Friday, February 23, 2018

Splendors of St. Croix include turtle preserve, mahogany trees, Danish architecture, pristine beaches

Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge on St. Croix is the longest stretch of beach in the U.S Virgin Islands.
This beautiful beach is a protected environment, home to the endangered leatherback turtle.
The port that is now Christiansted was visited  by
Columbus on his second voyage to the new world.


Cookie takes to the bike with a
custom helmet -- then away, St. Croix.

'HOW ABOUT a bike ride? St. Croix will be beautiful from a bike.'' My adventuresome partner suggested the outing.
Mahogany trees, now several hundred years old, pave the way to still
stately plantations reminding of the island's Colonial and plantation days. 

"It's a beautiful island, and we could see a good share of the shoreline, plus forests and plantations.  And it's only 15 miles," he lobbied.
"Okay," said I, not wishing to be accused of cowardice or laziness. So we booked the scenic bike ride from our Serenade of the Seas balcony.  It promised plantations, rain forests, panoramic coastal views, historic city sights and an engaging commentary.
FOR OUR brief return to this lovely 40-mile long island, whose name means "Holy Cross," we wanted to explore its highlights. We hoped to see a stately plantation -- elegant even in decay or renovation -- stone walkways, historic churches with grassy graves and fascinating inscriptions, rolling green hills, coral beaches where snorkelers claim to see unparalleled wonders. 
Bikers get a brief history of the island, the only one actually named by
Christopher Columbus, who anchored off a natural bay west of
Christiansted, known today as Salt River.
In its heyday, St. Croix was among the Caribbean's top producers of sugar and molasses.  Cruzan rum is still a huge export. We wanted to see a rum factory. We saw it all!
WE HELMETED up with bikes for our size, then set off from the Danish port of Christiansted on a lovely 75 degree day. We'd just heard on our ship that most of the U.S. was again blanketed in a blizzard, so we relished our bike outing on a gorgeous warm St. Croix day.
We stopped for snacks and photos on our bike ride,
enjoying the beautiful beaches of St. Croix, learning
about the visits of the leatherback sea turtle.

Baby leatherbacks take their first steps toward the sea.
Photo Courtesy St. Croix Tourism
FIRST, WE biked around the town, a picturesque partly restored port, with vestigates of graceful Danish architecture and native peoples' imprint. The last of the Native Indian people to inhabit St. Croix were

the Carib, a nomadic people with wanderlust and sailing skills. Originally from the Guiana region of South America, the Carib were not the first Indians on St. Croix. The Tainos and Arawaks were there earlier, but the Carib greeted Columbus in 1493, when he anchored off a natural bay, know known as Salt River.
Our  St. Croix bike tour included a visit to St. Croix's landmarks, such as
this lovely Danish style government building, with its graceful archways. 
 ST. CROIX is a world away from the U.S. -- 1,700 miles south of New York, 1100 miles south east of Miami, near the eastern tip of the Caribbean island chain. On the same latitude as Acapulco and Hawaii, just below the Tropic of Cancer, its eternal summer is caressed by cooling breezes.  The people are relaxed and friendly, and there is a greatest tourist draw: leatherback sea turtles.  We weren't there for their egg-laying, but heard of this oldest sea turtle species with its 150-million year history on Earth.  This largest sea turtle is the fourth largest living reptile on our planet.  It can weigh 2,100 pounds and be 10 feet long.
 We saw where the females come to lay their eggs, under vigilant eyes of environmentalists.  We learned that this handsome leatherback is the only sea turtle that does not have a hard shell. It can dive up to 3,000 feet!
WE LEFT St. Croix with views of vintage fishing trawlers, barges, tugboats and thriving coral reefs, thinking of the Arawak and Carib people whose burial grounds we'd visited.  Hoping to return to see the turtles. St. Croix's landscape still seems pristine and this lovely island was fortunately spared the ravages of the latest hurricane.
We can't wait to dive again into the  serenity and beauty of St. Croix.
The Caribbean's oldest railway is still up and running on St. Kitts. Come
with us on a 30-mile historic rail tour with lively tales of the island's lore.

UP NEXT: Not far from St. Croix, but another world unto itself, St. Kitts welcomes us.  We hitch a ride on the Caribbean's oldest railway, listen to a wonderful vocal trio, learn of the military engineering for which the island is noted, and admire impressive volcanic rock structures built on the back of slaves.  We enjoy a spectacular view where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean and are eager to share all this with you.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post for each weekend -- a novel look at travel, the arts, family and nature.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Santorini's charms: Magical Greek isle has drama, donkeys and spectacular Mediterranean views

Santorini's rugged hillsides are shaped by volcanic eruptions of more than 3,000 years ago. A tram offers a pleasant ride up.
Close-up of the turning wheel, which keeps the pleasant cable car ride going.

Pulling away from our ship, we approached the volcanic rock of Santorini.



THE SIX MAJOR STARS in the Cyclades shine brightly, each with a beauty unique to it alone.
Located in the central Aegean Sea, Santorini is perhaps the most famous of the group -- followed by Mykonos, then the less visited Naxos, Paros, Andros and Tinos.
The approach to Santorini is memorable -- sheer cliffs
surrounded by winding harbors and topped by houses.
The famous donkey
ride up the hill to Fira.
Today, we take you to Santorini, also known as Thera, where we hiked to the rim of an ancient volcano that exploded in about 1,600 BC.  Then we took a boat ride around the warm-colored limestone cliffs which make the island famous.  And we capped the day with a ride up the famous tram, where we caught bird's eye views of the pink, brown, black, white and pale green, topped by  white village. We passed on the donkey ride -- we did it years ago. It's become controversial because of abuse and neglect of these charming and hard-working critters by some ride operators.
SANTORINI WAS called "Kallisti" for centuries, meaning "the loveliest" and in several visits, we've come to agree.  We love the blend of Cycladic architecture, volcanic rock, Venetian elegance, fine food
Cookie and Keller board the tender
to take them back to the ship.
 and friendly folk.
Our Santorini journey began in Fira, with a fine museum of bronze age
relics, many fine restaurants and a stellar view of the sea below.
The late autumn morning was chilly but we bundled up for an energetic climb to the caldera, a lovely crescent of cliffs about 1,150 feet above the sea where we could see the other islands in the background, and listen to stories from our knowledgeable and animated guide.
She does not buy the myth that Santorini was the mythical Atlantis, mentioned in both Egyptian papyri and by the great philosopher Plato.  She, like Plato, believe Atlantis is in the Atlantic. We do know that this cataclysmic explosion destroyed the Minoan civilization on Crete.
Greek food on Santorini is classic -- tasty lamb and beautiful
salads of olives and feta, plus hearty flavorful tomatoes, cukes,
 lettuce and red onion produced by the island's volcanic soil.
SINCE ANTIQUITY, Santorini has relied upon rain for both drinking water and irrigating the island's bountiful crops. Although water is imported as well, one still sees cisterns collecting the rain.  The locals drink stronger stuff,  and say there is more wine than water on their island.  Indeed, wine is the island's major export.
I relished a glass of the retsina, having many years ago developed a taste for the unique pine-citrus blend. Keller opted for the Greek version of lemon soda -- tasty, too. We dined on skewered lamb, delightfully seasoned with olive oil, garlic and rosemary, and a fine Greek salad with generous olives and feta. We also shared a side of keftedes, delicious spicy meatballs.  And we split a  piece of Santorini baklava, that ambrosia of honey-nut pastry which both Greeks and Turks claim as their invention. Baklava and a Santorini sunset, wow. We toasted the day at a cliff-hanging tavern in Fira, our last stop before heading south to Malta, then back to Barcelona.

St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands was spared the wrath of the
most recent hurricanes, and remains beautiful. 

NEXT UP:  St. Croix beckons -- oceans away from the Greek Isles. Come along to visit a turtle refuge, mahogany forests, stately sugar plantations, gorgeous beaches, friendly people and a national park famed for its  archaeological sites, mangroves and coral reefs. We biked around the island one day -- a memorable time indeed. Remember to explore, learn and live, and visit us Fridays when we post a new, fresh look at global travel, the arts, nature, family and fun.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Whale watching wonders as glorious grays make their splendid journey

A gray whale breaches off San Diego's Point Loma.  The action isn't completely understood, but may be "spy hopping"
to get a physical reference from the land to anchor their journey enroute to Baja to mate, give birth and care for young. 


One of a variety of Flagship vessels awaits passengers for a whale watch.
Happy Cookie and Keller at sea, on a successful Flagship
whale watching venture this week. Several adults and a calf!

A gray whale shoots to the surface
to gulp tons of krill for breakfast.

CALL US WHALE-watching junkies.  We answer the call whenever we're within 50 miles of a whale watching port -- anywhere in the world.
But when we're watching whales in various corners of the world -- Hawaii, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland -- we always feel a bit guilty.
Why?  Because we have whales in our backyard -- beautiful migrating whales we can see from land or by boat.  We have the good fortune to follow them five or six times a year, here in southern California. We never take this wondrous opportunity for granted.
NOW'S THE TIME the great grays are heading south from the chilly Alaskan waters to either give birth, or fatten up their young and themselves in the welcoming warmth of the waters off Baja before returning to Alaska.
A quintet of a larger pod of dolphin ride the bow wave of our boat
as it pushes through the water in the ocean miles off Point Loma.
Birch Aquarium docents explain and offer a look at tiny
krill whales consume by the ton, through their baleen.
Southbound gray whales usually travel in pods of two or three and each year, more than 20,000 gray whales make an impressive 10,000 mile round-trip journey to the southern lagoons.
We lucky San Diegans may watch the journey close-up, so this time of year, look for us on the water -- often on Flagship, but also on a couple smaller venues. Sailor Keller has even piloted our own craft. But it's more fun for him to let someone else do the driving so he play photographer.
While we've observed the aquatic parade of gentle giants from land -- at the Torrey Pines Glider Port, Cabrillo National Monument, nearby lovely Birch Aquarium and from our favorite picnic spot in the La Jolla hills, we prefer spotting them on the water.
THEN WE SEE the rainbow in the spray from the blow and hear them breathing. We can even see the barnacles that grip their skin for a free ride -- and we can admire the baleen which acts as a food filter as they suck in the water and its contents, straining the protein rich fish called crill -- a small shrimp-like critter which is the gray's main nutrition.
Whale watching ships have articulate, passionate friends of the whale aboard.

The spray of a gray whale creates a beautiful rainbow. A mile away, we see the
 exhaled breath from a 40-foot gray whale. That's a thrill for whale watchers.

Flagship's are from Birch Aquarium.
THIS WEEK we saw about 10 whales -- in peak migration season -- each one about the width of a basketball court. They know we're nearby and don't seem to mind.
They travel at about five knots (about six miles per hour), so when a boat captain or passenger spots one, we slow down -- usually from about five or six miles out, although we've seen them at closer range. Someone hollers "thar she blows."
Flagship vessels offer wonderful whale watching as well as harbor cruises, holiday and dinner cruises, and a jet boat thrill ride aboard the Patriot. to book  or inquire.

A group of small sailing tourist vessels await crew and 
passengers on a sight-seeing tour. The hill-top city is behind.

Santorini has an ancient history and a famous tram, along with volcanic sites and two major villages set atop the mountains.  As one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea, Santorini was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC, forever shaping its rugged landscape. The whitewashed,  houses are distinctive landmark.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, nature, family and the arts.  

Friday, February 2, 2018

Theater treats: Bite into a bonanza of first-rate fare in San Diego

Five versatile actors deftly portray 42 colorful characters in a delightful production of "Around the World in 80 Days"
held over at North Coast Repertory Theatre. Prepare for a brilliant theatrical trip by boat, train and imagination. 



At right: Katherine Ko as Tong, Ben Levin as Quang in San Diego Rep's funny, sad, fascinating production of
"Vietgone," a fast-paced melange of war, family, social trials and love.

and courtesy San Diego theaters

THERE'S MORE TALENT in San Diego than one can shake a maestro's baton at.
On any given evening, choose from nearly three dozen theatrical offerings -- musicals, comedies, dramas, period pieces, classics and cleverly crafted world premiers.
WE ARE REVELING in a romp on the boards to preview San Diego Theatre week, Feb. 15-25.
Cygnet Theatre in Old Town features a
drama about the last wife of Henry VIII
Reduced tickets are offered for 29 venues. Check out the websites of these highlights we're sampling, and more:
Kate Rose Reynolds, left, and Andrea Agosto perform flawless
roles in Diversionary Theatre's challenging "Cardboard Piano."
 * "Around the World in 80 Days." North Coast Repertory Theatre. Watch suave adventurer Phileas Fogg circle the globe with his faithful and flamboyant servant,  encountering danger, romance and comic turns.  Stylish direction and dazzling costume changes showcase the versatile Will Vought, Loren Lester, Omri Schein,  Lovlee Carroll  and Richard Baird as they brilliantly deliver 42 eccentric and loveable characters.  Through Feb. 11.
The Lyceum in Horton Plaza is home
to San Diego Repertory Theatre.
* "Vietgone." San Diego Repertory Theatre. Bold, sexy, funny love story is delightfully acted, mixing rap music, motorcycles, comic book aesthetics and martial arts with a thought-provoking story of race, war and surviving by one's wits.  As a family flees from Vietnam at war's end, it faces struggles and stereotypes in America with humor and heart.  Through Feb. 18. At the Lyceum.
* "The Last Wife." Cygnet Theatre. Engaging, wonderfully acted historical fiction about the only wife to survive the tempers and whims of Henry VIII.  The title references the audacious king's sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr, whose brains, bravado and quick thinking kept her head on her shoulders. Nimble direction and fine 
Manny Fernandes and Allison Spratt-Pearce deliver star
work in "The Last Wife" at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. 
writing give new life to a nearly 500-year-old period, with contemporary twists. Through Feb. 11. In Old Town.

Danny Stiles, left, and Steven Freitas are down-on-their-luck
workers who scheme a strip act in "The Full Monty" at SDMT. 

* "The Full Monty." San Diego Musical Theatre. An endearing company of guys play a sextet of unemployed Buffalo steel workers who decide to pay their bills by taking it all off. Raucous humor, a sassy female ensemble; endearing, catchy pop-rock score deliver thumbs-up stage version of the hit 1997 hit film proving there's more to a first-rate performance than perfect body types. SDMT is a bravura grassroots effort of a musical-loving local couple! Through Feb. 25 at Horton Grand.
"Cardboard Piano."  Diversionary Theatre. A teen-age daughter of an American missionary falls in love with a local teenage girl in Northern Uganda. They marry in secret, circa 2000, before civil unrest upends their lives. Diversionary again pushes the envelope with four fine actors, in an absorbing, sometimes shocking play which confronts weighty issues: same-sex relationships, intolerance, America’s relationship with Africa and the human capacity for forgiveness. Through Feb. 25.
La Jolla Playhouse has introduced many
musicals and plays that go on to Broadway.  

*"The Cake."  La Jolla PlayhouseRely on top-drawer work at the theater co-founded by Gregory Peck. LJPH's current drama drama also explores same-sex marriage.  The play has humor, pathos, sharp direction and an almost edible set. The storyline features a  a native North Carolina woman returning home from New York to ask her late mother's best friend to make her wedding cake. Beliefs are challenged, old values take on new clothes and the notion of love is explored as two brides head for the altar. Through March 4. At the Potiker Theatre.
Check out for more details and offers. Wherever you are, support local theater.

A well trained group of docents from Birch Aquarium educates enthusiastic
whale watchers as Flagship follows the great gray whale's southern migration.

UP NEXT:  We've a  whale of a tale to tell you, with our latest adventure in search of the great migrating gray whales.  We got up close with several mothers this week -- and even a newborn -- on their way south to the Baja's warm waters with Flagship's fine whale watching tour.  Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at the  arts, nature, family and travel. To book,