Category Archives: Logistics

Poking Around Pago Pago

Jan. 29, 2018:

Samoa-6

After a couple more days at sea, we pulled in this morning to a hot a steamy day in Pago Pago (pronounced “Pango Pango”), American Samoa. It rains an incredible amount here, so everything is lush and green, but also amazingly humid! Given that it rained tons yesterday and is supposed to rain again later today, stepping outside our cabin is like stepping into a sauna.

Samoa-3

We don’t have a very arduous day today of excursions; just a bus trip up the coast a bit to visit some local viewpoints, a memorial to the victims of the 2009 tsunami, and a Samoan cultural show featuring a “kava” ceremony.

Notwithstanding the fact that Pago Pago is an American outpost, and fairly developed by the US military, things are decidedly laid back here. A prime example are the busses. Each “bus” is built on a car or truck chassis, and then an open-air wooden box with bench seats is built on top. Each bus is lovingly painted (and frequently named). In our honor, many of the busses have been decorated with fresh palm fronds and ginger blossoms.

Samoa-31

Samoa-13

American Samoa features tall volcanic cliffs and valleys, which wind up almost immediately from the coastal area, and those hills are all heavily forested with tropical rain forest vegetation. The tree canopy is lovely, and there are some trees blooming in bright colors. Many Samoans make or supplement their living by farming in villages up in the hillside areas, and the ground looks so fertile, I imagine you have only to stick something in the ground to make it grow.

Samoa-15

Samoa-104Samoa-112

Our entire group of busses set off up the coast for our first stop; a tiny islet lying just a few feet off the shore known as the “Flowerpot”. You have only to look at it to see why.

Samoa-11

Samoa-21
The Flowerpot

Samoa-23

Further on, we stopped at a park for some awesome views of the coastline and the hills surrounding it. There is actually a US National Park located here (the 59th), and it takes up about half the island, and two outlying islands. It encompasses all sorts of terrain, including some awesome beaches and rainforest areas, but we couldn’t find anyone offering a guided tour (or a dive excursion, either).

Samoa-43

 

We made a brief stop at the one and only golf course on the island, and then continued on to the tsunami memorial.

Samoa-47
The Golf Course Clubhouse
Samoa-48
The golf course

Samoa-51

Samoa-52

Samoa-53

Samoa-54
The Tsunami Memorial

Samoa-55

Samoa-56
Shelly: Another one for you!

Finally, we went to the Samoan cultural show. Tribal life is still a very important and ever-present part of daily life here, and the local civil police authorities and courst system share jurisdiction with the tribal chiefs. The Kava ceremony we saw was a demonstration of an old custom where the special kava drink is prepared according to ritual and then shared with important guests. For those of us that didn’t want to sample the bitter brew, there were chilled coconuts to drink, followed by a dancing exhibition. Two of the more elderly men in the group were named honorary chiefs for the day, which required them to strip off their shirts and don the traditional tapa cloth skirts.

Samoa-69
The honorary “chiefs”

Samoa-71

Samoa-80
Preparing the Kava

 

Samoa-82
Chief drinking kava

Samoa-83

Samoa-86

Samoa-95

Samoa-98

Samoa-102

Then it was time to go back to the ship. As Jim and I headed up to the top deck to enjoy sailing out of harbor, we all clustered at the rails to watch our poor seamen try to get our gangway unstuck so it could be brought aboard.  We all took turns coming up with expressions to match the looks on the captain’s face. Finally, disaster averted; we sailed out of port for New Zealand.

Samoa-115
The stuck gangway
Samoa-117
The Captain overseeing the “snafu”

Samoa-124

SaveSave

Maui, More or Less

Jan. 17, 2018:

Maui-1
Entering Kahului Harbor

Today we docked in Kahului, Maui. Jim and I opted to go excursion-less today, as we weren’t able to schedule an easy snorkeling or dive excursion for the day out of this side of the island, and we needed to do a little shopping for items we forgot or needed to supplement. Thus, I have virtually nothing else to say except that the Costco here is awesome

Oh, and once we were done shopping, it started dumping rain, so we decided to go back to the ship. Until Nuka Hiva …farewell!

Maui-2
Kahului

Hawaii From On High

Jan. 15, 2018:

Hilo-1

This morning, we again had an awesome approach at sunrise; this time to the island of Hawaii. On our way in, the rising sun illuminated both Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes. Our port today is in Hilo, a town neither of us has visited since our honeymoon. I’m kind of looking forward to seeing how it might have changed since that time. However, we are both most excited for our excursion today, which is a helicopter tour of the volcanoes and waterfalls of the island.

As many of you may know, Kilauea Volcano, here on the big island, has been erupting continuously since 1983. In that time, it has created about 500 new acres of Hawaiian coastline, but has also destroyed many structures in its rush to the sea. In fact, it narrowly missed wiping out a whole town less than a year ago, but the lava flow stopped just short of the town. Today, the lava is no longer hitting the ocean, but both the crater and the Puʻu ʻŌʻō Vent remain very active. Our flight will go from Hilo over the lava flow plain to the sea, then along the coastline and back up over the Puʻu ʻŌʻō Vent, before turning to the northeast to see some of the waterfalls that drain into Hilo.

Hilo-9

Our tour provider is Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, and they seem to be a very professionally-run operation. In addition to weighing each of us and seating us according to our weight, we received a very thorough safety briefing, and they even handed out dark shirts to anyone wearing a light colored shirt to minimize glare on the glass of the copter.

Hilo-10

Hilo-19

After taking off, we headed to the volcanic plain area. It was really amazing how the lava made such a stark path, and yet just narrowly missed some towns and structures. The coastline area was particularly striking, because the cooled lava, with nothing growing on it, just dead-ended into the sea.

Hilo-22

Hilo-35

Hilo-39

Hilo-41Hilo-43Our pilot took us inland to see the Puʻu ʻŌʻō Vent, but before we even got there, we saw a fresh lava outbreak oozing down the slopes. Our pilot, Patrick, told us that the lava trails we were seeing hadn’t even ben there 20 minutes before on his last flight. Then we came in closer for multiple fly-overs of the vent itself. What was really cool about this was that underneath the rising plumes of smoke, you could see the lava hot spots within the vent. Our pilot did a masterful job of wheeling the helicopter around so we all got great views of the vent. However, I am sure glad I took those Bonine (anti-motion sickness pills) before we took off!

Hilo-52
Brand new lava outbreaks on the side of  Puʻu ʻŌʻō Vent

IMG_0922

Hilo-54

Hilo-69
Puʻu ʻŌʻō Vent on the horizon

Hilo-83

Hilo-97

Hilo-98

Hilo-109

Hilo-111

In the distance, you could see the snow-capped peak of Mauna Kea. Then we flew to the foothills above Hilo to see the waterfalls. It was a pristine, clear morning, and there were already people swimming in the pools beneath the falls. Sadly, our flight time was about over by then. But Patrick had one more gift to give us – a fly over of our ship on the way back to the airport.

Hilo-130

Mauna Loa

Jim and I didn’t have any other touring plans for the day, so we just walked through downtown Hilo by the ocean. Nope. It hadn’t changed much in 35 years! Then, it was back to the ship for us. Tomorrow, we arrive in Kauai, where we will again take a helicopter over some of the more remote parts of the island.

Hilo-135

Hilo-136

Hilo-166

Hilo-237

Hilo-258

 

Zoom, Zoom, Zürs!

 

Dec. 12-14, 2017:

 

As you know, when we last left you, we had arrived in Innsbruck, where we picked up a car for our drive into the Arlberg Ski area about an hour and a half up in the Alps from Innsbruck. This ski area is HUGE, as this map shows.

2017_11_19_Arlberg Trail Map

We are staying in a very nice family-run hotel called Arlberghaus in the tiny town of Zürs, Austria. How, you might ask, did we decide to stay here? Well, it just so happens that for those of us who annually buy the Epic ski pass from Vail Resorts, they have a deal with several European ski resorts which generally allow you to ski free for 3 days if you book with one of several participating hotels. For Austria, the hotels were all in the Arlberg ski area, which encompasses several towns. I corresponded with several of them, and was most impressed with the response from the team at Arlberghaus, headed up by David Eggler, who is the fourth generation of this hoteling family.

Upon arrival in Zürs, we were happy to learn that our ski rental place was literally, just steps away, and the proprietors were extremely accommodating. Rentals secured (and stored overnight in the Arlberghaus’ ski room with heated boot racks), we enjoyed a fabulous 5 course Austrian meal, which was part of our lodging costs. Our room was very modern, but comfortable in an Alpine style, with a spacious modern bathroom and very comfortable bedding. We chose the “half board” meal option, which means that the hotel provides breakfast and dinner daily, in addition to a snack aprés ski. The meals are unbelievable! Fresh local ingredients excellently prepared made us never even consider venturing outside the hotel for a meal elsewhere. The dining room staff, like the other hotel staff, is superb, and always anticipates your every need. As icing on the cake, as we enjoyed dinner, huge fluffy snowflakes started to fall, and our waiter, Philip, presented Jim with a birthday cake.

We awoke the next morning to a very snowy landscape, but we were pleased to learn that the ski lifts in Austria not only have Plexiglass covers to keep the snow off of you, but also heated seats! The skiing could not be more accessible. We walked out of the hotel, down to buildings and walked right onto the ski lift. There’s also a gondola accessed from the same building, but as we could barely see the top of the ski lift in the snow, we weren’t about to venture onto the gondola! As you can see from the map, the Ahlberg terrain is vast and varied (although really not for beginners unless you enroll yourself in the ski school). However, the visibility was really bad, so Jim and I just skied a few runs, and then went indoors to change and go explore Zürs and the nearby town of Lech.

Zurs-9
View from our hotel room
Zurs-10
Covered, heated ski lift

Zurs-26Zurs-27Zurs-28

The cold I had picked up had turned into a sinus infection, so our first objective was to find a doctor who could provide me with some antibiotics. Although there is a doctor in Zürs, his office is closed in the afternoons (presumably so he can ski). Instead, we took the free bus to Lech (it runs every 20 minutes and is only about a ten minute drive). There I was able to walk into a clinic and see a doctor within a half hour and he was able to provide the antibiotics right away. Total cost: about $95.

Back at the hotel, Jim and I enjoyed the après ski scene in the cozy bar at the Arlberghaus, and then enjoyed another great meal.

Wednesday morning dawned clear and cold, and the views just from our hotel room were amazing. Jim and I dressed quickly in our ski clothes and then returned to the lifts. The whole mountain area is unbelievablely scenic when it is not snowing! Here they do some grooming, but many areas are left “off piste, and some hardier skiers were tackling them. Jim and I mainly skied in the area around Zürs, but there are some great ski routes that link the whole Arlberg ski area together, but they are all over 20 kilometers of combined skiing, so a little too much to attempt on our first real ski day of the season.

Zurs-2
Much better hotel room view
Zurs-6
Outside Arlberhaus
Zurs-14
The gondola station at the top

Zurs-15Zurs-18Zurs-20

Zurs-30
Ski lift view
Zurs-38
Arlberg Ski Area
Zurs-72
Views from the top of the gondola

Zurs-81

Finally, Jim and I were ready for lunch, so we ventured up the gondola to its second station, which is now a restaurant with fabulous views over the whole valley. As we warmed up and filled out tummies, we watched the next storm clouds sailing in. Given that I was still fighting my sinus infection, I decided to call it a day, and we went back to the vinstube in the Arlberg, to curl up by the fire. Shortly after that, it began snowing, and later that night, we enjoyed a traditional meat fondue in court bouillon in the hotel restaurant.

Our last day in Arlberg was a really fierce blowing snowstorm, so we didn’t dress to go out. I kept hoping that the weather (and visibility) would improve enough that I could go skiing again, but finally even I gave up. The nice thing was that the Arlberghaus has a lovely “quiet room” with a fireplace, so Jim and I just settled in there and watched the snow fall while editing photographs and blogging. I tell you that it was hard to leave come Friday morning, but our drive through the Alps awaited us. Next stop, Lichtenstein!

 

 

Into the Alps by Train

Dec. 11, 2017:

 

Happy birthday to Jim! This morning, we left Vienna on the high-speed train for Innsbruck, where we will pick up a car for the drive up into Zürs, Austria, where we will stay for the next 4 days. We had originally planned to fly home from Vienna, but a lack of frequent flyer award tickets caused us to re-evaluate that idea. Instead, after we leave, Zürs, we will drive through Lichtenstein (check another country off the list) to Lucerne, Switzerland for a couple of nights, and then driving on to Frankfurt for our flight home.

My observations about the Austrian Rail system: it’s WAY better than the Germans’! Why? Beautiful big terminal with elevators! A first class lounge with ample seating in a temperature controlled place. Trains that stop at least 10 minutes in each station so it’s not a mad scrum to get on/off the train. Announcements in English and German so you can actually understand what might be important information. Best of all, luggage areas in each car of the train! In addition; some nice perks including train attendants who will take your order and bring you hot or cold food and drinks from a large menu at reasonable prices. Jim and I had Hungarian goulash stew and a warm toasty roll, and both were really good!

Train Trip to Innsbruck-6

In turns out that the train trip was almost exact reverse of our river trip on the ship: we left Vienna, and then made stops at Melk, Linz, and Salzburg on way to Innsbruck. It has snowed in the last couple of days, and there is lots of snow in the Alps and the fields beside the train. All of which made for a lovely trip to Innsbruck. We’re really looking forward to seeing what life is like in the Alps in winter, so stay tuned!

Train Trip to Innsbruck-3Train Trip to Innsbruck-2

From the Wachau Valley to Vienna

Dec. 8, 2017:

 

Good morning and happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception Day, which is what it is in Austria today. We are docked briefly in the port of Melk, Austria. This means no shops are open, and the only thing on the agenda is a visit to the Melk Abbey-constructed in the Baroque style dating to 17th Century. True confessions time … Jim and I have been on the run for the last two weeks and it is catching up to us. I’ve managed to catch Jim’s cold, so we both decided to play hooky in Melk. Once again, it’s about freezing degrees, and grey, so it was not a hard decision to make.

Sailing the Wachau ValleyWachau ValleyRegensburg-1

We made an early departure so we would have a pretty sail through the Wachau Valley, which is a major wine growing region in Austria. Probably the most recognizable grape grown here is Grüner Veltliner, and also dry Riesling, but the area is also well-known for growing apricots, and using them to make candies, liqueurs, and schnapps.

Sailing the Wachau ValleyWachau ValleyRegensburg-7

Sailing the Wachau ValleyWachau ValleyRegensburg-10

The sail through the valley is pretty, but Jim and I can only imagine what it would like in the summer with all the vines covered in leaves and fruit. Can you sense a theme here?! This may be the last time I convince Jim to travel somewhere cold and snow for sightseeing. Still. It’s fun to sail pass countless castles and churches obviously dating back a long time.

Sailing the Wachau ValleyWachau ValleyRegensburg-11

Sailing the Wachau ValleyWachau ValleyRegensburg-18

Sailing the Wachau ValleyWachau ValleyRegensburg-22

Our tour directors make the best of the time by sharing a showcase of the regional products. I’ve decided that apricot schnapps is an excellent medicinal solution for a cold, particularly in a cup of homemade hot chocolate! Me; I’m just happy to sit in the observation lounge at the front of the ship and watch the scenery pass by as I edit my photos!

Sailing the Wachau ValleyWachau ValleyRegensburg-26

We arrived in Vienna about 6 pm this evening. Although there is an excursion planned to see the lights at the Vienna City Hall Christmas market (Rathausplatz) market, which purportedly has the prettiest lighting in Vienna, it’s raining, (and Jim and I have an issue to deal with back home) so we prudently decided to pass on this opportunity. Besides, we will get a full tour of Vienna tomorrow and we have booked an extra days’ stay in Vienna, so I am sure this is not the last opportunity we will have to see these lights.

Ringing In Rüdesheim

Dec. 1, 2017:

Middle Rhine Cruising-1

Today our schedule was a little different as we are actually doing our traveling along this middle section of the Rhine by daylight. We haven’t found the Rhine nearly as scenic as we found the Rhône in France, but finally we are occasionally able to see a castle or two. There are something like 40,000 castles in Germany from tiny houses with turrets up to giant Schlosses. In any event, we will be pullng into our next mooring in Rüdesheim about 2:00 this afternoon.

Middle Rhine Cruising-12

Middle Rhine Cruising-20

Middle Rhine Cruising-23

Middle Rhine Cruising-42
Coming into Rudesheim

This is a fairly small town, but really cute deep in the heart of wine-growing country in Germany. In fact, as we docked, our ship was met with a huge delivery which appears to mostly consist of cases of local Riesling wine, all marked “Drink Riesling; Not Water!”.

Rudesheim-7

Rudesheim-6

Rudesheim-8

Rudesheim-12

This was also the first town we were able to walk right off board and into town. Jim and I really like the freedom this gives us. So we walked into town, with our first activity being a visit to the music box museum, which has everything from what we think of as music boxes to huge cabinets of mechanized instruments which can replicate the sounds of an entire orchestra popular around the turn of the last century.

Rudesheim-16
The building housing Siegfried’s Musical Cabinet Museum and its merry-go-round
Rudesheim-26
Our Tour Directors
Rudesheim-31
The petting zoo at Sigfried’s

Right after that visit, we headed to a local hotel, with a cozy restaurant called Rüdesheim Schloss, where we had a lesson in baking the local type of Christmas cookies, Christmas Coffee, and glühwein. After the lesson, Jim headed off to explore, while I sat out in the patio to try to upload photos for the blog.

Rudesheim-27

Rudesheim-43

Rudesheim-44
FF Finnish Sami man in traditional dress– they had a sale pavilion selling Finnish products

Mission accomplished, we walked back together through the many Christmas market stalls to the ship. Tomorrow is also a later sail to our final destination for this part of the trip, Cologne (Köln).