Monday, December 31, 2012

12 Travel Review / 13 Outlook

New Years Eve marks 5 ½ years that we have been on the road and we still don't plan to stop traveling any time soon. Meeting up with friends and family continues to be the best thing about our lifestyle. While we have been to many of the “most well known” national parks, we still have plenty of places that we have not visited on our to do list. In 2012 we stayed in 58 places and had extended stays at Betty's in Louisiana, back in WashPA and in Central Florida. These longer stays help control campground costs that were up over last year but still under our budgeted amount. We started the year in Arizona then traveled to Louisiana. Next we meandered along the Rockies into Canada. Then we traveled along the US Canadian border on our way back to WashPA and finally down the Atlantic coast through the Carolinas and are ending the year in South Florida. We stayed in 19 states and, for the first time in Opus, we visited Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. We put 10,391 miles on the rig and 10,710 on the CRV. Our original plan for 2012 was to go North to Alaska but that did not happen.

2012 started with a week at the Sun Life RV resort in Mesa where we spent the holidays with many friends we met there and with Sharon and Alan who we have crossed paths with several times since going on the road. We spent two weeks out in the desert in Quartzite with Hank, Joe, Marcia, Ron, Linda, Sal, Bobbie, Jim, Bobbie, Dave, Kathy, Leland, Cathy, Marty, Trisha, Steve, Sandy, Mike, Sandy, Bob and BJ all Class of 07 mates. A fun time was had by all. When we learned that Betty was being inducted as a Living Legend into the Acadian Museum in Louisiana, we decided to make the 1600 mile trek because we HAD to be there. The induction was during Mardi Gras so we got to do that wonderful celebration for the second year in a row. Isn't it great having a house on wheels? As always, it was well worth the trip and we had a great time at Betty's with our many old and many new friends Jim, Cookie, Ruth, Wendell, Marvin, Russ, Lori, Dave, Pricilla, Cal, Marie, Richard, Lynn, Bob, Judy, Dave, Sarah, Jocelyn, Gervais, Linda, Dan, Merlene, Buzz, Sandra, Paul, Peggy, Don, Stella, George, Judy, Omer, Sylvia, Jim, Judy and, of course, the best hostess in the land, Betty. We left Abbeville in early April heading to Alaska. That is when “our plan” began to change. At the Cummins service center in Houston they told us Opus needed a new, very expensive, turbocharger. We had the work done and a week later were still planning on Alaska after a stop at the Escapees headquarters in Livingstone where we saw Marvin, Mark and Renita. Our plan changed in Kansas when the rig continued to have the SAME problem. We finally got everything taken care of at a great Cummins dealer in Garden City, KS. I am really convinced that we got robbed by the service center in Houston, but I have no way to prove it. After this second big repair we were two weeks and many dollars behind so we decided that Alaska would have to be a future adventure.

At that point we looked at the map and realized that Bobby and Jim Chapman were only 300 miles away in Alamosa, CO so we called and ended up spending a couple of weeks with them while they showed us around their beautiful neck of the woods. It is always great having personal tour guides. We have been trying to get to Santa Fe and Taos since we hit the road and it was really close so we headed that way. Bobby, Jim, Rick and Terri, whom we met at Betty's last year, told us that on our way to Taos we had to stop at Ojo Caliente Spa and oh what a wonderful place. We had a great time soaking in the mineral springs and getting spa treatments. We then spent a few days exploring the art scene in Santa Fe and the 1000 year old pueblo in Taos. It was than time to head north with a stop in Colorado Springs and a visit to Carhenge in Nebraska. This was followed by a visit with Leland and Kathy at there summer place (RV parking spot) in Billings and a couple of days with Mark and Renita in Great Falls before they crossed into Canada on their way to Alaska. We figured we could still visit Banff and Jasper that had been part of our Alaska itinerary because they would not be too far from a service center if one was needed. Fortunately, that was not necessary and the Canadian Rockies, Columbia Icefield and all the animals were great. We next went back and forth across the border with stops in Montana, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, North Dakota, Ontario and Minnesota as we traveled east. In Winnipeg we had RV friends Gary and Anita as personal tour guides to show us their beautiful city. In Montana and North Dakota we had a brief encounter with WashPA friends John, Patrice, Ron and Becky who were on a cross country train trip. We traveled the same route we used on our 1982 transcontinental bicycle trek. In Minnesota we had lunch with Dave and Sarah before heading to Mackinac Island in Michigan. It was then on to Paris where we saw the Eiffel Tower and Tony and Mary Beth. Next Richard and Valerie showed us some of Detroit which included the Eastern Market, the Henry Ford Museum and a trip back in time at Motown. It was then on to Bowling Green to go to Tidball's, a blues club, that I soon learned was in Bowling Green, KY not Ohio. HUH! On one more stop in Ohio we had a great few days with Nanc's family in the beautiful river town of Marietta.

Then it was a two month stay in WashPA visiting doctors, dentist, family and friends. We loved having those great pizzas John made in his new, outdoor, wood fired oven and seeing all our old friends with the Wednesday Lunch Bunch Tom, Georgie, John, Patrice, Bill, Kim, Linda, Lena, Pat, Peg, Ken, Dave, Jackie, Sandy, Paul, Ron, Becky, Carol and Chuck. I'm sure I left someone out, sorry. Another big part of being in PA is getting to hear the local musicians and eating at our favorite restaurants, Union Grill, Burgh's, Al & Rubens, the Back Porch and many others. I also got to go fishing with my new lifetime senior citizen's license, but did not get any BIG fish like last year. The old card club Mike, Sherri, Tim, Di, Tom and Georgie got together twice for evenings of food, fun and cards and went to a Pirate game in Pittsburgh. We saw Nanc's family Michelle, Keith, Judy, Bill, Betsy, Lou, Jackie, Emma, Bobbi Jo, Scott and Haley at Haley's birthday party. It is amazing how much the kids have changed in just the few years we have been on the road. We also got to have dinner and get caught up with my brother Rick and his wife Denise. We did a short road trip and had lunch with Class of 07 mates Tom, Paula, Ron and Linda in Northern PA. We also got together with Buzz and Sandra, whom we met at Betty's in the spring, and had lunch at Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh. All our travel is wonderful but it is always great seeing old friends and family in PA.

We left PA on October 1st and headed south to follow the warmer weather. The first stop was Antietam Battlefield to walk the Tidball Trail that honors John C. Tidball, a Civil War artillery officer who is a distant relative. I have since read “No Disgrace to My Country,” a biography of Tidball's life and the many historical events he participated in during his forty years in the army. It is a great read if you are interested in US history from the early 1800's to 1900. We then went to Charlottesville where we had a great visit with Richard and Valerie and toured Monticello. While there we had one of those on the road encounters that happen more often than you would think when we learned that our old stix and brix neighbors, Jeff and Joanne, were in the same RV park. It really is a small small world. Next it was on to the Outer Banks where we saw Mike and Sherri and the kids Carrie, Brian, Tracey and Lori and grand kids Al, Ashley, Coleman, Andrew, Benny, Garrett and Malyia. I had a great time surf fishing and we had dinner with Tom and Georgie who had rented a beach front cabin for a week. Heading farther south we stopped to see Brian and Lori and the kids again and then spent a week touring historic Charleston. While there we were happy to celebrate the reelection of President Barack Obama for FOUR MORE YEARS!!!!!!

We arrived in Florida on November 12th and spent a few days revisiting St, Augustine and the Cape Canaveral area. It was then on to Orange City for a month where we celebrated Thanksgiving with Nanc's sister Judy and her husband Bill. We both had birthdays in November and Nanc's was most important as she is now eligible for Social Security. GREAT!!!! While there we flew to the Dominican Republic and had nine wonderful pampered days at Secrets Royal Beach in Punta Cana. As the year ends we are near Jupiter to spend the holidays with our WashPA friend Mary Lou. It is amazing how much better the weather is here than it was only 150 miles to the North in Orange City.

Like everyone else our year was not all peaches and cream. We did have a few low points along the way, some caused by my stupidity, some by weather and some mechanical. One of the worst was when I got Opus stuck in a wash in Quartzite. It was unbelievable how so many people came to our rescue and got us unstuck without causing any damage. Next were the big RV repairs in Texas and Kansas that were a real drain on the wallet. In Banff the weather came down on us when we had a whole day of snow, BBBBBRRRRRRRRRR. Finally, our month on the Outer Banks was cut short by almost two weeks because Tropical Storm Sandy took out the road making our return impossible. All that said the good far out weighed any bad that has come along. Of course all these adventures are documented in blogs about each stop along the way.

As we look to 2013 our plan is to head to the Keys for January and then slowly travel as far north as Betty's in Abbeville for a two month stay starting near the end of February. In the spring we want to visit the Louisiana coast and go the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Next, we will head north along the Mississippi on the Great River Road and hope to tour some of the Southern Civil War Battlefields. Then we will go back to WashPA with a stop at Tidball's in Bowling Green, KY. (see above) After a couple of months of doctors, dentist, friends and family in PA we will be moving slowly west and hope to do the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta again. We will then go to Mesa for a couple of months and plan to spend next winter in the Southwest.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunshine Holidays

We have moved to Jonathon Dickinson State Park in South Florida near Jupiter for the holidays.  This is the third time we have been here with our friend Mary Lou who has spent ten winters in Jupiter with her husband Jack.  We are sad that Jack is no longer with us but we are looking forward to exploring the area and celebrating Christmas and the New Year with Mary Lou.  We were here on the 21st, the first day of winter and the last day of the world.  We weren't sure the world had not ended when we awoke to temps in the 40's. BBBBRRRRRRRR.  That said, I am looking forward to swimming in the ocean on Christmas Day as it warms up.  This is our sixth holiday season on the road and we have discovered that the idea of a white Christmas is way overblown.   
The beach in Jupiter is beautiful and the water is still very comfortable.  We saw several big rays just off shore but were not able to get any good pictures.
We went to see Peanut Island, the home of the Palm Beach Maritime Museum.  The island was built when the Lake Worth Inlet was dredged in 1918 to allow ships into a harbor.  It has been enlarged over the years as more sand was dug to maintain the shipping channel.  The island was used as a Coast Guard Station for many years.  Those buildings are now part of the museum showing how the Coast Guard sailors lived.
Another part of the museum is a nuclear blast bunker that was built in 1961 for President Kennedy whose winter White House was in Palm Beach. 
The bunker is really just a Quonset hut that was covered with lead to keep radiation out.  It was equipped with only the basics because it was only meant for temporary use.  There were boxes of Civil Defense food and water, several beds and a desk for the president.  Even the toilet was just a cylinder with a seat on it. The food stores were like those that the government had stockpiled all over the country when I was growing up in the 50's and 60's.  
This is a display of Kennedy memorabilia includes a model of his PT 109 that he commanded in WWII.
I got to sit in the president's chair and use the red phone to tell Ruskies to back off.
Here we are with Mary Lou in the bunker.  Even though it was never used the bunker was a top secret location until 1975.  Sailors stationed there were told it was an ammo bunker.
Nanc and Mary Lou with Singer Island in the background.
I got up close with this pelican.
It was a little cool (68) that day so a couple of manatee were in the lagoon on the island.
Aahh, Christmas in Florida.
Love it, love it, love it!!!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Secrets Royal Beach, Punta Cana

After going to Hawaii last year we decided that we were going to take a vacation every year to someplace we can't get to in the RV.  This year's trip was made easier with two free flight vouchers we received last year when we were bumped.  We selected a Secrets Resort because we had been to one while we were still working and loved it.  We chose the Dominican Republic based on the experiences friends have had there in the past.  We knew Secrets Royal Beach was the right choice from the moment we were offered a cool towel and a glass of champagne upon arrival.  It was all fantastic and we were very happy with everything about our stay. 
This is the view from our room.  While Punta Cana is technically on the Atlantic Ocean it is a real Caribbean paradise with great weather, wonderful beaches and beautiful blue ocean water.
There were two pools, one a meandering river like pool through the resort grounds.  One reason we like Secrets is that it is an adults only resort so you can always find a quiet spot.
The other pool had a swim up bar and was the real center of activity.
Other than reading, this is how we spent most of the week, basking in the sun and enjoying a couple of different exotic tropical drinks including a Dominican specialty, Mama Juana.
The ocean water was as warm as a bath tub.  It was fantastic.
Left are Willy, Jose and the rest of the bar staff who took great care of us.
Right is the wonderful entertainment team Isaia, Speedy, Akon and Mickey Mouse. These guys were great and sure made our stay very enjoyable. 
Here we are participating in a couple of the contests.  Nanc was learning how to fold a towel into a swan.  While I thought hers was the best, she came in second.  Here I am in the beer drinking contest.  Even with my many years of experience I did not win.
A couple of other water pleasures were the bubble bath that Jacky drew for us on the deck outside our room.  We followed it up with a night of room service. Another day we did the water cycle that started with a shower, then the sauna and steam room followed by a plunge in cold water.  It was then on to a warm whirlpool and the three different water treats in the big pool.  After all that we had wonderful massages that left us feeling like noodles. AAAH!   
Other activities included a class on mixing drinks, where we got to taste each creation.  They showed us how they make cigars but I passed on trying one.  Other days there was a water balloon fight and a foam party in the pool.  It's great when a bunch of "young" people can get together and have a good time and nothing but a good time:)
There were exercise activities everyday at the pool and on the beach.  Nanc did yoga, zumba, water aerobics and water stretching.  It's no wonder the entertainment team is in such great shape as hard as they work all day.
Each evening there was a different performance. One night it was Jeerk, a very entertaining rhythm artist group from Sweden. Here is a short video of the show.  Right is a local group that performed a native dance and fire show. Here is a short video of the fire dancers.  Another night there was a circus, but we forgot to take our camera.
The happy couple after one of many great meals.  There are three restaurants at the Royal Beach and we where also allowed to eat at any of the seven restaurants at the Now Larimar next door.  All the food we had was great with a big variety to choose from. 
The beach was beautiful and there was much more to look at than what I usually see at adults only, over 55 RV parks where we normally stay:)
All these birds where feeding on little fish in the pond.  There were more than 100.
Here are three of Nanc's favorite birds, Blue Herons.
We had a great time on vacation and are already talking about where we are going to go next year.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mt. Dora Christmas

Mt. Dora is a little "old Florida" town with several neat restaurants and shops.  They do a great job of decorating the town for Christmas and have many events to attract people.  We attended the Christmas Walk where they close several downtown streets and have entertainers on each block. One of my favorite things is the musical Christmas tree.  Here is a short video of the tree
This is not a statue, it is a mime who was slowly moving her arms in an angelic manner. 
Very cool!!!! 
Nanc and Judy did a lot of shopping while Bill and I checked out the crowd.  Bill enjoyed his time with this headless beauty.
And of course there are all the lights.
The entire town square is ablaze with lights.
More lights.
One year they even brought in snow and had sled riding.  I'm glad they did not do that this year.  Getting away from snow is one our major goals.  Love spending the holidays in the south.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanksgiving, Birthdays and Steelers vs. Browns

We have settled in at Orange City RV Resort for a month long stay.  We are near Nanc's family and have had several visits with them.  We shared the traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the usual, wonderful food.  This is our sixth holiday season on the road and most of those years we have been lucky enough to spend them with family and friends in different places around the country. We also had a couple of evenings of games, watched a few football games and went to the movies to see Lincoln.  A great movie that we highly recommend. 
Bill and I pulled the big bird out of the oven.
The real cooks for the day, Judy and Nanc.
The table was ready and it seemed like it was all over all to soon.  I love the turkey, stuffing, Bill's special cranberry salad and, of course, all the leftovers for lunch that weekend.
Bill's son Eric, his wife Kelley and grandson Matt joined us for the great meal.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving we joined Bill and Judy to watch the Steelers - Browns game.  This picture was taken before the final results were known.  In the end, three of us were VERY disappointed by the results.  It is bad enough when the Steelers loose to the Browns, but having to watch this terrible performance with a Browns fan made it even worse.
Nanc and I both celebrated birthdays this week.  Mine was not any bigger deal than others since I am already on Medicare and Social Security, BUT, Nanc's was a really big deal.  She will now receive Social Security and to our surprise she is eligible for a pension from a company she worked for years ago.  This will sure help the bottom line since we did not win the big Powerball drawing.
WOW --  LIFE IS GOOD!!!!!!!!!!
 Next week we are going on vacation to Punta Cana.  Most people think we are on vacation all the time but the reality is we live in our own house like everyone else, the only difference is ours is on wheels.  It will be great to just kick back and have people waiting on us, making the bed and cooking all our meals.  Yes, life is very good and we do have much to be thankful for.

Friday, November 23, 2012

On to FLA

We moved on to Florida without any plans until December 18th.  We knew we wanted to be near Nanc's sister Judy and her husband Bill for Thanksgiving and we needed a place where we could leave the rig for a week in December while we go on vacation to Punta Cana.  At the Welcome Center we found a flier advertising a great monthly rate for first timers at the Sun RV Resorts.  We picked the one in Orange City that fit our needs so we now have reservations through the end of January.  We had a week remaining until our Orange City stay began so our first stop was St. Augustine.  We have been here before and really enjoy this oldest city in the country.
Here is Nanc doing the shell thing at St. Augustine Beach.  It is always great being on the ocean and Florida is a great place to shell and look for sea glass.  We found a piece of glass that was an old bottle bottom that had PA stamped on it.  How neat!!
One thing we love about Florida is the great variety of birds.  This is a flock of Royal Terns.  Birds are everywhere and come in all sizes. 
We went to the top of the lighthouse on our first visit so this time we just drove by and took a picture so Nanc could get her lighthouse fix.
We did visit Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the fort that was built by the Spanish in the late 1600's to protect St. Augustine.  We have visited many old forts on our travels and this is one of the best preserved.
The San Carlos Bastion and canons overlooking the harbor.
The British attacked the fort in 1740 but were not able to drive the Spanish out.  The fort went to the British in 1763 as part of the Treaty of Paris and then back to the Spanish in 1783.  It went to the US when the Spanish ceded Florida in 1821.  The park service has restored it to the time of Spanish rule.
The streets of the old city are now mainly shops and restaurants.  It sure was a lot less crowed being here during the week.  St. Augustine is a neat city with a lot of history and nearby beaches. It is a great stop in Florida.
From St. Augustine we moved down the coast to Titusville to check out Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  As you can see we also took advantage of the great weather and did a pool day.  Don't you just hate how crowded Florida is at this time of the year?  We were in the area during our first year on the road to see a shuttle launch which was delayed.  Not seeing a launch is surely one of our biggest disappointments since hitting the road. 
At Merritt we drove the Black Point Wildlife Drive for and easy up close look at many different birds.  The refuge is a great place for birding because it was part of NASA's Kennedy Space Center so it has been untouched by the development you see along so much of the coast here.  These are a couple of ibis wading for food.
And here is Nanc's favorite, the Great Blue Heron.

We even got to see a Rosette Spoonbill.
When in Florida you DO NOT swim in lakes or ponds.  There really are gators everywhere.  The sign in the campground warned about the little one on the left.  The big guy on the right was on Merritt Island.  We also saw a manatee and a huge feral pig but did not get pictures.
 It was a windy day so there were very few people on the beach at the national seashore.  To help prevent erosion you are not allowed to walk on the dunes.  At high tide the water comes all the way up to the dune.  We soooo enjoy being close to the ocean!!!!!