Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Reunion Tower

It was early February and my much older sister (well...two years) had arranged to make her Texas visit to the Saraceni clan. We always look forward to these visits so we can catch up on life and look back on the days of our youth (the ones we can still remember).

She made an unusual request in that she asked for Dianna and Nicole to join her in a nail painting, foot scrubbing event. A girls day out if you will, so they took her on a whirl-wind mani-pedi sojurn to their favorite Asian nail spa, Diamond Nails. There they wild away the hours having little Asian women poking and prodding their cuticles and toes......sounds devine.

As for me, we did our usual mixing it up with politics and the future of the developing world as we saw it. It was still early in the campaign and we were able to poke fun at just about everybody. Whenever she comes we always take in a movie or two. She rarely takes in a movie at home. Long story about her Ludite husband not wanting to be brain scanned at the door or something. Remind me to tell you about it sometime.

With Dianna, we saw "Hail, Caesar!" with George Clooney (surprisingly lame about some early Hollywood actors and the American Nazi movements the late 30s) and she enjoyed herself immensely. We joke with her about her very loud laugh when sex scenes come across the big screen. She has this propensity, at uncomfortable moments, when she will blurt out a loud one "Ha!" and a short staccato series of cackles which startle just about everybody in the place. You really have to hear it to get the full effect. She'll even do it while we're watching a show at home. It's amazing to watch and hear.

On Presidents Day, I decided to take her to our Reunion Tower in downtown Dallas. It is located next to the  Hyatt Regency Dallas. Reunion Tower, also known locally as "The Orb," was completed in 1978, along with the Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion, as part of an urban redevelopment project. Remodeling began in 2007 and it was reopened in 2009.

The tower consists of three floors with circular floor plans on top of four shafts of poured-in-place concrete. A central cylindrical shaft houses stairs and mechanical equipment. Three rectangular shafts, containing elevators, rise parallel to the central shaft. Each shaft's outfacing wall is made up of glass panels, affording views of the city during the 68-second elevator ride to the top.

Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck opened the fine-dining restaurant, Five Sixty on the tower's rotating top level on February 11, 2009. The name is a reference to the restaurant's elevation. The middle floor of the tower is used for special events managed by Wolfgang Puck Catering. The Cloud 9 Cafe is accessible from the observation deck, serving meals and snacks with a 360-degree view from behind glass but is only open on weekends.

At night, the globe at the top of the building is illuminated with 259 custom LED fixtures (would not want to change those light bulbs) and are controlled by various computer-generated patterns and colors coinciding with special events or holidays.

The Observation level is called the "GeO-Deck". It includes an interactive digital experience featuring information about Dallas landmarks and a pretty good recap of the Kennedy assassination. The view includes a birds-eye view of Dealy Plaza and the surrounding area to put the whole thing in perspective. The exterior of the observation deck features telescopes with views in every direction.

Not as much to do as I had hoped but a definite stop for Kennedy Assassination history buffs. The view of Dealey Plaza was the best part. You could see all the prominent features from the route down Houston onto Elm by the book Depository by the grassy knoll with the railroad tracks and picket fence to Stemmons Freeway. Pictures can't replace this view.

On the way back, my sister confided in me that she had not seen the new Star Wars movie and when she returned to her busy life back home, would probably not catch it before it left the theaters. Being the good brother I was (and without anything else to take her to) I busied by iPhone to determine when the next showing would be (great Fandango app) and got her there just in time to pick up popcorn a soda and a water.

I had a great time seeing her and wished we were closer in distance and not so far away. Since both our parents have been gone, the older I get, the more I wished I could connect with her.

Yeah, we call each other periodically, she more than I, but its so much better when I can see her and hear that piercing laugh when we talk politics or watch a movie. Makes me want to hop onto a Southwest and drop into John Wayne Airport to hang out with her a little while longer. Maybe I can make that happen too.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Grandparent Week

The Grandparents in happier times
We, of course, have had our kids. We, like our parents, suffered through all the ins and outs of bringing up a boy and girl of our own. I recall how we would often make light of other older couples we'd see at the zoo or at Parent-Teacher Night corralling Grandkids through whatever venue. We made astute observations about how exhausting it seemed for them to ride herd over their clearly high spirited offspring. Like retirement accounts....we never considered we would be those exhausted Grandparents someday. Well that day came.

Our darling daughter and son-in-law decided to travel to New York City to visit family and tour the sights. When planning their sojourn they advised us they would not be taking their son and asked us to watch our two year old grandson "for a couple of days". Closer to the departure date it turned out it was a full week and we would be watching their seven month old Lab as well.

"buy Disney Disney products"
Ok....I thought, we could do this. My wife and I had, as stated earlier, raised two of our own and had all the obligatory skills needed to manage one diaper wearing, just learning to talk, get into everything, two year old little boy. Or so I thought. And yes...I know you other veteran grandparents are yawning and dismissing us with a, "Been there, done that, Nick," wave of the hand. But allow us to tell our tale.

Jax the wonder dog

The big day came and the daughter and son-in-law dropped off Jax the aforementioned crazed black Lab who, as it turns out, really hasn't been around many dogs and immediately went berserk with joy all over my two dogs. First day was going to be inside until we could get home and supervise them.

My first official Grandparent activity was picking up the Grandson at daycare. A neat little establishment in our town not far from our home (I wonder if that wasn't part of my daughters evil plan all along). I parked my RSX (two door, six speed, no interior room built for speed and cool) in the lot and strutted in to a somewhat surprised teacher as I calmly asked for little Robert. She quickly tapped her code in and unhinged the airlock to the inner sanctum and quickly led me to his cell....ahhh classroom. There, surrounded by others of his ilk, he bounded over to me with glad tidings.

Once released, we squeezed him into the RSX, his car seat ( can get a car seat into the backseat of a sports car) and zipped, as cool as we could, back home. Nay.. I did not bow to the video gods like his mother...nope, he was subject to the old school stereo and we sang Hip Hop and Country songs back and forth to school. He may be partial to Jay Z but really leans toward Lil Wayne.
No...he got in there all by himself

The first night sort of went like other overnighters we had done with one exception. Clearly his "cheese" had been moved and the prospect of his week of Grandparent care away from home (well and maybe the chocolate Dianna slipped him) caused him great distress and he couldn't fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning making getting to work that much harder for us old folks.

Nick two days after the assault
But before he would settle down and succumb to the sleep gods, he had to commit one more atrocity. As I was attempting to comfort him, he began a rhythmic rocking which culminated in him reeling back and head butting me with his apparently thick skull (I wonder where he got that from) right on the ridge of my right eyebrow. I saw stars and enough pain to illicit some very un-grandfatherly expressions which, for obvious reasons, cannot be duplicated here.

The result was a class-A black eye. Rest your minds, the kid was fine and just walked off giggling. The guys at work were giggling as well when I showed up. I had considered a Starbucks line-cutting confrontation but decided against it.....mostly because everybody knows how much I despise one would have believed it anyway.

The next few days were interspersed with many "No's" and...well....a bunch more "No's". He has this amazing talent of locating every loose object and ajar drawer and door in the place. He's located unreported dog poop as well as missing doggy toys and unclaimed socks and underwear. And he always seems sooooo busy all the time. He never stops moving. Repetition is his stock in trade as he (for the umpteenth time) climbs up into my lap then immediately climbs back down to get back up again. Or, climb a stairs....and does it again. It's just exhausting to watch. Then he'll plop down and fall dead asleep....(sure like to have those days back again) then get up and do it all again like it was the first time.

Don't let that smile deceive you
His grandmother is no longer the woman I married. She has become this tyrannical disciplinarian I don't recall ever seeing before. She claims she is the same Dianna that got us through potty training, vacations with the kids and puberty. I am not so sure.

For instance, I have the more gentler approach to bedtime. The Grandson will pull himself into my lap and lean back as we watch TV until he slips off to sleep. Oh, no...not Granma. There is a schedule to keep and when he starts rubbing his eyes, he's scooped up and put down into his bed with Panda Bear tucked in and it's lights out.

As an example, I, for one, am not a big fan of screaming babies. My reaction is well documented, I go in and comfort, wait until he's nodded off and then a slow descent to the crib and slink out of the room. Lately when I've tried that, I have received "the look", a piercing stare of the kind your mother (or wife) gave you when you were about to countermand an order she had just given you. You can see her rising up like the Queen in Snow White as she grows in size until she morfs into that fire breathing dragon. It can be ugly if left unchecked.

Climbing Grandson
He drives his grandmother crazy by doing that stare back when she tells him not to do something. You know, that one where he's climbing up on top of the forbidden coffee table and in mid stride gets the command from Granma to cease and desist. He will look her right in the eye and do a slow-mo continuation of the forbidden act, rolling his leg up onto the table as Granma is doing that Cosby bit about his children, "No, No, No, No......come here, come here, come here!" to no avail.

I find it amusing that when he has access to several hundred dollars of age appropriate toys, he is perfectly content with playing with empty cans of beer he finds on our walks. He can take a simple cardboard box and roll around in it for hours. His favorite pastime is to throw open the Tupperware drawer and pull out every piece and try to mate it to its top (which I can still not do....ever).

He loves Mac and Cheese, pizza (really..who doesn't) and he even likes salad...yes, green vegetables...and black Olives. What an amazing child. Clearly this recessive gene had slipped past my kids.

Robert and his Uncle Bill
Finally, on the seventh day, his parents returned from far away to retrieve him and their little dog. Little Robert was happy and, I believe, relieved to see them. I think Jax was the happiest. He was going to get his life back as the lone house dog. Although he may have known his stay was temporary, I firmly believe little Robert realized he had exhausted all his cuteness on Granma and was headed into negative territory and needed to put some space between himself and his grandparents to preserve that potential car or college fund in his future. A wise child.

New Dog Habitat

Although (and I will never admit this to anyone even under threat of torture) no matter how many times you have to say no or watch him cry when he's denied a toy or some daredevil antic, he always comes back and gives me a big hug and always makes me smile. We missed him as soon as he was gone.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cruise Somemore

Church and shrine of the namesake
After two more days at sea, we get to Sint (really, not spelled incorrectly) Maarten. Ok…it turns out it’s the Dutch for St. Martin of Tours (not to be confused with St. Martin de Porres patron saint of Mixed Race people (who knew they had a special category), Barbers (you can’t make this stuff up), Public Health workers and Innkeepers (I really have to look into the connections there).

Phillipsburg Courthouse built 1793
The island was originally “discovered” by Columbus on his second voyage (as we all know, the Arawak people had been there since around 400 AD). He kind of did a “drive-by” in that he never actually set foot there, just claimed it for Spain in 1493 on the fly on Saint Martin’s Day. Ya gotta know being a famous explorer and all, he was a pretty busy guy with lots of responsibilities arbitrarily “discovering” and naming places where other people have lived for millennia. Ya just don’t have the time to get your officious butt onto the beach.  I’m sure he put it on his calendar to return to someday.

According to Catholic Online (who knew?), Martin was born in 315 AD in Pannonia, Hungary under Roman rule, Martin was an early adopter of Catholicism when he was about 10 when the Roman’s still considered it “the church of what’s happening now”. He was forced into military service at 15 but still celebrated his Christianity in secret. He became an officer and while assigned to France, showed his Christian values by cutting off half his officer’s cloak in two with his sword and handing half to a freezing beggar he passed when he was 18. Unheard of behavior for a Roman soldier. This crystalized his faith and from that moment on he became a conscientious objector and was briefly imprisoned for his cowardice but was released from prison and eventually the army. He became an early Bishop and was made the Bishop of Tours, (Centre-Val de Loire region) France (well…back then, Gaul). He died at 80 around 395 AD and they celebrate him on November 11th when Columbus drove by St. Martin island in 1493.

By 1624, the French had established a colony to grow tobacco in the north and in 1631 the Dutch came in to produce salt in the south. They have squabbled over the island ever since and even the British came in for a time to muddy up the waters as well. By 1816 the British moved out and the island was split again with French St. Martin (note the spelling) gaining independence in 2007 and the Dutch in 2010.

So we arrive to find the temperature a sizzling 86 heading for 90 with 80% humidity. Our tour wasn’t until 1 pm so we decided to get out early and check the shopping on Front Street. Typical Caribbean digs, lots of high priced shops with the same names, Diamonds International, Del Sol, hey there’s was even a McDonalds just down from the port entrance. We made our way around and after some minor purchases (Dianna insisted on getting a little bottle of Mercurochrome….ya got me) our first meal on St. Maarten was….an Italian Sub at Subway. Ok…you can stop laughing now.

We putted around until our drive around the island tour began. Luckily the bus was air conditioned. Lord it was hot. The “See and Sea Island tour” was nothing to write home about (wait a minute....that’s what I’m doing now) but did have some interesting points. The most interesting was on the French side of the island. We stopped for a shopping/eating stop in the French Capitol, Marigot. There we decided to try the national drink, a Guava berry Rum drink. It has Guava berry (grown locally), Coconut milk and local rum. At a little café called "Chez Coco" we tried the straight Guava Berry and rum first, though tasty, a bit harsh but the frozen Colada mix was really great and refreshing. I recommend it highly. Is anybody else noticing a trend in our vacation observations?

Some interesting factoids were that (surprise) St. Martin’s one and only industry is tourism and everyone is somehow involved in that industry. We had arrived in their low season (hurricane season) and they were heading into high season December to June. The other was, contrary to Bermudas edicts, there are more cars than people (about 74,000) on the island and we got a taste of that on St. Martins windy roads. Our tour guide pointed out that there were several homes on St. Martin that had gold stars displayed on their exterior. A custom in the Caribbean, she said this denoted a home that was over 150 years old.

That would be Jack
The tour included a short glass bottom boat run over the coral reef off Grand Case (pronounced Cass). Pretty cool in that one of the crew (Jack) hopped off and swam around the boat feeding the fish which swarmed around him so everybody got a great Kodak moment. Then back to the port and ship for a quick run to St Thomas Island.

Our ship on the left, the Disney boat (and all those screaming kids)
St Thomas (of the U.S. Virgin Islands) was also named and “discovered” by Chris and the boys in another drive-by discovery on that second voyage. I don’t think Chris was aware the original occupants were the Ciboney who date back to 1500 BC but were replaced by the Arawaks then the Caribes by the time Chris passed by in 1493. There is much speculation over whether Chris actually named the individual Virgin Islands. It is known he referred to them collectively as “Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes”. This was in honor of St. Ursula who, back in about 383 AD, along with 11,000 virgin handmaidens, were massacred by Huns on a pilgrimage from Gaul to Rome.  Not sure how Chris came up with this but, short version, they have been the Virgin Islands ever since Chris drove by.

The Dutch moved in by 1657 establishing their capitol as Charlotte Amalie wife of King Christian V. The British rolled in around 1801 and took the island without a shot being fired. That lasted only a year when they gave it back to the Dutch (weird). Then they took it back in 1807 and hung around until 1815 when they gave it back to Denmark (those wacky British). The United States showed interest in the island during the Civil War but it never got any traction in Congress (probably preoccupied with financing the war) but came back around when the Danish government approached the US to purchase St.Thomas, St Croix and St. John which they did in 1917 (for $25 Million). Residents were made citizens in 1927 and they got territorial status in 1954. They got home rule in 1970.

The day started out well in that we got out early. The tour started at 10 so at the appointed time we made our way onto the pier to meet the guides. Unfortunately, the weather was hotter than we left at St., Maarten with double humidity. And, ironically, the more western, Americanized locale only had open busses to cart us around. Oh you can imagine my wife’s excitement at that news. So we packed the busses which turned out to be modified F-350 pickups for the jaunt up the steep (I’m talking 8% grades in some places) windy roads to the top of St. Peter Mountain.

After jostling our weary bones for 30 minutes we were rewarded with a beautiful setting at the top. The St. Peter Great House and Botanical Gardens was kind of the highlight of our trip. Just over a thousand feet above sea level, it had majestic views of Magens Bay as well as a view of about five other islands looking toward St. Johns and points north and east. The 11 acre estate was once a plantation and home to a Virgin Islands Governor. There is a large tropical garden and even some exotic birds to check out. Very cool.

The best part was the sampling of various Caribbean finger foods and the sipping of 15 different flavored rums by Cruzan from near by St. Croix. The Company is family owned by the Nelthropp family since 1760 and produces some fine rums in 80 to 151 proof. It's pronounced "kru-zhun" which is what you do after having the 151 proof stuff. Wow!

The garden is steps down from the main house and has some pretty cool exotic birds and flowers. As soon as you make your way down, you're completely surrounded by thick jungle as though you've been transported to a different place.

The complete downside of the trip came when we arrived at San Juan Puerto Rico. First time in Puerto Rico, we did not opt to stay a couple of days (yes..I know we've been told about the beauty of Old San Juan) and had to make our way to the airport.

INS chose that day to be one of the worst debarkations we've ever experienced. There were like 10 lanes of cloistered crazy people, in an airless, humid, warehouse, trying to drag all of their luggage through Customs to get your passport scanned and a, "thanks for playing" grin from a Customs Agent I wasn't sure English was his first language (hey...we were supposed to be in America again). Don't get me started on the que on Calle Marina in the blazing sun waiting on a VERY disorganized transit crew trying to match luggage and people to their busses for the trip to Luis Muñoz Marin Airport for the luxury of flying 3 hours to Miami for another three hours to Dallas. The vacation was officially over!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

11 days on a Cruise

Here we go on another adventure. We decided to blow our two weeks of vacation on an 11 day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. On the Carnival Dream we have scored a “sale” off-season cruise to Nassau, Bermuda, St Maarten (not sure why it’s spelled with two As), St Thomas, ending in San Juan, Puerto Rico. On sale because it’s hurricane season.

Check-in was uneventful for one exception. During the rather droll question and answer period, Disneylandesque chicanes and the phalanx of ship photographers insisting on documenting your every cruise moment we all endure during one of these sojourns, one stood out. The lovely Toya leaned over her laptop and, lowering her voice, asked my wife if she thought she might be pregnant. Imagine our surprise at this 20-something asking my clearly 59ish wife if she might be with child. After all the questions about our health and if we had ever been around any human who may have coughed or sniffed in our direction. As it turns out, the cruise lines have a “Pregnancy Policy”. Apparently one can only sail if they have been pregnant less than 24 weeks. The generic response is that they don’t have the needed medical facilities to handle miscarriage or delivery. Ok….I can go with that.

It might also cause a little rift when it came to the child’s nationality. There are no stedfast rules to go by but generally (thanks to GPS), the child’s citizenship might be determined by location on the high seas. The child could be registered under the country flag the ship is registered to (Panama for the Dream), the proximity to either the port of departure or arrival (New Orleans, USA, Puerto Rico, US Territory), or the parents can weigh in under the legal concept of Jus Sanguinis (right of blood). No worries….that ship has sailed for us.

On our first Sea Day, we woke up to….rain. Hurricane Joachim had just wound it’s way through our destinations the week before but left behind a nasty Low Pressure cell over the southeast and Florida leaving places like South Carolina with 14 inches of rain and major flooding they haven’t seen in about, according to their Governor Nikki Haley (I love the spelling of her name), 1000 years. Well, how do they know that…..I’m not sure the native Americans had rain gauges back then. I’m picturing a little guy in a lion skin deftly drawing a charcoal weather summary ala Weather Underground, looking a whole lot like Al Roker, scratching away with his charcoal tipped stick. Maybe there’s a cave in the Carolinas somewhere chronicling the weather patterns of yore.

As we sat sipping our early morning coffees on the Lanai Deck (Dianna cannot go far without the guarantee of an Iced Moca Cappuccino at the end of the trail), I contemplated how much rain the vast body of water before us (the Gulf of Mexico) needed to keep it filled. I know….pretty lame but inquiring minds (yeah…mine) need to know. A quick check of Google (things are improving, we actually have inexpensive Internet access now) brought the usual avalanche of information.

Due to the ebbs and flows of the atmosphere, the tropical oceans generate the most rain and, depending on the region, can cause between 115 and 197 inches (holy cow!) of rainfall per year (yes Tonia….about 1/3 of an inch per day). Of course, that moisture then gets carried back over land (well….except for California it seems) and falls collecting in rivers and streams which also flow back into the ocean (in various degrees of cleanliness) refilling it that way as well. The Amazon has the highest flow of 55, 211,960 gallons into the Atlantic….A SECOND! This re-circulation is referred to as Hadley Circulation and helps in driving global weather which generates the hurricanes, tropical storms and thunderstorms we watch on the Weather Channel and our weather apps. So as long as this continues (depending on your views on global warm……opps, sorry, climate change) we thankfully, won’t run aground anytime soon.

Remarkably, after surveying the ships compliment, we determined there are few riders under 50 and lots older than that. There is a smattering of 20 and 30-somethings but they are so few as almost to be nonexistent….and absolutely no little kids except for one infant in a stroller I saw (Ok...turns out there were 78 kids aboard...who knew?). Thus the halls and decks are littered with walkers, wheel chairs and a collection of canes and crutches. The fun began when, during the safety briefing, when asked for a show of hands of how many needed special assistance in the case of a water emergency, like half the people there raised their hands. Hey…there’s even a blind lady with a walker AND a service dog (a really cute yellow Lab). Well and to say there was also an older woman who had her little Bijon in a stroller too ( can't make this stuff up). I can’t wait to see how this all plays out on the excursions when we get to land.

To say the clubs close down early is an understatement (you can hear crickets on the various decks around 10) but there’s always a long line at the buffets. Evening dinners are punctuated by the openings of those 7 day pill organizers, which sound like the soft popping of gunfire off in the distance. And, on a personal note, they may be old but they pack the workout room and walking/jogging track every morning.

Another interesting factoid I learned while eavesdropping (I do a lot of that) is that now you can hire a male or female “host” to be your escort. A pioneering placement agency for speakers and entertainers works with the various cruise lines to hire “hosts” to be an escort to single older passengers for $30 dollars a day to dine and dance with. Officially,  no hanky-panky allowed but really, who knows what transpires. They are treated as employees and can take advantage of any of the amenities and act as part of the entertainment staff. What a cool gig.

The formal dining room provide a better experience than the buffets in that there's a lot of personal service and a better selection to choose from. And seriously there is nothing more entertaining than a bunch of servers (clearly many have not had formal training) from various Asian countries trying to serenade us, singing a Dean Martin song with Italian lyrics.

Our first port was Nassau. Now Nassau has not changed much since our last trip except for the natives. Poor bastards now have to pay sales tax on everything they (and we) buy. Like most small countries, they had been able to get along on the tourist dollars to provide them with a cushion against inflation but, as one worker told us, “They tell us the tax was needed to offset the higher cost of Government but our paychecks never seem to go up.” Welcome to our world Nassau.

I was always cognizant of the humidity in the Caribbean so when we book tours, they must have two criterion. They must have a good customer rating and they have to have air conditioned rides. Thus our Best of 10 stops tour. Our Tour Guide, Teko, was very informative but was somewhat distracted by a woman who plopped herself down in the front passenger seat and ran a running monologue of, “Hey…listen to all the cool things I’ve seen and I know this famous person and that famous person”. So Teko had a hard time getting a word in edgewise.

The coolest part of the tour was a stop at the  
John Watlings Distillery where we got to sample various Rums from their shelves. AND we got to stand where, in 2006, Daniel Craig jumped a wall in a chase scene from Casino Royale (2006). Wow…drinking rum can really smooth out a long tour and I was much better able to tune out Ms. Social Security Administration retiree.

The last cool thing we got to do was stop at Freddie-Gone-Bananas, a neat little restaurant on the “fish-fry” row of restaurants on Arawak Cay. There we got a great little culinary exhibition by their chef on the intricacies of shelling and cooking Conch. We were introduced to Conch in Key West and had no idea how important Conch was to the diet and economy of the Bahamas.

The entire Conch is utilized and nothing goes to waste. The shells are used to sell or made into jewelry, the whole Conch itself is edible but some parts are more palatable than others. Those not used for food are used as an excellent bait for other fish species in the area. The Conch is loaded with protein and, of course, in every third-world country, there are elements of it that are considered aphrodisiacs. Particularly the  “pistol” a wiggly little appendage that both male and female Conch possess. Our tour guide explained it is Bahamian Viagra and guarantees a night of magic. Well…except for Marine Biologists who believe Pistols are used to aid digestion in the little Conch but who wants to rain on that parade.

What we (I) really took away from that session was the incredible Banana Rum drink they made. Obviously Rum is mixed with banana syrup and blended with fresh banana almost to the consistency of baby food you were able to suck through a straw. When I get to that assisted care living place (the one my daughter threatens to pick for me), that will be the soft food of choice I want.

I want to applaud Nassau on their health care system as well. There are two hospitals on the island, Doctors Hospital which is private and the Princess Margaret Hospital which is public. Because of the tourist money, anyone can check in to Princess Margaret for a $10 dollar co-pay. After being diagnosed it’s sliding scale costs and free prescription medications. Its’ like $20 bucks for an x-ray and all insurance is accepted. Pretty cool.

Back on board (after a little nap…yeah, I’m taking a lot more of those too) we got to watch “Insurgent”, the second of the Divergent movie series, on the big screen on the pool deck. Very cool under the stars with a nice warm box of fresh popcorn. Awesome.

There are those “days at sea” listed on the daily schedules. I’ve often overheard how many feel days at sea are a little discomforting. They need to be busy or on shore doing some activity or other. I kind of like those days just chugging through the ocean on the way to somewhere else. Seated on our veranda looking out over the gently rolling waves is rather calming and at the same time foreboding. A view some might call beautiful is, after all, a vast steppe if you will. Someone remarked “beautiful, beautiful, magnificent desolation” (Buzz Aldrin, 1969).

With life thriving underneath, above, it might as well be a desert. You can’t eat or drink what might be on the surface and your chances of survival off the ship would be slim to none if you couldn't be found within a very short time. At night, with no moon, it can give one pause as to the possibilities of rescue. Hey, they still can't find that Malaysia 777 Airliner have they! So we put our faith in all the modern technology to keep us safe. Wait a minute….isn't that what they said about the Titanic?

First time in Bermuda and first time for an overnight port. We scheduled a water tour and snorkel adventure. This little beauty is still a “British Overseas Territory” wayyyyy out in the Atlantic about 640 miles to the nearest US point of land (Cape Hatteras). Originally discovered by the Spanish in 1503, some Portuguese guys got shipwrecked around 1543 and were the sole residents until the British Virginia Company established the first permanent settlement in 1609 and the British just hung on to it to this day.

Bermuda is the result of a volcanic caldera which gave it it’s shape as a kind of fish hook with the high points of the caldera making up the land mass. It is small…about 26 square miles with about 64 miles of beaches some, on the south shores, appear pink as the result of the pink coral shavings from tidal surges mixing with the white sand giving a pink hue. Very cool.

Our tour guide Zander (cool name) and the whole crew of the
Restless Native were native Bermudians. He told us the island is rather secluded from the normal Caribbean style of island and rather exclusive. As you can imagine, it’s kind of expensive to live here. But the average income is around $100,000 and the typical home is worth $1.5 million. We were surprised to hear tourism was  only 10% of their GDP. They don’t make anything here except money. The most prevalent businesses here are (of course) banking and reinsurance. Yeah, I didn’t get that either.
Reinsurance Companies buy other insurance companies policies to spread the risk of high dollar clients over more than one company in case of catastrophic loss. Kind of like the secondary Mortgage market, buying riskier mortgages as investments to keep a particular mortgage company’s portfolio healthier so it’s stockholders or investors stay happy (yeah…we all care about that!).

We got into the cool water and kicked around for about an hour just so we could get out and get to drink the alcohol. Yep, no drinkies until after the death-defying swimming with the fish. I must report the Swizzle and Dark and Stormy rum drinks were awesome. A Bermuda national drink, Rum Swizzle a mixture of local Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, pineapple, orange juice and their Ginger Beer, are quite refreshing and worth a try. The Ginger Beer adds a little effervescence and just a hint of spice as it hits the back of your throat. Really tasty.

The next day came bright and cool and another full day on the beach I like to refer to as the “shopping day”. We woke late (cause we were pooped out from yesterdays snorkel adventure and drinking binge) which made debarking easy because everybody with an excursion had already left. So we took the shuttle around the Naval Dockyard and wandered the shops looking for……stuff. Hanging, knick-knack, skin refreshing, cute, grandson wearing stuff. We did four hours and about a hundred dollars an hour all told.

The surrounding buildings we walked through were all built around 1860 to 1867 as the British established a Naval way-station for their Navy and ships headed for the Americas. There’s a prison from which the British got their labor force with an equal number of slaves to develop their base and a Vituallary (yes Doug..that's where the word Vittles comes from) where food and supplies were prepared and warehoused for resupplying ships passing through . It was the staging area for the Naval Blockade of America during the War of 1812 and was where the troops who attacked and burned the White House in 1814 departed from, the first of the only two times America was invaded by foreign troops (correct Frank….the Japanese hit the Aleutian Islands on June 6th, 1942 landing on Kiska Island).

Although used continuously from 1795 to 1995 it’s focus changed as on-board refrigeration and food preservatives became more common but the base was very busy during World War II as a radio relay station for convoys and stop overs for Naval Warships looking for U-Boats. The British military finally moved out of Bermuda in 1958 turning over most of the Crown’s property to the local government. Parts of the base were still occupied by elements of the Canadian Navy and US military until 1995.

Buildings in the Dockyard are typical of most dwellings in Bermuda where water is still a precious commodity. All have wide slightly pitched whitewashed roofs (limestone slate in the older homes) which, by law, must recover all run off to a central tank or cistern for purification and home use. There are some wells and they can be used for everything except drinking. The government does collect water as well and supplements the home collected water. Their entire water supply is completely dependent on the amount of rain they get. And….get this America…you’re only allowed one (that’s ONE) automobile per household. On an 26 square mile island with 65,000 people on it. It’s probably prudent.

Buildings ride out hurricanes and storms well in that most are constructed of the islands natural coral limestone which is quarried around the islands. Their inner wood construction for many early homes is the Bermuda Cedar tree. When early settlers came to Bermuda, it was covered with Bermuda Cedar. They harvested the wood for all types of construction from shipbuilding to furniture making and by 1627, they had practically deforested the islands causing the local government to restrict the use of the wood to shipbuilding. Luckily, by the 1850s, shipbuilding moved to iron and steel so the forests slowly recovered to where, although it is still scarce and expensive, the wood is still used in high-end interior woodwork and furnishings. Because of that, it’s very strong aroma in a home is often associated with wealth.

Before we got back to the ship (before our money ran out), we (I) got hungry and we stopped at the Dockyard Pastry Shop for lunch. Dianna had the Avocado sandwich and I had the Vegetable Panini. Both extra good with lots of fresh Avocado in Dianna’s sandwich. Dessert was a chocolate “Pyramid Tart” with two different chocolate mousse layers and a chocolate cake roof. Soooo good! Two thumbs up if you don’t mind the upscale cost (hey…everything in this burg is expensive) they all claim it’s the import costs of everything. It will definitely set you back some.