Monday, November 13, 2017

Cruising Indigo Star in Gorgeous Fall Weather

INDIGO STAR docked at the beautiful Field Club
After battling jet lag from our awesome China trip, we prepared Indigo Star for a fall trip with our cruising club, the PGIslanders.  Early November is prime time for going out on the water here in Southwest Florida and we wanted to take advantage of it.  It would not have been possible except for our daughter, Michele, who volunteered to travel here from northern California to advocate for my almost 97-year old Mom, who recently fractured her humerus where it connects to her shoulder.  It is going to take Mom quite a while to heal and figure out how to get out of a chair.  I know we will be spending quite a bit of time in Rehab with her.

Field House Channel
Up went the bimini. Richard swept off the cobwebs and off we went on a gorgeous day.  Our first destination was Venice Yacht Club where Richard pulled the boat into a 90 degree turn to get into a tight slip.   I swam in their heated pool and Richard walked Bleu Kitty on his leach all around the marina.  The next day we headed up the Intercoastal Waterway to the beautiful Field Club, the once summer home of Marshall Field, a retailer in the Chicago area. 
It's now reborn as a yacht and tennis club.  The grounds are gorgeous overlooking Sarasota Bay with old pin oaks gracing the shores.  We enjoyed lunch with Michele who came to pick me up for a Family Meeting and doctor appointment for my Mom.  Later, Jackie and Bob Whitaker arrived and we thoroughly enjoyed dinner with them the second evening there. 

Docked at Marina Jacks, downtown Sarasota
We were off early in the morning for Marina Jack's, the marina that the PGIslanders were all meeting at as their cruise destination.  After multiple conversations with the dockmaster, we were finally able to snag a "good" slip on D Dock, close to our friends' boats.  It took me reminding them that we had asked for an easy "in" and "out" multiple times.  They still wanted to put us far away from our group.  Finally, when I said, "I just hope I don't hit any other boats," they got the idea and gave us what we asked for!  I had to be VERY assertive there, but it was worth it.  We had a super fun time with all our
boating friends.  There must have been 20 boats there!  We had docktails on  the dock and all went to Salute, a very nice Italian restaurant in downtown Sarasota.  We also enjoyed a great Veteran's Day Parade and breakfast at First Watch. 

Our next plan was to continue onto the Sarasota Yacht Club and then the next day to Bird Key Yacht Club.  We are trying to visit 13 boating clubs in the Florida Council of Yacht Clubs so that we qualify for a dinner and award at the Change of Watch next March.  We
Joanne at Art Festival
were able to get into both clubs, despite strong north winds.
Joan & Joe Thomas had their hose rescued by us!
Richard set up our routes and reviewed the approach to each  club or marina.  We talked to each dock master before heading out for the day to confirm that were on the same page.  We had a fun time visiting each of these places and enjoyed some great meals.  We also attended a wonderful Arts Festival at St. Armond's Circle and watched the Sarasota Veteran's Parade.

Tomorrow, we head for home.  Wind blowing down Charlotte Harbor from the NE for the last few days has created nasty & steep waves. So after following the ICW from Bird Key, Sarasota down to Pine Island Sound, we plan to anchor at Useppa Island tomorrow afternoon and come up the harbor early Wednesday morning as we hope for lighter wind and better conditions early in the morning. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Traveling China and Hong Kong

China and Hong Kong have been on our bucket list for some time - this is the year to travel there!

Friday, October 13

Our guides, Tom and Melinda
The alarm rang at 3:30 am. We quickly rolled out of bed and downed some coffee. Off we were to Ft Myers Airport to catch our long flights to Shanghai, China. Two hours to Houston, wait – then 4 hours to San Francisco, wait, and then wait some more because smoke was on the runways due to wildfires, and then 13 hours to Shanghai. We arrived at 8:30 at night and after clearing Customs, were met by our Gate 1 representatives.

Shanghai Skyline
Our first impression of Shanghai at night was it is HUGE and all lit up. Shanghai has 24 million people in its limits and there are tall buildings everywhere. We crossed over a gorgeous lighted bridge of many colors and reached the Marriott. By the time we got to bed, it was 11:30 p.m. Perfect timing for sleep and everything was comfortable.

We woke up refreshed and ready to set out by ourselves to explore the city center. After a wonderful breakfast, we took the subway to the People's Park and observed ladies learning to do a Fan Dance. The park is well used and pretty. We then decided to go to the Shanghai Museum. This place was free, but we did pay a token fee for some audio guides, which helped explain the exhibits. What a great museum! I liked the Bronze section and Jade Gallery. Richard took pictures of the interesting pottery and unique bells.

After spending many hours there, jet lag got to us. We took the subway back and enjoyed a snack of eggrolls in a little restaurant near the hotel. Tonight we had h dinner with our traveling companions, Magda and Ford Cooper. We met some very nice college students who are learning English. They gave us some Moon Cakes. Apparently, there was a recent feast day to celebrate elders – and I guess we qualified!  

Saturday, October 14

Friends, Ford & Magda, tour with us
Today we gathered in the lobby area to meet our fellow Gate 1 Travelers and hear from our guide, Melinda, about our itinerary for the trip. There are 37 in our group: 4 Canadians from Toronto area, 2 Australian ladies from Melbourne, and the rest Americans from many states – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Illinois, California and there is even a solo younger man, a District Attorney from Phoenix, Arizona.

We headed off to view the famous Bund area, a walkway along the river area featuring one one side, the older famous British buildings home of banks and other businesses and on the other side, the modern skyscrapers all built in the last 25 years after the Cultural Revolution. We snapped pictures of the busy harbor area and admired the views. Afterward, we boarded the tour bus and took a short journey to visit the Jade Buddha Temple, one of the few remaining Buddhist shrines that were not destroyed by Mao's Red Guards. It was a gorgeous place and we enjoyed seeing the variety of Buddhas and the reverence of the visitors. Our guide explained some of the ceremonies such as the burning of the incense and some of the beliefs. We were amazed when we viewed the 2-ton jade Buddha. I have to say it was gorgeous and had a serene face. It was surrounded by 666 small carved wooden Buddhas along with other decorative features such as gorgeous jade jewelry and shells. The guide explained that the numbers 666 were very lucky and also the significance of the many steps and curved roofs which are believed to drive away evil spirits.

The afternoon ended with a sumptuous lunch. We were seated around round tables with large lazy susans. We tried a dozen dishes of steamed rice, beef, pork, fish, veggies, soups. Very delicious. We watched amazing contortionists tonight at a Chinese Acrobat show and met lovely couples, Melanie and her husband from Two Sisters, Oregon and another group of four from northern Idaho.

Sunday, October 15

Sampans on the canal
The ancient city, Suzhou, (a suburb of Shanghai) was on our agenda. We boarded the modern bus and enjoyed the 1-1/2 hour ride past high rises and factory centers. Melinda, our guide, explained that Suzhou is a good place to enjoy the “old” China experience, and we did, especially when we rode sampans (small wooden boats) down the Venice-like canals. Our boatman even sang old Chinese folk songs to us as she steered us through the light rain. Later we enjoyed strolling down the alleyways and window shopping. A short while later after lunch we visited the Garden of the Master of the Nets, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This place contained a large pool of water that was framed by pavilions and walkways. A flutist played a haunting melody as we strolled along admiring the view. Tomorrow is our last day in Shanghai before we take a flight to to Yichang where we board our cruise.

Monday, October 16

Today, our last day in Shanghai flew by. We toured a silk art and carpet studio where Richard bought a lovely little treasure, a fishing boat scene of the Yangtze done in silk thread. You would never know it! The patience and talent of the artists to create such work was impressive. Afterward, we enjoyed a lovely late lunch or early dinner.

A little about the food. Since we are a large group of 37, Gate One books 4 round tables in the restaurants seating 9 or 10 people. Each has a large lazy susan. Waiters bring huge steaming plates of sticky rice, beef sprinkled with unsweetened coconut, or in gravy with veggies, chicken dishes, duck, eggplant (very very good, one of my favorites); it always ends with a huge bowl of soup. I have really enjoyed it all. It all agrees with both of us. We also like the steamed dumplings filled with fragrant bits of meat. Drinks are mostly water or hot green tea or coffee. They also have a watered down beer in bottles. Soft drinks (sprite and coke) are available, too. Our fellow travel companions are a great group; however, there is always one in every group. Since we've had to deal with unseasonable rain, one man is complaining about the weather. Oh well!

We flew in the late afternoon about 2 hours to Yichang, the city where we pick up the large river boat to cruise down the Yangtze. We are in a nice cabin!

Tuesday, October 17

Our cruise ship
It was an early wake-up call to light and chilly rain. We watched from the upper deck as the boat traversed the first of the beautiful gorges on our cruise of the Yangtze River and Three Gorges Dams. After a wonderful breakfast, I attended the ship doctor's lecture. The subject, Chinese Medicine! Volunteer subject required! Up went my hand as my right knee has been bothering me. Into my leg went four thin needles: acupuncture accomplished and pain relieved. The needles could hardly be felt. A day later my knee still feels a whole lot better! He also did a maneuver on my neck and I can now move it a lot better. Those long plane rides take their toll!

Narrow part of the gorge
Today we toured the Three Gorges Dam area. It is an amazing feat of human engineering. The dam tamed the Yangtze River's annual flooding, sometimes severe that brought misery to twelve million downstream. Generators also provide many megawatts of carbon free electricity. The cost was $37 billion dollars. The project required relocation of 1.3 million people. Our guide was one of them. Our cruise director was another.

Our guided kidded us that we could take 260 steps to reach a viewing area but recently installed escalators made the “climb' easy. Of course, Richard snapped lots of pictures. Fortunately, the rain let up for better views.

Wednesday, October 18

Goddess Stream Boat
We strolled off our big ship and followed our day guide, Lily, through a maze of docks making frequent turns and detours through the crowds. We were on our way to a small quaint yellow-roofed boat that took us up the picturesque gorges. The views were breathtaking as we passed by waterfalls and rocky cliffs. This journey is called the Goddess Stream. Lily entertained us with stories about the local villages high on the cliffs. Apparently, the people here are known for their longevity. The farms grow herbs on the mountains such as gingko and other roots. We landed at a man-made spot and the local young people entertained us with dancing and folk songs.

Us posing in paradise
On the way back, Lily told us that marriages are still arranged by parents. When a child is born, parents plant a camphor tree and nurture it along with their child. When the child is married, the tree is cut down and furniture constructed for the bride and groom. Lily was a good student and luckily received a scholarship to attend the university. Her future husband was a school mate. He, too, went to university, but one that was far from hers. They kept up their long distance relationship and only last year married. She said that the custom is that a good daughter is expected to cry for 3 days before leaving her beloved parents and go to the family of her new husband. She told her folks that she was not going to cry – and thus, did not receive her dowry of the camphor-tree furniture. Lily said that was all right with her because with her education, she could now obtain a good job and buy her own furniture! Everyone on our tour loved Lily. She was very inspiring and personable.

Later, I attended a Hot Pot cooking class. This region is known for its hot spicy food. The chef put 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large pot and heated it to a high temperature. He then added 1 cup of hot red pepper roots and 1 cup of hot pepper corns. That's not all! Some of the other ingredients were star anice, bay leaves, red bean paste, cardeman, beef fat strips and other special spices. Eventually an equal amount of hot water was added to the pot and heated. Finally, the concoction was ready. The cook added cauliflower, soy noodles, dumplings, cucumber spears, lotus bulb strips and cooked them for about 5 minutes. A slotted spoon was used and the delicacies scooped out on plates for us to enjoy. It was spicy-hot, but I did enjoy most of the hot pot. Tonight, after dinner, is a Crew Cabaret Show.

Thursday, October 19

Famous Red Pagota
Ophelia, our lovely day guide, led our group over the Drunken Bridge to the Red Pagoda, an ancient Buddhist temple, built in the early 17th century. It was only 8 am in the morning and we were off to an start. Even so, there were crowds of people angling to get a chance to climb the 99 steep steps to the top of this picturesque monument to the Emperor King of the Ming Dynasty. This 100 ft high pagoda is sometimes referred to as one of the eight construction wonders of the world, built into the side of a rocky cliff face and constructed without use of nails. We enjoyed the climb because at each floor there was a surprise – either round porthole windows to view the landscape below or interesting statues and figures. At the top, we toured the temple and enjoyed viewing the goddess statues. Afterward, we strolled through the local town and enjoyed a peek of the vegetable gardens.

Once we were back on the boat, we received a lesson on Mahjong game playing as well as a tour of the Bridge of the boat and a documentary on the 3-Gorges Dam. Sadly, our river boat tour ends tomorrow morning and we will catch a flight to Xian, home of the terracotta warriors. 

Friday and Saturday, October 20 and 21

With the locals in the park
Early wake up call and we were off the boat and on our way via Capital Airways from the populus town of 37 million, Chongqing, to Xian on an hour flight. We were absolutely blown away by the brand new HUGE Chongqing Airport that opened recently. The entry halls looked to be made of a shiny marble and we noticed workers whose sole job seemed to be to “keep the floors polished.” We also noticed hightened security with multiple checks by authorities, even for flights within the country.
Richard dances with the ladies

Terracotta Warriors and me
The guide filled us in on the history of the ancient “old” capital of Xian. It was the location of eleven dynasties and is an archaeological treasure trove, home of the Terracotta Army. The day was spent visiting a really neat colorful Muslim market that has been in the city for 6 centuries. Apparently Muslims came here on the Silk Road, a route first established by one of the emperors as a way to import his magnificent Manchurian horses. We were amazed by the exotic foods that were being prepared and sold in this market. We tried freshly prepared pomagranite juice and persimmon cakes. There were homemade noodles and squid on a stick among other oddities. Later that evening we enjoyed a dinner theater that served us a 6-course dinner and featured a dance performance by the Tang Dynasty Troupe.

Huge pits were found of broken warriors. 
Now they are being glued back together.  An ancient wonder of the world!
Up again on an early wake up call for a full day tour of the city. We started off in Xingping Park, where we joined the locals in their morning TaiChi exercises and dancing. The highlight was listening to them sing their patriotic songs. They were very welcoming to us – we were asked to stand in the center stage area while they sang to us – very nice!

We were off to see the 8th Wonder of the World, the Terracotta Army, a vast collection of life-size soldiers, horses and chariots that were entombed with China's first emperor. It was discovered by a local farmer in 1974 and is still being excavated. When we lived in Houston, we did see an traveling exhibit of the warriors and never dreamed we'd actually be able to see the actual site. It was Saturday and very crowded. We were surprised to see that 3 huge buildings have been built over the pits. You can actually see the pieces of soldiers that are being reconstructed. After a full day, we headed back to the town for a dinner of
This guy looks familiar!
many kinds of dumplings. Xian is absolutely gorgeous at night – all lit up. There is an ancient town wall built around the original city. Everything is illuminated! There are temples and high high rises everywhere. This is supposed to be a small Chinese city, but the size and scope is amazing.

Sunday, October 22

We headed off to the Xian Airport at 6:30 a.m. To catch our flight to Beijing on China East Airways. It was a quick 1-1/2 hours and before we knew it we were on our way to a lovely Chinese lunch. Following the meal we toured the old section of Beijing, shopped a little and spoke to a family in the old historic district. He was retired, a bit younger than us, and we asked him questions about his life and the Cultural Revolution. His close family was sent to the Gobi Desert Region for “reeducation” and he said his father was penniless after giving up family home they had owned for generations. They survived on rationing coupons for food, clothing, heating fuel and both men and women wore gray/brown clothing dictated by the government. He did not seem at all resentful, rather, he was now appreciative because after Mao his family home was returned to him. He did have to follow “the one child” program and was disappointed when his wife gave birth to a girl. But now, he is appreciative of her because of the attention that a girl gives to her parents. (Now, the government allows families to have 2 children.) The day ended with a rickshaw ride and we are now in a nice hotel called the Park Plaza in downtown Beijing. Weather is colder here – in low 60's because we are further north.

Monday, October 23 and Tuesday, October 24
The guys on our tour buy genuine Great Wall hats!  They pose with street vendor.
Today was the BIG day to drive to the Great Wall of China. Traffic is really heavy on the roads here. Even though there are massive subway systems, the population of 22 million is a challenge in getting around the city. The closest I've been to this much traffic is the LA Freeway. You have to close your eyes as cars squeeze into lanes barely avoiding hitting one another. After 2 hrs of traffic, we pulled into a Jade Factory to hear the pitch about how jade is carved, the quality of the jade, etc. I have always though of jade as green, but I was surprised to see many colors of white, beige, many greens and even purple. One of the ladies on the tour bought a magnificent jade ring trimmed in silver. Very unusual and nice! 

We did it!  We climbed the Great Wall of China!
Another 2 hours on the road and we were at the Great Wall of China entrance. Of course the Great Wall was build across thousands of miles of mountain passes to keep invaders out of the Middle Kingdom of China. The tour company chose one of the more picturesque places for our access. There were many many uneven steps up to the top of the wall with guard shacks along the way. Before I knew it, Richard bounded up the steps to the top as I was huffing and puffing. I made it about one half way to the top, but I still had a lovely view in the section I traversed. The fall leaves were just starting to turn and fortunately, the air pollution wasn't too bad. We had great views of the temples and landscape.
Afterward, we enjoyed a lovely lunch at a local restaurant.

Panda at Beijing Zoo

On the way back to the city of Beijing, we stopped at the Beijing Zoo to glimpse the panda bears. They were really cute and are endangered in the wild. Many of the people on our tour caught a cold; and unfortunately, I have the bug. It seemed to settle in my chest and I have a cough. People are sharing meds and I got a bunch of Musinex from our Oregon friend. That is really helping.

I had decided to skip dinner and crash in the hotel room, but our guide Melinda, phoned our room to tell us that Tienaman Square would be closed tomorrow. Apparently, the government meets once every 5 years to elect a new party. The person in charge in the communist party is well liked and should be reelected. However, there is security all around the city and the square is only available for viewing tonight. So, instead of resting, we headed out into the cool night air (upper 40's). I have to say the Chinese really like their buildings illuminated. There were flowers everywhere in honor of the election and beautiful lights. Mao's picture looks retouched and is hanging prominently. We saw his huge tomb with a gigantic flower vase in front of it. There were plain clothes police everywhere and we went through multiple security checks. They obviously, don't want any problems around here during the big election. It was very pretty and striking and I'm glad I got to see the big production at night.

Flower basket on meridian of Tianamon Square
The next day was a full one. On tap, was visiting the Summer Palace and then the Forbidden City. We got an early start – everyone on the bus by 8:30 a.m. I was really dragging, but I figured I only get to see all of this once, so I persisted. We walked over 18000 steps (one of our fellow tour friends counted!) I really enjoyed the Summer Palace. The palace surrounded a gorgeous lake and we got to ride a boat on it. The Forbidden City is a place that could take weeks to see and we only
Marble boat in Summer Palace Lake
scratched the surface. It's amazing that the emperor could build all of this for himself and his concubines. There were palaces and pagotas and gorgeous buildings everywhere with treasures in them. It was a feast for our eyes and hard to take it all in. It reminded me a visiting the frescos in Italy. Just overwhelming and beautiful.

Walls of Forbidden City
Tonight we had a lovely farewell dinner featuring Peking Duck. It really was delicious. They slice the duck on platters and gave us what they call “pancakes” to wrap the slice of meat into with soy sauce, strips of celery and onion. The courses went on and on. Chinese wine is not too good – but their food makes up for it. Richard enjoyed their beer. Desserts are not great either – I am saving all the dessert calories for Europe! Tomorrow off to Hong Kong!

Wednesday, October 25 and Thursday, October 26

Morning view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak with harbor
It was another early wakeup call and then a bus to the airport to fly out of Beijing into Hong Kong Airport. The security is extensive here. There are multiple checks of passports and lines to wait to get through security checks. Everyone is pulled aside and frisked and bags xrayed many times. I thought it would be a quick flight, but it would up being 3 hours in the air. Then we had to re-enter Hong Kong like it is another country. Hey, I thought the Chinese owned Hong Kong? By the time we got to the hotel it was past 4:30 p.m. Our experienced guide, Maria (20 plus years working for Gate 1) met us and gave us a little talk to orient us to the city. My first impression was “WOW” - gorgeous bridges, highrises, busseling city by the bay. Our hotel is in Kowloon, the shopping area, so after check in we took a hotel shuttle to the downtown restaurant street. The Coopers found a little Morrocian place called appropriately, Casablanca. We were taken a few flights up from the street to a cute little place. Their speciality was “mixed grill,” beef, chicken and lamb grilled on our own little grill brought to the table. We could wrap in in homemade pitas. We also ordered a lentil soup, their specialty with lamb and veggies. Everything was excellent and a welcome respite from all the Chinese food we've eaten lately. The downtown was hoppin' – it reminded me of New York City with crowded streets and colorful lights everywhere. We took a cab back to our room because by this time, we all maxed out for the day.
Colorful boat on harbor

Next morning we slept in and at 7:45 went down to the lovely breakfast buffet. Our tour of the city began at 9:00 a.m. We were whisked to Victoria Peak, the highest point for fabulous views of the harbor and skyline. The real estate enjoying this view is some of the most expensive in the world. We were told that apartments of 1,000 sq ft go for millions. Later we were taken on a sampan ride, tour of a jewelry place, lunch at Stanley Park with shopping and finally tonight is a seafood feast and boat ride on the harbor. We are packing it all in here – wish we could stay longer.

Friday, October 27 and Saturday, October 28

The cruise of spectacular Hong Kong Harbor is definitely a highlight of our trip. I've never seen a harbor so lit up – the tall skyscrapers, buildings with designs and colored lights rival NYC and Paris. We were treated to a long harbor journey both back and forth to the restaurant. My favorite light show was a building that turned into a mermaid and then a few minutes later, it was a panda! Such a feast for your eyes! So many colors in the night sky! We disembarked for a group dinner at the fresh seafood market. But first, we got a tour of the docks. There were huge crabs, cuttlefish, and shrimp varieties from all over the world in their tanks. The lobsters were HUGE. We sat at round tables furnished with huge lazy susans. The restaurant brought out platters full of shrimp, squid, fish, you name it -with their fried rice, noodles and home made soups. Just delicious!
Beautiful skyline

The next day, sadly our last tour day, began with a ride to Lantau Island. Hong Kong has many islands surrounding it (it looks volcanic like the South Pacific). I was surprised by the pretty beaches and our guide stopped the bus so that we could all stick our feet into the South China Sea. The water was probably in the high 80's and I collected a few shells to bring back to add to my shell tree. Lantau Island is an old island that was used by the native fisherman. Then, Hong Kong decided to move its international airport there and in the early 1990's it was developed. Cars and buses are limited on Lantau because they want to keep the remainder of it in it native state. Our destination was the
Dipping feet in South China Sea
largest brass Buddah Statue in the world. We drove up to it and like the Statue of Liberty, you can go inside. The monks had beautiful calligraphy and paintings on the second floor. Some were painted with the monk's own blood! There were also shrines and memorials to believers with their pictures on little marble name plates throughout. We had a vegetarian lunch at the monastery and had free time to look at the temple and other artifacts. At the conclusion, we took a cable car ride over the island with more extraordinary views. What a great way to finish the tour!

To backtrack a little, earlier in the tour our guide, Maria, told us about her life growing up in Hong Kong. Maria looked to be in her early 50's and shared with us that her husband had recently passed away from cancer this past April. She said that they had decided not to have children. This loss is very painful for her and she is trying to go on and be happy in her own life.

The Big Buddah
Growing up, she was the oldest in her family. She described that they were working class people. When her parents married, they qualified for government housing, which was a 200 sq ft room in a huge apartment walk-up – they were on the 6th or 7th floor. In that room, lived her parents, herself, her auntie, and her grandparents. On her floor in all the apartments resided about 200 people. For those 200, there was one female toilet on one side of the floor and one male toilet on the other side! Showers were family affairs. One per week, you rode your bike with your parents to a shower house and washed after waiting on a long line. When she was born, they put their name on a list for family housing. Finally, after 9 years, an apartment (now about 600 sq ft) with its own toilet, shower, refrigerator and washing machine opened up. She said she hugged the new toilet bowl crying in joy, when they finally got to move in! Her story really gave us a perspective of what the Chinese went through and still to this day, they live in tiny places in huge highrises.

Our trip is over and we are on the long plane ride home – 14 hours from Hong Kong to Newark, a long layover and then about 3 hours down to Ft Myers.

Cable Car Ride of the city
On our last night, we took a taxi with our friends over to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club to “live it up” in style. We had a fabulous meal in their Compass Room with overlooks the skyline and gives a 360 degree view. We discussed the trip and agreed that we had a wonderful time. Our fondest memories occurred with the retired people in the park. Every morning they do their Tai Chi and are so welcoming to visitors. We joined in their exercise class and also participated in dancing and singing with them. It was very special! We agreed that Gate 1 Travel was a terrific tour company with reasonable prices and value for the money. The accommodations, meals, guides and events were well done. We enjoyed the cruise down the Yangtze and felt that the pace really picked up after that. We cannot imagine them squeezing anything more into the trip. We hit the major sites and much much more.
Dinner at Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club

Holding IYC burgee at Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club

It was eye opening to see the strides that China is making in the world. It is a super power on steriods. When you see it for yourself, you begin to get a glimpse into their success over the past 25 years. The country is massive and with 1.4 billion people, they are a force to be reckoned with. Its history and culture are amazing and we feel lucky to have traveled there.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Family
Richard, Joanne, Bleu Kitty, Bill, Carol and Lucky
Hurricane Irma paid us all a visit on September 10.  We did not expect her at our location at all!  Forecasts showed her tracking off the east coast of Florida. With each update the forecast track moved slightly to the west.  Our concern mounted as the forecast called for a track up the middle of the state.  We could ride out the storm since our house was built to "Miami Dade" hurricane standards. We planned to stay if the storm continued to the east. We glued ourselves to the TV for each update.

Thursday afternoon the forecast track shifted along the west coast, just offshore as a CAT 4 or 5 - the worst possible scenario, a Perfect Storm.   Irma could be expected to push a wall of water up Charlotte Harbor to flood our house, only 10 ft above sea level.

All week we had been preparing for the storm - putting up storm shutters, gathering insurance and other records, removing the bimini from the boat and adding lines to ground anchors. Wednesday, we also helped install storm shutters at Vincent St de Paul. Additionally, Richard helped put up storm shutters for a widow on our block. Thursday morning Richard and another neighbor finished up that task.  Richard doubled the lines to the ground anchors and set out bow and stern anchors for Indigo Star.  The boat rides securely to pilings that move and down with the tide. It is tied to blocks that slide up and down tracks mounted to pilings. But, what would happen if the water rose high enough to max out the slides?  We didn't know; hence, all the extra work. All this work in Florida heat produced gallons of sweat, believe me.

We discussed parking one of cars in a public parking garage downtown. But what we didn't realize was that a lot of other people thought of the same thing! By the time we got there Thursday mid-morning, only a few spaces were left and those were on the roof level.  Well, better there than in a flooded garage.
By Thursday afternoon Richard wanted to evacuate but I (Joanne) wanted to remain. A decision was made for when we received a phone message from the city recommending evacuation.  It was time to go. Richard finished up with the boat. We packed a few things and stuffed the car with kitty stuff, flashlights, records, some food and hastily packed clothes bags and started driving north. Later, we learned that the police came around three times urging people to leave over a megaphone. It was a "mandatory evacuation."

While Richard was driving about an hour north of Punta Gorda , I noticed a phone message that I had missed.  Upon listening, it was my cousin, Bill, who I had not heard from in some time.  I phoned him and he invited us to stay with him and his wife, Carol, in a condo in Orlando, close to Disney.  It turned out to be a Hilton Resort and boy, we were happy when we arrived and were ushered into a lovely room with a king size bed.  They even welcomed us with our cat, Bleu Kitty, a long-haired Persian.  I knew Carol had allergies to cats, therefore, I was worried.  But, it turned out they have a lovely dog, Lucky, and she now takes allergy meds.  So, NO WORRIES!  We had a great time getting reacquainted and reminiscing about our childhoods, the family, etc. We watched lots of movies and enjoyed delicious meals while the weather channel was going non-stop.

At times it looked pretty bad.  We discussed losing all our possessions, where we might go and what might happen.  As the day moved into night and the hurricane was finally upon us, it veered eastward after demolishing Macro Island. It tracked over land, not over water. The surge forecast change to 1+ ft above ground for us. Still, we don't understand this ground reference since we think of water relative to sea level. Punta Gorda dodged a major bullet at the last hour.  Even, my cousin's home in Naples was spared.  We were so happy to go home again after the storm!

The blessings of this tough time were many.  We heard from friends that we had not been in contact for quite a while.  We received emails from our Friendship Force friends in foreign countries - Western Australia, Eastern Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, Belgium and Canada.  My daughter actually called twice, once at 2 AM Saturday morning when she saw the forecast track going straight up Charlotte Harbor and offered to come and help us recover what was left of our house.  Friends invited us to stay with them.  Wow!  We were so overwhelmed with the goodness of people.  I remember the lessons I have learned in my life - out of tough situations, the sunlight shines.  God is in control, not me!  I am so grateful and blessed.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Caspersen Beach on a hot July Day

Chris, Jan, Joanne, Conrad & Sally enjoyed the beach
We organized a beach day and eight in our boating club, PGIslanders, and one guest had a fantastic time at Caspersen beach on Wednesday, 7/19.  Although it was raining in Punta Gorda, the group headed down Rt 41 North to Venice because the RADAR NOW app showed "all clear" weather. And it was.  As another good omen for the day, a parking space became available just steps away from the rest room and beach path areas.  There is NO charge for parking at this destination, so it doesn't get any better than this!

A turtle strolls along with the locals
The water was warm and calm as we all skinny dipped in (OH, just kidding!)   Some looked for sharks teeth and of course, found a few.  Some of us brought our snorkels and were rewarded with schools of fish feeding from the plankton on the rocks.  After lots of fun and conversation, we headed down to Sharkey's.   Can you believe we got a fantastic table for 9 under the shaded patio and on cue, a coolish breeze filtered through.  The seafood lunch was great and everyone enjoyed the drinks, too!  Summer is a great time to become a tourist here - no swarms of people, lines of cars, etc. - -civility, peacefulness and tropical breezes were the order of the day. 
Sally, Conrad, Trudy, Chuck & Mahala enjoy lunch at Sharkey's

Those attending were:  Leaders - Joanne & Richard Collins, Sally & Conrad Pinches, Jan & Rick Petroski, Trudy & Chuck Millburg with niece, Mahala, visiting from Illinois.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Local newspaper pet photo contest

Our local newspaper is having a pet photo contest.  Today we entered the following 2 pictures (one per person) of our cat, Bleu Kitty, our 6 year old Blue Persian.  Wish us luck!

Bleu Kitty loves to smell the flowers!
Bleu Kitty is dressed for the summer in his straw hat and tie

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Visiting Pam & Don in Henderson Harbor, NY

Brockport Viking Apartments - lived there 41 years ago!
Snowbirds, Pam & Don Brandt, treated us like family

At The End of the Road on the Eastern Shore of Lake Ontario

Gorgeous view overlooking Lake Ontario from Pam & Don's back porch.  Note the Inuksuk (rock man) that Don built!
Our Punta Gorda snowbird friends, Pam and Don Brandt, asked us to drop by their summer place the next time we were in New York State.  Since we were only a few hours away, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.  It was fun for me (Joanne) because I lived in Brockport, NY (which was on the way) over 41 years ago.  I had not been to the area since then, so it was a trip down Memory Lane.  I remembered the Genesee River and some of the Rochester area.  I really enjoyed seeing Brockport.  After all these years, I found the apartment building that we lived in so long ago.

Inuksuk Man
We arrived at the CAMP as Pam and Don call it and it was great!  They treated us like family - we enjoyed touring the 1000 Lake Region, hearing Lake Ontario waves right outside the window of the backyard, viewing Pam's fantastic garden, seeing Don's awesome boat that he restored after 13 years and hearing about their family and meeting their friends.  We attended a wonderful 4th of July BBQ on Sunday at the Henderson Harbor Yacht Club and had dinner at a terrific restaurant.  The 3 days went by very fast and before we knew it, it was time to catch our flights.

Garden Yard
What a fabulous vacation we had to Detroit, Canada and upper New York State!  Lots a memories, good times and wonderful friends! 

Bottle Tree - I want one!
Renovated lake home with a cupula that lights up!

Nod to Florida

On the SnakeFoot Trail
Lake Ontario Meets Its Eastern Shore

Wildflowers against rustic fence

Henderson Yacht club on Protected Henderson Harbor

BBQ at Yacht Club

BBQ at Yacht Club

Fog horn at Tibbett Point

One of the Islands

Lunch on the St Lawrence River, Clayton, NY

Boat Going By

Passing Over the St Lawrence River to Wellesley Island

Victorian Homes on Wellesley Island

On Wellesley Island - Note High Water Covers Gas Pump