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….

GETAWAY AND UNWIND IN A TINY CABIN JUST HOURS AWAY FROM A MAJOR CITY

Tiny cabins are all the rage. There is something about this new “glamping” experience that speaks to the soul somehow, especially during the pandemic. Instagram-worthy and inexpensive, they are the perfect “getaway” from it all in order to unwind and soothe the soul. There is a company called “Getaway” that currently has tiny cabins in twelve cities, usually two to three hours away from major cities such as Atlanta, Austin/San Antonio, Boston, Charlotte/Raleigh, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh/Cleveland, Portland, and Washington, D.C.

The company advocates “unplugging” to “getaway”, and there isn’t even a television in the tiny cabin. What IS in the tiny cabin are several books to borrow while you are there, firewood, a campfire, a/c and heat, coffee makers, and a tiny kitchen stocked with pots, pans, dishes, and other supplies to make cooking a focus of your stay. They advocate packing light, as you can even buy some provisions, such as pasta and sauce, right in the cabin. Furthermore, the website offers many recipes for cooking in the firepit, too. The thought of breaking bread together with my family or sharing something we made over the fire in the middle of the woods where there is NOTHING to do but to relax and enjoy each other’s company sounds both delightful and inviting.

Along with the outdoor firepit with a grilling grate, there are outdoor chairs and a picnic table as well. The queen sized bed looks comfortable, and many of these cozy cabins have an additional queen bed in a loft above the other queen bed. The windows adjacent to the bed let in LOTS of light but have a shade for those who prefer to sleep within the darkness. There is enhanced covid cleaning protocol, and the housekeeping staff wears masks and gloves while cleaning the cabins two times longer than they normally do.

What I love about this company is the minimalist Scandinavian-inspired decor, private bathroom/shower within the cabin, complete with toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, and the idea that I can book on-line and receive the code to the locked door via email prior to my arrival. That means, in the days of the pandemic, there is no need to check-in at a front desk or speak to anyone at all. There is no pressure to social distance, as there is no need to speak to anyone at all. This could be JUST the remedy for the stresses of the pandemic and just the break you are looking for. In fact, the website says to:

  1. Book your escape.
  2. Sit back.
  3. Just Be.

The website also offers the following questions to get to know your friends and/or family a little better while at your Getaway tiny cabin (questions are taken from their website):

  • What is your favorite childhood memory?
  • If you could’ve been born anywhere else, where would you have wanted to grow up, and why?
  • What’s your go-to stress reliever?
  • What songs have you memorized?
  • If your life was a book or a movie, what would the title be, and why?
  • What song, movie, or book has meant the most to you, and why?
  • Describe your perfect weekend.
  • What is something you really want to learn, and why?
  • What is your favorite place that you’ve traveled to, and why?
  • If you could become bilingual in another language right now, what language would you choose?
  • Which if your friends or family do you look up to most?
  • What were some of your favorite hobbies when you were a kid, and what are your favorite hobbies now?
  • What’s your favorite city, and why?
  • Where is your favorite place in nature, and why?
  • What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?
  • What pets did you have when you were growing up?
  • What’s the most important element to strong friendships?
  • What’s something small that always makes your day better?
  • What food couldn’t you live without?
  • What’s your most-worn piece of clothing?
  • What’s the most impressive thing you know how to do?
  • What’s one question that you’d most like to know the answer to?
  • What’s something that you think everyone should do in their lives?
  • Who inspires you?
  • What are your favorite smells?
  • What’s something you’ll never do again?
  • What’s the most memorable gift you’ve received? What’s the most memorable gift that you’ve given?
  • What are you most grateful that your parents taught you?
  • What are your favorite and least favorite things about getting older?
  • What’s one responsibility you wish you didn’t have?
  • What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever received?
  • What small gestures from strangers have meant the most to you?
  • What personality traits do you value the most?
  • What do you bring with you wherever you go?
  • Who was your most interesting teacher in high school or college?
  • What question have you not asked me?
  • What is the most amazing true story you’ve ever heard?

On the Getaway Facebook page, I found a posting recently by the founder of Getaway and loved it:

“I’ve been thinking about the language we use to describe our relationship to time. We spend time. We invest time. If we’re foolish, we waste time; if we’re wise, we budget it. And of course, we long for free time. Notice a theme? Today, as we seek out life hacks and productivity apps to squeeze the most out of every minute, it seems we’ve collectively bought into the idea that time is money (and we never have enough of either).

What if instead of thinking of time as a currency, we thought of it as a natural resource? What if, instead of thinking of time as something to spend (or waste, or budget, or maximize), we thought of it as something to experience?” – Jon Staff

Such wise words that Jon has written to ponder today and every day.

Life is good and full of a myriad of wonderful experiences. Why not try a tiny cabin to escape the stresses of the pandemic to get away soon? Carpe diem, friends…

(*all photos courtesy of the Getaway Facebook page)

ROYAL CARIBBEAN GROUP INVESTIGATES HVAC SYSTEM FOR GREATER SAFETY DURING THE PANDEMIC

Photo by Matthew Barra on Pexels.com

With cruise lines resuming operations at some point in the near future, it impresses me that Royal Caribbean Group invested in research to determine the safety of their HVAC systems during this downtime for the travel industry during the pandemic. All over the world, travelers concurrently experience wanderlust AND hold their breaths at the same time, wondering and waiting for some indication when it is safe to resume travel again.

I am re-posting this article for those who are interested:

Royal Caribbean Group Releases Research on Cruise Ship HVAC Systems | TravelPulse

Life is good; 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

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

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…

BUCKET LIST ITEM: LIVING IN A BUBBLE

Some travel experiences speak for themselves. Either they speak to you, or they don’t. One place that comes to mind is Base Camp in Teralingua, Texas, on the Mexican border, where you can sleep in a tipi, casita, retro camper, lotus tent, a campsite, or a BUBBLE. This place is about ten minutes to Big Bend National Park and about four and a half hours to El Paso Airport. A closer airport would be Midland/Odessa at about three and a half hours away.

Although the idea of staying in a tipi intrigues me, it is the thought of staying in a bubble that really excites me. Base Camp in Teralingua has several bubbles from which to choose. With both one and two room options, the vinyl bubbles have air conditioning and heat, WiFi, indoor shower and toilet, Keurig coffee makers, mini-fridge and an outdoor seating area with private fire pit. The ceiling of the bedrooms is clear, allowing visitors to gaze upon the dark Texas star-lit sky at night, and the living room has a clear front so that guests can look out into the vast land before them.

one room bubble with expose front

One thing to keep in mind is that the one bedroom bubbles have a clear FRONT as well, and guests will be visible from outside while they sleep, although there are concrete privacy walls between the bubbles providing privacy from neighbors. My preference would be a two room bubble, which has ONLY the clear ceiling in the bedroom but a clear front in the living room. I would feel far more secure knowing that no one, absolutely no one, could see me while I gaze at the stars from inside my bedroom.

two room bubble with private bedroom (only exposed ceiling) and clear front on living room

All bubbles have a complete well-appointed and stylish bathroom with a shower, but the deluxe bubble has an outdoor shower and hot tub as well. These bubbles are considered “luxury” accommodations and range in price from $249-$349 per night for the single bubble (which accommodates two guests in a queen sized bed) to $349-$449 per night (which accommodates four guests in a queen sized bed and a pull-out couch).

As I envision staying in one of these bubbles, I think of all the puns associated with staying here, as the experience will cost far more than “the bubble”, as it is a bit pricey but will ultimately be priceless. I have heard many times that some folks “live in a bubble” in jest due to their outlook and philosophy about life on occasion, so why not “live in a bubble” for real for one night. I also have heard it been said that these days one needs to “live in a bubble” to keep oneself safe during the pandemic, so why not stay here now.

default

Life is short; we have these five minutes on the Earth in which to make our mark or create a memory or two. Why not live life fully and with intention and stay in a bubble for a totally different experience soon. Just know that these bubbles fill up well in advance, so there likely will be no spontaneity here and will require advance booking usually months in advance. They are not especially easy to get to due to their remote location from any major town (San Antonio is about seven hours away), but the experience seems well worth the drive.

Life is good; carpe diem, friends…

photo credit: all photos courtesy of the Basecamp Teralingua website:

https://basecampterlingua.com/

DREAMS COME TRUE: NEW DISCOVERIES IN SAQQARA, EGYPT

photo courtesy of Archaelogy.org

While the world is in turmoil due to the pandemic, such wonderful things continue to happen in Saqqara, Egypt, which is located about nineteen miles south of Cairo and is a UNESCO site. Saqqara is a fascinating place and is known as the place of the famous “step” pyramid called the Step Pyramid of Djoser, one of the earliest pyramids in Egypt that inspired the construction of the Great Pyramid in Giza during the next dynasty. It is also here in Saqqara that archaeologist found multitudes of mummified cats, including mummified lions, too. Later archaeological digs in 2019 revealed the tomb of a man named Wahtye and his family, who may have been the first case of death by malaria ever documented.

“Book of the Dead Scroll” photo credit: KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images

Most recently, Saqqara was in the news again in January 2021 because of a new discovery of a funerary tomb of Queen Naert, over fifty wooden coffins, and passages from “The Book Of The Dead” by Dr. Zahi Hawass and his crew.

Artifacts from these digs will end up in the New Egyptian Museum, slated to open in June 2021.

Dr. Hawass is the previous Minister of Antiquities in Egypt and is a passionate archaeologist that reminds me of Indiana Jones in some way. He appears in many documentaries, and his enthusiasm is inspiring.

Life is good; travel to exotic places like Saqqara if you can after the pandemic lifts. Carpe diem, friends……

INSPIRATIONAL TRAVEL BUCKET LIST ITEMS IN AUSTRALIA TO SEE WHEN THE PANDEMIC IS OVER

I do like a good “pipedream” where my mind takes me away to a different place or time, where I think about the myriad of things I would like to see or do within my lifetime. “Pipedreams” keep me sane during the pandemic as I compile a list of inspirational travel destinations in my mind for a brighter day ahead when the travel restrictions are lifted.

  1. Lake Hillier or any of the “pink lakes” in Australia is truly a bubble-gum color pink lake on the northern shore “Middle Island”. This island is a remote area accessible by tours only. Contact the following site to get more information about how to book an aerial or boat tour to see the island from a distance.

https://www.visitesperance.com/contact-us

photo courtesy of HillierLake.com

It is thought that the pink hue in the lake is from the organism  Dunaliella salina, which thrive in salty environments like the pink lakes. The carotenoid red pigments secreted by Halobacteria and d. salina are responsible for the pink lakes’ otherworldly colors. These same algae also flourish in the Dead Sea.

If Lake Hillier is too remote a location to get to for you, you might try one of several other “pink” lakes in Australia such as those in this article below:

https://www.australia.com/en-us/things-to-do/nature-and-national-parks/australias-pink-lakes.html

2. See the wild kangaroos on a white sand beach in Lucky Bay near Esperence, Australia

photo courtesy of https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/lucky-bay (Steven de Geus)

3. Snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef

Photo by John Cahil Rom on Pexels.com

Life is good; find some remote place you’ve always wanted to travel to and find a way after the pandemic is over. Life is short, and we have only “these five minutes” within our lifetime to make the best of it as I always say.

Carpe Diem, friends…………..

EAT WHERE THE LOCALS EAT ON RAINBOW RIVER IN DUNNELLON, FLORIDA (Swampy’s Bar and Grille)

Wanderlust at it again? Why not head out for some adventure at one of Florida’s Springs where you can kayak or canoe among some crystal clear water. I headed out to Rainbow Falls in Dunnellon, Florida yesterday for some time in the great outdoors. While the springs are particularly popular in the hot summer months, I personally find them equally refreshing in the winter months here in Florida, as there are far fewer people there in winter months.

The headsprings begin close to this area within the Rainbow Springs Park. You can arrange to rent a kayak or canoe here in the park to paddle an approximately four hour ride downstream through the Rainbow River and have a shuttle take you back from the end of the river to your car at the park. Along the way, you may see some gaters, otters, birds, and fish in the crystal waters or along the banks of the river.

Before you rent your canoe or kayak, take time to see the beautiful man-made waterfalls in the park while you are there. In January and early February you may catch a glimpse of some of the azaleas. When I went yesterday, February 7, there were only some scattered azaleas in bloom, as the peak of the azalea season had already passed.

At the end of your journey down the Rainbow River, you can stop at Swampy’s Bar And Grill, where the locals eat. This unpretentious and clean eatery has an amazing location and a dock where you can actually tie up your canoe or kayak while you eat. Most of the tables are outside or under a porch roof, although they have a few tables inside. It was breathtaking to watch the birds take flight before my eyes while I sat under some Spanish Moss in the adjacent tree. This is old Florida updated. This is adventure meeting with peace. This is a stop that soothes the soul at the same time if feeds the belly.

For the more adventurous folks in the crowd, there is alligator on the menu. For the less adventurous members of the crowd, there are standard burgers, fish and chips, ceviche, and some Louisiana inspired menu items such as jambalaya and red beans with sausage.

menu courtesy of Swampy’s FB page

The hostess at the hostess stand smiled at me through her mask immediately upon my arrival before seating me, and my server, Josh, greeted me warmly as well. I could see from his eyes that his smile under his mask was warm and genuine, and he made me feel welcomed by his conversation about nearby springs and growing up in the Florida springs.

I am a vegetarian, so I ordered the large garden salad and was satisfied with the freshness, taste, portion, and flavor of the salad, and I would definitely recommend this eatery for anyone wanting to finish up a day at the Rainbow Springs with a local, authentic eatery. Although I visited during the day, Swampy’s looks like a fun spot at night with its Edison lights and fire tables on the sand. Add that to my list to try another time, as my “bucket list” grows daily!

Life is good; carpe diem folks….get out and enjoy the outside during this wretched pandemic.

“May you LIVE all the days of your life.” -Jonathan Swift