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My Hong Kong Adventure

While scrolling through a cheap-airfare google search, my husband asked, “Want to go to Hong Kong?” Is there any other answer to that but YES! Him and I set off for the other side of the world to ring in 2018 in style. Konger style!

Getting there is half the fun (JK)

We flew Alaskan to Seattle. From ABQ, we don’t have a lot of choices but I must say, I prefer Alaskan over Southwest. With some advance purchase, their prices aren’t too bad. SWA compatible. From Seattle, we went non-stop on Delta. Watched more movies on that flight than in all of 2017! (LOL! May I recommend Snatched with Amy Shumer and Goldie Hawn… Or if you need a good cry A Dog’s Purpose should do the trick.)

Our Airbnb was in Discovery Bay (fifth floor) across from the China Disneyland. Our hostess/host were pros and left us some snacks, local beer and easy directions to use the public transportation system. They were top-notch hosts all the way! Our flat was small, clean and just perfect for what we needed.

The first morning we explored downtown Hong Kong and found the famous ‘sneaker street’ where every name-brand of shoes has at least one shop. Beware though, they largest women size is an 8. With clothes too, sigh, good thing the guys shoes were cute too. We shopped an entire afternoon and had some local cuisine from a little cafe where we the only ones that spoke English. That night, the (impressive) New Years fireworks could be seen from our bedroom window. Which was a good thing as we were exhausted from the 20hours of traveling and the day’s worth of shopping.

New Year’s Day

We visited the Tian Tan Buddha and the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ngong Ping on New Year’s Day. We rode up the mountain in a glass-bottomed tram. The shops and restaurants weren’t quite open as we went extra early (yea, we were still on Mountain Time Zone, lol) The stillness and then awaking of the area was subtle and sweet, a blessing to welcome the new year. We went in and paid extra to do the self-guided tour. It was a sacred and special time to be in that specific spiritual place.

We hiked down through the Lantau North County park. It was approximately eight and a half miles straight down! (Hey HK, next time you make a trail down a mountain may I suggest switch-backs?)Everyone we passed wished us a Happy New Year. (there were a lot off people!) HK has approximately 7.5 million people and it seemed we bumped into a big part of the population. I’m out of shape AF and would ask the folks coming up, “How much further?” and inevitably they answered, “Oh, about two more hours.” This went on all day to the point I was afraid to ask!

Let’s see it all

We also visited Lautau island, rode bikes through Sha Tin’s Central Park and through the neighborhood, Tai Wa. There was a three story “wet market” we went to (oppose to a dry market, the difference being the floors-wet or dry). The first floor had live sea food, as well as freshly caught and many sides of beef, whole chickens and ducks. That’s where you pick your meat. The next floor you select your vegetables. Once you get to the third floor you pick your cook, the hostess seats you and takes your food and by the time you get your drinks, the food you just picked from the market is steaming in front of you! We had pan fried pumpkin, beef/potatoes, shrimp and garlic, and a veggie scramble. I heard a rumor Anthony Bourdain went there but the cook booth thought he was nothing more than an arrogant Canadian so no mention of it is anywhere… who knows?

The next day my calves and back were screaming so I talked my husband into a taxi up to the Pok Fu Lam County Park where we took a nice stroll along a relatively flat asphalt trail to Victoria Peak and then to a lovely restaurant with a fantastic bar! (the hostess hugged me as I came in the door, so sweet!)

The adventure the next day was shopping and eating in Sai Ying Pun, Sheung Wan and along Hollywood road to the Man Mo Temple. The public transportation is so easy and convenient, we really took advantage of seeing as much as we could. Still averaged 7-10 miles of walking day. I actually lost a few pounds on this vacation and it wasn’t from a lack of food! LOL!

Our Airbnb hosts had a swanky dinner party we were (fortunate enough to be) invited to. Many Hong Kong residents have domestic help and the party had a little crew cooking up everything from ostrich, to kangaroo, shrimp to squid and more. We met some really interesting people from GB, Australia and Alaska. Thanks Simon, the British Cathay pilot I met for inspiring my next historical fiction book, Pirate Queen about Cheng Shi. Watch for it spring of 2019.


A day in Macau was a must, so we headed there on a high speed ferry on Friday. Its the Vegas of China and INDEED IT IS!!! We took the Venetian bus to the end of the line and then wandered into an old village named Taipa. It was a Portuguese settled area so the food was a bit different, delicious but different. We went on a photo safari through the rain. It was so picturesque every where I looked I bet I took 500 photos that day alone. Normally we get a Harley Davidson shirt for my husband’s brother but the shop was closed. There were people in there so we knocked on the glass door. They didn’t open until the following Monday. “Cash?” they asked and once we confirmed our method of payment we were digging through their inventory that wasn’t actually for sale, yet.

We found a ,coffee cafe and drank some slow drip java then found a brew house and indulged in a local beer. They had French fries and gravy so we ordered up that too, YUM! All day we wandered, ate a little, drank a little and wandered more. There’s a large park area that is open space and beautiful for pictures and strolling.

Overall, I took almost a thousand pictures in eleven days. I met an ambitious young woman named Ashley whom I dare bet we keep in touch. We had quite the connection. Also, our Airbnb hostess/host were fun and I feel they are now titled ‘friends’ too. Want to go to Hong Kong? The answer to that is always a huge YES!

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Glacier Bay (Alaskan Cruise; Part II)

My Grand Princess cruise was so remarkable; I’ve broken the blog into parts. The first was all about the things I learned about the economics of the multi-billion-dollar industry and my overall impression of the experience. Welcome to part two; Glacier Bay.

On the morning we arrived in Glacier Bay National Park, I noticed immediately something was different on the ship. My coffee was in a ceramic cup. When I asked the employees, they explained that there was to be zero paper waste on the day we were at the National Park. This made me ponder a few things, one; just how much paper waste we were creating daily and two; why the ship only designates one day to be environmentally friendly. I pondered this the rest of my journey, especially each time I threw a paper cup in the trash.

The Huna Tlinglit people have called this area ‘home’ for as many generations as have been documented. There are no reptiles that live here but there are over one-hundred and fifty species of fish, over forty species of mammals, two-hundred seventy-four species of birds, and three types of amphibians. The park is roughly the size of Connecticut with only fifty-five full time employees. More than a half of a million visitors come each year to see the glaciers, ninety-five percent via cruise ships. For environmental reasons, the number of boats a day are restricted and regulated.

Two-hundred fifty years ago, there was one gigantic glacier. In 1750 it began to retract and fill a sixty-five mile long fjord. It’s retreated a total of sixty miles, five of those miles just in the last nineteen months (One twelfth melted in the last year and a half!) Today there are over twelve-hundred glaciers. Jonathan B. Jarvis, a former director of the National Park Service was quoted as saying, “I believe climate change is fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced.” In the last fifty years, Alaska’s annual average temperature has increased more than twice of that of the ‘lower 48’. Ebb and flow have always been a factor in this part of the world, that being said, the higher temperatures will have a long-lasting effect on the entire planet.

The word, dynamic means ‘of process or system characterized by constant change, activity or progress’. There is not a better word to describe this amazing place! The opportunity to study the biological and most fundamental geographical processes are presented to scientists because of Glacier Bay.

Even though we stayed on the ship, this stop on the cruise was worth the price of admission!


Photo Credit: Richard James Plato

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Alaskan Cruise; A bucket list trip (Part One)

Do you have a bucket list?

Recently I found a scrap of paper that was a bucket list I had written in 2010. Surprisingly, I’d done most of the things I had dreamed of only seven years ago. The one that still couldn’t be crossed off was “Take an Alaskan Cruise”. Ironically, my uncles and cousins invited me to join them on the Grand Princess’s first 2017 Alaskan voyage shortly after my discovery of the unfinished list. The price ran a little over $2,000 and included unlimited food and beverages for ten days. I told them, “I’m in.” It seemed a little expensive, but room, food, transportation; it all adds up and $200 a day seemed doable. I quickly registered with the cruise line, booked my off-shore excursions and packed my bags.

The first impression as we sailed from San Francisco was the ship seemed to want to ‘fleece’ money from me every day.  Between the spa, art gallery, on-board shops, cheesy pictures, wine tasting, craft time, internet connection*, etc. They wanted more and more money. Even a thorough tour of the ship was over a hundred dollars (I passed on that even though I was very curious). I sucked it up financially and justified it as spoiling myself. (*the internet was SO expensive and super slow, the tower computers left-overs from the late nineties.) They also pushed booking the off-shore excursions at every opportunity.

The first stop was Juneau where I had signed up to go ‘gold panning’ with a salmon bake. The guide dressed the part and was very knowledgeable about the area. (Did you know, Juneau was voted the ugliest state capital in the country?) Anyway… We got to the river and he passed out the pans of dirt and showed us how to swish the water around and get the gold out. I learned the term ‘pay dirt’ came from gold panning and it wasn’t the little flecks the miners were after, but those flecks promised more from the hills and identified where they should start mining. Every person on the tour found gold. We all rushed to stake our claim and find more. But NO ONE found any more. I thought maybe we were doing it wrong or needed to dig deeper. The guide confessed to me he had gotten the original dirt from about six miles up the river where there was known mines that had been successful and still operational. I felt a little gipped. Our driver then took us to where the salmon bake was going on. It was a huge picnic area where a team of cooks prepared the salmon, beans, salads and blueberry cake dessert. It felt, ‘commercial’, buffet style. We were herded through the line, ate and then shuttled back to the ship. (Buffet or not, the food was magnificent, and up to that point, the best meal of the trip.)

Next stop was Skagway where I had signed up for river rafting through the eagle preserve and a ‘ghost and goodtime girls’ tour. There were no rapids on the river although it was relatively fast moving. We saw a few eagles, but no other wild life. The tour guide explained we were still a bit early for the animals. A nice lunch was provided when we were done floating down stream and the information on the Tlingit tribe was incredibly educational. The Ghosts and Good Time-Girl tour was also educational and horrifying at the same time. The gold rush wasn’t easy for anyone, especially the women.

During this time, I was (confidentially) informed that the cruise line was getting part of the money I had spent on the tours. Really?!? Oh yes, the person continued to tell me most of the souvenir shops were also owned by the cruise line and the majority of the money spent went to them.  As I walked back to the ship, I started paying a bit more attention to the shops and stores. It was obvious which were locally owned. I’m big about keeping my money local and was disheartened to learn the residents weren’t getting my cash.

Glacier bay was beautiful. More on that in part two of this blog.

Ketichan was the same as the first two ports. We went restaurant to restaurant trying to find one where it wasn’t a chain or owned by the cruise lines. As we entered the shops, our first question was “Are you locally owned?” Approximately, one in seven were. Since I felt the cruise was getting more and more pricey, I hesitated to spend any more money with the shops that weren’t bonafide locally owned. I did not want to put more money in the pockets of Princess.

Our last port was Victoria, Canada. The stop I had been looking forward to the most. I was confused though why we spent 6-9 hours at each of the other Alaskan stops but in Victoria we only had four hours. Then it became obvious. There were no cruise owned shops and restaurants. Victoria didn’t rely on the commerce from the cruise goers and since Princess wasn’t making additional money on that stop, we were hustled in and out. Such a disappointment.

Victoria was the one place I would consider re-visiting. It was an amazing city! I rented a rickshaw and kicked back indulging in the recreational weed from Skagway and a local Canadian beer. The rickshaw driver was brutally honest about the politics and life in that country. Regarding the political climate, he said, “If the US is Thor, Canada is Loki.” Once I let that settle in, I lost a little respect for our neighbors to the north. I entered the port through customs so I could get a Canada stamp in my passport. This wasn’t necessary for the cruise folks but it was necessary for me. (lol!)

Once done with Victoria, we did a straight shot back to San Francisco and was back earlier than expected. I think there was plenty time to have stayed in Victoria a few more hours, but that’s just my opinion. By the time it was all said and done, my spa treatments, the internet connection, the art and dress I bought not to mention the restaurants we went to that weren’t included*, the price of my cruise had doubled. (*The buffet and food available for free was very average. The best food on the ship was in the restaurants that weren’t included in the price and although they were cost effective, it still added up on my final bill. If you ever do cruise the Grand Princess, I highly recommend The Crown restaurant, just know it will cost a bit more, but it’s well worth it.)

Overall, the service was good. Most of the crew was from Italy. Most of the staff from the Philippines. I also met employees from Ireland, Russia, Mexico, Jamaica, and Brazil. As I got to know these fine employees, they explained they have contracts anywhere from 3-9 months. To me, their wages were very average to low, especially for the USA, which explains why there were no employees from my home country. Our specific cabin steward was so helpful, friendly and overall fantastic. A late twenties young man from the Philippines, he told me he worked nine months on the ship and then home for three months then back on the ship. His daughters are 4 and 6 years old and he proudly showed me pictures of them. He mentioned how he loved his job and the cruise line was good to him. It made me wonder what types of opportunities he would have if he stayed local to be with his kids and wife.

The entertainment was good too, and included in the price. We watched four movies that were all relatively new releases, a magic show, comedian, two variety shows with singing and dancing and an amazing woman who did impersonations. (She was my favorite.) There is  always something going on during the ‘at sea’ time.

As we lined up to disembark (ship talk, lol), I started to really pay attention to my fellow cruisers. Their bags were as full as mine, I’m sure many of them spent as much money as I did. There were 1,700 of us. Do the math. Do you really think it’s THAT expensive to operate the boat? Let’s say the average customer paid $3k, that’s OVER FIVE MILLION DOLLARS for ten days at sea. PLUS, the money they made on the souvenir shops and restaurants on the stops. It felt as if I was nourishing the corporations that I loathed. Yes, I had fun. Yes, I enjoyed my family’s company. Looking back however, for the money we paid, we could have done a five-star vacation on our terms, time and schedule. Which reminds me of a joke, a little ship humor.

A wife tells her husband, “Hurry and get dressed for our dinner at the captain’s table tonight, honey.”

The husband rolls his eyes and replies, “All this money we paid and we have to eat with the staff?”

I’m not saying don’t cruise, but don’t expect the eighties version of the Love Boat or you will be sorely disappointed. If you’re going to do the off-shore excursions, book directly through the company and not the cruise line, the locals make more money that way (and don’t forget to tip the guides). Shop local if you can, ask to be sure. Many stores, it’s obvious. Don’t be pressured to book their spa packages, as they are expensive and average, unless you really like spas. (Ok, my massage was better than average, but the rest of my services were very average, the mani/pedi lower than average, poor.) Look up free and inexpensive things to do during the stops, there are plenty. If only I had done more research before booking through Princess. (You know what they say about hindsight.)

My bucket list is almost complete now. I’m content that I did the Alaskan cruise, the company and weather were divine, but wish I had done things a bit different. Learn from my blunders and happy cruising.

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Vacationing at the Cape (Cape Cod that is…) Travel Blog

“Enjoy the Cape”, my aunt said to me as we headed from Boston to Cape Cod. I had no idea that Cape Cod wasn’t a town but an actual geographical location with approximately fifteen little towns peppering the coast line. To be specific, Cape Cod is the hook shaped peninsula reaching out from Massachusetts into the Gulf of Maine. Apparently, this is where the Pilgrims came in when discovering the New World, coming into Provincetown and then Plymouth.  An English explorer (and lawyer) named Bartholomew Gosnold (is that not a perfect English explorer name? Bartholomew Gosnold?) anyway, he was quoted as saying, ‘We came across a great store of cod upon arrival.’ when they landed in 1602, eighteen years before the pilgrims and Mayflower. Naturally an abundant cape was desired when developing a new country and that’s where the name came from. Cape Cod, the cape full of cod, lol.

It is a picturesque place with lighthouses, ponds, bays, and the ocean. Not to mention, amazing food and quaint little shops to explore. Drinking a Cape Cod (Vodka and Cranberry with Lime) in Cape Cod was on my bucket list and immediately after arriving, I did just that (with extra lime, please.) We met some oyster hunters at the bar. (Okay, oyster farmers-they don’t really hunt oysters.) Their accents were a rural Bostonian and we just kept asking them questions to hear them talk. After explaining the do’s and don’t’s for our whale watching expedition, they recommended The Naked Oyster for dinner. (Best seafood I’ve ever had in my life!) And we set off in search of the humpbacked whales that were winding up their migration.

The Hyannis Whale Watch Cruise said there was a 98% chance we would see whales. (“You’ll see them”, the ticket gal said to our granddaughter with a wink, “They’re there.”) And they were! Approximately twenty-five hundred make it along the east coast every year, we saw about one percent of them. The guides were so informative and had done this so many times, they knew the names and migration patterns of the particular whales we saw. They were identified by their tail markings. Most were in pairs, Mama and Calf. The boat guide explained to us that during their months of migration, they don’t eat or sleep, living off their stored fat. They travel in ‘pods’, 2-6 whales. And they travel thousands of miles every year. When they arrive, they are tired and hungry. Since whales are mammals, they can’t very well go to sleep under water, they will drown. Often they will be seen floating just at the surface with their blow-holes exposed, sawing zzz’s. It was also explained one of their hunting techniques is to swim circles under a school of fish and blow bubbles. The fish get confused and don’t know which way to go so they just hang out in the circle of bubbles, then the whales just open their mouths, chomp.

The whales we saw were very active. It seemed they had patterns of movement and once you watched for a few minutes you could tell which ones were going to breech out of the water. One baby, okay a huge toddler whale, seemed to know we were all oohing and aawwing over him and jumped several times. Seriously, it seemed he was showing off for us. (‘Take a picture, take a picture, take a picture’ he seemed to say-like three-year-olds do. See photo.) His mama was always hanging out close by to make sure her little one was safe. Mama whales keep their young with them from two to three years until they are old enough to start their own families. The humpback whales’ song is the loudest noise that any mammal on earth makes. It can be heard up to five miles away and it has been disputed over what they are communicating. Some believe the song is a male dominance yell while others believe the whales are simply chatting up their whereabouts and intentions. (easier and more effective than Facebook, yes?)

Overall, I highly recommend this area if you’re looking for a U.S vacation spot. In fact, I can’t wait to go back!
It’s a magical, beautiful and delicious place to explore. (No wonder the whales come back again and again.)


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European Vacation – Venice, Italy

venice-italy-dwplatoI’ll never forget where I was when the doves cried. I had just boarded a jet, going to Europe, when I read Prince had died. The soundtrack of my first overseas flight immediately became purple, with a hint of blue. Rest in peace, Prince.

When I landed in Venice, Italy, the first thing I noticed was it looked a lot like Northern California, you know, right around Napa and Sonoma where wine grows on the vines perfectly. The weather was approximately the same for that time of year too, cloudy, cool and ready to bloom.

A cab from the Mestre, main land, to the island of Venice was next. The driver tried to explain to me with limited English that there were no cars in Venice and once he dropped me off, I would be on foot. A large expanded white bridge crested over the first canal. “That way.” He pointed after I had collected my roller bag. Several men with orange vests that read ‘official porter’ were anxious for my business but I assured them I could manage.

The sidewalks were crowded. Boats cruised back and forth on the canal. I found the alley I was to go down for our hotel. It felt old and worn, like the cobblestones under foot. The room was small-ish. I’ll admit, I’ve seen smaller, but for the two nights I’d be there, it was perfect. The view was terrible, it seemed our room looked into a courtyard that was used to store the items the hotel was not currently using, tools, machinery and supplies. Once settled in, I went back to the restaurant where the nice man had given me directions to my narrow, covert alley. It was early for the dinner crowd so I had the place to myself. When I eat out, often I ask the server what is good or what their favorite dish is, this night I asked my waiter, “If I could only have one meal in Venice, what would you recommend that is local and unique?”

“For you, American, I have just the thing.”

The host that had seated me came over and asked in broken English heavily laden with an Italian accent if was sure I wanted to try what the waiter had ordered for me. “It is … um … how you say … strong.” I smiled and nodded it was fine. My dish was a black spaghetti. Dark black with chunks of meat. A flavor most certainly of the ocean, it was indeed, STRONG. Half way through I asked, “How do they make it so black?”

“It is the ink of the squid.” I was told. Yes, that’s right squid ink.

Once dinner was over, I wandered through alleys and followed canals in and out, around and down, over and under bridges, taking in the sights and smells of Venice. The one thing that stood out as far as the aroma of the city was no matter what scent I was smelling, whether it a fruit stand, food from a restaurant or piss on the sidewalk, there was an ever present odor of cigarette smoke. It was the single biggest turn-off of this area.

At one point I heard music and a woman begin to sing, “I never meant to cause you any sorrow, I never meant to cause you any pain…” I jogged in and out until I found where the street musicians were playing and stood in the shadows and watched a small group of people hush and slip into a revered daze. “I only want to see you dancing in the purp-pal rain.” I was moved to tears. When she was done I approached and told her thank you, the song was very moving. She smiled and said, “No English.”