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January 4, 2019

The Painful Side of Traveling

Three weeks from today and the adventure to South America and Antarctica begins. OR...maybe sooner if the weather decides to throw a wrench in our plans. You can be sure we will be keeping an eye on the forecast and will be on the road to Minneapolis earlier than planned if we hear any mention of the “B” word. (That would be "blizzard" for you southerners!) It is over a 3 hour drive to MSP so we will be spending a night...or two...or three with one of our kids who live in the area before our flight. 

Now that the holidays are over we have begun to count down the final days. The lists are being made and checked, the final Amazon orders are going out, and piles are starting to show up in our gues room staging area. Today we marked off the last of one of the more painful parts of planning for this cruise...our final vaccine!  

When we first booked this cruise, Iguazu Falls seemed like a perfect add-on to our itinerary...just a short flight away from our final port of Buenos Aires. The falls lie on the border between Argentina and Brazil but after a little research I discovered that visiting the Brazilian side required a visa for U.S. citizens. Although the view from this side appears breathtaking, the few hours that we would spend there made it hard to spend the $160 per person to get the visa. I also noted that visitors to this area were encouraged to get yellow fever vaccines whereas the Argentina side was not included in the CDC warning area. 

After much deliberation, we booked a package tour to Iguazu Falls...but only the Argentina side. Fast forward a few months and Brazil announced they would now offer an e-visa. Available online, getting the visa no longer meant having to apply at a Brazilian consulate and...the cost was less than $50! At that point it would have been too expensive to change our plans so we made peace with the fact that we would only see Iguazu Falls from one side. 

Now...fast forward a couple more months. The CDC changed their map and the Argentina side of Iguazu Falls was also in a warning area for yellow fever. ☹️


Current CDC Yellow Fever Warnings

I could think of several good reasons why we shouldn’t get yellow fever vaccines. The chance for serious side effects is greatly increased in people over 60 years old, the shots aren’t cheap, and for gosh sake...we are only going to be spending one day at the falls! But... contracting the disease could be a death sentence and that ultimately led us to make an appointment at a travel clinic. 

The yellow fever vaccine is in short supply, but the clinic was able to substitute a vaccine that is currently not approved for use in the U. S. Hence it is considered “experimental” and required us to sign numerous consent forms. We spent a long time visiting with the travel nurse and she gave us all sorts of helpful information about the countries we plan to visit. Oh...and we each were "given" a travel adapter as our reward for getting poked! (Although when we each paid over $200 for the shot we essentially bought the adapters.)

This framed photo of Iguazu Falls was hanging on the wall of the travel clinic!

We left the clinic with prescriptions for the oral typhoid vaccine (4 pills containing the live virus taken over several days) and also for antibiotics to take with us “just in case.” Locally we were able to get the hepatitis A vaccine...a series of two shots which we finished today. Although not travel related, I’ve also recently gotten my flu shot and a series of 2 shingles vaccines. 

I would like to say the vaccines were the worst part of preparing for this cruise...but that would be a lie. The most difficult part is just beginning. Packing. We will be experiencing winter to summer to winter to summer and finally back to winter...all within about four weeks! Yikes!!! How in the world does one pack for so many seasons???!!!
















October 29, 2018

A Close-to-Home Trip to Pipestone National Monument

Want to see the video version of this blog post? Click here:



Knowing that winter could make its appearance at any time, we decided to get out this past Saturday and enjoy the beautiful fall day. Anytime you can get an October day over 50 degrees and without wind in this part of Minnesota, you should be outside! After pondering several different outdoor options, Bob got the idea that we should go to the Pipestone National Monument.

Last fall, Bob purchased a lifetime senior citizen “America the Beautiful” pass which covers the entrance fees at all national parks and wildlife refuges for anyone aged 62 or older AND all passengers in their car. The cost of the lifetime pass had been $10 since 1994 but wouldn’t you know it, the price jumped to $80 <yikes!> just a few weeks before Bob’s 62nd birthday.  Pipestone is the only national monument or park even remotely close to where we live so it gave us a chance to put the pass to use.

Southwest Minnesota is rural farmland…mainly corn and soybeans for crops. It has been a wet fall so now that the fields were drying out, harvest was taking place in earnest. Our drive also took us past some of the more unique farming operations…wind farms and buffalo herds!

A wind farm.

Buffalo!
The Pipestone National Monument is just outside the city of the same name…Pipestone, Minnesota. 




For hundreds of years, Native Americans have been coming to Pipestone to quarry for catlinite or as it is more commonly known…pipestone. And just as the name implies, the soft, pink rock that they dig from the ground is used to carve the bowls for their pipes.

The visitor’s center had many displays showing items that had been carved from pipestone and also a couple craftspeople demonstrating the art of pipe making.




One room of the visitor’s center was devoted to a series of petroglyphs that had been found nearby.





And though the displays and demonstrations were interesting, the real highlight of our day was walking the path that leads past the quarries and out into the prairie.



The fall foliage was past its peak, but if you looked closely you could still find pops of color and beauty among the prairie grass.




The trail led us to the Winniwissa Falls and then followed alongside the river back to the visitor’s center. What a great day to be outdoors enjoying nature!




It was mid-afternoon by the time we left Pipestone and we were both hungry. Taking a different route home gave us a chance to stop for a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant in the little Dutch community of Chandler. (Not the kind of town where you would expect to find tacos and burritos being served, but it wasn’t bad!) We were the only customers inside the little cafe. Main street was pretty desserted as well.



All in all a fun day and a reminder that we need to make more of an effort to explore what is in our own back yard!


October 22, 2018

Double Digits!



Ninety-nine days...from today! I may be a little premature in posting about our next adventure but considering we booked over 500 days in advance it seems like we are finally getting close!

A couple of other events are also making our upcoming cruise start to feel real. This past week we made our final cruise payment and also visited a travel clinic to get the recommended vaccines for our trip (more on this later). I must admit both were a little painful!

So where are we going? To ANTARCTICA! Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that we would travel to the end of the world! My daughter-in-law (the geography teacher) was excited when she found out and commented that so many people visit the other continents but very few make it to Antarctica. In my mind, putting a tick mark next to Antarctica before we have traveled to any other continents is like eating dessert before the meal.  😉 Whether true or not, I keep reading that visitors to Antarctica may soon be limited and I want to get there before it is too late!


Our 22-day cruise begins in Santiago, Chile and takes us past Cape Horn and through the Drake passage to Antarctica. As we head back north, we have a stop in the Falkland Islands before ending up in Buenos Aires.

The ship we are traveling on? The Holland America Zaandam. The same ship we were on this past spring when we cruised for 23 days from Florida...through the Panama Canal...and up to Canada. I expect we will feel very much at home when we board!

Source: HollandAmerica.com






May 8, 2018

Zaandam Ship Photos

I will wrap up our Panama Canal cruise posts with some photos from onboard the Zaandam.

This was our 2nd Holland America cruise...the first being on the Nieuw Amsterdam just 6 months earlier. The Zaandam and the Nieuw Amsterdam are different class ships with the Zaandam being the smaller of the two with a capacity of around 1400 passengers and a length of 781 feet. By comparison, the Nieuw Amsterdam carries over 2100 guests and is 936 feet long.

This cruise was the first sailing AFTER the Zaandam being was in drydock for refurbishment. Our week on the Nieuw Amsterdam was shortly BEFORE it went into drydock for some major changes. Since the itinerary is our main focus when we cruise, I won't try and do much comparison between the ships. Although there were some things we enjoyed more on the Nieuw Amsterdam (such as our balcony cabin, interactive TV's and the BB King Blues Club) the problems we encountered with the ports on that cruise were a negative. (All totally due to weather...because of storms and hurricanes, our ports kept changing.)

Our cruise on the Zaandam will be one we remember fondly...not so much for the ship, but the experience. We were traveling with good friends, met some wonderful people on the ship, and visited some new and very interesting ports. Also a 23-day cruise compared to a 7-day cruise is always better!

The photos posted below were taken throughout the cruise but rather than post them day by day as they were taken, I will group them all into a single post. This will be a hodge-podge sort of thing...in no particular order! Enjoy...and let me know if you have any questions!

We chose to separate the beds. More floor space and easier to look out the window. The magnetic hooks we brought really only stuck to the wall on either side of the windows but gave Bob a place to hang his backpack and me a spot to organize papers and show off my craft project!

More of a love seat size sofa...but still nice to have. The table height was adjustable. The waste basket had a section to recycle paper which got put to use with all of the "junk mail" from the spa and art auctions.

Not sure what function the curtains served between the desk and the bed. It was just a narrow panel so nothing that could be used to divide the beds from the rest of the room. There was also a heavier curtain that could be pulled between the closet area and the rest of the room. You can see the orange edge sticking out. This one was nice when I got up earlier. I could turn on a light and get into the closets without waking Bob.


Our nice new shower. I love adjustable shower heads. I put it down as low as it would go when I showered because I am short. Obviously Bob had been the one showering before this photo!

The lights are actually part of the mirror.

There was enough space IN the closets, but when one of the closet doors was open it totally blocked this area. Our room steward was able to get us extra hangers which was helpful.

The view from our window.

Only one regular outlet. We brought along a power strip to be able to charge several things at once. The hair dryer that HAL provides plugged into the round outlet.

The TV was very small and also so low that it made the end of the desk pretty much useless. There is a booklet with hundreds of DVD's that are available to check out (for free) from guest services but often the disks were damaged and wouldn't play. Bob watched a LOT of movies and got to know the guest services staff quite well! We much preferred the big screen interactive TVs on the Nieuw Amsterdam which had movies on demand.


In the warmer part of our cruise these chairs would mostly all be taken...or at least those that had cushions.

Our window from the outside. The glass has a coating so that no one could see in during the day. When lights were on inside the cabin at night people could see inside so we had to remember to keep our curtains closed. Not sure why HAL couldn't buy a few more cushions for these loungers...they were pretty uncomfortable without.

The potty station for a service dog onboard. 

Extra sod for the pooch potty area.


Crow's Nest...at the front of the ship on Deck 9.


Main pool on Lido Deck (Deck 8). The sliding cover made it usable even when the weather was cool or rainy.


The Lido buffet area. Serving area is closed in this photo. 
Area around Sea View pool at the back of the ship. This was one of my favorite areas.

Cows in the pool. 😲

This is where you could find me on sea days...at least until we headed north and the temperatures dropped. On some days the ship was rolling enough that the water was sloshing out of the pool. This pool is not a good choice if you don't know how to swim...I could not touch bottom and keep my head above water anywhere in the pool.
Seating area on deck 9 overlooking aft pool.

Deck 9 heading towards the tennis court.

The tennis court which Bob (and others) used as a pickleball court. On most sea days it was too windy up here to play. A basketball court was on the opposite side of the ship.


It is always fun to check out the artwork in the stairways. Here are a couple of pieces by M.C. Escher. He is famous for his work with tessellations which I taught about in my middle school math classes.

Another tessellation by M.C. Escher.
The one and only main dining room on the Zaandam.

An elaborate floral display at the entrance to the dining room. Fresh flowers were used throughout the ship.
Upper level of the dining room. We had a great location with a view. Our table was located along the back windows.



These large displays were located by each elevator.

I didn't get a photo inside the digital workshop. The room contained rows of tables with computers where multiple lessons on various Microsoft topics were taught each day. Most of the classes were ones I had taken on our last cruise so I only attended once on the Zaandam.

The coffee bar...a popular place.

Library.

Jigsaw puzzles were available.

Very large artwork by library.

The Zaandam has a music theme and had many musical instruments on display.

Bill Clinton's saxaphone.
Autographed guitars...sorry I didn't notice who signed them.

The casino. We walked through a couple of times to get from one end of the ship to the other but otherwise spent no time here.

Card games in the Hudson Room


Explorer's Lounge. Adagio played here (husband & wife on violin & piano.)

Flowers in Explorer's Lounge.

Yes...these are live flowers! Tiny vases are wired to the main arrangment.

Large mural by the Explorer's Lounge.





Pinnacle Grill. 


The seating area in the Wajang Theater. This room was used for both America Test Kitchen classes and also movies.

America's Test Kitchen presentation. 

The EXC host had scheduled times to be here. We did not find her to be all that helpful.

The organ (deck 3) in the center of the atrium. Our cabin was located just down the hallway. I've read that they play the organ everyday at noon, but we never heard it nor did we see it listed on the schedule of events.

Top of the organ.

Looking down from deck 4.


Photo gallery.

This was the hallway to our cabin.
A stairway at the very back of the Lido Deck (near the aft pool) leads down to this open deck.

And going down one more level (to deck 6) brings you to an even larger open area.

Stairway going up to the aft pool area.

There are two oceanview cabins on Deck 7 which are considered obstructed view cabins. Cabin #7086 would be the better of the two.

Cabin #7083's view is blocked by the stairway.


A tour through the backstage area of the theater. The singers & dancers must get dressed in a very tight area.

Props for the production numbers in the theater.

The view of the Main Stage theater from the stage.
Congratulations if you've made it through all of the posts for this cruise! After 23 days on the Zaandam, we are looking forward to our next cruise...on the Zaandam! Our friends (who have never cruised on HAL) will be joining us and the room steward let us peak into their cabin on the Dolphin Deck when it was being turned over in Vancouver. Our cabin is just a few doors away so will look the same. Counting months & weeks until then!



A full size couch instead of the love seat that we had in our cabin this time.


Notice how high this TV is compared to the one in our cabin.

A bunk recessed into the ceiling.

Not as nice as our walk in shower this time, but still roomier than showers on most ships.


Not the greatest hairdryer, but there should also be a newer model in the desk drawer.

Well...that is it. The end of the blog posts for this cruise. Thanks for reading!

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