post

California coast by train from LA

March 3, 2017 Friday – north along the California coast by Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles

Main waiting area in LA's Union Station

Main waiting area in LA’s Union Station

It’s a good thing I set my alarm last night for 4:00AM after leaving Tucson, because the train arrives in LA an hour early at 4:30AM Pacific Time. My car attendant predicted an early arrival, and he was right. I ask him to reconfigure my Roomette back to seating for the last hour. He gives me a light breakfast in a bag, which is very much appreciated, since the dining car won’t be open this morning.

After our arrival in LA’s Union Station, I schlepp my bags through the tunnel system under the tracks to the station. The Metropolitan Lounge for business class and sleeper ticket holders doesn’t open until 5AM, so I grab a cappuccino from the Starbucks in the station and kill time in the main waiting room. It’s a zoo in there, with all sorts of weird people, even in the area reserved for Coach ticket holders. I’m glad to get out of there!

Tables, chairs, loungers and a bookcase in the Metropolitan Lounge, LA's Union Station

The Metropolitan Lounge, LA’s Union Station

I have several hours to kill, since my train to Seattle doesn’t depart until 10:10AM. The Metropolitan Lounge has all sorts of snacks and beverages available at no charge. I take the opportunity to clean up in the bathroom, since it’s so much easier than when I’m being pitched around on a train. There is free Wi-fi, so I entertain myself, despite its slowness. When it is time to board, a Red Cap porter takes us to the train in a motorized cart.

As the train leaves Los Angeles behind, we see the light industrial side of the city and pass by Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, where some passengers board. The train stops a couple of times along the way for track work and oncoming trains, and goes slow through many areas. There are lots of fields with crops as we pass through Oxnard and Camarillo, with lots of workers in the fields.. As we hug the California coastline starting in Ventura, we pass along beautiful shorelines and beaches near Carpinteria, and sand dunes and estuaries by Vandenberg Airfield. I lucked out since my Roomette is on the side of the train with the coastal view, so I can sit comfortably shooting photos and video as the scenery flies by.

California Coast by train from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

I have lunch in the dining car while we are going through the Santa Barbara area. We arrive at Pismo Beach by 2:30PM, where the train turns inland, leaving the scenic California coastline. transitioning into huge tracts of range land.

We change engineers and conductors in San Luis Obispo, so I take the opportunity to have a shower while the train is stopped. I’m signed up for the 6PM dinner sitting, ordering the special roasted chicken breast with baked potato and veggies. We stop in San Jose at 8:30PM for 10 minutes, and then roll out of the station and sit around until 9:05PM waiting for another train to pass before we get going again. I notice there are lots of old motorhomes with people living in them parked along the tracks in this area. No doubt living in San Jose is very expensive, so if you are a normal wage-earner, living in a decent home isn’t easy. We arrive in Oakland at 10:00PM for a stop. As we leave the station, it is time for bed. The train has a lot of distance to cover before our scheduled arrival in Seattle tomorrow evening.

post

Phuket, Thailand

February 19, 2016 – Phuket, Thailand

Big Buddha against a blue sky in Phuket, Thailand

Big Buddha against a blue sky in Phuket, Thailand

I go on the Diverse Phuket shore excursion this morning, which is a six hour outing in a van. The weather is hot and humid as we drive away. Our first stop is the Big Buddha, atop Nakkerd Hill. It is a big 150 foot Burmese marble structure that is still under construction, but is visible for miles around.

There are views of the Karon, Kata and Kata Noi beaches from the back of the hill. Thais are mostly Buddhists, so there are statues and temples everywhere, and most Thai children train as monks for short periods of time.

At our next stop, we explore the Kratu Tin Mine Museum, where we learn about Phuket’s history with tin mining, and also find out about the cultural history of the very first Chinese immigrants to the area.

Map of my photos taken oh Phuket

Map of my photos taken oh Phuket

We don’t stop at any of Phuket’s famous beaches today, instead keeping to the viewpoints along both shores of the peninsula, and driving along the tourist strip for the Karon, Kata and Kata Noi beaches. It is a very crowded area…I’m glad we didn’t stop. We have a lovely Thai lunch at a hotel located beside a lake in the mountains. I have a Singha beer, which is included. It is wonderful to return to the air conditioned ship to get cleaned up and have an afternoon nap.

post

Dubai to Abu Dhabi & Liwa Oasis

Burj Al Arab hotel and the adjacent beach

Burj Al Arab hotel and the adjacent beach

February 10, 2015 – Tuesday – Dubai to Abu Dhabi to Liwa Oasis

We leave our Dubai hotel this morning to drive along the coast to Abu Dhabi, largest of the emirates. First stop is along the beach to photograph the iconic sail-shaped Burj al-Arab hotel. Unlike yesterday, the sky is blue and the haze hasn’t had a chance to gather, so we all get some good photos.

Our next stop is the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Mosque (Grand Mosque), and it is indeed grand! Some of the women on the tour are hassled about not covering up enough when we arrive, but that is soon sorted out, and we enter the mosque. This is my first time inside a mosque. The floors and walls are decorated with beautiful inlaid flower patterns, and the main prayer hall has the largest silk carpet in the world (handmade in Iran), as well as the third largest chandelier in the world.

The outside of the mosque is all white marble, and the inside is also marble. The whiteness of the exterior hurts my eyes in the noon sunshine, even while wearing sunglasses. The Men’s Ablution (washrooms) are palatial – I take a photo! Members of my tour group who have visited the Taj Mahal tell me this mosque is grander…but who really knows?

We leave the coast and drive 240 kms into the desert to Liwa Oasis. There are villages and farms in this remote area, which hugs the edges of Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter. We arrive a bit too late for our planned sunset 4×4 drive through the sand dunes, so that will be put off until tomorrow. I’m happy to have some down time at the Liwa Hotel this evening. It appears this hotel is the only accommodation of any consequence in this sleepy little village.

The oasis at sunset on the way back to Liwa Oasis

The oasis at sunset on the way to Liwa Oasis

 

post

Cinque Terra

September 13, 2014 – Saturday – Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy

JoeTourist: Cinque Terre &emdash; Seafood stew cooked in an amphora
After driving from Rome, we turn off the Autostrada and drive down a steep valley to Vernazza, where the bus parks. We walk over to the train station, and after riding the train for four minutes we arrive in Monterosso. This pretty little town by the sea on the Cinque Terra (the Italian Riviera) is our home for the next two nights. Since today is Saturday, there are lots of Italians here on weekend get-aways. We are staying in the Hotel Punta Mesco, a nice hotel located about a block off the main street, so it is nice and quiet.

This evening, we have a group meal at Ristorante Belvedere in old town. They cook a rich seafood stew of squid, fish, and mussels in an amphora and then pour it out into big bowls and we serve ourselves family-style.

2014.09.14 – Sunday – Cinque Terre, Italy

JoeTourist: Cinque Terre &emdash; Riomaggiore village
Today is our “vacation from our vacation”…in other words, a free day. I take the little ferry on a round trip from Monterosso al Mare, where out hotel is located, and go to Vernazza, Corniglia (hill town, no ferry stop), and Riomaggiore. On the way back, the ferry stops at Manarola and Vernazza, before terminating at Monterosso. I had planned to get off in Vernazza, see the town and walk back to Monterosso, but after seeing the crowds in the square at Vernazza, I decided to stay on the ferry and return to Monterosso.

I have lunch with a couple from our group, and then just chill out in my hotel room for a while. My ground floor room has a small patio, so I catch up on some journaling and annotate my photos while sitting outside. Our hotel hosts a Happy Hour this afternoon for our group – pizza, cheese, cold meats, bread, wine, and Limonchella. I fill up on the delicious pizza since they have lots, and skip dinner!

2014.09.15 – Monday – Cinque Terre, Italy to Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

After leaving the Cinque Terre this morning, we bypass Genoa and Milan and we cross the border into Switzerland at Lugano.

post

Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia

March 9, 2014 – Sunday –Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Group, French Polynesia

I wake up very early and look out the cabin window to see that the ship is very close to the coast of Nuku Hiva. I grab my camera and go out on the Promenade Deck to take some photos as we enter Taiohae harbour. The light is wonderful, and a rainbow appears as the ship anchors in the harbour.

My excursion assembles in the Showroom so early, so I don’t have time for breakfast or even a coffee. I’ll just have to suck it up and survive, since the tour will end mid-morning. Private vehicles are waiting to take us for a drive, since Nuku Hiva lacks the tourist infrastructure the main French Polynesian Islands have. I luck out on two counts: our driver speaks some English, and I get the front passenger seat in the new Ford Explorer 4X4. Our driver owns the car rental agency on the island, and has worked in Honolulu.

We drive away from the harbour, over the mountain ridge, and into the next harbour and valley. It is a pretty drive, and we stop for two photo opportunities along the way. The first stop is a lookout high over the harbour. The second stop highlights the Survivor Marquesas location, and gives us great views of a long inlet with very pretty colours and interesting topography, with a community at the head of the inlet.

We drive down to sea level through the Taipivai valley and the community of same name. A river runs beside the community, and we eventually come to the head of an inlet called Comptroller Bay, where there is a little community called Houmi. There is a nice beach and a single sailboat is anchored in the sheltered bay. Our stop here includes fresh fruit snacks, and the obligatory crafts for sale. Since it is Sunday, most people are attending church this morning.

Map of the locations of my photos of Nuku Hiva

Map of the locations of my photos of Nuku Hiva

We then return along the same route back to the main town of Taiohae, stopping at the local historic Notre Dame Cathedral, and return to the departure point near the tender dock.

By this time, it is starting to heat up, so I’ve had enough and head straight back to the ship on the next available tender. As always, it’s great to be back aboard the ship, where I can shower, change clothes, and have some lunch in the Rotterdam dining room, and have that much-needed cappuccino afterwards!

The ship departs on time at 3PM, cruising along the coast of Nuku Hiva before setting a course for San Diego, which will take us six days.

post

Raiatea & Taha’a, French Polynesia

March 4, 2014 – Tuesday – Raiatea & Taha’a, French Polynesia

My excursion this morning is called Land and Sea of Taha’a, which involves a boat ride to Taha’a, the sister island to Raiatea, where we are picked up by 4X4 trucks and taken on a tour of a black pearl farm, and then a vanilla plantation. Then we return to the boat and go to a motu for a swim and snorkel. I’m very impressed with the island of Taha’a. The roads are paved, the houses are neat and tidy, and the infrastructure is all there. This contrasts with Bora Bora, where they have dirt roads and everything is done in a haphazard way. The swimming and snorkelling is in shallow water, and I spot several Puffer fish – a first on this trip.

Our departure this afternoon is most interesting! Instead of leaving through the opening in the reef adjacent to the harbour that we entered through, the captain and pilot opt to take us on a scenic cruise between Raiatea and Taha’a, heading towards Bora Bora, but along the shoreline of Taha’a. A spectacular sunset occurs just south of Bora Bora as we sail away, and there are rain storms and huge cumulo-nimbus clouds to the west of us. We even see a funnel cloud appear out the bottom of a particularly large, dark cloud!

I had hoped to see a Green Flash as the Sun set this evening, but it was not to be. Despite this, I take some wonderful sunset photos, some including Bora Bora in the distance. The shoreline along Taha’a is absolutely stunning as we sail along in the early evening hours. It is a beautiful ending to a wonderful day, as I go back inside to get dressed for dinner.

Map of my photos taken on Raiatea & Taha'a

Map of my photos taken on Raiatea & Taha’a

post

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

March 3, 2014 – Monday – Bora Bora, French Polynesia

I have some breakfast in the Lido early, since I have to be ashore for my excursion by 9AM. Another cruise ship has anchored beside us, replacing the one I saw yesterday. Bora Bora is obviously a popular port-of-call! After breakfast, I take the 10 minute tender ride ashore, and eventually we are collected and board our catamaran. We actually depart a bit early since everyone is on board from the ship. Moana Adventure Tours runs this excursion with four Tahitian guys. They are well-rated on TripAdvisor and I can see why – I had a great day, as did the others from the ship on this excursion!

First stop on the tour is just around the seaward side of the closest motu (islet) to Vaitape harbour, so we arrive there in only 15 minutes. We see Stingrays and Black-tipped sharks in the shallow water. Most of the people get into the water with them, however I stay aboard and get some great photos and video from the deck.

Next stop is about 20 minutes away: a small, private motu where there are coral reefs and a nice sandy beach. It is a wet landing, so everyone gets in the water here. I have a wonderful hour poking around, taking photos and video of the fish and the coral formations in the shallow lagoon. The excursion guys serve snacks and drinks under the shade of the palm trees before we return to the catamaran for the trip back to Vaitape harbour. This 3.5 hour excursion couldn’t be much better, but I’m very glad to head back to the ship’s air conditioning, since the oppressive heat hits us once we are back in the town of Vaitape.

Map showing the location of my photos taken on Bora Bora

Map showing the location of my photos taken on Bora Bora

post

Oahu, Hawaii

February 20, 2014 – Thursday – The North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii

We arrive in Honolulu harbour on time this morning. The early morning approach offers some superb views of Diamond Head and the south shore of Waikiki and Honolulu before we slip into our dock at Pier 2.

I am on an excursion today, our first of two days in Honolulu. The Explore and Taste Oahu’s North Shore tour is a 6.5 hour all day affair run by Roberts Hawaii, which visits the tranquil Byodu Temple after we travel over the H3 freeway through the Koolau Mountains to Kaneohe. The temple is quite beautiful and tranquil despite the groups from the numerous tour buses wandering the grounds.

We then stop at Chinaman’s Hat Rock, which is a rock sticking out of Kaneohe Bay. We drive by the Crouching Lion restaurant (now closed), which my friends and I stopped at for lunch the last time I visited Oahu. Our stop at Malaekahana State Recreation Area offers a great view of the ocean and a spectacular beach, not often visited by tourists or locals. (It looks like Malaekahana is now operating as a campground and retreat.) As we pass the Polynesian Cultural Center, our guide George explains how the students study at the Brigham Young University and the adjacent Latter Day Saints temple in Laie, and also work at the Polynesian Cultural Center to pay for their education.

2014 Oahu North Shore photos map

Oahu North Shore photos map

Our destination for lunch is just up the road: Fumis Kahuku Shrimp (Yelp reviews), where we have a pre-ordered lunch of shrimp, cod, or chicken. Most people order the shrimp, which is a large portion that comes in a Styrofoam plate along with some salad and rice and a soft drink. I find the Lemon Pepper Shrimp to be very tasty. There is a washbasin to get the grease off after the meal is finished. Shave Ice can be purchased for dessert, for those so inclined. This is very casual dining, but the food is very good! The James Campbell Wildlife Refuge is visible out by the coastline from here, and the shrimp ponds where the shrimp are raised are right beside this roadside stop.

We carry on to see Sunset Beach for a quick 10-minute stop, then pass by Tunnel Beach, both of which are world-famous for surfing. There are lots of surfers riding the waves. Waimea Bay Beach Park is the next stop to see the turtles in the bay feeding on the algae. We spot one turtle. We then turn away from the coastline, driving through the little town of Haeliwa, and make our final stop at the Dole Plantation. This is the typical tourist trap if ever I saw one, but thankfully it is only a 20-minute stop before we carry on back to Honolulu over the H2 and H1 freeways, passing Pearl Harbor along the way.

The ship stays at the dock overnight, so we sleep aboard.

February 21, 2014 – Friday – Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

2014 Honolulu photos map

2014 Honolulu photos map

I don’t have any excursions booked for today, so I get up and have a leisurely breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room. I go ashore from Pier 2, walking a few blocks up South Street as far as the Mission Houses, the Kawaiaha’o Church, and then cross South King Street to see the State Capital and Iolani Palace.

I return to the Mission Houses for their tour of the inside, paying the $10 admission. It was very interesting hearing how the missionaries from Boston sailed around Cape Horn, to live and work in Hawaii. They supported themselves by printing and selling (or bartering) books and documents. They gave the Hawaiians their written language, introduced them to western music melody, and of course converted many of them to Christianity. I don’t have time to go into the Iolani Palace before it closes, so I return to the ship to freshen up and have some lunch.

Collection of photos of this visit and my previous visit to the Honolulu area in 2010.

I spend the afternoon aboard ship, swimming in the Ocean View Pool and generally relaxing. I am also taking advantage of the roaming package I purchased from Rogers, my cellular provider in Canada. The roaming package includes 15 minutes for voice calls, and also includes 200Mb of data. Since I have high speed LTE connectivity here, I can ignore the ship’s slow and expensive satellite Internet connection, and get a few things done online. I also call Harper’s Car Rentals to change my arrangements on the Big Island of Hawaii to a one-day rental with no drop off in Kona, which they happily do for me.

post

Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

November 17, 2012 – Saturday – Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

Beach dogs enjoying some attention from a tourist on Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

Beach dogs enjoying some attention from a tourist on Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

I have the morning to myself, despite the ship being anchored offshore and tenders running to the little village of Easo. I take a 2.5 hour tour called “Luecila Beach & Scenic Drive” leaving at 12:15PM. We are taken to a beautiful white sand beach near the main town of We on Baie de Chateaubriand. Richard is our tour guide, and does a good job describing their local customs as we drive for half an hour it takes to get across the bushy central part of the island to our destination on the other side.

The fine white sand beach has to be at least 3-4 kms long, and has some very nice coral and fishes, which I snorkel out to see. The water is a bit cloudy because of the swell coming into the bay, but in spite of this, I enjoy the hour swimming in the tropical waters. I see a few fish, and some live coral, and even spot a small shark briefly. There are only about a dozen people on the beach, other than our group of about 30 tourists and a few beach dogs.
Richard tells us there are only about 10,000 people living on the island, despite it being geographically quite big. Tourism is their only industry, so the economy is not great, since they only see about two cruise ships per week on average, and they have one 4 star hotel located in We.

post

Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

November 13, 2012 – Tuesday – Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

Kanamera Bay white sand beach and small island, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia


Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

We pick up the pilot at 3AM this morning, and arrive a few minutes early at at 8AM, anchoring in Kuto Bay. This place hasn’t changed at all from the last time I was here aboard the Volendam two years ago Vanuatu & New Caledonia. It is cool but comfortable today, with lots of clouds around, and it even sprinkles rain for a few minutes this morning.

I leave early on the second available tender, which is not full for some strange reason. We only have a few hours here, since the ship has to leave at Noon to keep our appointment with the Sun and Moon for tomorrow’s Total Solar Eclipse. People who snorkelled in the bay today report the water felt cold, but the reef fish were enjoyable.

We depart Kuto Bay on time at Noon, and by mid-afternoon we are underway in a southerly direction, with the wind running to 31km/h and the temperature at only 21ºC. It is a fairly rough ocean, with heavy cloud cover – it almost looks like the North Pacific instead of the South Pacific. The ship is lurching and crashing into the large waves, and the passengers are also lurching around a bit more than usual!

I attend the 4PM lecture – Last Chance Eclipse Update – Rick Fienberg, Holly Gilbert & Bill Kramer give us some good last minute advice about the eclipse event coming up tomorrow morning. The weather forecast from Jay Anderson looks very promising…the chance of cloud cover is now running only 20% where we will be located.

I skip the Port Talk at 5:30PM about the islands of Mare, Lifou & Port Vila by the Travel Concierge Manager. I need some time to update my travel journal, and hopefully create another blog entry to cover the first few days aboard the Paul Gauguin. Later, I go to dinner at L’Etoille and sit at a large table where I have lots of stimulating conversation to participate in. After returning to my cabin, I check over my equipment to ensure I’m ready for tomorrow’s Total Solar Eclipse, which will be all over by 9:16AM local time.