left, like vacuum cleaner, mops, buckets, stepstool, etc, so I did have some things to buy.  The management company was very nice and replaced the vacuum cleaner and had someone come and fix the holes in the walls.  I remember having to fix that kind of stuff when I was a renter so I could get my deposit back, but I guess they don't do that anymore.

Friday, May 17, 2013


The final days at sea were eventful but relaxed.  I attended several lectures by a physicist on astronomy and learned about comets, eclipses, and our universe.  I haven't been following this in recent years and missed that Pluto is no longer considered a planet.  One planet (Venus?) has heavy  clouds of carbon dioxide, which cause an atmosphere loaded with sulfuric acid and temperatures of 700 degrees.  Is this our future?  We get a six page mini New York Times, that has an article stating that we have just passed the dreaded milestone of 400 parts per million concentration of carbon dioxide in our air, "a march towards disaster."

I also took several classes on computer photo editing and the new Windows 8 program.  I am not planning on switching from Apple, but thought it would be a good thing to know if I run into it in the future.  The main change is that it uses touch screen a lot instead of the mouse, just like you would do on an IPAD.

A lot of our events are food oriented: an international fair with booths of food from different countries; Dutch and Indonesian High Teas instead of the usual Earl Grey and scones; an early Memorial Day BBQ with chicken, pork, fish and steak; more free cocktail parties to celebrate the end of the voyage.  I am skipping more and more meals since I can't keep up.  The scale here shows that I haven't gained any more weight, but it sure feels like I have gained 20 in the past two weeks!  All this will change soon when I do my own shopping and cooking.  I have been going to the cooking demos on the ship, which include a lot of high calorie foods but also simple fish and chicken recipes. 

I have not done any dancing, casino, or stupid cruise games.  The weather has been pretty good, so just reading on the deck is nice.  Occasionally I walk a few times around the promenade deck, but haven't hit the gym much.  I am excited about getting back to Biltmore Lake and walking the trail around it for my daily exercise.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


We were scheduled to get into Bermuda today at 8 a.m., but since we missed out on Horta, the captain decided to get there faster.  We docked in Hamilton, the capital, and were able to get off the ship about 4 p.m. yesterday.  We were conveniently docked downtown and had many shops right across the street.  My main interest yesterday was to get wifi, which I found in the library., about three blocks away.  I was able to answer some emails, a lot about my upcoming move back into my home after two years away.  I was finally able to arrange to turn the water on in the house, so I can get it cleaned and ready for the movers before I get there.  It was cleaned after the last renters moved out, but has been empty since August, and I would rather someone else deal with the resident critters and dust that have probably accumulated in the past nine months.

Bermuda consists of 138 islands with a total area of 27.7 square miles.  It is a British territory with a Governor appointed by the Queen.  It was  discovered in 1509 by Spain, but they were preoccupied with their rich settlements in America and did not settle in Bermuda.  

In 1609, an English ship carrying colonists and supplies to the new settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, wrecked in Bermuda.  The wreck supposedly inspired Shakespeare's play, The Tempest.  Everyone survived the wreck and they built two new ships from salvage and native cedar before heading on to Jamestown.  The Virginia colony was starving, so they headed back to Bermuda to get some of the abundant food they had found there.  In the meantime the captain died, and his nephew decided to go on to England instead of returning to Jamestown, which floundered without the promised supplies.  The captain's body was taken to England for burial, but his heart literally remains in Bermuda.  

Bermuda was permanently settled by the English in 1612 as a way station for ships going to and from the colonies.  It became more important after American independence.  During WWII the British traded a 99 year lease on two military bases for 50 American destroyers.  At one point the US had thousands of soldiers here, but the leases were given up 15 years ago  when the US was going through a rash of base closures.  An international airport, schools, and churches were built on the site.  The barracks now provide housing for low income Bermudians.

Ft St Catherine
St George was the first capital and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   A prominent feature is King's Square, named after George III, which has replicas of stocks, pillories and a dunking stool.  We watched a reenactment of a woman being dunked in the adjacent harbor for "nagging and gossiping."  We also visited St Peter's Church, the oldest Anglican church in continuous use outside of the British Isles. which was built in 1612 and rebuilt in 1715 after a hurricane.   A lot of the graves and plaques in the graveyard are for early settlers who died from epidemics.  There was a separate graveyard for slaves.

Nearby is Fort St Catherine, built in 1614 by Bermuda's first governor and now a museum.  It overlooks the site where the Jamestown settlers became shipwrecked in 1609.  The stone ramparts have lots of old cannons looking out to the ocean.

Replica of the Deliverance, made by the survivors after their ship wrecked here in 1609
The beautiful Botanical Gardens opened in 1898 and cover 36 acres.  Besides ornamental horticulture, there is agricultural research and an art museum.

Grave at St Peter's Church

Tourism is the main industry.  We saw three other cruise ships while we were there, and they were expecting a "megaship" of 5,000 passengers the day we left.  Offshore businesses are the second main source of income, although with new rules it is not the tax haven it used to be.  They have 7,000 foreign workers.  Our guide pointed out homes of Ross Perot and Michael Bloomberg.

Lots of yachts!

They have good roads, but owning cars is discouraged with a 75 to 150% tax and $8/gallon gasoline.  Public transportation is well developed with ferries and buses.  The international airport has about seven different airlines using it.

We were only one in a line of cruise ships leaving Bermuda
Bermuda has no rivers or freshwater lakes.  Drinking water is collected on the roofs of buildings and stored in underground tanks for each home or property.  You see endless white roofs made of lightweight coral limestone.  These are washed periodically with a mixture of lime and chlorine, which purifies the water before it runs into the tank.  There are also some desalinization plants, but the water from these is very expensive.  They do have hurricanes here, and the houses are built to sustain 170 mph winds.

The Bermuda triangle, with apexes in Bermuda, Miami, and San Juan, Puerto Rico is said to be responsible for mysterious shipwrecks and plane crashes.  Other well known terms are Bermuda grass, Bermuda shorts, and Bermuda onions.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


What do we do on board ship?  A lot of it is just waiting for the next meal.  The Prinsendam is the smallest Holland America ship and goes to ports the big ships can't.  Most of the people on the ship had started in Ft Lauderdale and were finishing there, a 62 night Grand Voyage across the Atlantic and around the Mediterranean and back.  I was only on for the last two weeks, from Barcelona to Ft Lauderdale, so people pretty much knew each other and had their routines.

  There were lectures, dancing, bingo and other games, a beautiful library, and food, food, and more food.  They had Happy Hour, so you could get a glass of wine or something before dinner and take the second free one in with you to the dining room or wherever you wanted to eat.  Sometimes I skipped the formal meal and just got a hamburger and two for one beers on deck.  They also had a nice buffet with lots of regular and "Asian fusion" food.  And don't forget the ice cream bar!

We had a beautiful seafood buffet on deck one day, all locally caught, and they showed some pictures or had the heads of some fish, like the 8 foot tuna.  I especially enjoyed the afternoon tea every day at 3 p.m., with live chamber music and to die for scones and cream.  Didn't help my waistline, though.  Luckily there was also a beautiful gym on board, and not many of this mostly older crowd used it.

At 9 p.m. there was usually entertainment and dancing, but I rarely made it.  Too much!  They did have some good entertainment.  They had contract performers that stayed on for all or part of the voyage, plus local musicians, comedians, puppeteers, etc that came on for a few days.  An example was the fabulous Flamenco group that joined us in Barcelona and left in Cadiz.

One night we celebrated the 140th anniversary of Holland America, and the pastry chefs went wild!

My favorite (and calorie free!) things were the little folded towel creatures the cabin crew left on my bed every night, along with a piece of chocolate and the schedule of activities for the next day.  I actually took a one hour class in how to do these, but the crew gets two days of this in orientation and I couldn't begin to rival them.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


On May 8 we reached Punta Delgada on Sao Miguel, the largest and most populated island of the Azores.  All of the nine islands are volcanic in origin, and there are many craters and geothermal features. It is part of the mid Atlantic ridge, the world's longest submarine mountain range, formed 250 million years ago. The first recorded sighting was by the Portuguese in 1427.  It remains a territory of Portugal, 900 miles away.

Sete Cidades Lake

I took a trip to Sete Cidades, named after the seven kingdoms of Atlantis, which the Azores are supposedly the remains of.  The village is on the shores of two crater lakes divided by a bridge.  One has famously blue water and the other green, but the color difference is because of the algae on the green side.  The day was overcast, so they looked much the same to me.  The village was small but modern, and seemed a different world from villages in Africa.  We stopped at a picturesque church.

On returning to Punta Delgada, we went to a tasting of local wine and cheese  in the harbor area.  I enjoyed both.  After going back to the ship for lunch, I walked around the town.  It was frustrating not to be able to get internet to work at the shopping mall.  By this time it had started to rain pretty heavily.  We were lucky to be in town at the time of their major festival, Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres, but the rain put a damper on the many lights and flowers that make the festival famous.

Pico Island
One of our engines is not working, so we stayed in town several hours past scheduled time for the part to be flown in, along with the technician to do the repairs.  The engine was eventually fixed, but one of the stabilizers was out, so we were unable to get off the ship in Horta, our scheduled port the next day, because the ocean was too rough for the tenders without having the stabilizer.  I did get pictures of Horta, on Faial Island, and nearby Pico Island as we sailed away.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013


My new home for two weeks

Sailing aboard a Holland America ship is certainly different from a student ship like Semester at Sea.  The main focus is body, not mind, with emphasis on food.  Breakfast is available at 6 a.m. and the food circus goes on in many venues till midnight.  I took a tour of the food galleys and it looks like they use as much food in a week as SAS did for a whole semester for roughly the same number of people! In an average week, they use 6,400 pounds of meat, not including poultry and seafood, 12,040 eggs, and 2,500 pounds of butter.  We only have about 550 passengers!   The quality is a world apart also, with beautiful presentations of luscious meat, fish, pasta, salad, and dessert dishes.   They seem happy to cater to whatever you wish, also.  A far cry from the buffet lines of mostly rice, pasta and unrecognizable main dishes in the SAS buffet.  I was not tempted to gain weight there, though.  We will see what two weeks on this cruise does to my waistline.  It is too much, though, and I already find myself skipping meals due to overload!

On the third day we docked in Cadiz, Spain for a day.  Cadiz is the oldest city in the Christian world, with walls built in the reign of Julius Caesar.  The port took in much of the wealth that came to Spain from the Americas from the 15th century on.  The name of the region, Andalusia, means "land of the Vandals," from the Visigoths who displaced the Romans.  There were subsequent invasions from Arabs, Berbers, English and French.

Cadiz, Spain

Fans for sale
I took a day trip to Seville to see the Alcazar, the oldest royal palace in Europe, built by the Moslems in the 11th century.  Adjacent to it is the third largest gothic Cathedral in the world, built in the 15th century on the site of the old mosque.  The tower remains.  The son of Christopher Columbus is buried in the Cathedral, and an honor guard of four statues carries some of the remains of the man himself, although he was buried in Santo Domingo.  His body was apparently moved a few times and lost pieces with the moves.  The idea of being cremated and scattering ashes doesn't bother me, but scattering body parts, or "relics" is pretty gross.

In the 15th century, Seville was the fourth largest city in Europe, after London, Paris and Naples, with a population of 130,000.  In 1649 it lost half the population to epidemics.  There is an old Jewish quarter, but most of them were banished in the Inquisition.  What remains of the old city is a pleasant blend of narrow and windy cobblestone streets, wide plazas, and beautiful parks.  It is very peaceful, but the history has been violent at times.  The city has grown a lot.  Major crops are grapes and cork, an excellent basis for their wine industry.

Gate into the Alcazar palace

As we left town, we visited Plaza de Espana, built in 1929 for the Ibero-american Exhibition.  The surrounding area has many beautiful buildings built by various countries for the exhibition, many of which remain as consulates for those countries.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


I was anxious to see Barcelona, since my son calls it his favorite city in the world, and friend Karen Curtis says you need at least two weeks to see it properly.  I have a week there before getting on a ship to Florida.  

The first four nights, I stayed in an apartment in the Eixample District with five other SAS people.  This ended up being very nice and pretty cheap at about $125 for my share.  We had three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, living room and wifi.  It was very comfortable but the design is a little strange.  You couldn't swing open or close the shower door without leaving the sliding door to the hall open because of its protruding handle.  Also there was a glass block wall between the two toilets, so having two people use the toilets at the same time was a little disconcerting.  This is Europe, and I guess they don't have the same privacy concerns we do in the US.

Our first day, we all went to a Tapas lunch before visiting the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's famous church, which has been under construction for over 100 years.  It is medieval in feel.  They still have many projects left to complete, but it is still awesome.  

100 years and still under construction
The interior is supposed to look like trees

Casa Batllo

I went on my own to Casa Batllo, another Gaudi masterpiece, the next day.  It was built around 1895 as a residence for a Spanish industrialist and his family.  It is a contemporary of my old stomping grounds, the Biltmore House, but seems eons advanced in design, though George Vanderbilt thought he was way ahead of his time with his central heating and two elevators.  His house still felt very Victorian, while the design elements of Casa Batlio are taken from nature and make it reminiscent of the colors and fluidity of the ocean.

I also visited La Pedrera, Gaudi's apartment complex nearby, but did not want to wait an hour in line to get in.  Same thing for the line at Palau Guell, off of Las Ramblas.  I did go to Park Guell the next day to see his idea of a rural-urban environment.  It is up steep streets reminiscent of San Francisco, but they have outdoor escalators to get you up a lot of the steep parts.  I went with Susan and Armin, but ended up walking home on my own because I wanted to stay longer.  It was all downhill and through some charming neighborhoods.

I thought I lucked out when I got to the Picasso Museum and the line was not very long.  Then someone came by and said it was closed for the day because it was Labor Day.  Sure enough, May 1 is Labor Day in Spain and most of the museums are closed.  So after standing in line for awhile for nothing like a stupid tourist sheep, I took a nice walk along cobblestoned Las Ramblas and went to the Central Market.

Barcelona cathedral
Gothic quarter
I was intimidated at first by the windy, narrow, car less streets in old town Barcelona, but quickly got used to them.  I stayed the last three nights at Hostal Layetana in the Gothic quarter.  My room was very basic, with only a sink.  I had to walk down the hall for toilet and shower.  It did have a great view of the old Roman wall and church tower from my balcony.  I visited the old Barcelona Cathedral and Barcelona History Museum.  The latter has excavations from the Roman era (1st century BC to 7th century AD) underneath its "modern" section, including public baths and a winery.  On top at current street level are a royal palace and a chapel from the Middle Ages.  

I also went to an orchestral concert of Scheherazade, Romeo and Juliet, and Bolero in the Palau de the Musica Catalana, a stupendous  hall that is ornate yet romantic.

Palau de la Musica Catalana

I certainly have a lot more to see in Barcelona.  I would love to come back here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


We first saw Gibraltar yesterday morning at breakast, but it was covered with clouds.  We must have just been sailing around, because we saw it again in the afternoon.  The top was still a little cloud bound, but the shape was easily recognizable.  We stayed just offshore the rest of the day to refuel.  The straits of Gibraltar are the passage between the Altantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
Kind of foggy but you'll recognize the shape!
We had a final party for the Lifelong Learners with hors d'hoerves, champagne, and ice cream cake.  It is strange that I have been with these people for over three months.   There are some amazing people in this group.  The students promise to be even more amazing.

Karen Burns and Sharon Hostler
Field Coordinator and Academic Dean for Spring 2013

Phyllis from Boulder and Jackie from New Jersey

Ed and Barbara Sobie

Today are the last final exams.  I am glad Lifelong Learners don't have to take the tests!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Our final day in Morocco.  This is a progressive country of 360 million people.  The first transexual operation was done here in 1990, turning an Italian man into a woman.  

Hassan II minaret-60 stories high
Only 46% of the people are Arab, while most of the rest are Berber.  French and other Europeans are a decided minority.  The official languages are Arab and French.   Berber was added recently, though it was not even a written language until 12 years ago.  Unemployment is 15%, and illiteracy 28%.  The French did not invest in public education for their colonies, and the present government is trying to overcome this.

Casablanca is the largest city and 67% of the economy.  Today I went to the Hassan II Mosque to see it in the daytime.  It was lovely at night with the lights, but more impressive in the day.  Built between 1987 and 1993 at a cost of $280 million, the massive buildings surround a huge courtyard which holds 80,000 people.   Overlooking it is the highest religious tower in the world.  The three spheres on top represent the three major religions:  Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  A laser light on top points to Mecca.  Inside, the mosque accommodates 25,000 worshippers and has a movable roof.  A huge car park is underground.  It is all very modern, but with its size, luxury, and beauty, it holds its own against the ancient wonders.

Afterwards I visited the ancient Medina, or old town, built in the 12th century but destroyed by Portuguese pirates in 1468 and 1515.  It was rebuilt by Mohammed I, who was also the first world leader to recognize the new United States of America.
Tajine (clay pot) cooking
We walked through the local food market.  The fruits and vegetables looked especially fresh.  They had unusual things like live turtles and snails, which is probably a French thing.  The we went to a cooking class at La Toque Blanche.  We learned how to make basic Moroccan food, including appetizers, tajine chicken (cooked in a clay pot), and a rice and raisin dessert.  It was a demonstration, not hands on, but afterwards we got to eat the food.  There was also a demonstration of how to make Moroccan tea.  You wash the tea leaves in hot water, pour onto mint leaves, add sugar and boiled water, then put on a low flame to boil.  The water is poured on somewhat dramatically, with the stream of water held as high as possible while avoiding splashing.  It takes practice.

Pouring tea

Friday, April 19, 2013


We arrived in Casablanca, the largest city and commercial center of Morocco, in the morning and I immediately set off with a small group on a 3 1/2 hour bus ride to Marrakech at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.  The road was a very good divided highway that our guide said was seven years old.  He talked almost the whole way about the history and culture of the country.

Morocco was initially settled by the Berbers 5000 years ago and they still make up the majority of the population.  The Arabs came in the 7th Century and introduced Islam, which is followed by 99% of the population.  Morocco was the first country to recognize the new United States of America.  

The French came in 1912 and bought land instead of taking it by force, but still claimed sovereignty.  The country became independent in 1956 and nationalized the land but bought it back from the French.  The population has been growing 8.5% a year, with many foreigners moving in.  Education is free through university, but unemployment is high.  Many Moroccans work overseas and send remittances home, much as the Mexicans do in North America, and that is an important part of the economy.  They have no oil or gas, but phosphate and fish are important exports.  There is an ongoing dispute over the Western Sahara (which does have oil) between Morocco and Algeria.  

There appears to be a lot of wealth in Casablanca and Marrakech, with huge buildings and lots of new condo construction.  Our guide said Marrakech has 250,000 beds for tourists.  They had a million tourists last year and the number has been increasing due to the proximity to Europe and publicity from the Arab Spring.  The guide says most of the people are very poor and live in the countryside.  Although education is free, it is easily accessible only in the cities.

Our first stop was the Majorelle Gardens, designed by French painter Jacques Majorelle in the 1920's and 30's.  It is a peaceful site that has lots of bamboo, cacti, fountains, birds, and an art deco house.  Yves St. Laurent, a famous French designer who bought the site in 1980, was buried there after his death in 2008.  The painter is known for a vivid blue color, "majorelle blue," which is I saw many times as I travelled the country.

Palace Shaharaman Restaurant
By this time we were starving, so we went to lunch at at the Palace Shaharaman Restaurant in the median.  The inside really did look like a palace, with tiled floors and walls, carpets, moroccan lamps, etc.  Our meal started with about ten kinds of vegetable dishes, then chicken baked in a clay tajine, or cone shaped pottery.  Next came couscous with a center tower of beef topped with vegetables.  The dessert was oranges and bananas followed by almond biscotti and mint tea.  We had musicians playing moroccan music through the meal and a belly dancer at the end.  It was a fun and satisfying meal.

Ceiling detail, Bahia Palace

 After lunch we took a short walk through the old neighborhood to Bahia Palace, built by the Grand Vizier to the Sultan in the 19th century.  The multiple harems look onto a central courtyard with fountains.  Per our guide, he had four wives and rooms for 24 concubines.  The main room has a ceiling about 50 feet high, which seems to make it very cool.  The huge wooden doors and intricate tile work make the place very impressive

Fiinally we went to the souk (market) and walked through the narrow passages to the plaza, where we could see snake charmers, acrobats, dancers in drag, food booths, and many other things going on.

The souk
Market Square

After a night at the Royal Majator Hotel we drove to the Ourika Valley and the Atlas Mountains, which rise over 13,000 feet above the desert.  The valley was surprisingly green and lovely.  The snow on the mountain peaks contrasted with the orange and olive groves in the valley.

Ourika Valley

You can't go to Morocco without seeing camels!

We had lunch at the home of a Berber family and enjoyed typical Moroccan food with couscous, vegetables, and tajine chicken.  The woman of the house showed us how to make proper Moroccan tea, which includes fresh mint, lots of sugar, and pouring the hot tea into the glass from several feet above.
In the Berber kitchen

On our way back to the ship, we stopped to see the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.  It is the third largest mosque in the world and beautifully lit up at night.