THEY SAY YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN…THE WINDOW TO MY SOUL

Recently, I had the good fortune of going back to the state where I grew up in New England, having been recently “fully vaccinated.” It was the first time that I had been on a plane in well over a year, and it felt great to “freely move about the cabin” again. I needed to feel and smell that New England spring air on my face, visit with beloved family and friends, and eat the wonderful foods that I grew up with. Mostly, though, I longed to visit two friends who had become seriously ill during the pandemic. One has cancer, and one is going back on the lung re-transplant list shortly. I was only able to travel the journey with them through telephone calls and emails this year due to the pandemic but longed to hug them and make a new memory with them as well.

I grew up in the land where lilacs bloom in spring and where I wove crowns of forsythia in my hair while playing outside for hours as a young child.

Photo by u041cu0430u0440u0438u044f u0412u043eu0441u043au0440u0435u0441u0435u043du0441u043au0430u044f on Pexels.com

It is the land where you can travel among fields of daffodils in the spring that take your breath away and remind me of my mother watching and waiting through the window with me for the very first daffodil to pop up through the spring ground to unfold its leaves and flowers with all its glory and infinite possibilities. It is the land where tulips grow in time for Easter, too, and crocuses pop up through patches of snow. It is the land where pansies laugh at the spring snow while stretching their faces toward the warmth of the sun. It is the land where the rocky shore meets the cool ocean water. It is the land where the colonists came for religious freedom.

Photo by Matu Bil on Pexels.com

It has been said that you can’t go home again, that time changes things so much that all is far too different since you’ve left to still be home. However, my home state is the place where my parents are buried, where I met my husband, and where I shared my first kiss. It is the place where I was married and where my daughter was born. It is the place that smells like all the bread we broke with our beloved relatives on the holidays, as there is a bakery on many a corner. It is the place of party pizza and spinach pies. It is the place of wieners and saugys. It is the place where I learned to walk and went to school. It is where I picked mulberries with my cousin and climbed trees on the way home from school. It is where I skinned my knees (a lot). It is where I learned to ride a bike and get back up when I fell. It is the place where most of my relatives live still. It is the place where I learned to be me. It is the place of old friendships and good times. It is the place where leaves crunched beneath my feet on a cool October afternoon, and where I jumped into the pile of leaves that my father raked in the yard. It is the place where the cycle of life is so clearly evident; the summer brings the autumn, and the autumn brings the winter’s dormancy. It is where the coldest winter day gives rise to the promise of new life again in the spring season. Time marches on, yet somehow it stands still.

As my plane was landing at the airport, it struck me so very clearly. They say you can’t go home again, but I disagree. The places may be different, and the businesses have different names, but I can ALWAYS go home again, for “home” lives in my soul. I can ALWAYS go home again, if only in my heart. “HOME” is where the heart is, after all.

Life is good; carpe diem, friends…

FOCUS ON THE BRIDGE

Today, I wanted to share something that I read which inspired me, especially during this difficult time for our country and world during the pandemic.

“Rather than focusing on the obstacle in your path, focus on the bridge over the obstacle.”
-Mary Lou Retton, Olympic Gymnastic Gold medalist, who also won two silver medals and two bronze medals in 1984

Life is good; find that bridge somehow somewhere today. Carpe Diem, friends.

THOUGHTS ABOUT LUGGAGE WITH SOME LUGGAGE REVIEWS

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It has been said that Yogi Berra, the late New York Yankees professional baseball player, once said, “Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.” I can honestly say I have had more luggage issues than I can even begin to tell you during my lifetime. There was that time in Brussels when the wheels on my luggage splayed to the sides while I was schlepping my luggage across the train station to the track on the complete other side of the building and had to drag it with all my might. By the stagger of my gait, one might have assumed I had a cadaver inside, as the luggage appeared to be THAT heavy. There was that time in Paris when I was much younger when my French boutique hotel had a two-person, antiquated, elevator and a stairway to the second floor. Rather than waiting for the elevator to take the waiting crowd two by two to the second floor, I schlepped my luggage up the stairs by myself only to have the handle rip off in the journey. There was also that time in Ireland when the skies opened up with rain immediately after the plane landed, and my things got soaked inside my luggage. And finally there was the time on my way to Bora Bora that I TEMPORARILY threw my unopened can of pineapple flavored seltzer into the side pocket of my luggage rather than discard it before I got to the airport. It was much later that I realized with a chuckle that I never took that can out of my bag when I smelled the faint yet pleasant scent of an exploded can of pineapple seltzer when picking up my luggage from the luggage carousel. That pineapple scent set the scene for my tropical isle trip, and I think of that beautiful blue water each and every time I drink that particular seltzer.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

I have gone through more luggage than I can describe through the years, too, including that brand featured on television years ago where the gorilla jumps upon it and hurls it about the room without any damage. I’ll just say that they must have a few gorillas working for the airlines in some cities, because I SWEAR that the very same gorilla in those old television commercials has jumped on my luggage time and time again. I have checked in brand new luggage at the airport only to see that it has been stained, gouged, dented, or otherwise defaced in some way when I arrive at the luggage carousel to retrieve it after my trip. The ONLY thing that has NOT happened to my luggage, in fact, is that it has never been the recipient of spray paint to become some artist’s palette on any of my trips. EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING else has happened to my luggage in one way or another through the years.

I have purchased light-weight luggage in order to pack more stuff inside for international trips, but the luggage wheels couldn’t hold up to my hefty packing. It is always a question in my mind time and time again whether it is better to spend a lot of money on luggage that presumably will last a long time or whether it is better to spend as little money on luggage as possible, treating it as more of a consumable, disposable item.

If you are thinking of taking your first trip during the post-vaccine phase of the pandemic this year, you might want to invest in some chic new luggage for your big, long-awaited trip. Rather than dish out some well-earned dollars without any thought, you might wish to consult some luggage reviews below:

https://www.travelandleisure.com/style/travel-bags/best-luggage-brands

https://www.businessinsider.com/best-luggage#rimowa-4

https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/luggage/buying-guide/index.htm

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/travel-products/g26898407/best-luggage-brands/

With a little tongue in cheek I am reminded of my version of a variation of an old poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson about love…

“It is better to have loved and lost (my luggage) than to have never loved (my luggage) at all!” It’s my way of reminding myself, albeit tongue in cheek, of how lucky I am to have had so many wonderful experiences while traveling the world with so many more experiences still in front of me in the future, now that the world (as well as myself) has become fully vaccinated.

What is your favorite brand of luggage and do you prefer to spend a little or a lot of money on it?

The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.

Mark Russell

What IS The Current Story With Traveling In the US After Having The Covid Vaccine?

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According to Our World in Data, as of March 24, 2021, approximately twenty-six percent of the United States population has had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, and approximately fourteen point three percent of the United States population is “fully vaccinated”.  Now that more people here have gotten the vaccine recently, those that have been staying inside or socially distancing themselves from others have begun to get “wanderlust” it seems.  According to Google, on-line searches for “vaccine travel” and “2021 travel”, along with searches for “cruises”, “hotels”, and “flights”, have gone up significantly within the last three months according to an article by Matthew Speak from TravelPulse entitled “What Travelers Are Thinking Right Now, According to Google” (March 4, 2021).  It seems, that there is “pent up demand” for travel, at least in the United States.

What IS the real story about travel now that the vaccine is getting underway in greater number for Americans?  Make no mistake, the CDC really doesn’t want Americans to travel domestically or internationally at pre-pandemic numbers just yet and requests that Americans travel “only if they must”.  In fact, the CDC requirement from January 26, 2021 that all air passengers aged two and older must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test that’s no more than 72 hours old (or documentation of Covid recovery) to enter the United States still holds true, even for fully vaccinated travelers, according to my telephone call today tot he CDC help line.  Vaccination hasn’t been proven to guard against TRANSMISSION of the virus, they maintain, so even vaccinated travelers must follow these rules for entry (or re-entry) into the United States.  Travelers also must wear masks and socially distance in public as well.  While asymptomatic people who have received the vaccine no longer need to quarantine after travel abroad in general (unless local state restrictions still require this), it is suggested that they refrain from travel until after 14 days after receiving their last vaccine dose. The CDC further says that once you are fully vaccinated, you CAN gather INDOORS with other fully vaccinated people without a mask, however.  Of course, symptomatic people who have gotten the vaccine need to quarantine, however.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

One last thing to keep in mind while traveling in the United States during the pandemic right now is that all travelers over two years old (except those who have disabilities that preclude mask wearing) utilizing public transportation in the United States must use face masks over the mouth and nose on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares, and inside airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports since on February 2, 2021.


Life is good; carpe diem, friends….

COUNTRIES THAT ARE OPEN TO COVID VACCINATED TRAVELERS

Travelers who are fully vaccinated with covid vaccines have more options lately. The following article (from March 23, 2001) discusses which countries are open for travel to fully vaccinated travelers in case you have wanderlust and have spent the past year planning THAT big vacation during lockdown.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
-Confucius

https://www.afar.com/magazine/travelers-with-covid-vaccines-can-visit-these-countries

Life is short; carpe diem, friends…….

“A LITTLE SLICE OF NORMAL”

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One of my best friends and I have a little saying that helps us to deal with life’s ups and downs from time to time. The saying is that one needs a “little slice of normal” when the chips are down, much like one “needs” a slice of cake from time to time. When one of is is having difficulty with something, such as someone we love in the hospital, an accident, or some other sad and unforeseen event, we go to lunch and have “a little slice of normal.” That “little slice of normal” means something different to each of us, but for my dear friend a “little slice of normal” is a manicure, pedicure or a trip to the beach, no matter what season. For me a “little slice of normal” might be some ice cream and a movie, a cup of herbal tea, or a hike in the woods. That “little slice of normal” represents something that give us peace and is something we often do normally. That “little slice of normal” gives us a sense of perspective that life will go on somehow, as the routine of the “little slice of normal” somehow gives us comfort that some things stay the same. A “little slice of normal” is something that speaks to our soul somehow. It is not an indulgence, but it is rather something ordinary that we frequently do. For some people it might be a run on the beach, and for others it might be a few laps of swimming. For others it might be breaking bread with your family, and for others it might be curling up with a good book in a comfy chair.

Today I am thinking about this same best friend from my youth, who just finished her chemotherapy for breast cancer recently and then had her last radiation treatment yesterday. I can’t celebrate with her in person because of the quarantine associated with flying to where she is, but I just spoke with her on the phone this afternoon. As I suspected, she is out having lunch with her daughter, along with a “little slice of normal” today.

Life somehow goes on……despite the little AND big bumps along the way.

Life is good; carpe diem, friends………….

A DAY TRIP TO WINTER GARDEN, FL AND “KINDNESS AFFECTS MORE THAN SEVERITY”

Tile mosaic fountain in Winter Garden downtown

Yesterday had been a perfect day in every way. I had the good fortune of spending the day on a road trip to Winter Garden, Florida with my family. Although it is early March when the temperatures typically rise here in Florida, the weather yesterday was sunny but cool. I love the cooler weather and was so grateful that it is here a little longer before the hot summer heat arrives, and the trees were dotted with bright spring green buds everywhere. I couldn’t help but notice how cool it was outside the car, and I needed a jacket. Yet, inside the car in the sun, I took my jacket off.

We at lunch outside at a PERFECT French cafe where the croissants were as good as those I have had in France. The other food was delicious as well and beautifully plated with an abundance of eye-appealing color everywhere.

Rosallie Cafe,  141 W Plant St, Winter Garden, FL
croissants, Madeleines, and other desserts inside Rosallie’s Cafe

We bumped unexpectedly into the town center with a pergola covered by what appears to be wisteria surrounding a beautiful tiled mosaic fountain and some swings hanging on the pergola. What an unexpected whimsical surprise.

And speaking of whimsy, we came to Winter Garden originally to start our search for some painted murals in and around Orlando, which are perfect backdrops for fun photo ops. One can squat and sit against the wall in this mural on the corner of South Boyd Street and Plant Street in order to appear to be sitting on this whimsical swing. Whimsy is always good, in my opinion. What a great way to start the day with more whimsy!

mural at the corner of South Boyd Street and Plant Street

After our little day trip, when I returned home, I was riding my bike later in the cold evening when I remembered one of my favorite Aesop’s Fables for some reason. I may have thought of the fable because of the cold day and how I had to take my jacket off and put it on all day long. It is the fable about the sun and the wind disputing who was stronger. They decide to have a little competition with a traveler walking along the road to see who could make the traveler take off his cloak first. The one who caused the traveler to take off his cloak would be regarded as the stronger of the two, they decided. The wind blew and blew relentlessly as strong and hard as it could, but this caused the traveler to wrap his coat around him instead of taking it off. The sun began to shine afterwards, providing a gentle persuasion somehow to the traveler to shed his coat soon, as the traveler found it too hot to walk with his coat on. It was a situation of pleasant warmth after bitter cold. It was a case of persuasion being better than force. It was a case of an impetuous wind versus a diplomatic sun. It was a case of gentleness versus force. However, it is now and always is truly a case of how kindness affects more than severity.

Life is good; find and show kindness whenever and wherever you can. Carpe diem, friends….

THE WONDERS OF WAITOMO CAVES: BUCKET LIST TRAVEL ITEM

blackwater rafting in the Waitomo Cave

Wanderlust during the pandemic? Are you compiling your travel bucket list during the travel restrictions? Starting January 26, 2021, all air passengers aged two and older must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test that’s no more than 72 hours old to enter the United States. Travel abroad is possible but needs forethought. I am looking forward to the day on the horizon when we are free to easily move about the world again soon. This makes international travel a little trickier, but we still can dream about where to go once things settle down a bit during the pandemic. But that means you have some time to consider some place magical, like the wonders of Waitomo in New Zealand.

Waitomo is a village in the north Island of New Zealand. It is here that a species of glowworms, Arachnocampa luminosa, lives within the complex cave system there. At Waitomo Glowworm Caves, you can walk through the caves to see the magical lights emitted by the glowworms, which appear almost as though they are from Neverland and are sprinkled with pixie dust everywhere. They also remind me of Christmas lights or constellations all about the cave. These caves are amazing and are breathtaking. Imagine walking through this place, or better yet, taking a boat ride through this enchanted cave. The boat tours here last about an hour, so remember to wear comfortable shoes and wear something warm, as the caves are about sixty degrees Fahrenheit year round. Prices for adults are about $40.00 USD for the weekend price, and about $18.00 USD for children. They also offer reduced weekday prices and family tickets, which are $74.00 USD for two adults and two children (ages 4-14). They charge about $11.00 for extra children, and children under 4 are free.

Taking a boat ride sounds great to me, but it is really the blackwater rafting that catches my eye. Blackwater rafting is like white water rafting but in the dark! Imagine floating around this cave on a tube with only the lights from the glowworms and your headlight leading your journey. Here you travel about 80 meters (262 feet) below ground, jump off a waterfall with a tube, and get started. Does this sound terrifying or exhilarating? Maybe both. Maybe that’s the point? What’s better than jumping off a waterfall and floating in the dark cave on a tube? A zip line, of course! One of these experiences also includes a zip line. The company offers several options for exploration, but the blackwater tours are either three hours or five hours long. What an incredible experience for a bucket list adventure. The website claims that both tours are appropriate for all levels of fitness; it seems that one only needs a certain lust for adventure.

The water temperature in the cave is around fifty degrees Fahrenheit, so the Waitomo Cave provides helmets with headlights, a thick wetsuit, and rubber boots with admission. The Black Labyrinth Tour adult prices are $109. USD and children’s (ages 12-15) prices are $93.00 USD. Week day admission prices are less. Showers are available after the trip, but bring your own shampoo, towel, and soap. Participants on this three hour tour must be at least 12 years old for this three hour tour.

The five hour Black Abyss Tour, which is more intense, requires participants to be at least 16 years old. This tour offers the zipline and costs $190 USD, although week day prices are also reduced.

Why not get out of your comfort zone to experience something really different soon? The website for the Waitomo is below for more information:

https://www.waitomo.com/glowworms-and-caves/waitomo-glowworm-caves

“Shine little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer
Shine little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer
Lead us lest too far we wander
Love’s sweet voice is calling yonder

Shine little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer
Hey, there don’t get dimmer, dimmer
Light the path below, above
And lead us on to love”

-from “The Glowworm” song by the Mills Brothers, 1953

Life is good; dream big. Take that trip in the near future. Go where you always have wanted to go SOON. Carpe diem, friends……….

*photos courtesy of the Waitomo Caves Facebook page

A NEWCOMER TO THE EXPEDITION CRUISE CIRCLE

iceberg in the Arctic, viewed from the ship

Adventures by Disney recently announced they will expand their offerings to include an expedition-type cruise to Antarctica and Patagonia as well as to Equador/The Galapagos Islands.

An expedition cruise is a cruise for those who crave adventure and travel to far away places. This is not an ordinary cruise with assorted excursions. Rather, this type of cruise is usually a smaller, more intimate ship which offers expeditions, or smaller intimate outings, often in zodiac boats. This is a cruise in which one needs boots, as you can often have a “wet landing” in which you get your feet wet while landing on the beach after you climb out of the zodiac before exploring the area. This type of cruise is full of experiences that offer adrenaline, off-the-beaten track, on-land experiences, often ecotourism, and usually on-board naturalists, who are often armed with a rifle in case of the appearance of an unexpected polar bear. These naturalists guide the small group expeditions and lead presentations about the flora, fauna, and geology of the area. These excursion staff naturalists are truly experts in their fields.

Sometimes there is no internet access onboard the ship for a while, as you may be in such remote places that don’t get internet service for a while (such as parts of the Arctic Circle). This lack of internet from time to time evokes feelings of being a true explore in a time long ago without any electronics to guide you. How exciting it is to think that people once ago navigated through these remote lands without any electronic GPS systems and relied on the stars to guide them.

Besides Adventures by Disney, some other major cruise lines offer expedition cruises such as Quark, Ponant, Linblad, Viking, National Geographic, Silversea Expeditions, Hurtigruten, Hapag-Lloyd, Aurora Expeditions, Seabourn, Scenic, and Crystal Expedition Cruises.

The sights on an expedition cruise take my breath away. This might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you, or you may be bitten by the exploration bug and travel on several ships instead. It is a journey like no other, however. I have known people that go several times on the same ship with the same operator to the same destination, as no trips are like one another in terms of wildlife encountered and experiences enjoyed.

Life is good; try to find an experience on an expedition cruise in which you are “unplugged” all week but plugged into the world around you.

Carpe diem, friends…

CRUISELINES THAT REQUIRE COVID VACCINATIONS OR PROOF OF COVID IMMUNITY UPDATE

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Saga Cruises recently announced they will require vaccines for all guests sailing in May, and now American Queen Steamboat Co. and Victory Cruise Lines will require guests to have been vaccinated prior to sailing on July 1 or after. These cruise lines have a high number of guests over 65, so they are trying to keep this population safe while cruising. Crystal Cruises will also require full vaccination, two weeks before sailing, for all passengers once operations resume for their company.

Beyond this, Norwegian Cruise Line and Regent Seven Seas is working to require their crew to get vaccinated before they resume operations. In addition, Royal Caribbean Group, which owns Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Silversea will seek to mandate vaccines for crew and staff prior to resuming operations, if possible, as well. I hope this helps to increase traffic on future cruises after the pandemic has hit the tourism sector so hard.

Life is good; start making plans for your bucket list destination once the travel restrictions are lifted and you can safely resume travel again. Carpe diem friends…