Saturday, March 16, 2019

Mid Winter Escape to Mexico

I was so busy recovering from the January of Hacking and Project February that I never wrote about our mid-winter cruise to Mexico. It was a trip that grew from us and another couple to a group of ten. Now on any other kind of trip, I'd say ten is far too many. Too many to get seated in a restaurant without reservations, too many to even get a consensus on where to eat. Plus in a group that size, you can just about bet at any given time someone won't be happy.

All of which makes a cruise the best option for a large group of people. You hate the stand-up comedian? Go hear some music instead. You're too tired to go to the show after dinner? Go to your cabin and read a book. You've had enough of being sociable (where are my introverts?) find a quiet corner and people watch. And the same principles apply in port. If everyone's going shopping and you want to snorkel, you can do that. Every person could actually do a different activity during the day and end up back at dinner together to share their experiences.

Did you miss last year's girls' trip? 

Girls Gone Mild: who knew we liked rap? 

Emotional Outbursts and Strip Karaoke

First Time for Everything List 

Here are this year's highlights: 

Train to NOLA: This is one of the things we love about this trip. Yes, you have to get up at the crack of dawn but once you are on the train you can relax and start your vacation. It has the added benefit of not having to drive or park a car in the Big Easy. 

Evening in the Quarter: 

Consulting an app to find a restaurant is a waste of time. The standards for food are exceptionally high and in 33 years of travel, we have literally never had a bad meal. A restaurant putting out subpar food just isn't going to make it. We have a few places that have been our favorites over the years but we also have great success just walking around and trying new places. Honestly, you can't go wrong. Some of our old standbys have been: Red Fish GrillAcme Oyster House, Menas Palace, 21st Ammendment, and the Bombay Club.

But on this trip, we stumbled upon The Governor, which was awesome and I took the ladies to one of my and my daughter's favorites, Maison Soule the next morning for breakfast. Bottomless mimosas? Yes, please. 

Sailing Day: 

Well done, Carnival! The most seamless and hassle free check-in and embarkation ever! I had that one burger I let myself have every year from Guy Fieri's as we set sail and watched the skyline fade into the distance. It's a fascinating ride down the river to the gulf that takes about five hours. You see things from the ship that it's impossible to see any other way like the Domino Sugar Plant.

Day at Sea: 

Sailing across the Gulf of Mexico means a whole day for relaxing, touring the ship, and doing whatever fun activities are going on. This night is also dress up night and it's fun to see everyone decked out in their finest. It's a people watching extravaganza!


This was a day of shopping, eating, and drinking. Mostly shopping. You have to love a place where when you are shopping they offer you shots of tequila. I mean that's a brilliant business model. And very effective if my last Visa bill is any indication. 


More eating and drinking. Then massages on the beach. If you'd told me I'd ever be laying face up on a public beach in my bra I'd have called you a liar.

Day at Sea:

This was the day I had so much fun dancing on the deck my feet caught on fire. Okay, let me explain. The music in the club every night had been abysmal so no one had hit the dance floor. So on deck when they bust out the Cuban shuffle and YMCA my friends and I were all over it. Now I did notice my feet felt kind of hot. And as I looked around I made a mental note that everyone else had on flip flops. When I sat down my feet still felt really hot so I looked at the bottoms of them. Blisters. Big ones. And red burn marks.

Cue This Girl is On Fire. 

My husband went to the infirmary to get me some medication to put on them which helped but I walked like I was 110 the rest of the day. Moral of the story: put some dang shoes on when dancing on a sun hot surface.

The train ride home: I love Amtrak's little roomettes. It's perfect for when you aren't going far enough to get a real sleeper car, but need a door that closes because you're an introvert and have far exceeded your social interaction quotient for the week.

This week is the ten year anniversary of the most magical trip I've ever taken. Read about my first visit to Italy: Why I Always Celebrate the Ides of March. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Making the Most of Your Camera's Phone While Traveling

Are you old enough you remember people inviting your parents over to see their vacation photos on a slide projector? Doesn't that sound like a fun evening? Complain all you want about social media, its invention has saved all future generations from having to keep from falling asleep in the dark while a neighbor explains some unfunny thing that happened to him and his wife at Niagara Falls.


I love taking photos of all kinds but left my good camera at home for a recent trip to Pensacola. That old photographer's axiom about the best camera being the one you have with you proved true. You can still get quality artistic photos with your phone. Here are my best efforts last week on my iPhone 7.

...and yes, were plenty of silly shots on the beach with friends but I'm guessing they look just like yours. The top photo is of a friend in the distance picking up seashells. Every beach photo doesn't have to be at sunset with smiling faces. This photo actually captures our friend's personality quite well. 

Experiment with close up... 

 ...and far away. 

 Look for beauty in the details. 

Try black and white for dramatic images.  

 Capture the theme of beach week with something other than feet in the sand.

The best thing you can do to improve your photos is to study photos in magazines that feature the kind of pictures you most want to take. Looking at great photographs will teach you about composition and inspire you to try new things. Bad angles and composition won't be undone with even the most expensive equipment. 

Happy photo taking! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

King Street Station Seattle


We went to sleep to this.

And woke up to this.

This trip made me add a couple of new goals to my bucket list.

1. Visit all the really beautiful train stations.

2. Visit all the tallest buildings especially those with glass floors.

3. Take all of the great train trips.

If you missed the beautiful Union Station you can read about it here.  While I had heard of Union Station I had no idea what the Seattle train depot would look like.

Y'all. It was the one time on the trip I was mad at myself for not having my real camera with me. 

We arrived at King Street Station  on time in the morning ready to begin our fun stay in Seattle.

I had a little trouble getting out of the train station. 

This station was built between 1904 and 1906. It was designed by the firm of Charles A. Reed and Allen H. Stem, the who also worked on designing Grand Central Station. 

seattle train station

I really need for somebody to get married on that balcony!

seattle train station

Like many other cities Seattle allowed the building to fall into disrepair as air travel replaced train travel after WWII. But more recently they had the foresight to do a proper restoration which was completed in 2013.

seattle train station

I'm a pushover for giant clocks.

seattle train depot

And fancy ceilings like these ornate coffered architectural gems. Can you believe that during the sixties there was actually an ugly drop ceiling of nasty acoustical tile covering these? I'd like to see the guy who suggested that idea. 

seattle train station

Beautiful details everywhere.

seattle train depot

Check out the beautiful green and gold iridescent glass tile border and the elaborate plaster rosettes on the ceiling.

seattle train station

Don't forget to look at the floors if you pass through this fantastic building!

seattle travel

You just can't go wrong with classic black and white mosaic.

seattle architecture

Need a closer look?

king street station

Or a wider one?

seattle architecture

I mean, I told you I had trouble getting out of here. So many details to take in.

king street station

The entire building is a little jewel box of incredible workmanship.

seattle architecture

Yeah, so in Memphis, we tore down our beautiful old train station and built a hideous post office. Our leaders are all cool like that. 

seattle architecture

Kudos to Seattle's city leaders for having a vision of what could be.


I thought the tower looked familiar when I finally made it outside. It's based on the tower of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. It was the tallest building in Seattle when it was constructed.

seattle architecture

We finally made it out of the train station and to our hotel! If you are in Seattle don't miss this gorgeous building. You can visit for free and there's no line!

Next up: Pike's Market, Space Needle and Chihuly Gardens, and the Underground Tour.

Happy Travels, Y'all! 


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

West to Seattle Aboard the Empire Builder

The train left Chicago on time headed north before turning west sometime during the night. Read about the ride from Memphis to Chicago here. While my husband napped I pressed my face against the window of our sleeper car to catch glimpse after glimpse of idyllic farms flashing by. Red barns with stone foundations. Windmills. Authentic farmhouses not "farmhouse style" wannabe mid-century ranch houses. The scenery was plucked from every vintage children's book about life on a farm. I was enchanted.

Our steward (ess?) Erika came by to introduce herself and give us all the information about meals, bed set-up, etc. She offered to bring us meals in our room if we didn't want to eat with anyone else. Just so you know table sharing is classic train procedure. I mean it's how Eva Marie Saint meets Cary Grant in North by Norwest! We did eat in our room the first night but it was a lot of trouble finding room to put all the plates and glasses on our tiny table, so after that we went to the dining car.

I stepped off the train in Milwaukee so I could say I'd been to Wisconsin.

The thing about traveling by rail is that you see the backside of cities. The original and oldest parts before highways made every landscape everywhere about Walmart and Home Depot.

After dinner, we played cards, something we never do at home, mainly because we don't know any card games. We worked at poker which doesn't make much sense without betting, but resorted to kid games like War and Crazy Eights. It got dark early so far north so we called in a night around 9:00. It felt luxurious to have our own sink.

The oddest thing about the sleeper car is that the toilet and shower are a combo. When I first checked this out I thought "I won't be taking a shower in there." But I did. Four times. The first time while we were rambling through rural Wisconsin I disrobed and asked my husband if he thought we should close the curtains. "What? We're in the middle of nowhere." Just as I was stepping into the shower we passed a crossing with several pick up trucks stopped at the crossing. After dark with our room all lit up all I could do was hope the train was moving fast enough for me to be a blur. Otherwise, I can only hope no one was scarred for life. 

Then while I was in the shower the train lurched to one side and the door flew open while I screamed and grabbed it with my hand...the same one I was holding the shower head with spraying water everywhere. I'm sure the other travelers wondered what all the shrieking and laughing was about. I was personally rewriting The Girl on the Train as a slapstick comedy. 

Guess who's in the top bunk again. But I got a ladder this time!

I slept surprisingly well and we had breakfast with a German man who'd been living in Wisconsin for four decades. Over our meal of pancakes and bacon, he told us about his work promoting insects as food. He'd been around the world speaking on the topic and had written a paper with a title so scholarly I still couldn't remember it after asking him to repeat it three times. Something about edible insects and industry in Tanzania. It was all fascinating but I couldn't help but notice how much he was enjoying the eggs and toast.

 The landscape droned on through North Dakota in brown and blue. Mile after mile we looked for trees or any kind of break in the landscape.

Farms were far between and the lives of the people living on them seemed isolated and depressing. I imagined that the antidepressant medications and alcohol consumption rates were high. While ND isn't in the top ten for depression it is indeed ranked as the drunkest state with the most alcohol-related driving deaths.

It looks pretty in these pictures and at some points, I was startled by the stark beauty. The ability to see so far and so much sky certainly had a nagging appeal. But but when we saw any sign of civilization it was so far from anything. It was all so Lonesome Dove but mostly just looked lonesome.

I was told later by a fellow traveler that while people from east of the Mississippi think this looks desolate that folks from here feel a bit claustrophobic in landscapes hemmed in by trees. People are fascinating, aren't they? 

   To us it was vast and bleak even on a sunny day.

As we traveled farther west we began to see not just isolated farms but abandoned ones. Collapsing barns and houses where people had plainly just packed up one day and left. I filled my time looking out the window imagining what happened to them. Check out all the pics of abandoned ND houses on Google. In one field a couple of miles from anything resembling a structure sat a Model T rusting away. It's a strange thing to see modern ruins. We passed a ghost town where there was a street of buildings without one patch of paint to be found. I thought about the wind howling through those lonely buildings in winter. Snow falling through the cracks. My imagination swirled.

Inside the train, we struck up conversations, Train travel forces connection. We ate lunch with a quiet man and dinner with a chatty man who was a retired librarian and his wife, a doctor in Missoula. He had the answers to many of our questions. The government had given people land to get them to move here and some of them had made it for a time but it was too harsh and hard to make a go of it. That's what had happened at those abandoned houses we saw. People gave up and moved on. While this wasn't the area affected by the Dust Bowl it was obvious that the Depression was what finally drove people out.

At one stop, border patrol agents strolled through the train asking people how they were enjoying their trip. Just as the sun began to set we saw the mountains in the distance. We'd be going through Glacier National Park overnight. That's the one thing I'd recommend about this trip. Fly to Seattle and do it in the opposite direction. But I have to confess I gained a more complete understanding of just how vast this country is on this journey.

We bedded down the second night winding through the mountains and on the second floor of the sleeper car in the top bunk I felt every twist and turn. I had an apprehensive moment where I realized that if the train derailed upside down I'd be in the worst situation. I talked myself down off that fearful ledge and fell asleep dreaming of mountain streams and misty landscapes.

The next day: Seattle!

Happy travels, Y'all!

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