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Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Last of the Bahamas

On arrival on our last stop, we hopped on a driving historical tour of Nassau. Now many of you (especially you Millionaire lifelines) might want to jot down that Nassau is not the capitol of the Bahamas. Of course, Columbus is credited with “finding” the Bahamas in 1492 (Chris...I think they were already there) but the Bahamians (mandatory education from 5 to 16) know that the Bahamas (really the Commonwealth of the Bahamas) are made up of a series of 700 islands or “Keys” (and 200 other cays and rocks) but only 20 are inhabited and referred to by their District name like Freeport with Port Lucaya as it's capitol or “County Seat” if you will. Therefore the Capitol of the Bahamas is actually the District of New Providence and Nassau happens to be it's County Seat. It just so happens that most of the main Government buildings like Parliament (Robert, in his really cool accent said,”Yes ladies  and gentlemen, this is where they make the laws and then break 'em), House of Commons, etc. are located within the City Limits.

Established in 1647, the Bahamas declared independence in 1973 but is still a British Protectorate kind of like Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. The entire population of the Bahamas is about 400,000, 60% of whom live in or around Nassau. The Nassau we often see more of is The Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island which is just across the Bay from the Port of Nassau where we docked.

The Bahamas and Nassau, in particular, is still a major center of off-shore banking but, according to our guide Robert, the electronic age has brought about more regulation and influence from countries like the United States (and their evil sibling the IRS) have brought about more transparency and less (but not all) anonymity to account holders and making catching tax dodgers, drug money and funds tied to terrorists and organized crime more visible.

We drove up to tiny Fort Fincastle and the adjoining Water Tower. The water to tower stands 126 ft above the the hilltop and was constructed in 1928 to maintain water pressure in the city below (yeah..you guessed it, we paid for it to reward the Bahamas for cooperating with us during prohibition and keeping their demon rum out of our reach). It has a 216 step stairway with an observation deck (only 154 steps on the Statue of Liberty) but we didn't go (really....216 steps, Hell
no!). But luckily, Fincastle has a neat platform for a panoramic view of Nassau and the bay.

The city, as you can imagine, is pretty old and the central downtown is only a few blocks. Driving is a nightmare with tiny streets clogged with vehicles of all sorts clearly not anticipated by the founders which makes the downtown a cacophony of honking horns and heaving trucks and cars all vying for precious little asphalt. Robert pointed out the proliferation of the color pink throughout the country. Turns out pink is a national color of sorts due to the presence of Flamingos which are the National Bird of the country.


Actually the best part of the ride was the drive to the Queens Stairs and a long winding tour of several surrounding neighborhoods where the common and uncommon folks live. I love these kinds of tours the Tourist Commission doesn't want you to see because the areas don't put the country's best foot forward. I can only describe it as a mixed development community. You can have your million dollar home and right next door could literally be a very modest home some might classify as slapped together shanties. And lots of half-completed structures that we commonly see in many poorer countries we visit.

Of course, most of the really expensive homes belong to the aforementioned foreign wealthy and government elite but some residents have taken advantage of Nassau's unique real estate tax system. When you buy the land and/or home you pay the current estimated tax for that property. Then the tax board forgets about you until you improve your home to around $250,000 dollars (Bahamian dollar trades dollar for dollar with US currency) then they come back out, reassess and you start paying taxes again. Up to that point you're tax free until you sell your home. Then the new owner gets appraised at the higher rate and that new owner pays the new taxes from then on. Cool.

That similarly translates to paying for water. The Government won't make you pay for water until the value of your home exceeds that magic $250,000 dollar appraisal. Then you must dig a well and get your own water or pay for the service. Robert encouraged us to come to the Bahamas to live. He said a modest two bedroom can be had for between $16,000 and $40,000. Robert confessed that there is a high unemployment rate among their young men and is a sore point for the rest of the natives. They refer to them “as those who can but won't” and are the source of a lot of the crime. Alcoholism and illegal drugs (kind of an oxymoron for the Caribbean) are their biggest problems along with theft.

But I digress (yes Tonia....as I all too often do). The Queens Stairs is a really amazing bit of construction in honor of Queen Victoria on her signing legislation freeing the slaves in the British Empire in 1837. Over 600 “workers” (yeah...you get my drift) chiseled their way over some 102 ft down into the man made ravine created from the quarrying of stone for various fortifications and government buildings sometime between 1793 and 1794; a century later (Oh, how ironic) the 65 step staircase was renamed to honor the 65 year reign (actually 64 years 1837-1901...oops) of Queen Victoria as well as her role in helping bring about the enforcement of the abolition of slavery in the Bahamas. Quite an accomplishment for 19th century stonemasons with only hand tools to hew it out of solid rock in what one observer (me) would refer to as oppressive heat (recall this was May). Kind of on the same level as bringing all those stones together to make the pyramids.

Our final site was Fort Charlotte overlooking Nassau Bay. Built in 1789 by Lord Dunmore, the British Governor (ex-Governor of our own state of Virginia until the British lost), this fort took two years and 106 “workers” to cold chisel out the interior of this fort to house soldiers, their powder and shot to hold off an anticipated horde of Frenchmen who...never showed up. Must have been some kind of an intelligence failure. I'll bet some heads rolled (well...unless they were with the CIA).


There was a display of the use of “Hot Shot” munitions used against the old wooden ships. The grenadiers would have large fire pits where they would heat up the cannonballs  to cherry red, load them in their cannons and fire them up to a mile at the offending ships. These “Hot Shots” were also referred to as “Great Balls of Fire”...now you know where Jerry Lee may have gotten his song. Kind of cool design feature includes a “dry moat.” It would have been difficult to maintain a water source to fill it up so the designer planted prickly pears to act as a deterrent against breaching Anglo-Saxons. It did guard the port for some 200 years and still provides a commanding view of the city and the harbor. Back to the ship and heading home.

We have come full circle and as we approach the entrance to the Mississippi  Delta we pass by in review the many oil derricks dotting the Gulf of Mexico, standing tall over the water like Man 'O Wars of a bygone era lining up for battle but silently absorbing what's left of the oil and gas bubbling under the depths (hopefully not leaking) feeding our insatiable needs above the water. Someday they'll have sucked the world dry and hopefully we'll have found something cleaner and more sustainable for our children's future.


The weather has finally come around and we will be restarting our weekend travels soon. More to come!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Freeport

Our next port was Freeport.  Freeport was an up and coming region about the time the American Colonies were opening up. The British had enslaved all the inhabitants and had them harvest most of the trees on the Island. Most of the lumber used to build the first structures in Virginia most likely were brought from Freeport. The island is rather small and only about 93 miles long and 12 miles across but a classic Bahamian Island with white sand beaches and crystal clear green-blue waters.

I had booked another Segway excursion for us. We had taken our first in Mexico and, as it turned out, were the “veteran” Segway drivers in the tour. Our guide was Arnold (AJ) and once you cut through the thick Bahamian accent, he was quite informative and funny. He took an immediate shine to Dianna. We were probably the oldest couple in the group (and I'm still struggling with that concept daily) and when he took her aside to give her instruction, he could see Dianna was a quick study and had retained her skills. He often drove in formation with her and chided her along with little quips about her driving skills.

On one run, we drove through a grove of trees with thin trunks and wispy needled leaves. Arnold pointed them out and referred to them as Australian Pines. They were not indigenous to the Bahamas and were planted almost by accident by some Australian settlers in the late 1800's. A couple had been brought over to plant at their new home as a result of the deforesting of the Islands by the early settlers.  Begun as an experiment, they quickly thrived in the Bahamian soil and are now seen all over the Bahamas. What no one knew at the time was that Australian Pines thrive in salty, sandy earth. This becomes even more important when storm surges from weather or hurricanes flood the land. Freeport's highest point is only 33 feet above sea level. The trees, even when completely submerged just bounce back when the waters recede.


Arnold ran us down to the beach and gave us an opportunity to walk the pristine sands and was kind enough to take pictures of each of us. He pointed out a pretty home just up the beach we drove by that was a vacation home to Dan Merino.

Arnold made it a point to give us the 411 on Conch Shell meat. Like Abalone, it was considered a delicacy but that wasn't all. He wanted us all to know about the benefits of eating Conch especially, it turns out, for the men. Arnold was a firm believer and advocate for eating copious amounts of Conch he euphemistically referred to as the Bahamian Viagra.

Like a snake-oil salesman he proclaimed Conch was strong enough to cure any degree of ED, right capsized ships or straighten the Tower of Pisa if taken as directed. Quite the advocate I must say.  At the end of our sojourn, as we disengaged ourselves from our safety equipment, he took Dianna aside and handed her a beautiful Conch shell she had been admiring, as a Mother's Day gift.

We were then walked over to a small beach restaurant to relax before the drive back to town. It was a nice mom and pop restaurant called Banana Bay and bar with a really nice Lanai open patio overlooking the beach  in a place called Fortune Bay. Both of us had the delicious Chunky Chicken Salad and some Ice Tea on the one of their picnic tables.


Fortune Bay is an example of the chaste system typical of our experience in the Caribbean. Only the wealthy, primarily white (many of whom are foreigners) reside in the exclusive communities. These were historically lands either seized by the early British rulers or areas set aside for the wealthy and government officials after independence. Most of the poorer natives work in the service or hospitality industry and live in more, how should we say.....modest homes and neighborhoods (think the Colonias in Mexico). Although the Government has made some improvements, there is much to be done and there is still a lot of graft and corruption for the people to endure. Two hurricanes in 2004 (say it with me Tonia...Frances and Jeanne) devastated the island and tourism has suffered ever since then.

A drive to the shopping mecca, Port Lucaya, and shopping. Nothing to write home about (wait a minute, that's what I'm doing) the usual suspects, the Diamond's International, Del Sols and the like but I had to try Arnold's Conch Meat challenge. A word about the name Port Lucaya. I should point out that the indigenous people of the Bahamas when the British landed were the Lucayans and the Arawaks. Unfortunately, you can't meet or interview one because, once the British arrived, they quickly enslaved the tribal people who either worked to death, were sent off to other places, died of disease or killed themselves rather than be abused by their masters.

Not impressed by the shopping options, we stopped at the “After Deck” Bar and Grille and I ordered some Conch Chowder and a couple of Bahama Mama rum drinks. A really tasty, almost Chili-like concoction with bits (and I mean “bits”) of Conch meat mixed in. I highly recommend it. Not for it's magical powers but just a really good soup with some pieces of potato and carrots thrown in for good measure. Then it was back to the ship and off again to Nassau.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Key West (again)


After a day at sea, we made our first port, Key West. Many of you may recall we had visited Key West for the first time just eight months ago. Having hit all the touristy stuff then, we ( I ) decided to indulge in some fun. I signed us up for a “Pub Crawl” excursion. I noted that it was the most popular excursion in past cruises and sounded like fun, well...and there was a promise of drinking copious amounts of alcohol (hey, we're on vacation for God's sake). We promptly met our tour guides....all old, grey haired men with pervasive signs of alcoholism, at dockside and were split into groups to glide our way through downtown Key West. Our guide, Beau, was a very spirited guide who led by tooting his Conch (pronounced Konk) shell he referred  to as his “Shell Phone” through the streets of Key West.

Beau gave a very quick history of the island as we walked. He pointed out the rich pirate history of Key West which was prevalent right up to the early 1920s. Before lighthouses were the norm, many ships ran aground on the reefs around the Island. Many homes there still have their “widow walks” on their roofs where many entrepreneurs stationed men to keep an eye on the waters around Key West for shipwrecks. They would alert men (“wreckers”)to man their boats to meet the ships and provide assistance but at a price, usually a large percentage of their cargo. When the Captains initially refused, the men would politely leave and stand-off in the water and wait. Once the Captain realized his plight, he would call them back, they would strike a deal and render any assistance they could provide. They would bring their bounty back to Key West and its many warehouses to hold for sale. Key West became the Amazon of the East and would draw in people from all over the world to attend these auctions making Key West one of the wealthiest cities in the US.


Originally from Nashville Tennessee, Beau came out here from Seattle Washington five years ago for the weekend and never went back. Beau keeps busy doing tours for the pub crawl as well as ghost tours. Beau was a big advocate of the Keys and specifically Key West but noted the big negative was the weather and of course, hurricanes. He said most residents were weather experts and closely followed their weather apps. He said if the hurricanes came up from the Caribbean, Cuba usually got in the way and broke up the storms so they would lose their punch by the time they got to the Keys. But, if a storm is headed up through the Straits of Florida, he remarked, residents typically will take a spoon of jam and place it in their pockets because they knew they were “toast”. A rather entertaining, fatalistic but practical view of life in the Keys.

We began our trek at a place on Duval Street called the Lazy Gecko  . The drink there was the Rum Punch where Beau would illustrate with a right cross to his chin as he pronounced the name of the drink. He was right on the money. The cost of the tour included one free drink at each bar with emphasis on the drink-of-the-day. At Gecko it was the Rum Punch. Wow...no rum was left out of this sucker. It was very smooth and delicious as rum is one of my favorite drink additives (think rum and coke).

Nick after two drinks!
The second stop was the Rum Tree Bar which was a lovely bar situated in an alley off Duval next to Angelina's Pizza which shared the alley. Lots of plaques from various military units that have visited the island thanking the bar for their support (and, I assume, liquor) they may have provided. 
The next was the Flying Monkeys Saloon across the way on Duval. The Monkey specialized in using grain alcohol in their drinks. There was an extensive selection in a series of Margarita Slushy machines you could choose from. Dianna had the “Grain Train” and I had something called the “Howler.” Now mind you, neither of us had had anything significant to eat since breakfast on the boat and these two drinks had a distinctive effect on both of us. Dianna began giggling (more then she usually does) and I seemed to have an inability to walk in a single direction. I found myself bouncing off stationary objects like the bar and associated stools and umbrellas set up throughout the outdoor bar.


As we walked (well stumbled) Beau pointed out that in our travels around the Island that we might notice the presence of wild chickens and roosters through out Key West. Beau said it was the result of the outlawing of Cock Fighting in the Keys  in the 1920s. When the decision was made, all the game birds were rounded up and brought to Key West for adjudication. But there didn't seem to be a proper consensus as to what to do with them (I'm guessing many of those decision makers had probably attended this particular excursion as well) so they decided to release the birds into the wild resulting in an explosion in the population of feral roosters all over the island. Now they can't (or won't) get rid of the damn things. Like the wild pigs of Hawaii.

As we approached our next stop, Beau stopped us by an unassuming white blockhouse looking building at Greene and Elizabeth Streets. Beau reported that this simple cork lined structure was Jimmy Buffet's first recording studio. Buffet purchased the old ice house and turned out some of his first recordings from there. Since then, several big recording artists have come to the Keys to record their stuff and take in the local fare like Kris Kristofferson and more recently Kenny Chesney has been seen in and out of there cutting some tracks.

A short walk away on the  Harbor Walk to the Key West Historic Seaport. For almost 200 years, the Seaport has been a focal point for much of the economic and cultural life on the island. By the late 1700's, sea captains found that the uninhabited island of Key West (which was also known by the Spanish name "Cayo Hueso") was a useful stopping point during coastal navigation. It had a safe anchorage, and there were stocks of drinkable water at primitive wells ashore.

Obligatory group photo of the Crawl

The Seaport (also known as the "inner harbor" or as "Key West Bight") primarily served as a base for vessels used in fisheries, coastal shipping, and other maritime trades. The Harbor Walk took us to the Schooner Wharf Bar a collection of elevated patios where you could drink, view the harbor and listen to music.

The drink of the day was a Rum Punch. And there we met Gary Hemser and his guitar. Gary was the headliner for the afternoon and as he strummed kindly reminded us he had just finished smoking some weed and apologized that he may wander a little during his set. If you spend any time in Key West you will grow to realize this is the accepted norm for many of the local residents. Gary was pretty good all in all so I recorded one of his numbers.

video

As we left, Beau conducted a contest. To the person who could blow on his Conch the longest, he would reward them with a set of pretty fancy Marti Gras beads to wear proudly back home. When he called for volunteers, of course, my loving wife (dearly wanting those beads) pushed me forward and my fellow travelers parted to watch me embarrass myself. Actually, I surprised myself and did rather well with 7 seconds. The technique is to purse your lips together like a Bronx Cheer and blow. But a ringer came forward (young guy..maybe late 20s, that bastard!) and did 21 seconds...and he was a smoker! Well...the alcohol soothed my wounded pride...and we carried on.

Our last stop was Rick's Key West and Rick's Tropical Breeze drinks. More sweetness than alcohol taste which made most of the drinks the kind that sneak up on one if not allowed to consume food. But a wonderful bar and a little off the beaten path which this tour was set to do. Most of the bars we attended were not “big name” bars like Sloppy Joe's or Margaritaville which seemed to be overflowing with patrons and I liked it that way.


After photos with Beau, we parted company and walked...more like stumbled back over to The Rum Tree and got two slices of pizza from Angelina's. A really good thin crust Hawaiian pizza made to order right from their traditional pizza oven, not one of those long assembly line Pizza Hut things.


Now with some of that alcohol absorbed by the pizza, we were better able to make our way back to the ship and on to The Bahamas.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Carnival Cruise 2014

Yes,.... it's been a while, but I am now going to chronicle our journey to the Bahamas with a stop at our new favorite place, Key West, Florida (see September 2013 Blog for details). Since our daughter has delivered up our first grandchild and our son is now out on his own, we were toying with the idea of house sitters to watch our Texas Summer home (well....all year home) and care for the dogs. Luckily, some very good friends from San Diego came to our rescue. A former Chase Mortgage co-worker Margo and her husband Frank are now retired and are spending it driving around in their motorhome trekking about the US. Frank and Margo were wandering our way and through a Facebook posting by Dianna, agreed to come out and stay in our Casa.

After briefing Frank and Margo on the care and feeding of our two intrepid dogs, Margo comically referred to them as "the hounds" (Peanut stayed with Nicole), we began our eight hour drive to New Orleans. It is becoming rather mundane after three cruises but occasionally, as we have often found, one gets off the beaten track and finds something unexpected and rather off-beat. Having downed a bag of popcorn, we were getting thirsty and one doesn't drive the highways without a decent cold beverage within reach. So we stopped at the Whataburger in Kilgore, Texas, along the I-20, to fill-up, sorta speak. There, we were pleasantly surprised to find a shrine to 50s and 60s music and a memorial to the Beatles within the restaurant. Who knew?



With another eight hour drive under our belts in Dianna's little white Rogue, or as I like to refer to it...the Pill.... because after being crammed into it for eight hours...you are in no mood (or shape) for intimate relations with your loved one. The trip was also complicated by her Garmin NUVI GPS named "Jack". I had recently updated Jack for the trip with the latest map of the south and southeastern states. Unfortunately, Jack must have gotten a case of electronic dementia in that, once in Louisiana, Jack decided we needed to follow some two-lane farm road instead of the more popular (and much faster speed limited) I-49, which is the traditional route, which would lead us to the I-10 and ultimately the Lake Pontchartrain causeway and New Orleans. Imagine my frustration when every effort on my part to derail Jack's evil plan kept deviating us off I-49. Ultimately, I was forced to disconnect Jack and, like Jim Lovell on Apollo 13, fly (well...drive) by the seat of my pants until we got onto the I-10 when a rebooted Jack returned to his senses and we breathed a joint sigh of relief as we successfully entered the rain-soaked causeway into New Orleans.

Our trip on the Carnival Dream begins in New Orleans. I decided to try a different track with accommodations on the West Bank of New Orleans and found the Holiday Inn Tower West Bank in the town of Gretna, Louisiana. I wanted to try another cool boutique hotel in the Warehouse District off Canal St. but Dianna nixed that idea. She has been on an anti-bedbug kick since learning of the increased presence of the pestilence in America. So I had to upgrade us to a mainstream (horror of horrors) hotel and the corresponding higher nightly rates they provide. The Holiday Inn was a good compromise and turned out to be a really nice room and facility.

On our arrival, we (well...I) were ravenously hungry. With only an early morning pancake breakfast at a Cracker Barrel in  Mesquite, Texas at the confluence of the US 80 and the LBJ (I-635) and a bag of leftover popcorn from the Angelika Theatre in Plano, Texas (they only use Orville Reddenbacher), we decided on the hotel restaurant (yes...we violated an inviolate tenant of our travel manual but we were famished). As it turned out...I can report the "Round House Bar and Grille" had great food and drinks. I had (what I get whenever I'm in NOLA) the red beans, rice and sausage, Dianna, interestingly, had the beans, rice and pork chops. Very flavorful and the corn bread was fresh and moist too. The Sangria wines were well done but a little pricy for my tastes (Ok....as we all know...I'm the cheap one). The room was well appointed and we were well up in the tower and had a really nice view of the bridges and some of downtown New Orleans. One of the best comfortable beds we've had in a hotel.

I should mention that as we mounted the Crescent City Connection (CCC), formerly the Greater New Orleans Bridge (GNO), beautiful twin cantilever bridges, to ford the mighty Mississippi to get to the West Bank, Dianna commented on the sharp angles of a large, imposing grey building just below us by Toupultapas Street. The light suddenly went on when I realized it was the much vaunted National World War II Museum. I had read about the museum, which had recently been expanded to include the other theaters of combat from it's original D-Day exhibits. I had always intended to visit said museum but we had not had the time (or presence of mind) to take it in on prior visits. Well....we were going to fix that this time, it was Saturday and too late to go but it was open at nine on Sunday and we didn't have to be on the boat until three p.m.

So, after assembling our stuff from the Holiday Inn (in anticipation of the gauntlet we would endure at the cruise registration and boarding), a quick breakfast at IHOP (yes Nicole and Tameka, we did not go to any cool local breakfast hangouts), we set the GPS for the 2.5 mile trip back across the bridge and right to the WWII Museum parking lot to begin a visit to one of the best military museums I've had the privilege of attending.

When we signed up for membership (think taxes, taxes, taxes), the volunteer told me that the Museum had been there for 20 years. I was surprised to hear it was a privately funded Museum but had recently partnered with the Smithsonian to get some of their war related stuff. Before that, it was mostly dedicated to D-Day because of the  Higgins Boats the allies used for beach landings throughout the war. Higgins Boats were a product of Higgins Industries right here in New Orleans. Andrew Jackson Higgins was a good ol' boy from the bayou who made a living turning out shallow draft boats for mostly the local fishermen and some commercial boats for the oil and gas boys.

Mr. Higgins was a devout patriot and when he heard of the need for shallow draft assault boats, went to  the military and pitched his plans for an all wood shallow draft flat bottom boat that could haul men and equipment to a beach, back up, return to a ship and bring more stuff back. His simple design was a hit with the military desperate for a quick, easy (and cheap) solution to their problem and the LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) was born. They ordered Higgins boats by the thousands and most were made by the the 30,000 workers of Higgins Industries, local men, women and minorities throughout Louisiana. At one time, Higgins was the the largest employer on the Gulf Coast at that time. Even Hitler grudgingly admired Higgins referring to him as the “new Noah” of ship builders (take that Russell Crowe!). 

In 2000, the museum was conceived by the late Dr. Stephen Ambrose. The founder of The National WWII Museum spent decades researching and writing about the war, Eisenhower and D-Day. As he collected more than 2,000 oral histories from D-Day veterans, he realized that the United States had no museum to honor these men and women and the people on the Home Front who made our victory in World War possible so a decision had been made to expand the Museum to include other theaters of war and to explain the war from start to finish.

The museum has been continuously expanding and in 2006, the E. J. Ourso Discovery Hall was completed. In November 2009, they celebrated the grand opening of the Solomon Victory Theater, Stage Door Canteen entertainment venue and the American Sector restaurant. In June 2011 they opened the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, which allows visitors a behind-the-scenes look at volunteers and staff restoring World War II artifacts, such as boats and vehicles. By 2012, they had completed upgrading the original building and expanded into three more buildings west of the main building.

One is the The US Freedom Pavillion sponsored by the Boeing Aircraft Company. It has a pretty impressive display of five aircraft hanging from the ceiling ala the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA we visited when we were in DC and a movie theater with a video documentary of a war patrol of the submarine the USS Tang.  This too, involved raised walkways high enough to stand above and level with the aircraft. Not good for the faint-hearted but for airplane fanatics like myself, way cool. And it happened to have my favorite WWII airplanes, a B-17, P-51 Mustang, F4U Corsair, the SBD Dauntless Dive bomber (like the one Bush senior flew) and a B-25.





The Boeing built B-17E, “My Gal Sal,” was particularly interesting in that it was a recovered and restored aircraft from a forced landing in Greenland in June 1942. The crew was ferrying it to England when weather forced it down to a Captain Sully-style belly landing on the ice. Everyone survived the landing but the crew was unable to make radio contact because they needed the generator on the #4 starboard outboard engine (the one on the far right wing) to run the system. Luckily they had a hand hack-saw and they took turns cutting off the three blades of the Hamilton-Standard prop (found and on display) and were able to light up the Pratt and Whitney radial engine, spin the generator and get their distress call out to searchers. Once found, a naval team took on the perilous task of landing on the ice shelf, hiked in several miles, met the crew and guided them to their ship and safety. Amazing.


Many years later, a wealthy aircraft collector, Bob Ready, decided to resurrect the B-17 from the ice and snow and restore it to honor the crew and their accomplishments. Recovered in 1995, the plane was disassembled and brought back to America. Restoration was begun in 2000 by an all volunteer crew to complete the restoration. Originally for display at the Blue Ash Airport in Cincinnati, Ohio, when that airport was closed, the aircraft was offered up to the WWII Museum who gladly appropriately hung it in the Boeing sponsored pavilion in 2012.
Server and sandwich



Certainly not enough time to see it all, we did have time to take in the American Sector Restaurant and Soda Shop. Chef John Besh created an expansive restaurant which recalled the Hollywood USO canteens during the 40's. Lots of photos of Hollywood icons like Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Bette Davis, and John Garfield as well as the servicemen and women who frequented the USO canteens set up around the world. I had the Cobb Salad and Dianna had the best Monte Cristo sandwich I've had the pleasure of tasting. She also scored one of the cool kid lunch boxes you can get with a kid meal or buy separately.

As we sadly left the Museum, came the first crisis of our trip.....the missing pillow. Apparently, in our preparations to leave the hotel, somebody....well Dianna.....left her multi-million dollar special ISO-COOL pillow which she must have to sleep. I think there were only five made in the entire world so they're very rare and special...or so I'm told. Thus as I plugged in the coordinates for the embarkation dock (yeah, I know it was only like two blocks away but the technology screams out to be used), Dianna pierced the morning mist with the dreaded words, “ Did you grab my pillow when we left the room?” With that “deer in the headlights” look all husbands display at stressful times like this, I responded, “What pillow?.” My wife has had 39 years to reflect on the fact I hate to back track while traveling. It goes against every fiber of my being to think we may lose precious seconds, feet, virtual inches toward our goal (thus the over-dependence on things like GPS). Let's face it...life is a race and I hate coming in second (although...in retrospect...an outsider looking in might surmise that has been the story of my life). Yet, mustering up all my will I said, “Ok, lets go get it.” Then came the typical wife response....ok, all together guys, “No...it's ok, I don't need it, I'll be ok.”

I must point out that uttering those words too has been a constant throughout our 39 years of marriage. Now, all of us guys have been trained from birth to be on guard against this situation and we have braced ourselves to do the following: Above all else gentlemen.... know this is a test! Like a weapon failure drill you must respond confidently, quickly and correctly the first time so you can clear that stovepipe and return fire.

Small muscle memory took over and years of practiced skill forced the words from my mouth, before I knew it, I was saying, “No...we can go back and get it.” A brightness washed over her face (I discretely scratched a husband “point” into the dash) as she pulled out her cellphone (really not much of a reach....she's constantly photographing everything that moves and some that don't) and dialed up the hotel. As we climbed back over the Crescent City Connection bridge a third time, we both rejoiced as the desk clerk reported on speaker phone that housekeeping had retrieved the pillow from the room and it would be waiting at the front desk on our return. Doing my best Paul Walker imitation (Fast and Furious 6...yeah, that one), drifting in sideways, blue tire smoke bursting from our sidewalls, Dianna lept from the car before we had come to a complete halt, ran in and retrieved her beloved pillow. The universe was whole again, now....we could start our adventure.


Back over the bridge with our ship the Carnival Dream idling at dockside below us, we entered the part of cruising I dread the most...check-in. Of course, not our first rodeo (had to say that because we live in Texas) so we have a program like many other hard-core cruisers. With practiced aplomb, with passports, picture ID (yeah,weird, they don't consider a passport as picture ID...who knew?) and boarding passes in hand, we navigate the Disney-style chicane to disgorge all our vital statistics and entire financial history to the smiling 20-something female agent and face all those tough questions like, “Have you had a major illness recently or feel sick today?” Or the ever-entertaining, “Did you pack your own luggage or has anyone asked you to bring anything on for them?”  Good lord, I think we can all guess what the answers to those might be.

Lido (Pool) Deck Nighttime Movies
But once clear of the metal detectors (currently being a security professional with walk-thru metal detector experience....there were several folks who “beeped” **four or more stars**  see Ciea WTMD who nobody stopped, walked back through or wanded), and leaving behind the gentle hum of the Smith-Heimanns x-ray machine, we strutted our way onto the gangway and the brightly colored drink-of-the-day. Once our bags made it to the room and Dianna unloaded their entire cargo into the closets and drawers (can you hear the beeps of the forklifts in the background? I, on the other hand, always prepared for a Titanic event or terrorist take-over...hey, I've seen all the movies...live out of my bag) the party could truly begin.