Day 780 of Traveling the World, Doral, Florida. March 22, 2020.

We know that everyone in the world….think about that a minute, in the world….has seen and could publish photos like this of their own locations. It is eerily silent, outside. It is eerily empty, outside. It is all eerie, period.

We are in a Homewood Suites by Hilton, with a kitchenette. The day after we arrived back from Barcelona, we took Ubers to and from Walmart to buy food so that we could self-quarantine and hunker down. We bought almost $400 of provisions, both because we didn’t want to pay Uber $20+ every few days to buy groceries, and because at that point we didn’t know if items would be restocked regularly and be readily available. One of our Uber drivers told us that his business is suffering, as he normally clears about $150 a day, but recently it has been $50-60. On a normal day, we would have been his eighth or tenth fare, but at 11 am, we were only his second. Until two days ago, the fitness facility in the gym was open, a buffet breakfast was available each morning, and three nights a week (served four nights prior to COVID-19) there was an evening happy hour with drinks, snacks, and light dinner entrees. Then it changed, as the front desk told us that law enforcement officials stopped by. They closed the gym and mandated that no food could be self-serve, but had to be distributed in takeout boxes and consumed in our suites. The first three photos are from the hotel…nothing sadder than a room with buffet facilities that cannot be used. The open door in the first photo is where we go to ask for breakfast, served by gloved workers. The third photo is something we hadn’t seen after essentially living in hotels for two years…an area of refuge for handicapped people. We followed the signs, and they lead away from the elevators, to the stairwell…a gathering place where they would be helped in an emergency. There is also an emergency phone there. Interesting.

Across the street from our hotel is Dolphin Mall, so that is where we headed for today’s walk. You can see in the photos all the empty streets and parking lots. We were the only people out, other than a few security guards and one Cheesecake Factory worker who told us that they still serve takeout in the afternoons (yay, Cheesecake Factory!). We were able to cross streets wherever we wanted, as there were zero vehicles, and we could even walk on the streets themselves. When we booked this hotel while still in Spain, we thought it would be good to be at a mall so that we could walk inside for exercise if it was too hot outside. It has been 80-85 degrees F every day, but as you can see in the photos, the mall was closed, of course. We grinned when we read the sign in the Ralph Lauren store (Photo 9) that starts, “In the current context, our purpose of inspiring the dream of a better life takes on new meaning.” Their last sentence includes, “our hope is to continue to be the beacon of optimism and unity…” It sounds like a message from a nonprofit that helps people and does some good in the world, like Doctors Without Borders, but no, it is just an upscale retailer.

We have heard that Miami-Dade County was closing all hotels so that there would be none available for spring breakers or people wanting a self-quarantining vacation on the beach. Since we live in hotels, that caught our attention. Our front desk staff told us that occupancy was 55 percent when we arrived, went down to 30 percent, and is up a little today. They are being told that this hotel will remain open, as it is in the suburb of Doral and provides temporary lodging for hospital and airline personnel. If it should close, we are hoping that we can rent a furnished apartment for a while. We are very resilient, so we will figure out something, no matter the circumstances.

We have saved the best for last, as usual. Look at the last two photos. Did you know (we didn’t!) that there were vending machines for live bait??? We came across this outside a Bass Pro Shop, a retailer that carries items for the great outdoors. Check it out…you can buy a dozen nightcrawlers for $4 or 3-4 shiners for $3! So if you are self-quarantining on a boat off the coast and doing some lazy fishing, you can restock your bait in Doral, Florida!!

Day 775 of Traveling the World, Miami, Florida. March 17, 2020.

The word of the day is….Surprise. Another good one? Remarkable.

After reading about the utter chaos in airports over the weekend as people rushed to return the US, we had very low expectations for our return today. In Barcelona on Sunday, our hotel announced that it was suspending its evening reception (a day earlier than they initially said they would and an hour before it was scheduled) and the breakfast buffet. A continental breakfast would be served in our room, with the staff keeping a distance of about 5 feet from hotel patrons. It wasn’t bad…hot coffee, a plate of breads and danish, a plate of cold cuts and cheeses, and all the accompaniments. We had enough left over for lunch, since unlike Europeans, we do not typically eat cold cuts for breakfast. Also on Sunday, the hotel was noticeably empty and all the staff members were wearing face masks and gloves. We were told that the military had been called in to enforce the ban on walking around the city. Everyone was to stay inside unless going to the doctor, grocery store, or pharmacy.

So this morning we got to the airport around 6:00 am for a 9:00 am flight. Lines had already formed at the counters to check in, since we couldn’t do so on line. We had an odd interaction at the check-in counter, as the woman interviewed us without asking about travel….rather, what did we do for a living, what are our favorite hobbies…topics like that. Then, she handed back our passports and boarding passes, and that was it. When we discussed it later, all we could conclude was that she wanted to talk to us for several minutes each to see if we became short of breath, which would mean we possibly had coronavirus. But the virus was never mentioned. Odd.

All the staff at Barcelona airport who passed us smiled at us, wished us a good journey…over-the-top friendliness. Airport personnel normally don’t do this, and not to this extent. The flight wasn’t sold out, as we sat in a middle row of four seats and had them all to ourselves. When we arrived in Miami, we found that only 20 people would be allowed to deplane at a time. That turned out to be our longest wait of the day, maybe 10-15 minutes. We had filled out a health questionnaire, and were led to two people who collected it and took our temperatures with a zap to the forehead. We proceeded to a passport kiosk, where we scanned them and received a paper receipt. The kiosks were readily available. When we got to immigration, we had a 10-minute wait in line and were done in a minute. From the time we deplaned until we were outside calling an Uber, only 20 minutes had passed. The Uber was three minutes away. This was exactly an hour ago, and we are in our hotel and writing a blog! Remarkable. And surprising.

The first photo is the path in front of us, walking to the passport kiosks. Practically empty. The second is an available passport kiosk. The third and fourth are the people ahead of us to see an immigration officer. It was like the gates of heaven had opened. We had read of people waiting over six hours, jammed together in lines over the weekend. They fixed it quickly, as crowds are the easiest way to transmit coronavirus. We were treated courteously and in a friendly manner. We found out upon checking in to our hotel that the gym is still open (we are guessing not for long); the evening reception with hot food, salad, wine, and beer is still on for tonight; and the breakfast buffet runs every morning as usual. Spain’s actions were more drastic, but they have many more cases of coronavirus. The US is the last place we expected to be in the middle of March (after having been gone from the US for only 16 days), but considering these “extraordinary times” (as our pilot kept calling them), we are happy to be back and grateful that everyone made the process a painless experience.

Day 773 of Traveling the World, Barcelona, Spain. March 15, 2020.

What a difference a day makes! Overnight, Barcelona transformed from a busy, bustling major world city to…a ghost town. We arrived in Barcelona from our transatlantic cruise on Friday, and traffic was busy, people were out walking, eating out, and shopping as we taxied to our hotel. After settling in, we walked around and stopped in a grocery store for berries and other items we missed after 12 days at sea. We scoped out nearby restaurants that we could utilize for dinner over the four days we were going to be here. We even talked about where we might sightsee the next day.

Well, the next day came…Saturday. We found out that the hotel had closed its gym as a precaution. We were totally shocked when we out for a walk. Nobody was around, and it looked like a movie set filming the apocalypse. It was eerie. Being movie fans our minds went to many we have seen – The Last Man on Earth (1964, starring Vincent Price), I Am Legend (2007, Will Smith), and especially the scene in the 2001 movie Vanilla Sky, when Tom Cruise drives around Manhattan with no one else in sight. We now know what the end of the world looks like.

We encountered just a handful of people walling on this major boulevard, and every single store and restaurant was closed. So much for getting a snack or stopping for coffee! Every business had signs saying it was closed due to government orders. The only stores open were grocery stores and pharmacies. We went to one of our favorite stores in Spain, El Corte Ingles. It is a huge multi-floor department store that always has a supermarket in the basement. When we entered, as you can see in the photo, the department store was cordoned off, watched by security guards, and they led us to the escalator to get down to the supermarket. A lot of the prepared food was sold out, so we picked up a salad and more fruit for dinner.

When we returned to the hotel, we told the woman in reception how empty the streets were. She said, of course…the government asked everyone to stay in their homes unless they needed food or prescriptions. We hadn’t heard the news before we ventured out! It was an eerie experience. We have airline reservations to fly to London on Tuesday, but have decided against staying in yet another quarantined country. If either of us do get the virus, our healthcare will pay for our care in the US, but not out of the country. So we are flying to Miami on Tuesday and self quarantining, as required by government officials. From there, we will play it by ear.

The photos show the empty streets, closed businesses, signs explaining the closures, and the roped-off pharmacy and department store. The second photo is of a man just in front of us for a while, pushing a supermarket cart of toilet paper, water, and other supplies he managed to get. On a brighter note, the last picture shows the blueberries we purchased, held in a hand to show perspective. Each one was the size of a large grape, and each was sweet beyond imagining, tasting like pure sugar. We have never seen anything like them in the US…or any other country, for that matter.

Just as we were completing this blog entry, notes were shoved under our door saying that the evening reception (which occurs every night and scheduled one hour from now) is canceled, a continental breakfast will be served only in our room tomorrow (instead of the breakfast buffet), and their restaurant is closed. We must place our tray outside when we are done, as the staff is required to maintain a distance of about 5 feet from all guests. All of this (and we are getting used to hearing this phrase), of course, until further notice.

It feels like we are experiencing the last squeaks before the world comes to a full stop. Crazy times.

Day 770 of Traveling the World, Malaga, Spain. March 12, 2020.

Back in Spain! We left Spain on November 9 and just returned via cruise ship (where we have zero cases of coronavirus!) Malaga is a gorgeous port city on the Mediterranean, with many cruise ships stopping here after crossing the Atlantic. Malaga was founded by the Phoenicians 2,800 years ago, making it one of the oldest cities in the world as well as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities. Having been ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Muslims, and Christians, the historic city center is considered an “open museum,” with an abundance of archaeological and historic sites. Another claim to fame for the city is as the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, with a museum dedicated to his work. But there are also Picasso museums in many other cities. His most famous quote, which we heard several times today, is “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

First up in the photos is the 1st century BC Roman Theater, only unearthed in 1951. It is right in the middle of the city, is free to enter, and forms the lower “array” to the Alcazaba fortress, which you can see above it. Built by the Hammudid Dynasty, the Alcazaba was constructed in the 11th century, with some material taken from the Roman Theater. The Alcazaba was fabulous, is one of the best preserved in Spain, and the admission cost was just 1.5 euros for seniors! In the second photo, you can see five arrowslits at the top of the structure, used to shoot arrows at attackers during raids, yet so narrow that the archers’ bodies were protected. In the third photo, you can see a narrow channel with water flowing. This is the complex’s water conveyance system. Built on a hill, the water flows down through these gullies and into fountains and holding pools…very cool to see! After that are some of the gardens, followed by those famous Moorish “keyhole” arches, used many times over in this Alcazaba. Some of the arches are so elaborate, they are dizzying.

We took a free walking tour around the city, where you tip whatever you wish at the end. These are professional guides who choose to put their guidance to the test and not charge upfront. By all accounts, they seem to do very well with tips! All the photos following the Alcazaba were taken on our tour. You can see the spire of the Cathedral of the Incarnation from most places in the city center and in several photos. But…look at the photo of the cathedral itself. There is a spire on the left side, but the right side…? It looks like it fell off in a natural disaster. No! Construction began in 1528, and the builders eventually ran out of money, so the right spire had to wait. Eventually, they collected the money to complete it, but the city’s citizens kind of liked the distinction of having a unique, unfinished, one-spire cathedral, so they elected to keep it as it was. The orange and gold building adjacent to the cathedral, with the Pieta on the uppermost balcony, was the bishop’s residence.

After that are various street scenes to give you a sense of the city. We found pedestrian-only walkways, fountains, contemporary sculptures, restaurants, designer retail shops, and lots of palm trees. Just beautiful. We liked the style of DK’s “barbershop” in the last photo. Despite its name, it does say it is for hombre and mujer….both men and women. It even has chandeliers inside!

Day 765 of Traveling the World, Atlantic Ocean, Cruise Ship “Allure of the Seas.” March 7, 2020.

A floating city at sea. Allure of the Seas. It weighs 220,000 lbs, is 1,181 feet long, and carries 5,400 passengers and 2,150 crew members. Due to the many things to do, it only occasionally feels crowded, but everyone heads to their favorite spots, and it all works out. There are 20 dining venues, and about half of those have a surcharge. We were actually on this ship’s fifth voyage, in January 2011. It is the second ship in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, and it really is fun. The ship usually does 7-day trips in the Caribbean, but we are heading to Barcelona on a Transatlantic Cruise for 12 days. It is going into dry dock in Cadiz, Spain, for two months. The crew told us that they will stay on board and help with rejuvenating the ship. The first nine photos are of Deck 5, the Main Promenade. It is like walking through your city’s downtown, with cafes, a pizza joint with excellent pizza, bars, retail shops, places to sit and relax, and even a Starbucks! One of the bars is The Rising Tide, which slowly rises two decks and can be seen in Photos 3 and 4. In Photo 4, it looks like a spaceship! As you sit on the upper decks, it is fun to see the bar suddenly appear and continue on its way.

The next photos are of the Boardwalk, which is the open-air end of Deck 6. It starts with a hot dog stand, donut bar, ice cream store, and a candy shop. Then you encounter the carousel, several bars, an arcade, a Johnny Rocket’s restaurant (free for breakfast and a small charge for lunch or dinner), a climbing wall, and at the very end, an aqua theater. There are high diving shows from the very highest points there, and as you can see, one day there was a bellyflop competition…contestants mount the “Hurt Box”…and the biggest splash won! You can see in the photos with all of the balconies over the boardwalk that the designers were very clever: they created a place for more balconies (which cost more than regular rooms). Normally, cruise ships only have balconies that face the ocean, but this ship is so wide, so large, that there are also balcony rooms facing inward.

Following the Boardwalk photos, you can see what is called Central Park, making up the middle portion of Deck 8…and more balconies over the park! It is a beautiful place to walk, to sit, and to shop and eat. It is open to the air, so in crossing the Atlantic, sometimes it is fairly windy and cool, while on other days it is warm and calm. Because the trees and plants are open to the sky, the US Department of Agriculture inspects the ship regularly to ensure that no unwanted pests have flown in.

There is an ice skating rink on board, with time for personal skating as well as ice shows. One of the entertainment features is Broadway at Sea, with Mamma Mia! featured on this journey. For younger guests, there is a dance club as well as a Flowrider for simulated surfing. At the very end are four miscellaneous photos, including the “dresses” that decorate one of the elevator areas and the whimsical pool area. The next photo is Jan, riding on the zip line over the Boardwalk. We end with a photo of a small portion of last night’s Chocolate Fantasy. No, we did not partake, we just photographed! We had strawberries instead.

Day 758 of Traveling the World, Fort Lauderdale, FL. February 29, 2020.

Sooo interesting…Fort Lauderdale has a population of “only” 186,000 people, yet it hosted over 13 million overnight visitors in 2018 and 3.9 million cruise passengers, making it the third-largest cruise port in the world. And here is a mind-boggling statistic: the Fort Lauderdale area has 100 marinas housing 45,000 resident yachts!

We have visited here several times over the years, and we always choose a new tourist venue over repeating previous tourist sites. So this time, we visited the Bonnet House, built as a plantation-style house in the 1920s, just a block from Fort Lauderdale Beach. It is named after the bonnet lily, which solved a mystery for us, as the property was originally acquired by a man named Birch and given to his daughter as a wedding present when she married a man named Bartlett. Lots of Bs, but we wondered who was Bonnet? Ah, it is a lily, and you can see the lily pads in so many of the photos. When the property was turned over to the State of Florida in 1983, it was valued at $35 million, described in the New York Times as “an unrivaled time capsule neatly preserved from an era earlier in the century when the wealthy elite could afford a cozy 35-acre winter hideaway in Florida.”

First up in the photos: Fort Lauderdale beach. It was a cool day, so not terribly crowded at the beach. But the sand was soft and plentiful, and in our minds’ eyes we could see this being jammed on a summer weekend…or during spring break, as this has been a very popular location since the movie Where the Boys Are was filmed here in 1960. Next are photos of Bonnet House…notice the wooden red doors that close onto the pretty yellow gate…we don’t know if they are intended for security or for hurricane damage prevention. After that photo is one of the small orchid house, which contained some beautiful plants.

We loved the “chair-table” that was in the small museum on site. A similar one in the Smithsonian says it is from the 17th century and popular in homes with limited space. Following are photos around the property, with palm trees, banyan trees, mangroves, lily pads, and a cute South Pacific hut that features in many of the photos. We captured the resident swan leaving her “perch” near the shore, and loved the rustic restrooms and theater. At the end are a resident raccoon and a sign for monkeys…we don’t know if that is frivolous, or if there are monkeys on the grounds, as we didn’t see any. We had heard from locals that any fresh water could contain alligators, so we were looking down for alligators when we were near the ponds, not up for monkeys!

Day 753 of Traveling the World, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. February 24, 2020.

The Bahamas are a little piece of heaven…and a private island in the Bahamas, even more so. No mass transportation, no crowds, nobody hard selling of trinkets or souvenirs make it yet another level of pleasant! The beach sand was was very fine. It felt as if you were walking on flour. The water had colors that could compete with the most beautiful places we have seen around the world, such as the Great Barrier Reef and Tahiti.

As you can see in the first photo, we were on the tiny island with another Holland America ship, and yet there were lots of open beach chairs, hammocks, and places to sit for the Island Barbecue, all free with our cruise tickets. We claimed a two-person hammock on a quiet part of the beach and slowly rocked, listened to the ocean surf, and talked. It was quite blissful, as it was in the low 70s, and there was a soft breeze that cooled us down and, of course, also circulated cool air from underneath!

There is a tiny chapel on Half Moon Cay, which you can see in the second photo. There were two pews, an altar, a lectern…and a table with four chairs!! Funny…maybe it was for coffee or a snack after the service?? There was a basketball court and a volleyball court, and for those willing, the ship had set up matches in each sport for the two ships to compete. The little cabanas and larger “houses” are for rent for the day, but we can’t imagine why you would pay for them for a day when the beach and everything else is free. The “misting stations” were all putting out a fine mist as we passed them, perfect for some refreshment. The pirate ship is a bar, Captain Morgan on the Rocks. No, bar drinks were not free on the island! And the last two photos are signs we saw around the island, which we found interesting.

There are more photos on this location, as we were here about 18 months ago. Check out Day 196 of our travel, August 15, 2018.

Day 750 of Traveling the World, Willemstad, Curaçao. February 21, 2020.

Willemstad is lovely, laid-back, Dutch, colorful, and lively. It is pretty much a typical Caribbean island, except that it is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, rather than French or Mexican or independent. Anyway, we took the photos below during a 1-2 hour stroll around the city. The buildings are colorful, with lots of Dutch architecture. Street art thrives, in both paintings and sculptures. You can see that two of the buildings used to be large shuttered colonial-style mansions, with a balcony along the second floor.

The yellow and white building that looks like it might be a church is in fact the local Prosecutor’s Office. After that, we saw shops in what looked to be a former fort. We asked a security guard if the building used to be a fort, and he corrected us: “It is still a fort!” There was a whole row of restaurants along the waterfront, as you can see through the arch and in the photos following. But we didn’t see any cannons or any indications that it was “still a fort.”

Near the end are two photos of “Our Swinging Old Lady,” as the locals call the Queen Emma Bridge. It is a pontoon bridge, and when a boat needs to pass, an alarm is sounded, the entry gates lock, and the bridge swings open so the boat can pass by. The first photo of the bridge shows the two parts of the bridge coming together after opening, while the second shows the walkway cleared for passage. The last photo was a sign we saw on a small building. In both Dutch and Spanish, it warns: Electricity! Danger of Death!

Day 749 of Traveling the World, Panama Canal. February 20, 2020.

One of the wonders of the modern world, from 1914 comes the Panama Canal. Its construction befuddled the French, who abandoned it in 1904, having lost tens of thousands of workers to the heat, malaria, and yellow fever in the jungle. The Americans took over then, solved the mosquito problem, built new housing for the construction workers, and finished the job in 10 years. Construction of locks was necessary to get over the uneven terrain, and cutting through the Continental Divide to form a passageway, in itself, took five years. It is an amazing experience, as you enter the first lock and slowly rise from sea level. The lane is 110 feet wide, and our ship is 106 feet wide! That isn’t the maximum possible width for a ship passing through these locks, though. We were told that the widest ship transiting the locks, which was a US warship, was just 11 inches narrower than the locks.

Our ship was attached to three locomotives on either side for part of the journey. The locomotives are called “mules” because mules were used in the past for other canals, but never the Panama Canal. Ships normally travel through the canal under their own power and the mules just keep ships centered in the canal rather than pull them through, unless a ship loses power. If it does, all attention is directed toward getting the ship through the canal as quickly as possible. In fact, in the wider areas of the passage, tug boats travel alongside a transiting ship just in case it needs any assistance in the passage. Any delay in the locks means a loss of revenue, so they get right on it.

Being a cruise ship, knowing almost two years in advance the day and time we would be passing through, Holland American was able to make a reservation to pass through. The price tag? A cool $35,000! Freighters and other ships don’t always know precisely when they need to enter, so they stay in the ocean “waiting room” until the ships with reservations go through; only then is it their turn! The Panama Canal employs about 10,000 people and brings in $2 billion annually.

There aren’t many “pretty” photos here (other than the last one, before the video), but when you realize what was accomplished in this feat of engineering, the photos are just amazing. The canal cut off a whole month of travel for goods going from San Francisco to New York, saving shipping companies millions of dollars per year. It opened up a whole new trade route. In the first photo, we are approaching the enormous Bridge of the Americas, shown up close in Photo 2. It cost the US $20 million in 1962. In the third photo, we approach our lane, the one on the right, as the red and white cargo container before us entered into the left lane. We watched that ship’s progress, gradually rising as the lock flooded, to track what our own fate would be minutes later. You can see in Photo 5 how close we are to the sides; just two feet leeway on either side, remember!

So now we are traversing the Miraflores Locks, and in Photo 8, on the right, is the Visitor’s Center, watching our ship’s progress through the lock. That was us, about 10 years ago, when we were traveling in Panama and watched a ship from the visitor’s center. Now, it was our turn. All of the visitors waved wildly, as did we, a tradition that shouldn’t be broken. After that is our passage out of the lock, and the video at the end of this blog shows these smaller gates opening to allow us our exit. The hill you see is Gold Hill, named by the French when they started a rumor. To garner support for their efforts in the first crack at building the canal, they claimed that there was enough gold in this hill to pay back all of their investors, with some left over! Not a word of this was true, and not one ounce of gold was ever excavated from this hill. Then there is the Panama Canal Railway passing by. Some ships dock in Gatun Lake for the day and allow their passengers to go ashore to explore the Panama Canal region via railroad. Following that is Gatun Lake itself, the large interior lake that feeds water to the canal. You can see a small pilot boat alongside our cruise ship. When they were adjacent, our ship put down a rope ladder for a pilot, technicians, and a lecturer to board our ship. At the end of the day, they exited via the same method.

The final photo is a delicious benefit of the morning entrance into the Panama Canal…a Panama Bun, being served by waiters all over the ship. They have a mandarin orange and cream center, and were heavenly. As we already mentioned, the final video is a little glimpse of one of the many gates and locks controlling the ins and outs of the canal. We entered the Miraflores Locks from the Pacific Ocean around 7:30 am and departed into the Caribbean around 5:00 pm, so it was an entire day’s process, but so fascinating to see the technology.

By the way, you might think that this journey was from west to east, but actually the canal runs northwest. When we exited the final locks, we were quite a bit north and 25 miles west of where we entered.