Day 663 of Traveling the World, Los Angeles, CA. December 6, 2019.

Our first complete circumnavigation of the globe! Los Angeles never looked so good! We left from Los Angeles on a cruise to Australia on November 11, 2018, and headed west for 13 months. We hit Hawaii, Samoa, Western Samoa, Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia, Tasmania, Vanuatu, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Spain, Andorra, France, Portugal, Canary Islands, Bahamas, Florida, and flew back to Los Angeles on December 6, completing one entire circle of our beautiful, diverse planet in 13 leisurely months. We used cruise ships, tenders, airplanes, buses, trains, ferries, rental cars, and mostly our FEET to complete our travels. For the two most significant distances, crossing the Pacific and then the Atlantic, we used cruise ships rather than airplanes. It meant no jet lag, as it is a slow, gentle progression of miles, and you get to see islands and features along the way rather than buzzing by them overhead. We only flew when it was the off-season for cruise ships in the areas we were in.

We weren’t able to photograph much, as we were at Los Angeles International in the rain, then in a shuttle bus, and then it was dark! So, just a few photos at the airport, but California is our former home state and our old stomping grounds, so we are calling it home for the next month. But as we traveled, we would say, “let’s go home,” after a long day of sightseeing, and it meant our hotel for the night. We feel we are always at home when we are together. It doesn’t mean a place, but a state of being… that wonderful comfort of facing the world together and knowing everything is fine.

One fellow traveler asked us, “Okay, so after your hundreds of thousands of miles of travels…what is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?” He and his wife had their own tale of disaster that made for a bad day of travel. But we were stumped! Maybe we plan everything too well, maybe we are lucky, maybe we figure things out quickly before things get worse….but we couldn’t think of a single incident over our many years of travel. The best we could come up with was that we took a subway that ended up going the wrong way, discovered it by the next stop, got off, reboarded, and went the correct way. That took us about 10 minutes out of our way. So, no good stories about what went wrong….yet!

We are back to see all of our doctors, get another year’s worth of prescriptions, and see family and friends before leaving again. For the first few months of 2020, we would like to visit South America, but planning is still ongoing. Then, more of Europe, please!…and likely back to Asia (Vietnam and a return to glorious Bali and its lovely people). Australia might possibly also be in the works!

Day 662 of Traveling the World, Key Largo, FL. December 5, 2016.

Quick! The first two pictures…can you tell which is the Atlantic and which is the Caribbean??? Of course not, as it is all the same water, when only separated by 0.5 mile or less! If you look at an online map of the US, the Florida Keys aren’t even visible! Driving with two different bodies of water on each side is very interesting, and very pretty. But, see if you won: the first photo is on the Caribbean side, and the second is on the Atlantic side. In fact, the second, third, and fourth photos are all from Mike’s diving tour, and they visited two sites: one they called Aquarium and the other, Renee’s Ledge. It was a fun afternoon, but no sea life of great note was spotted, even though Key Largo bills itself as The Diving Capital of the World.

Key Largo gained its fame from the Bogart/Bacall movie, of course. We were going to watch Key Largo in Key Largo, as we watched the movie In Bruges when were were in Bruges, but we found out that outside of an opening shot, the entire movie was shot on a Warner Brothers sound stage in Hollywood. After the movie’s release, and popularity, there was pressure by local businesses to rename the post office and have all the addresses in the area postmarked as Key Largo.

The rest of the photos were taken along the Caribbean side, near our hotel. Notice the name of an iconic key lime pie shop here…the Blond Giraffe! Do you see the blue hammock in one photo? We thought it very funny that its location is Hammock Beach, and that wing of the hotel is the Hammock Wing. The thing is, it is the only hammock on the beach! We thought we would find 20 hammocks in which to lounge..but no! We put together three of the more fun mailboxes we saw. The terrific warning signs are on the grounds of our hotel. The last photo was taken at a seafood restaurant, which also sold their fresh items. Overall, the atmosphere here is beach-happy, laid back, low key, relaxing, no worries…perfect for a few days away from cities and problems.

Day 659 of Traveling the World, Miami, Florida, December 2, 2019.

So much to do in Miami! Unfortunately, we were there over a holiday and over one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year. So we spent our time in Miami relaxing, regrouping, and planning our travel for next year.

We did visit one of the most recommended entertainment venues, Bayside Marketplace. We traveled there free via the MetroMover, which is shown near the end of today’s photos. It looks like a subway, but there are no drivers and there is no charge. When its operation first started in 1987, the fee was 25 cents per ride, but the cost of collecting the fee was larger than the income from the rides. So, now it is free for everyone, carrying tens of thousands of people per month. What a bonus when visiting Miami!

Most of the photos were taken around the marketplace, starting with Carmen Miranda. It was pretty crowded in the middle of the afternoon! In the photo after the Nutcracker, you can see a band playing some lively Cuba music. You can hear a snippet in the video at the end of the photos. The best part was that everyone was dancing…young, old, men, women, solo, in twos and threes, people who seem to be pretty good Latin dancers and those who shuffled their feet around but wanted to be a part of the scene. It was infectious, and yes, even we joined in for a while, since the level of skill didn’t matter at all. Just to be in the dance was enough.

We liked the decorated banyan tree, and these trees live up to 1,000 years, so they only need to decorate once a millennium! Psycho Bunny is a great name for a retail clothing store. The sandy colored building is Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower, completed in 1925 and later used during Castro’s regime to assist Cubans fleeing to Florida. The Pharma Box was especially interesting to us since we had so much trouble in the rest of the world obtaining just about everything this box offered for sale. Paradoxically, we found a vending machine for contact lenses several months ago, but you can’t buy advil or calcium supplements without visiting a pharmacy!

Finally…2 lb packages of Kit Kat Bars, anyone? This store sold all sorts of giant 1-3 lb candy bars. It must be owned by dentists!

Day 654 of Traveling the World, Miami Beach, FL. November 27, 2019.

Wild chair! Wild occupant! That is how we start today’s photos from Miami Beach, Florida.

Miami Beach is not situated on the US mainland, but on a sand bar three miles out in the Atlantic. Land here was first purchased by father and son Henry and Charles Lum in 1870 for 75 cents an acre. It was a sandy jungle at that time. After clearing it, deepening the channels, adding landfill, and planting coconut trees, Miami Beach grew from 1,600 acres to 2,800 acres. The great 1926 Miami hurricane wiped out a lot of the development, so (many) new buildings were constructed in the 1930s in the style fashionable at the time, Art Deco. We had forgotten about this until we were walking down Ocean Drive, but it felt like the Miami we knew from old tv series like I Love Lucy…very stylized and very fun.

The architecture has lots of spires, points, square angles, and circles, and with all the palm trees looks like, well, the Miami of old. Who would think a pink, orange, and lime green lifeguard station would….work?…..but it does, because this is Miami! Beach Patrol Headquarters is built like a boat, complete with portholes. The fonts used on signage on the buildings is…Art Deco. And, as you can see in the last photo, blue lights wrapped around palm trees were on in the middle of the day, and that felt perfectly normal. We took a bus to get to the beach, as buses here for any distance are $2.25 per ride. The MetroMover train and tram buses are free, surprisingly, totally unexpected in a metropolis like Miami. It is a fabulous place, and feels like we are back in time, to a Florida of almost 100 years ago…and we are, we are.

Day 648 of Traveling the World, CocoCay, Bahamas. November 21, 2019.

Perfect Day…CocoCay is the saying for this island, and it is perfectly true. The day was spectacular, warm, mid-70s, sunny, with some of the bluest, most gorgeous water we have seen. We are on CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island, and it is fun and pretty eye-popping. Previously called Little Stirrup Cay, the island is less than a mile long and about 200 yards wide. On it, they have built zip lines and a water park with the tallest water slide in North America; lined the beaches with what seems like thousands of chaise lounges, umbrellas, hammocks, and cabanas; brought in a dive and snorkeling shop; set up 5-10 food and bar venues that are free of charge to cruise passengers (including funnel cakes!); imported hundreds of kayaks, water rafts, and wheelchairs with giant rubber wheels to get through the impossibly fine, white sand; constructed stationary kiosks and platforms out in the Caribbean for swim-up parties; created a system of interconnected swimming pools with islands and bridges; and then dumped two shiploads of passengers to make it all Party Central! Thousands of people on a small private island barely made a dent in its busy-ness, as everyone spread out and filled in the empty spaces. As you can see in the pool pictures, there is even a swim-up bar. We are amazed at architects who can take a barren small island and turn it into a destination you really want to return to! The sand, most likely, was imported by the thousands of tons, but the iguanas, however, are native creatures… NOT imported!

Of course, cruise ships are always looking for a way to make your money, their money. While all the food and chairs/cabanas/hammocks were free, entrance to the water park is $44 per person (“Just swipe your cruise card, sir!”). Zip lining is $79 per person. Drinks, of course, range from $7-15. Diving is $85. Snorkeling gear is $40. Paradise comes at a price. After a week at sea, crossing the Atlantic, it was a glorious day in the sun and sand.

In the photos, you can see most of the things listed above that we discovered on the island. We were really taken with the impossibly blue water and the ways that it was different colors of blue. In the last few photos are the swim-up bar, but look at the roofline in the next-to-last photo…enlarge it…the 19 visitors, another group ready to party, are all facing the same way! We found it funny. Next stop: the USA, after more than a year away. We are excited!!

Day 640 of Traveling the World, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. November 13, 2019.

Different day, different island, same island group…Las Canarias. Same gorgeousness that all islands seem to share, along with a laid-back lifestyle, lots of docks, marinas, water sports, and beaches, of course. We were last in the Canary Islands eight years ago, and not much has changed (although we have!). Last time, we rented a car and drove to Gran Canaria’s famous sand dunes and Maspalomas Beach. Today, we stayed near our ship and downtown Las Palmas. This city was founded in 1478, and soon thereafter, hosted a yet-unknown Christopher Columbus, who anchored here and spent some time on the island in 1492. Some 100 years later, in 1595, Sir Francis Drake tried to plunder the town. Even though the islands are an autonomous community of Spain, the Canary Islands are closer to Africa (62 miles) than to Spain (1,000 miles).

The photos are all from a leisurely walk around the city near the port. Not surprisingly in Las Palmas, most photos contain palm trees! In the fourth photo, we really liked the variety of palm tree you see that has a smooth brown trunk, then stops and changes to a smooth green trunk, then sprouts into palm fronds. The palm trees across the street in the photo are a more familiar variety. There are a lot of tall ships in the photos, including the complicated rigging of the Alexander von Humboldt II, which is particularly dizzying considering that each line has its own name, or designation! There are many inter-island tall ship voyages, as well as many that begin in the Canary Islands and end in various African and Mediterranean ports.

We were particularly amused by all that the shop in the final photo had to offer. It is a tiny venue but had a little of everything you might want in the way of souvenirs…a one-stop shop for tourists. The sign on front notes that “TODAY, we have the best prices in Gran Canaria…” We think it has probably said that for many years!

Day 639 of Traveling the World, Lanzarote, Canary Islands. November 12, 2019.

Chicken?!!?? Why are you starting your post with chicken?, you may ask. Well, this tasty chicken isn’t ordinary wasn’t grilled on just your usual, mundane, old charcoal or propane grill….it was cooked from deep below the ground, by the fire and heat from a volcano! Wow! We must admit, it tasted like plain old good juicy chicken that you get when it is cooked on any grill. But the novelty was too good to pass up. We now have the essence of a volcano inside of us!

Lanzarote is our first stop in the Canary Islands, not named after little yellow birds, but named from the Latin Canariae Insulae, Island of the Dogs. It was named by the Mauretanian King Juba II, as he claimed there were vast numbers of large dogs here. Called the “Island of Eternal Spring,” Lanzarote itself is a volcanic island. From 1730-1736, a series of volcanic eruptions occurred on the island and produced 32 new volcanoes over a distance of 11 miles. Lava covered a quarter of the surface of Lanzarote. This led to deforestation and drought, forcing many of the residents to flee in the ensuing years.

So, the restaurant with the volcano-cooked chicken is in Timanfaya National Park. Walking through the park is forbidden; when you arrive, you board a bus that drives through the strange and weird “moonscape,” as it is called. Accordingly, all of the photos you see were taken through the window of a bus, so some are a little blurred. The landscape certainly looks other-worldly, and at times it is hard to remember that you are not on a sci-fi movie set. It certainly was a surreal experience, as it was so stark and barren. In fact, the terrain is considered so similar to the surfaces of the moon and Mars that it has been used for astronaut training and the testing of interplanetary rovers.

In the second photo, the man walking away from the hole with a bucket had just poured water onto the hot stones and earth underground to produce the steam column that you can see…quite a serious amount.

After these photos is the official logo of Timanfaya, El Diablo, the Fire Devil, as the park is located in the Fire Mountains. It was designed by the most famous Lanzarote artist, Cesar Manrique, and it is everywhere, as you can imagine. You can buy not only t-shirts with the devil and his quindent (also called a pentadent and a fivedent, but it is not a trident!), but also earrings, keychains, charms, necklaces, towels…exploitation in the highest. We also visited Manrique’s house, which is a work of art in itself. There are cave-like staircases, open atriums with full-grown trees in the middle of the house, built-in benches and sofas, natural stone walls, and lots of desert landscaping. These photos all follow El Diablo.

After that are a few photos of the downtown (Arrecife) and the coastal view. The photos end with Charlie, who seems to be appear everywhere, featured in statues and posters in many of the cities we visit. We had no idea that a screen idol of the 1920s and 30s still generated so much interest!

Day 636 of Traveling the World, Barcelona, Spain. November 9, 2019. Part 2.

So, here is more of Barcelona’s too-muchness. Yesterday we published Part 1 of the fabulous city of Barcelona, featuring the imaginative work of Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi. Part 2 will start with La Rambla, move on to the Bari Goti (the Gothic Quarter) Cathedral, the Palau de la Musica (Palace of Music), and finally, architecture, sights, storefronts, and sculptures from walking the city streets…or alleys…or teeny tiny walkways. Barcelona has it all!

If you ever research what to do in Barcelona, the famous pedestrian walkway, La Rambla (or Las Ramblas) will likely be mentioned near or at the top of the list. It stretches down the middle of two one-way streets that in turn are adjacent to sidewalks filled with theaters, shops, and food venues. Originally a sewage-filled stream, from 1440 on the stream was diverted and La Rambla turned into a street, quickly becoming the center of Barcelona’s life and culture. It has been used for festivals, parades, markets, large gatherings, and sporting events. In the middle walkway are street performers, cafes, artists, vendors of every stripe, kiosks, and thousands of other pedestrians enjoying the Spanish weather, ambience, food, and drink. When you arrive at the end, the Mediterranean, there is an open plaza with the 1888 Mirador de Colom, a Corinthian column topped with a statue of Christopher Columbus, as well as enormous municipal buildings adorned by statues and lions. The Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, said that La Rambla was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” And in one of those quirky things about life, when you walk back the other way on La Rambla, you see and notice totally different things than when walking the first direction! The first seven photos are typical of La Rambla and its terminus at the Columbus column.

Next up: the magnificent Gothic Quarter Cathedral, sitting since the 14th century in a pretty square, with its interior huge columns and vaults, along with gorgeous stained glass windows. The feeling inside is very majestic, and with the soaring vaults, their intention of “lifting your mind to the heavens” works very well! We included a photo of the cloister geese, which you can hear – loudly! – before you ever see them. They were all adult, all fat and huge…we couldn’t see any goslings. The best part of the Gothic Quarter for us was turning off GPS and just wandering aimlessly down any old alley, enjoying the shop windows, architecture (new buildings across the street from medieval ones), stopping for coffee at the charming Black Remedy Cafe, photographing all the silly, quirky, and beautiful things we saw. That part of the Gothic Quarter is below, in the Hodgepodge section.

The Palau de la Musica Catalana is magnificent. The photos didn’t come out so well because it was nighttime and the lighting inside was bright and glaring. And when the wonderful Spanish classical guitar concert started, it was, of course, too dark! But these photos give you an idea of the opulence of the inside of this glorious building, constructed between 1905 and 1908 for the Orfeo Catala, a Catalan choral society. The second photo of this set shows a stained glass lamp with their name inscribed.

And after the concert hall comes arguably one of the best parts of any of our blogs: the hodgepodge. There are residential buildings, flower-adorned retail stores, shop windows, fountains, narrow alleyways (many from the Gothic Quarter), an unusual Sombreria (!) that denotes “we’re not in the US any more, Toto,” a tiled well, a pretty etched glass awning, frescoes and paintings on building facades, and, at the end, a retail model we just liked.

One thing we wanted to note is that if you look at the photo following that with the Christmas train above the first story, you will see a typical Barcelona intersection, and it is unique in all the world. Normally, a block ends with buildings in a 90-degree angle…a sharp turn of the corner. Most intersections in Barcelona slice across the 90-degree angle, and the buildings face out into the intersection rather than facing one street or the other, creating an octagon at each corner. It gives a sense of grace and calmness, especially since there are so many trees and so much decoration on the buildings. In 20th century buildings, Gaudi’s influence is everywhere, as you can see undulating balconies and lines in windows and skylines. If you ever visit, keep looking up, as that is where the gasp-inducing treasures lie, not in the many Rolex, KFC, and Zara stores. It is so enjoyable to walk anywhere here that it is a wonder that the taxis make any money at all!

Day 635 of Traveling the World, Barcelona, Spain. November 8, 2019. Part 1.

La Sagrad Familia. Casa Batllo. Park Guell. Palace Guell. Casa Mila. What do they have in common? Their architect was Antoni Gaudi. Then there is La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, the Palau de Musica, the unique city architecture. Una problema for us: Barcelona has the characteristic of too-muchness. Therefore, Part 1 will deal with Gaudi’s fabulosities, and Part 2 will be the rest of the story. But that isn’t to say we have seen it all! By no means. Even though we have been here 4-5 times, there are still many sights unseen. We do what we can, but will have to come back for an extended stay to see the other places on our list, as this is one of our favorite cities in the world. It is very walkable, very livable, with great architecture, and tree-lined streets everywhere.

So, undoubtedly the most famous icon in Barcelona is La Catedral De La Sagrada Familia…Holy Family Cathedral. Construction began in 1882, 137 years ago, and is tentatively scheduled for completion in 2026. We spied workers on the top spires, and we had heard stories of people whose families have spent their lives, generation after generation, laboring on La Sagrada Familia. It is stunning. It is quite startling to turn a corner and suddenly see this massive…presence…in front of you. It is not symmetrical, and it is very whimsical. I don’t recall ever seeing statues, baskets of fruit, trees with doves, vari-colored ceramic caps on spires, words and phrases (repetitions of Sanctus, an arch with “Jesus, King of the Jews” in Latin), shrines, and all sorts of other decorative elements. It feels very futuristic, although conceived in the 19th century! All of Gaudi’s work feels ahead of its time.

After the cathedral comes Casa Batllo, designed by Gaudi in 1904. As you can see, the facade is wild…wavy and colorful. The interior uses lots of ceramics, lots of colored glass, lots of textured and glass walls. The roof chimneys are fun! They are meant to look like art pieces, not something functional, although they are, which in turn makes them feel very modern. Following Casa Batllo are three photos of Parc Guell, It is a public park and was built from 1900 to 1914. It is not like any park we have ever seen!

Also named after the industrial tycoon, Eusebi Guell, next up is Palau Guell, the Guell Palace. It was built between 1886 and 1888, and is situated on a narrow street. You can see the cavernous inner atrium in the first photo, looking up to the starry ceiling, followed by Gaudi’s signature artwork chimneys on the roof.

Last up is Casa Mila, built between 1906 and 1912. It has a wavy stone facade and wrought iron balconies, and was constructed to be an apartment building. We asked if there were still residents, and were told, “yes, one woman lives here.” Outside of the tourist areas, the rest is office space. There are two photos looking up to the sky from the lower courtyard, and then a shot of one of the beautiful lobbies leading into the courtyard.

The rooftop is spectacular, expansive, and as you can see, very very busy. There are warrior chimneys (28 of them!), vents, domes, and water tanks. It is amazing that Gaudi paid so much attention to these mundane service elements. After the rooftop is the attic, with its glorious arches that invite you to come in and look around for a while. Finishing today’s Gaudi gems is a bedroom in Casa Mila, complete with a gorgeous original bed and a glimpse out the window, onto the balcony with its wrought iron railing, ands views all the way to the Mediterranean.