Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A much ado about nothing post

Haven't posted  much recently not because there wasn't anything to post but for the most part because I was being lazy and also mourning the lost of my long time friend of more than 55 years back in March 2017.

Even though his passing wasn't unexpected it put me into a six week spiral of grief etc - finally has dissipated and I am now back to my normal comfort zone and hopefully will post a little more frequently.

Another reason for not posting was my computer keyboard was acting up and certain letters became very hard to press and get any results - I now have a new HP computer so that excuse won't work any more.

I did a 14 day Alaskan cruise from San Francisco to Vancouver in mid-May and that was also about the time that my anxiety over the loss of my friend started to wane. Whether getting on a cruise ship and sailing with friends that I met on other cruises was a factor in feeling better I can't say.

I also started doing my volunteering about the same time - was it a factor - once again I don't know.

Any way I am now getting out on the bike and hiking and will be leaving Vancouver in a little over three weeks for a week of hiking in Waterton Park with the Skyline Hikers.



Sunday, March 5, 2017

Might be going to Cuba - May 2018

I have long wanted to go to Cuba and as a Canadian there are no restrictions on us travelling to that country BUT because I won't fly it has been virtually impossible - yes I know that you could get there by cruise ships but these sail from American home ports and to my knowledge I couldn't get off a cruise ship in Barbados - go to Cuba and then re-board another one in Barbados to get back to the US mainland.

Well that has all changed but the recent easing of restrictions for US citizens to visit that country.

The cruise ship industry saw the light and has received permission to sail to Cuba with certain conditions which technically don't apply to us Canadians - like the reason for visiting - educational and noting where and what you learned - but which the cruise ships are requiring of all passengers but there is little proof that is is been enforced by DHS officials but that could change.

Let's fast forward a little bit - I recently booked a 15 day Panama canal cruise on the new Norwegian Bliss which sails from Miami in May 2018 and had a brain fart the other week - if I am in Miami why not see if I can come in a few days early and do a Cuba cruise before boarding - most Cuba cruises are either from the Ft Lauderdale/Miami or Tampa ports so it seems fairly logically to do.

Norwegian would be my first choice as I have lots of perks with them - they offer a 4 day to Havana from Miami with an overnight in Havana - but they are only showing sailings until the end of 2017.

RCL has some offerings as well but nothing into next year.

Carnival has some 4 day day sailings from Tampa including one in May of next year - that one would work - I would spend a night in Tampa post cruise and then train it down to Miami for two night before boarding the Bliss - an alternate would be to head to Orlando for a day and take in Disney World and then train down to Miami - there are two trains a day to Miami so some options there.  Carnival isn't a preferred cruise line for me.

Will continue to check the cruise lines web sites for sailings and have my TA looking as well - they often get advance notice of bookings before they hit the public web sites.

What to expect in Cuba - despite what you hear - you are free to travel and take pictures except of military etc - this is true for many countries.

Yesterday I attended an outdoor adventure travel show and there was a booth on Cuba - had a lengthy chat with a very knowledge person about travel to Cuba.

Some things I learned and this pertains to Canadians.

1. Do you need a Visa? Canadian - No - but you will a tourist card. It will usually be set up for you by the cruise line.

2. Canadian money is accepted in Cuba - when you change it into Cuban $$$ there is no tax or transaction fee like on the US $$$. The exchange rate is based on the US$$$ so expect about a 30 -35 % exchange rate.

3. You are free to tour on your own and most people will welcome and help you see the country.

4. English is the second language so most will know some and most in the tourist industry are fluent.

5. You need proof of medical coverage and this is important to us Canadians - while your provincial health care card is proof - check and see if they will cover you in Cuba - apparently here in BC they won't - this could change over time as more people travel - if you have extended coverage - Blue Cross - Sun Life etc check and ensure that they cover you - otherwise you will need to purchase - you can't enter the country and likely not able to board the ship if you can't provide proof.

As travel to Cuba is continuing to evolve this information should be considered current as of the time of this post.

More to come at a later date.



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

All about cruising

To say that I like cruising is putting it mildly.

I have become addicted to that method of travel - partly in measure because I don't want to fly and once I reach a destination by train or bus or in some cases by walking about nine blocks to a cruise terminal - I can board and see parts of the world I wouldn't otherwise.

I have about thirty cruises under my belt - around 270 days at sea - from a number of one night cruises between Vancouver and Seattle and vice-versa to a long 49 day one around South America.

At present I have four cruises booked over the next 2 years - three on Norwegian and one on Royal Caribbean - the latter will be the first time on that cruise line.

Two are west coast based - and two are east coast based although one of those ends up on the west coast.

Here are the details of two of those cruises. The other two will follow in a separate post.

First up - is a 14 day Alaskan Cruise on the Norwegian Sun in May 2017

I first sailed this ship back in 2004 when I did my first Panama Canal cruise.

For this cruise I will travel down to San Francisco by Amtrak - meet up with some friends and take in a SF Giants baseball game and then the following morning board the Sun for the trip north.

After a stop in Astoria, Oregon we head to Alaska - for stops in Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka, Ice Straight Point as well as visiting Glacier Bay, Hubbard and Sawyer Glaciers - then on the southbound part we will stop in Prince Rupert and finally Nanaimo before sailing across the Salish Sea and into Burrard Inlet and our berth at Canada Place

Sept 2017 - The second cruise for 2017 will see my trying a new cruise line - all of my previous cruises have been on either Norwegian or Princess but as I was researching for something on the west coast in the fall to celebrate my 70th birthday I came across a 7 day west coast round trip from Seattle down to San Francisco on RCL's Explorer of the Seas - what I liked about it was firstly the pricing and secondly a full overnight stay in San Francisco - just a stop at Astoria on the way down and one at Victoria on the way back. 
There were a couple of features on this ship that intrigued me - one it has an ice-skating rink and also something called promenade inside cabins - these are inside cabins that have a window view to the inside promenade or atrium area of the ship.

The long layover in San Francisco will give me the opportunity to too a longer day trip as we won't need to be back on ship until 4 PM the next day.

One option I am looking at is to do a day trip and take in the 17 Mile Drive at Monterrey - while I have driven down that way on a couple of occasions I have never done that drive. 

While I could also do a long day trip to Yosemite from San Francisco most of the day tours have a meet time that makes it tough for me to take as by the time I get off the ship I likely won't catch the tour.

Perhaps my friends in the Bay area will come up with some other ideas .

Do want to spent some more time exploring the Presidio and the Pacific Ocean beaches.

In a separate post I will outline my 2018 cruise plans and a possible hint at what I might do in 2019 - boy that seems like a long ways off but in planning travel those dates are already starting to come online.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

A little about nothing and nothing to belittle

Well it is the middle of the first month of 2017 and here I am posting to my blog for the first time in a long time and staring out the window at broken skies and some sunshine.

Why would I be indoor on such a nice day - simple - my depression or stress if you wish is causing my fatigue to act up - I get this occasionally - sometimes from just being too active and mostly from me unable to put aside events in my life that are causing me concern.

On the health front - I have a nephew - only met him a couple of times as he was adopted out by his mother not long after birth and didn't connect until a few years ago when his birth father was in his last days - who is awaiting a liver transplant at Vancouver General hospital - it has been a roller coaster ride - of hopes for a new liver - because of his condition it must be a liver of a deceased person and not a living one and daily woes of what some would determine to be less than adequate care from the hospital.

That's the first one - the second one is my sister in law - my nieces mother - different mothers - was diagnosed with cancer before Christmas - while always a concern more recent tests have indicated that it is fully treatable and she should recover and have many more years.

Thirdly and the one causing me the most stress and grief is the deteriorating condition of my long time best friend and what I like to refer to as the "brother I never had" - his lungs are failing - this is a direct result of his serious bout of pneumonia a little over three years ago - he can't go anywhere without oxygen - if he does any exercise - just getting up and going to the bathroom it leaves him huffing and puffing - he needs to carry extra oxygen tanks with him and in just the minute or two it takes to change over tubes he is left gasping - for the most part he needs someone with him all the time - the worst thing is that his lung doctor has told him that unless they can stop the scarring of his lungs he will be gone in less than a year and the other day he asked me if I would help him plan a living wake in the summer. That has sent me into a stress spiral that I am still coping with.

Do have the Canucks hockey game this afternoon with him - we will need to find a quiet place to change over the tanks if the game goes into overtime.

I will post in another post my updated plans for cruising over the next couple of years.

As always Cheers!


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Idle thoughts

Now that I have cleared up a lot of web space by condensing my photos on Google I will be able to post on this blog a lot more.

So here are some idle thoughts for Oct 8, 2016

1. Is anyone still following the US election smut campaign - how any woman can still support Donald after the video from yesterday is beyond me. Enough said.

2. Vancouver Canucks - Jim and I have purchased a half season pack - both think it will be a very interesting and hopefully not a long frustrating season - if they stay healthy we feel they have a shot at the playoffs - if they suffer key injuries to the key core it will be a long season because while the youth movement has started they aren't for the most part seasoned enough to step in and provide the needed leadership.

3. My volunteering - I continue to volunteer for many events - this weekend - Sunday and Monday I am helping with the Turkey Trot race on Granville Island but for the most part until I return from my fall cruise and holiday in mid-November don't have a lot planned.

That's all for now.

Boston to New Orleans Oct 28, 2016 to Nov 11, 2016 -

                         My home for two weeks - the Norwegian Dawn

In less than two weeks I will heading out of Vancouver with my ultimate destination being Boston where I will board the Norwegian Dawn and set sail for a 14 day Caribbean cruise and end up in New Orleans - at least that is the plan but it's hurricane season so some of the ports etc could change depending on where the active storms are.

I have been lucky over the years on these repo cruises - while there has been storm activity in the region we have not missed a scheduled port or being rerouted.

Stops on this cruise are San Juan, Puerto Rico, Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao, Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico - all except Bonaire I have visited before.

As this will likely be my last long distance east coast cruise - this old body can't take the 4 - 5 day train trip both ways and since I don't fly there aren't a lot of ways to get to the east coast ports - I am taking a somewhat circuitous route to get there.

Amtrak train will be my main form of transportation to Boston and home from New Orleans.

Here's a brief outline of how the train trip will unfold - Vancouver to Seattle to Chicago to Buffalo where I will transfer to the Maple Leaf Service and head for Toronto - two night - one day stay there then it's off to Montreal for an overnight stay and then the train to NYC - overnight there and then the Northeast Regional to Boston - only coming in the night before the cruise - for some reason and partly because of the low Canadian $$$ the hotel rooms in Boston were around $250 - $300 US so I couldn't justify more than one night.

New Orleans streetcars are always fun to ride.

After the 14 days at sea I will stay overnight in New Orleans as I want to take the Sunset Limited from NOLA to LA and it doesn't leave every day. 

Hotels rooms were also very expensive here - partly because it's the Nov 11th holiday weekend and also because there is a large convention in town. I was able to get the Drury Inn - a very desirable hotel for cruisers using my RBC Rewards points.

After arriving in LA I will take the Coast Starlighter up the coast to Seattle and then transfer to a bus to get me back to Vancouver early in the morning.

How am I coming with my preparation? Well it's a slow process for me - for some reason I haven't started to pack and I am less than two weeks from leaving.

One of the major challenges in packing for this cruise is the need for taking some colder weather clothes - Chicago, Toronto, etc can be cool in late October early November - as much as possible I want to check my main luggage  but will still need the colder clothes on the train and at some of the stops along the way.

Don't know if I can fit the heavier clothes into my day pack and still have enough room for my toys - two cameras, one laptop, two cell phones - one for the US only - and there various chargers etc. + at least one change of clothes and a second pair of footwear.

One thing that helps is that I am leaving Vancouver in late October so can likely wear some of the bulkier items.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The condo is sold and I am now renting

I had been entertaining the idea of selling my downtown condo for some time and almost put it up for sale before Christmas but choose to hold off.

I know some people question why you would want to get rid of one of your biggest assets in retirement but there were a couple of factors at play.

While my pensions were providing me with enough to live on each month they weren't providing enough for the longer holidays etc - also when I started down the retirement road some 10 years ago the markets were providing a much larger return on their investments than they are now - so I have been using some of the equity in my condo to finance the cruises etc.

My condo building is coming up to 40 years old and will need to be upgraded and renewed over the next three to five years - there were likely to be several significant assessments over that period of time - all of which I would need to use the equity to pay for.

That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing - if the market continues to grow etc - but that is a big if - some were predicting a market correction here in Vancouver. etc.

Also while my health is okay now - okay I have the usual aging problems - hearing loss, cataracts etc I don't have any major life threatening or altering issues BUT you never know when that could happen.

I didn't want to be stuck in a situation where a health issue arises, there is a bad real estate market etc., etc., etc.,

So in early February I called an old real estate friend that I knew from my working days at the Y - we discussed the situation on Wednesday, agreed on a price and he arranged an open house for the Sunday - over 100 people viewed it - three offers were tendered on Monday - I accepted the middle one - only $1000.00 less than the highest but there were no subject clauses and it was still $6000.00 over asking.

It also was a month end closing so I needed to get a place to rent - while I could have rented in a condo building I choose to go with an all rental building - still in the downtown core - about 6 blocks from my old place - it's closer to the shopping core - I am 17 stories up in the sky - in a roomy 580 sq. ft one bedroom apartment with views to the south east and around to the northwest as it is a corner unit.

The move in when fine - I will be able to pay for about 80% of my rent from the proceeds of the sale and with a saving on condo fees and a friend repaying a private loan it takes very little from my monthly budget and will still have monies available for trips etc for many years to come.

So for the first time really in my adult life - except for one year in the 70's - I am not a home owner but a renter - my new place is managed by a large rental management firm and if first impressions mean anything I am very impressed on how they manage the building.

Since moving in I am heard almost no noise from either the suite above or below me.

I also have a built in washer and dryer, a large balcony - can't barbecue but there is a barbecue area on a lower floor - I have a good parking spot - a large storage locker and a good secure bike storage.

So the next chapter in my life is unfolding and it's time to say Cheers!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Just some dribble on a rainy day in the City.

January has had it share of rainy days and with little in the way of volunteering I have been busy planning my fall 14 day Boston to New Orleans repositioning cruise.

With the Canadian dollar in the tank - although it has rebounded a little bit the last couple of days - it is still adding to my costs significantly.

As most of you know nowadays most credit cards etc have rewards etc so I started to explore what I might be able to use for this trip - without getting into all the details I was able to book a hotel room in New Orleans with bank rewards - still enough for one more night in either Toronto or Montreal - also have some Air Miles that can get me a night in either of those two cities - only thing I don't like about Air Miles is that you have to pay the taxes and a booking fee so it isn't totally free,

Next I turned my attention to my Amtrak Guest Rewards - this is where I achieved a good saving - was able to book the Los Angeles to Vancouver part of the return trip entirely using points - includes a sleeper on the LA to Seattle part - that saved me over $300.00 US.

So the only things remaining to do is the hotel room in Toronto for 2 nights and one night in Montreal.

Still waiting for the cruise line to list the excursions for the cruise this fall - particularly interested in what they are offering for Bonaire which is the one port that I haven't been too before.

More later.