Thursday, February 28, 2013

Photo Thursday: Paris' Père Lachaise Cemetery in Black and White

We visited Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris last fall and I'm still playing around with the photos. Most recently I've tried some in black and white. I like how the lack of color highlights the structural elements of the cemetery, which is sharpened further by the contrast between light and shadow. It seems right for a cemetery! 
This is my contribution to Travel Photo Thursday at Nancie's Budget Traveler's Sandbox. Head on over and see what she's posted this week as well as links to images from her friends all around the world.

Nearly All Saints Day at Père Lachaise Cemetery
Crosses in Père Lachaise

All Paris posts 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Seychelles by Air

Flying to the Seychelles
Several gateways serve the Seychelles, including Dubai (which continues to increase the frequency of direct flights), Abu Dhabi, Nairobi, and more. Flights are available on a number of airlines, including international carriers and Air Seychelles.
We flew business class using frequent flier miles, which let us travel in relative comfort for the price of coach ticket, but on a slightly more convoluted routing through Chicago O’Hare (Dulles on the return) on Delta, Paris on Air France, and Nairobi on Kenya Airlines in order to get to the marina in Mahe, Seychelles.

All of our flights went smoothly, including the dreaded plane change at Charles DeGaulle in Paris, although our luggage apparently missed that connection (thank you Air France).

Unlike the airport in Narobi, the one on Mahé is a pleasant place. Should you be an elite flier, the Air Seychelles lounge is very comfortable and absolutely lovely. (Although it was a little disconcerting to sit in this perfectly gorgeous place while watching live coverage of hurricane Sandy decimating the east coast of the United States.) 

Flying within the Seychelles
Seychelles Air provides service from Mahé to Praslin, Denis, and Bird Islands.

Helicopter service, including aerial tours, is also available in some areas and to a number of high-end resorts.

All Seychelles posts

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Photo Thursday: Paris Metro View

I always think of the Paris Metro as an underground system (with those classic Art Nouveau entry signs), but sections of the system run above ground . . . and some of those are pretty artistic. 
This station, near the Eifel Tower, frames a classic Paris streetscape with brilliant glass and guarantees a bit of blue sky every day!

Not a bad way to start any journey.

This is my contribution to Travel Photo Thursday at Nancie's Budget Traveler's Sandbox. Head on over and see what she's posted this week as well as links to images from her friends all arouond the world.

More of my Paris Posts

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Think of it as Camping

If you don’t sail and you’ve seen a marina filled with sleek sailboats, you may have imagined life aboard as one of lazy luxury.   
Think of it, instead, as camping on the water.

We toured the Seychelles on a Sunsail 384, a catamaran of approximately 38 feet with two cabins and a head (bathroom) in each pontoon.

Each cabin had enough room for one person to stand up, a small amount of storage space, and an approximately double mattress shaped to the curve of the boat. There was a fan (which seemed to do little to move the hot humid air) and hatches in each cabin that let in wonderful cool breezes . . . when there was a breeze and it wasn’t raining.  

Above, on the same level as the cockpit, there was a tiny kitchen with an oven, stove, sink, refrigerator, freezer (stashed with ice and turned off at night to limit the draw on the battery), a table that seated about six (there were seven of us as we begin our trip), more storage space (much of which was under the benches around the table and not terribly accessible), and a navigation station with a desk and radio.
Outside, beyond the nav station, the cockpit (covered by a solid canopy to provide protection from the sun and rain) included benches and a table that easily sat eight – if some people sat on a nearby bench or on a cooler.  This is where we spent almost all of our time, whether under sail or at anchor.

There was a grill at the back of the boat. (Unfortunately there wasn’t much charcoal.)

None-the-less, we ate well. The boat was provisioned with far more meat than we could actually eat and that was supplemented by a wahoo caught by one of the boats in our flotilla. We had too little pasta and too much bread. (The bread molded quickly in the tropical humidity, however, when I cut off the moldy exterior - which we fed to the fish - it made a dandy rum-infused French toast.) We had a number of good cooks on board and we purchased a few essentials (spices, pasta, and peanut butter) while ashore, so we ate well and still had lots of uneaten provisions left at the end of trip.

Electric power on the boat was provided by marine batteries that were recharged when we ran the boat’s motor. I bought a DC plug-in for my laptop and used a small inverter to recharge camera batteries. Because of the limited number of outlets, we almost always had digital devices of one kind or another recharging while we were motoring.

Going Ashore for Any Reason Requires a Dinghy
Whether going out to dine, making a shopping, garbage, or recycling run, or heading out to explore a particularly intriguing beach, a dinghy was usually involved.  
 Many anchorages were in areas without any on-shore dining options, but we did have a few opportunities to eat in restaurants. While the Seychelles is hot and humid (it’s four degrees from the equator), it also has a French culture. This means that many nicer restaurants expected men to dress for dinner – or at least arrive in long pants – which can be a tricky undertaking when traveling in a dinghy.   
Even tied up in the harbor at La Digue, there was no way to reach the (tantalizingly nearby) shore without the dinghy, although a homemade tow rope system allowed us to ferry ourselves between the boat and shore without having to fire up the motor and dinghy around to the dock. 

We Sailed When the Weather Was Fine. . . and We Motored When it Was Not
Part of the appeal of a sailing trip is sailing. Sailing a monohull feels like guiding a living creature as the boat responds to your hand on the wheel.
I don’t think you get that same feeling on a cat. You don’t heel at all, which makes for a more comfortable sail, but takes some of the thrill out of it. You can move a lot faster on a cat, but it doesn’t feel like you are moving at all. (If you are a nervous sailor, try sailing on a cat.) Still, it was wonderful to be under sail.
And the dolphins don’t seem to care what kind of sailboat you are on. 
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of great weather for sailing, especially toward the end of the trip when low clouds and intermittent rain dominated the weather.  
Despite the weather, we still had an itinerary to follow (which is very different from my jaunts in the Apostle Islands where we set the itinerary more-or-less a day at a time based on the weather); it didn’t matter if it was dead still or pouring rain – we had somewhere we needed to be each day, so we motored on those days when the weather didn’t cooperate. (The local skipper made some changes based on weather, but often he was limited by previously booked tour arrangements on shore.)

At least it was warm even when it was raining, making foul weather gear optional in all but the worst weather. 

I Loved Warm Water Sailing
This was the first time I had sailed in warm water and I loved it.

My sailing experience has mostly been on Lake Superior, where the water last summer reached the record high temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. (Usually the water’s high temperature is in the 50s.) It’s a lake where landing in the water can quickly turn deadly due to the cold.

Coming from this background, warm water sailing was a revelation. It took a while to get used to the idea that, if I was too hot, I could just step off the back of the boat into the bathtub warm sea and float around with the fish for a while. 
It seemed nothing short of amazing.

Best of all for this easily sunburned blond was the fact that it was always shady UNDERNEATH the boat (one of the un-imagined advantages of a catamaran) and the fish that hung out under there never seemed to mind company.  
(The acoustics were pretty good under there too.)

A Few Closing Thoughts
I didn’t grow up sailing and am lucky I am to have a husband and friends who sail. However, even if you don’t have family or friends who sail, you should be able to find a day trip that would give you a sense of whether or not it is something you would enjoy. If you think it is something you’d like, there are a variety of options for spending a day or two as a passenger on a fully-crewed boat. Places noted for sailing, like the Caribbean, will offer the widest range of options at the lowest price.

If you enjoy sailing and decide you want to learn more, there are sailing courses available almost everywhere there is water. Courses vary in length and rigor and range from classroom studies to multi-day on-the-water training. I learned the basics (much of which I’ve forgotten over the intervening years of limited sailing) on a weekend women’s sailing course on Lake Superior. Now, having done some warm water sailing, I think a more intensive course in Florida or the Caribbean might be calling my name.

Cruising World is a good source of info on sailing in general, classes, and upcoming flotilla and other cruises.

Finally, if you are prone to sea sickness (as I am), be sure to stay up on deck where you can see the horizon and have plenty of fresh air. I’ve found both the Transderm Scop patches (available by prescription in the US) and Bonine (available over the counter in the US) to be helpful. I have used the patches successfully for years, but they have always made me tired and dehydrated and, more recently, have resulted in my right pupil dilating (not painful or dangerous, but annoying in bright sunlight), so switched to Bonine for the majority of the Seychelles trip, which seems equally effective, but with fewer side effects. Dramamine (also available over the counter) has never worked for me. I haven’t had any luck with pressure bracelets either. My husband swears by ginger, which I generally find to be helpful, but inadequate.

Sailing can be a great way to see the world. I’d encourage you to give it a try.   

All Seychelles posts 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Winter in Phoenix

      I love Arizona.

Sure, I hate the boring developments, the wasteful use of water, the conservative political climate, the lack of walkable neighborhoods, the long drive to get anywhere . . . but there is something about the landscape that speaks to me.

I love the way the mountains pop up in the middle of city, the way you can tell you've reached the Sonoran Desert because suddenly there are saguaro raising their arms all around you, the way you can be driving down the freeway - with the windows closed -- and suddenly be surrounded by the sweet fragrance of oranges. I just love being here.

Luckily I have friends and family in the Phoenix area, which provides a built-in excuse for visiting.

This month I took advantage of that excuse to make a too-quick trip to see my folks, catch up with a few friends, and soak in some sunshine. 

I’ve never been in Arizona in the winter before, so, while I expected it to be chilly (it was), I wasn’t expecting rain. But that is what we got – tucked between a few perfect sunny hours – there was plenty of cloudy skies and rain, real rain, not just drizzly mist. It provided a new perspective on this place.

There was a wealth of activities to choose from during our visit, including a hoop dancing competition, museum exhibits, craft fairs, Chinese New Year’s celebrations, and more. We did a few things, but we spent most of our time visiting and eating.

And that made for a relaxing trip.

My travel journal:

America’s Taco Shop (February 9, 2013)
In a Small Cactus Garden

Recreating the Past at Superstition Mountain (February 10, 2013)
A Bit of the Apache Trail 

Basha’s Almost Secret Gallery (February 11, 2013)
When Snowbirds Land
Sunset: Apache Junction

Zen Yard Guest House (February 12, 2013)

All Arizona posts 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Photo Thursday: Waiting for Spring in Arizona

I just returned from a quick trip to Arizona. While I knew that February is NOT spring, even in Arizona, I was hoping for reasonably warm temperatures and maybe a few flowers.

Obviously I wasn't the only one wishing for a few flowers, as this large aloe plant had a silk flower impaled prominently displayed on each spiky arm. 
Spring is coming. Eventually.

This is my contribution to Travel Photo Thursday at Nancie's Budget Traveler's Sandbox. Head on over and see what else has been going on around the world!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Zen Yard Guest House, Phoenix, Arizona

On what was a bit of a whim, we booked the Jerome Room at the Zen Yard Guest House

To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable with the new-age-spiritual-spa connotations of “Zen Yard” (just not my thing) and the fact that it wasn’t clear from the pictures that the Jerome room (the only space available at the time) had a real window (I hate dark rooms). However, the location was excellent (located near some of our friends), the price was right (further improved by a discount through, and every review on TripAdvisor raved about the place  (including the Jerome Room).

Any worries vanished the moment we arrived. Eddie cheerfully greeted us (materializing out of the darkness as we approached the building) and led us into a warm and welcoming living/dining area stocked with the little extras a travel might want – tea, coffee, energy bars, beverages (alcoholic and not), with instructions to either leave some money in the tip jar or let them know at check-out. How convenient!

(A large range of specialty tea is provided free of charge, which was fabulous for a tea-lover like me.)

From there he led us through a series of courtyards to the Jerome room – our pretty room with a large window looking out onto a pleasant little courtyard complete with serene sculpture and a grapefruit tree (with ripe grapefruits that we were encouraged to pick). It was everything I could have asked for and more.  
Daylight exploration showed that our courtyard was only one of several, most with sculpture, hummingbird feeders, water of some sort (fountains or hot tubs), comfortable seating, and gardens. 
Unfortunately, a recent cold snap had killed off some of the more tropical vegetation, leaving the gardens looking very much like winter had arrived. I’m sure it will soon be overflowing with greenery and blossoms again. 
Along with the hot tubs, the property has a pool – unheated, so not in use this time of year – but atmospherically lit at night and a reminder of how nice it will be here in warmer weather.
(Although I was pretty entranced by the patterns the leaves made as they floated around on the surface. Who needs to actually swim in a pool to enjoy it!?)

Homemade breakfasts are served in the main house. A small number of specialties are available and guests place orders the night before, assuring a tasty hot breakfast each morning. Seared oatmeal with blueberries (which is delicious) is available, along with more traditional fare and Dale’s banana bread.

The Zen Yard Guest House has four rooms, two in the main house and two in the courtyard area.  It is easy to reach and located in a very safe area of Phoenix. The entire property is also fenced (which is pretty common in Phoenix), further increasing security.  
We found it to be a good base for getting around the Phoenix area, with quick access to the city of Phoenix, as well as Scottsdale.

Previous post: Sunset - Apache Junction

More Arizona posts