Thursday, December 31, 2015

'15 Travel Review / '16 Outlook

We are now in the ninth year of our RVing lifestyle and love it so much we continue to say we don't have an exit plan. This year we slowed down a great deal after driving to Alaska in 2014. We only put 5626 miles on Opus and 10,364 miles on the CRV. For the first time we are ending the year in the same place we started, South Florida. We began 2015 in the Keys then headed to New Orleans and Texas before a couple of months at Betty's. We then explored the Southeastern states and Eastern Pennsylvania, adding several state capitols to our list before our annual visit to WashPA. Then it was south to the Outer Banks for a month before heading to Florida in November. Our average day of travel was only 156 miles per trip, a new low for us. We stayed in 36 places and still managed to keep our camping expenses under $22.00 a day even though we only had free spots two nights. One area where we saved money this year was the cost of fuel. The most we paid was $3.20 a gallon in Pennsylvania, the only place above $3.00. In South Carolina we filled up for $2.20, the lowest we have seen since 2008. That sure is a big money saver compared to last year when we often paid over $4.00 and as high as $6.00 in Canada.

We had a great January in the Keys spending time with many of the people we had met there on previous visits. Tom and Georgie did a personal mail delivery and we did a day trip with them to Key West. The first couple of weeks of February we stayed in Central Florida waiting for the weather to warm a bit. While there we visited Nanc's sister Judy and her husband Bill and had a couple of repairs done on Opus. We then did a three day sprint to New Orleans for the Jonsson-Frayer Cultural Clash, a celebration of Swede Karl's and American Marissa’s marriage. It was great spending time with Marissa's parents Richard and Valerie while there. Next it was on to Rainbows End in Livingston, TX where we could leave Opus while we spent a week at Secrets Silversands in Cancun. When we returned from Mexico we found that Marvin, John and Joyce, who we met at Betty's, had pulled in and we spent some time catching up with them.

From Texas is was a short hop to Betty's in Cajun country for a two month stay. We try to get there every year and have made many friends both locals and RVers. Well over 100 people passed through the park while we were there and most of them we have met on previous visits. In addition to all those friends, Tim and Di flew down from WashPA and we gave them the full immersion Cajun experience including a swamp tour, music in the square and at the local bars, great food and of course a chance to enjoy Betty's hospitality. Even with all the friends we have there, the number one reason we return is Betty, she has become much more than a great hostess she is now a great friend.

From Abbeville we started our trip through the interior of the Southeastern states with a visit to Natchitoches, an historic old river town in northern Louisiana. From there we went to Jackson to tour the first of seven capitol buildings, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey on our way to WashPA. Along the way we visited many civil rights sites that celebrated to lives of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and others in Selma, Montgomery, Tuskegee and Atlanta. In Plains, GA we had one of those experiences that now ranks near the top of our RVing adventure when we got to meet President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn. We also visited the Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta. In Columbia we were witness to another civil rights event when we were in the gallery as the South Carolina legislature debated the issue of removing the confederate stars and bars flag from the capitol grounds. It is not often one gets such a close up look at history as it happens.

Our next stop was Lake Norman in North Carolina where we spent two weeks visiting with my brother Rick and sister-in-law Denise. While there we had a great time getting caught up and enjoying the 4th of July with the Antonetti's, friends from our hometown. Also while there we had to have a new fan motor installed in the rear air conditioners. Next it was on to Virginia where we got to spend some time with Chuck Lee and our RV friends Richard and Val who took us on campus tours of Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia. We then headed to Eastern PA where we met up with friends Mel and Alora, toured the PA and NJ capitols, Amish country, Gettysburg NMP, Valley Forge NHS, Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine Museum. We had another AC issue and needed a new board installed on the front AC while there. Hopefully this will be the final fix with the AC.

It was then on to Western PA where we first stopped in Confluence to do some biking before moving to WashPA for a two month stay. We had a great time with friends and family, supported many of our favorite local restaurants and took care of doctor and dentist visits. As always, at the top of our to do list was John's wonderful wood fired pizza, a Pirate game, some fishing, and Nanc running the Great Race. A sure sign I'm getting older, I had to have a growth removed from my back and was told I may need cataract surgery next year. Even though we have traveled to all 50 states and most Canadian provinces Western PA will always be home.

Our first stop when we headed south was to get new rear tires on Opus after which we discovered a problem we had been having with one tire loosing air was a faulty air monitor. That taken care of we headed to Hatteras Island for four weeks. I did some fishing and we just kicked back and enjoyed the beach. We did have visitors for half our stay starting with Mike and Sherri who stayed with us for a long weekend. The next week Tom and Georgie were at the Outer Banks Motel so we got to spend a lot of time together. We had a surprise visit when Jean Paul and Celine showed up at the Sands of Time Campground. And then Valerie and Richard stayed in Buxton for a long weekend and we got to show them around including a day trip to Ocracoke. We ended our stay celebrating our 46th anniversary at the beach.

It was then on to Florida with a stay in Raleigh to tour the capitol. In Florida we had annual engine service done on Opus and then spent a week at the Escapees park in Bushnell where we gave Opus a much needed bath and got to see Wallace and Wanda. From there we moved to Tampa East RV Park for a month. While there we flew to Secrets Akumal in Cancun for a wonderful ten day stay where I got to swim with sea turtles. When we returned we got together with Mark and Renita and Jean Paul and Celine to get caught up with what they have been doing. We also visited the wonderful Dali Museum in St. Pete.

For the holidays and the last two weeks of the year we returned to Jonathon Dickinson State Park to be close to Mary Lou. This is the fifth time in our nine years on the road that we have been here for Christmas. Jupiter is a great area with a lot to do and many great local restaurants. Mary Lou kept us busy going to two plays, Billy Elliot and The Producers, and a movie, Star Wars. We also enjoyed the Jupiter Jazz Society Sunday jam session and a great local duo, Pam and Dave. We always have a great time spending the holidays with Mary Lou.

As we start 2016 we are once again at the Elks lodge in Tavernier, Florida for the month of January. In February we will be in Christmas and have reservations to take a four day cruise to the Bahamas during our stay. Cruises are part of the travel club we bought into, so this will be our first cruise to see how we like it. In early March we will be heading to Betty's RV Park for a two month stay. While there we will be taking our second cruise, a seven day trip to Central America out of New Orleans. In May we will be slowly heading to Vermont for the Escapade. Along the way we hope to add a few more state capitol buildings to our list and explore a bit of New England. In early August we will be back in WashPA for a couple of months. I already have doctors appointments in August. In October we will slowly head west toward Mesa (sure hope it is warmer there next year than this year) while adding a few more capitols to our list. As always, the plan is a mostly a blank sheet with where we will stay and what we will do being filled in as we travel. Of course, seeing friends along the way will be a big part those plans.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dali Museum -- Escher

For our last day in Tampa we decided to go to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.  They have a wonderful collection of the works by Salvador Dali that was collected by Reynolds and Eleanor Morse. The collection was first displayed in Cleveland before being moved to Florida in 1982.  The current building opened in 2011.  In addition to Dali there was a special exhibit with works by Maurits Cornelis Escher. 
We knew we were in for a very neat experience as soon as we saw the unusual, beautiful building. The entrance is surrounded by a Grotto, a Fountain of Youth and a Living Wall covered with native plants.
Here we are in the Grotto by the Fountain of Youth.  We were very tempted to take a sip of that water but we passed.
The back of the building is part Dali abstraction and part Buckminister Fuller geodesic dome.  The round shape makes for some very interesting reflections.
Behind the building is an interesting garden.  What would a Dali museum be without a giant mustache sculpture.  While Nanc has never seen me without a mustache, mine was never quite like Dali's.
Even the bench is pure Dali where relaxing just makes time melt away.  The garden has outdoor seating for the cafe, the above sculptures, a labyrinth and a wish tree where you can make a wish as you tie your wrist bands to the tree,  are all very neat.
The unique style continued inside with a spiral staircase that appears to climb to the ceiling as the steps stop and the spiral continues to rise.
From below the spiral looks like it touches the geodesic skylight.  The building itself is worth a look even before you check out the art.
Dali, who was born in Spain in 1904, began painting at an early age.  This painting of a coastal Spanish village that he painted when he was 14 is one of his earliest works. 
As part of his classical artist training Dali painted this self portrait.
This painting is one of his first surreal works where he started using the technique of painting people from behind and using distorted shapes.  In this case the woman being so large in the foreground.  
This painting, Gala (Dali's wife) Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea, is the most unique painting I have ever seen.  When you are standing close to it you see the nude figure and the sea beyond the window.  As you get farther away it becomes a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.  Truly unbelievable!!  
One of Dali's early surrealist works, The First Days of Spring, (1929) is loaded with the symbolism of sex and Dali's fears that became part of all his work.  If you look closely in the upper right corner you can see the reflection of Lincoln from the previous painting.  
This is the same painting from a distance and as you can see it has become a portrait of Lincoln.  I have seen many paintings that have faces or figures hidden in the work but never one that changes so dramatically according to how close or far away you are standing.
The Ecumenical Council is one of several large (118 in X 110 in) Dali paintings on display.  It was painted in 1958 as a celebration of Pope John XXIII reaching out to the Archbishop of Canterbury, an act that reflects Dali's hope in religion after the destruction of WWII. 
Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man, painted in 1943, reflects Dali's belief that America was the emerging power with its hand crushing Europe as the third world continents South America and Africa grow in importance.
The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory shows Dali's interest in the atom with its destructive power while being what makes all things.  Just the chance to see so many works by Dali is well worth a visit to this museum, but they also have the works of others on extended, temporary exhibits.

We were happy that the current special exhibit was the works of M. C. Escher. We have seen Escher exhibits at other museums, but never one that was this extensive with 135 pieces.  The work on display includes his woodcuts, lithographs. wood carvings drawings and sketches. No photos were allowed in this exhibit, but here are a few I found on line that we got to see.  
Belvedere is an example of Escher's works that show structures that would be impossible to build.  Here the tops of the columns are in the back of the structure while the bottom of the same column is at the front creating a strange illusion.
Bond of Union shows portraits of Escher and his wife Jetta that are intertwined on what looks like a fruit peel.  
This picture does not do justice to the woodcut print, Metamorphosis II, that was displayed on one 13 foot long print.  The inspiration for this work came from Escher's interest in math and his interest in the mosaic floors he viewed during his visits to Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.  It was printed using 20 blocks. 
This piece, Relativity, depicts a world in which the normal laws of gravity do not apply.  The figures that meet on the steps are not only going in opposite directions but are on different planes.  

While the Escher exhibit will be over in early January we highly recommend a visit to the Dali Museum.  They always have a wonderful display of Dali's work along with other special exhibits. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Friends and Fort de Soto

We always say that making and meeting friends on the road is the best thing about our fulltiming lifestyle.  Into our ninth year we have made friends all over the country. We chose an RV park near Tampa because it was close to the airport, but we also knew that friends would be in the area.  Mark and Renita are in Pinellas Park and Jean Paul and Celine are in Bradenton, so we made plans to see them after we returned from Mexico.
Mark and Renita took us to Fort de Soto County Park which is on Mullet Key, a small island at the entrance of Tampa Bay.  The park has a great, but expensive, campground, miles of beautiful white sand beaches and a fishing pier all on the site of an old fort that dates back to the late 1800's.  The site had been used by the military all the way back to before the Civil War.
We met Mark and Renita in 2008 in Texas and have crossed paths several times all over the country.  They now spend a couple of months in Florida every year because their daughter is going to school here.  They are great tour guides and we thank them for a great day of exploring.
One of the old mortars that was capable of lobbing a shell six miles out into the gulf.  This big gun has huge springs under it to absorb the 23 inch recoil when it was fired.  
A piece of artillery from the fort.  Like many harbor forts built in the late 1800's, there was never a shot fired at an enemy from the fort.  
On our walk along the beach we saw a couple of dolphins very close to shore.  We figured there must have been a lot of bait fish in the water to get them this close to the beach.
Nanc and Renita looking for shells along the beach.  I know Nanc has jeans and long sleeves on, but for everyone else it was plenty warm for shorts.
When we went to the fishing pier we saw this unbelievable sight, millions of greenbacks.  They are small bait fish and they were all trying to get into the shade of the pier.  This was like the capelin we saw in Labrador in 2010 that attracted the humpback whales along the coast.  Here is a link to that post
Nanc, Renita and Mark checking out the greenbacks. I'm sure Mark was wishing he had brought his pole with him.
This is the fishing pier.  The greenbacks were under the entire length of the pier so you can see I was not exaggerating when I said there were millions.
After visiting Fort de Soto we had a great lunch overlooking the gulf in St. Pete Beach.  It was great seeing them and getting caught up with what we have all been doing.  I'm sure we will see them down the road.
On another day we drove to Bradenton to see Jean Paul and Celine.  We met them at Betty's RV Park and have seen them on the road several times including the week we parked in their front yard in Quebec in 2010.  We last saw them only a couple months ago when they had surprised us with a visit this fall in Hatteras.  We enjoyed a great lunch at their place, spent the afternoon chatting, then went out to dinner.  It was another beautiful day and we thank them for their hospitality.  Once again, seeing friends on the road is one of the greatest things about our travels.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tulum Mayan Ruins

On our first visit to a Secrets ten years ago we took a tour to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. We were there the day of the equinox and it was a very interesting day but we were gone for 12 hours and missed an entire day at the resort.  So now we don't usually take tours when we are at a Secrets because we prefer just enjoying all the amenities of the resort.  This time we made an exception because the Mayan ruins at Tulum were only a few miles away.  We did a half day tour and were back at the pool by 1:00 so we had the best of both worlds. 
Tulum is the only Mayan site that is surrounded by a wall.  The entrances are all low and narrow thus making it harder for invaders to get into the town, 
Only the priests and rulers lived inside the wall in the stone buildings.  The commoners lived outside the walls in wooden thatched roofed huts.
This Temple of the Winds on the top of a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea was a watchtower and a guide for trading vessels.  Tulum was an important hub of trade with access to both land and sea routes.
Tulum was known as Zama or Dawn to the Mayans.  As with all Mayan sites, the buildings were built to align with the sun and other celestial bodies.  These three buildings align from east to west with the rising sun.
The Oratory, located between the hilltop Castillo and the Great Palace, has many carved sculptures that are still clearly visible. 
The Mayans believed that all things were in balance, night and day, sky and sea.  On this corner of the Oratory is a frowning face while the one on the opposite corner is one that is smiling.
On the left is a woman squatting to have a baby that can be seen in the middle.  You can click on the picture to enlarge it. 
This lemur must be used to people as it was not bothered by the throngs of tourists on the stairs.
A couple of those tourists.
The Temple of the Winds high above the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea. 
The Castillo is the largest building high on the cliff above the sea.  It was constructed on top of an earlier building another common Mayan practice.
The iguanas were everywhere.sunning themselves.
The Castillo and Temple of the Winds and the beach below.  Many people took advantage of the small, beautiful beach at the bottom of the cliff to take a dip in the Caribbean.
The courtyard behind the Castillo.  While the site may have been used as early as 550AD these remains are from a period between 1200 and 1450 just before the arrival of the Europeans.
With its wall, Tulum lasted longer than many other Mayan towns in the face of the conquerors.
The painting shows what the Castillo originally looked like with the walls covered with adobe and painted brilliant colors.  There are a couple of places where you can still see the colors, but they are in sheltered areas and getting a good picture was not possible.
This is the a Mayan rain dance where they hang and swing around the pole.  We did not see the whole thing as we were in the van on the way back to the resort.

While there are signs in both English and Spanish at the site we highly recommend taking the Tulum tour rather than doing it on your own.  It was a great tour with a very informative guide, Mary, who was from Holland and came here to complete her thesis in anthropology.  She loved the area so much that upon completing her degree in Holland, she returned to become a guide at this beautiful place.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Secrets Akumal

It has been a couple weeks since I last posted because we were on Vacation.  While most people think we are on vacation all the time, we are not.  Just like those who live in a stix and brix we have a daily routine of errands and chores like doing the laundry, cleaning, cooking, washing dishes and maintenance.  Since going on the road we have flown to Jamaica, Hawaii, Dominican Republic and Mexico (three time). We prefer all inclusive resorts where we are totally pampered and the toughest decision we must make is which restaurant to go to to enjoy a great meal. We have even bought into the Unlimited Vacation Club and really like their Secrets resorts because they are adults only.
We chose to fly from Tampa only because we could get a more direct flight to Cancun.  No matter how old I get or how many times I fly I still love seeing the land and water below.  This is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that spans the entrance to Tampa Bay. 
For this trip we chose Secrets Akumal, their newest resort.  It is so new that many of the rooms were not done.  All the restaurants were open, but we were disappointed that the spa was not ready.  While we could have had a massage in a room we wanted the full spa experience including the hydro-cycle.  Not to worry, they transported us to the spa at Dreams Tulum.  That is the kind of pampering we love. 
The lobby is a grand open area with the huge hanging lights.  When I say open I mean no walls so the lights are often swaying in the breeze.
The resort has seven restaurants to choose from for dinner each evening making where do we eat the toughest decision we had to make.  Here we are at El Patio, the Mexican restaurant.
There is great entertainment every day.  This was the fire show that was really neat reflecting off the pool.
Thanksgiving day was my birthday and I opted for a meal at Portofino, the Italian restaurant, rather than the traditional Thanksgiving buffet.  It was my birthday so I did a bit of spooning.
Secrets does have casual restaurants, Oceana and Seaside, but the others have a more formal dress code.  Nanc likes the dress up places the best.
Each evening they have entertainment in the lobby bar before and after dinner.  We loved the mariachi band.
All ready for dinner at Bordeaux, the French restaurant, for another great meal.  The best thing about an all-inclusive resort is that everything is included in your up front payment.  While tipping is not required we find a buck or two is really appreciated by the staff.
Saturday both Nanc and Linda were celebrating birthdays. So when Alberto learned this he brought a special treat to the pool and everyone sang happy birthday. 
The celebration continued through dinner.....
....and late into the night.  Not to worry we had plenty of time to rest up around the pool the next day.
Akumal has a wonderful beach on the warm Caribbean Sea.  It is also the home of sea turtles that are here year round.
Included in our cost was the use of snorkeling equipment so you can swim out just a few feet into the sea and see the turtles swimming and eating the vegetation on the bottom.  
I don't have an underwater camera but these pictures show exactly what I saw.  The turtles moved slowly along the bottom.....
......and every few minutes they come to the surface to take a breath.  This has to rank up there with one of the neatest nature experiences I have seen.  Unfortunately, Nanc does not like to snorkel so she missed out.
Another evening the entertainment was a Mayan warrior ceremony that told the story of war and sacrifice. 
Here is Nanc with one of the warriors.  We also visited the Mayan ruins in nearby Tulum to get a better understanding of their culture.  That will have to be another blog.
A view of the resort from the lobby.  It only opened November 1 and you can see the palms are all newly planted.  While not all the resort was open we could see a lot of progress during our 10 day stay.  When it is all up and running it is going to be fantastic.
All the Secrets we have visited have great entertainment teams offering a big variety of activities.  Akumal was no different.  Nanc took part in the daily yoga and pool aerobics.    
They even had live music around the pool.  If you don't like all the activities there are two other pools that are a lot quieter.
We spent all our time at the infinity pool where we had a great view of the sea.  We love Secrets and are already looking forward to where we will be heading for our next vacation.  They are opening more resorts in several different countries so we will have many to choose from.