Viking Ocean Cruise Into the Midnight Sun Post #6, Honnigsvag (Nordkapp)

We docked in Honnigsvag with Viking Ocean Cruises, and unfortunately had our first really bad day of weather. I know that we had been substantially lucky before this, given Norway’s preponderance of rain.

 

Honnigsvag Dock When We Arrived

 

As we traversed the countryside it appeared we wouldn’t experience good weather, as our views from the tour bus continued to reflect the rain falling. The further we drove it seemed the more it rained.

 

Crossroads Inland in Honnigsvag

 

When we stopped for the Sami souvenir shop the weather mysteriously cleared up enough to where we didn’t’ need our umbrellas anymore. The Sami people also (Saami) are an indigenous people of Northern Europe occupying Sapmi. The Sapmi area includes portions of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Their lifestyle was controlled by hunting, fishing and trading until the late middle ages. This is when the current framework of the Nordic countries was organized.

 

This young man was not only a local guide who told us about Sami culture, he was also an entrepreneur with around 5,000 head of reindeer. He herded the deer back and forth through channels between islands for summer grazing. He explained how they make use of the entire animal, not just the meat involved. He was definitely a very hard working young man!

 

Sami Entrepreneur

 

The Sami people have lived in partnership with their neighbors for centuries. For the last 200 years there have been many compelling changes in Sámi culture, politics, economics and their kinship with their adjoining cultures. This has been especially true during the latter half of the 20th century. Rivalries broke out over the development of a hydroelectric dam. The announced deal created a major disagreement, as the man made lake generated from the dam would flood the Sami village of Maze. It also would have had an adverse impact on the Sami’s reindeer migration and wild Salmon fishing.

 

Mounted Reindeer in the Sami Souvenir Shop

 

In the fall of 1979, as building of the dam was ready to start, dissidents executed two acts of passive resistance at the construction site located in Stilla. Demonstrators sat down on the ground and impeded the equipment. At the same time, Sami activists began a hunger strike outside the Norwegian Parliament. They were charged with disobeying laws against rioting. The various Sami families of people ended all cooperation with the Norwegian government. Two Sami women even traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s blessings.  In 1982 the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government, at which point all opposition to the power plant ceased. The construction of the Alta Hydroelectric Power Station was completed by 1987.

 

Reindeer Fur Coat and Other Products in the Sami Souvenir Shop

 

Norwegians were arrested and incarcerated for the first time since World War ll.  It not only succeeded at placing focus on environmental issues, but also on Sami rights. In the end the acts of civil disobedience by the four leaders, Alfred Nilsen, Tore Bongo, Svein Suhr and Per Flatberg (information leader), resulted in each being arraigned with encouraging illegal acts. They were later given fines (10 000 to 20 000 Norwegian kroner) and levied with suspended prison sentences (60–90 days).

 

 

Rock That the Thai King Chulalongkorn Helped Build Nordkapp From

 

In 1907 a king from Siam traveled through Europe and wanted to visit Norway. He was received warmly by King Hakon and Queen Maud when he arrived. This marked the beginning of a friendly relationship between the Siam/Thailand and Norway. The king’s impression of Norway was recorded in several handwritten letters. These letters were later published in a book titled Klai Ban (Far from Home). His thoughts still inspire people of later generations in many ways.

 

He then made his way north to Nordkapp and carved his initials and the year visited in the largest bolder on site. Praya Chonlaut had brought engraving tools but the landscape was too barren except for this one huge boulder. The carpenter and sailors started smoothing the rock. The king drew his initials and the Arabic numbers for 1907. Then the team of five men finished the engraving in no time. Without King Chulalongkorn’s contribution Nordkapp may have never been established nor the North Cape complex built.

 

King Culalongkorn Museum in Underground Nordkapp

 

King Chulalongkorn established the hierarchical system of monthons (political circles) in 1897 in Siam. This had a major impact, as it ended the power of all local dynasties. Central authority was now spread all over the country through a committee of intendants. Local rulers did not cede power willingly. All these rebellions were crushed in 1902 with the city rulers stripped of their power and imprisoned.

 

Memorial Bust of King Chulalongkorn of Siam

 

The construction of railways in Siam had a political motivation, The intention was to connect all of the country and maintain better control of it. In 1901, the first railway was opened from Bangkok to Korat. In the same year, the first power plant of Siam produced electricity and electric lights first illuminated roadways. Both were historical models for the region.

 

Plaque for Thai Museum at Nordkapp

 

The king was known for several actions while he was ruling, but Chulalongkorn was best known for his abolition of Siamese slavery. He associated the abolition of slavery in the United States with the bloodshed of the American Civil War. His last accomplishment was the establishment of a plumbing system in 1908. The King died on 23 October 1910 of kidney disease at the Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall in the Dusit Palace, and was succeeded by his son Vajiravudh (King Rama VI).

 

Book of Letters from King Chulalongkorn in Regard to His Visit to Norway

 

The royal Equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn was finished in 1908 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the king’s reign. It was cast in bronze by a Parisian metallurgist. Chulalongkorn had visited Europe twice, in 1897 and 1907, the latter visit to cure his kidney disease. Chukakongkorn University, founded in 1917 as the first university in Thailand, was named in his honor. On the campus stand the statues of Rama V and his son, Rama VI. In 1997 a memorial pavilion was raised in honor of King Chulalongkorn in Ragunda, Sweden. This was done to commemorate King Chulalongkorn’s visit to Sweden in 1897 when he also visited the World’s Fair in Brussels.

 

St Johannes Underground Chapel in Nordkapp

 

As we walked through the halls of the underground domain we discovered a unique chapel, “St Johannes Kapell Chapel”. It was very inviting and comforting with its unusual attributes. There was seating for 15 people and is a popular place for weddings. It happens o be the world’s northernmost ecumenical chapel.

 

St Johannes Underground Chapel in Nordkapp

 

The European long-distance trails or paths are a network of 12 long-distance hiking trails that crisscross through all of Europe. They offer more than 34,175 miles of great hiking and every single E-trail or E-path runs through a few European countries, providing the chance to explore country, culture and traditions. One of these numbered long-distance hiking trails, the E1 – with more than 4,350 miles the longest and the first, runs from Europe’s Northernmost point the North Cape all the way down to Sicily. This trail provides a hiker’s challenge par excellence! The marker above signifies its beginning at North Cape.

 

International Hiking Trail Marker
North Cape, Italy
June 4, 2013

 

I will never forget my visit to Honnigsvag Norway with Viking Cruises and the unbelievable wind, as I approached the globe on the point of Nordkapp. It was almost hurricane strength and I was trying hard to stay upright and not crawl on my hands and knees to reach the globe. Once I reached the point it was all I could do to hold my smartphone and not have the wind blow it away. The views were extraordinary and I thankfully had a railing to wrap my free hand around. My DSLR camera was another matter. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had to embrace a railing with one hand and your camera with the other hand, but it is definitely hard to accomplish. Thankfully everything worked out.

 

Nordkapp Globe

 

North Cape or Nordkapp is a cape, not a peninsula on the northern coast of the island of Mageroya in Northern Norway. It is located in Finnmark county, Norway.  The E69 European Highway has its northern end at North Cape. This makes it the northernmost point in Europe that can be accessed by car and makes the E69 the northern most public road in Europe. The cape includes a 1,007 foot cliff with a large flat plateau on top.

 

Obligatory Norwegian Troll in Nordkapp Hall

 

Nomadic Texan at Nordkapp Hall with a Norwegian Troll

 

From this plateau visitors, weather permitting, can watch the midnight sun and views of the Barents Sea to the north. North Cape Hall, a visitor center, was built in 1988 on the plateau. It includes a bistro, restaurant, post office, souvenir shop, a small museum, and video cinema. The North Cape is northern Scandinavia’s most popular travel destination, for good reason. The North Cape is a monumental natural experience, along with breathtaking views, unusual climate conditions, the impressive cliff itself and the fact that one is standing at Europe’s northern end.

 

View of Barents Sea from Railing around Nordkapp Globe

 

The steep cliff of North Cape is often (mistakenly) referred to as the northernmost point of Europe, located approximately 1,307 miles from the North Pole. To be accurate, the neighboring Knivskjellodden point, just to the west extends 4,780 ft farther to the north. The North Cape is the point where the Norwegian Sea, part of the Atlantic Ocean, meets the Barents Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. The northernmost point of Europe including islands is hundreds of miles further north, either in Russia’s Franz Josef Land or Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, depending on whether Franz Josef Land is considered to be in Europe or in Asia.

 

View from Railing around Nordkapp Globe

 

Nordkapp – The North Cape Horn has always been a well-known an important point of orientation for all boats and ships. The rock has had a great variety of names and it was only in the mid 16th century that it was given the present name. The Midnight sun can be seen from 14 May to 31 July. The sun reaches its lowest point between 12:14 am and 12:24 am (00:14 and 00:24) during those days. In 1943, the Battle of North Cape was fought in the Arctic Ocean off this cape, where the Nazi battleship Scharhorst was eventually sunk by gunfire from the British battleship HMS Duke of York  and torpedoes from the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Stord, and other ships of the British Navy.

 

Children of the World Bronze Sculpture

 

The “Children of the World sculpture was started in 1988 when author Simon Flem Devold, a well known Norwegian writer and friend of children, randomly selected seven children from seven countries – Tanzania, Brazil, USA, Japan, Thailand, Italy and Russia — to visit the North Cape to dream of “Peace on Earth“. The children stayed with families in the fishing settlement of Skarsvag on Mageroya island, At the nearby North Cape they spent a week creating their own motives in clay.

 

Children of the Earth Disks

 

In June 1988, seven boys and girls from as many countries on several continents converged on the cliff to create reliefs of clay with motives reflecting their creativity and emotions. The youngsters who in this manner demonstrated the congenital desire of children everywhere to have a good time and be friendly toward each other, were Jasmine from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, Rafael from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Ayumi from Kawasaki in Japan, Sithidej from Bangkok in Thailand, Gloria from Jesi in Italy, Anton from Murmansk in the (former) Soviet Union and Louise from New York City, USA. From the very beginning, they were called The Children of the Earth.

 

Children of the Earth Disk

 

The first child made “an African man”, the second modeled a self portrait. The third made “a beast of the past”, the fourth modeled “a lady with bow in rain and sunshine”. The fifth created a bird of peace, the sixth an image of Christ. The last child had wanted to make a cat, but ended up with a man with a hat and beard. The project was followed through daily broadcasts on national TV. All seven children experienced great fun with no linguistic or other barriers.

 

All Seven Children of the Earth Disks

 

Including the 30th annual ceremony in June 2018, The Children of the Earth Prize has been awarded to a total of 27 individuals (20 women and seven men) and seven organizations. The prize (3,45 million NOK in all), has been given to nine projects in Africa, seven in Europe, four in Asia, four in Central America/The Caribbean, three in South America, three in the Middle East and one in Norway.

 

Barn av Jorden, Children of the Earth Disk

 

In 1989, the original clay reliefs were cast in bronze, framed in granite and erected permanently on the the North Cape plateau. Along with the lovely bronze sculpture “Mother and child”, created by artist Eva Rybakken, they now form a harmonious entity – The Children of the Earth Monument.

 

 

Rainy Day at the Bus Terminal

 

We left Nordkapp and began our ride back to the ship. Along the way we saw several places of business and houses of citizens living in Honningsvag. Of course the rain continued and we ran out of time. All my photos were then shot through rainy windows of the bus, My apologies.

 

Rainy Day at the Construction Headquarters

 

Rainy Day in the Neighborhood

 

Finally the wonderful Viking Sun loomed ahead and we returned to the ship cold, wet and hungry. The good news was we had several experiences in this far northern section of the world that we will remember forever!

 

Viking Sun Docked in Honnigsvag

 

Onward across the Norwegian Sea to Scotland and the Shetland islands. I couldn’t wait to see the miniature horses that this area is know for. Little did I realize how many other attributes the islands had!

 

 

 

 

*** Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking Ocean Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Credit Cards are the Bomb, Really!

“This post is sponsored by Lexington Law”

 

I can’t tell you how many credit cards I have applied for to gain miles recently. I always try and take advantage of every card with 50,000 or more flight miles offered in exchange for flight miles. I wouldn’t be able to secure these cards if my credit wasn’t superb and above average. If you need better credit, I would recommend you contact a credit repair company as soon as possible. Credit card companies do not like to award these type of promotions unless they are fairly certain you will follow through and uphold your obligations.

 

John Lennon Wall Prague

 

In the past four years I have secured enough miles, by applying and being approved for over eight personal and business cards to travel substantially. This has enabled me to have made round trips to Japan for myself and my son, round trips to Belgium for my wife and myself, an upcoming round trip for my wife and myself to Paris and then Brussels, a round trip for myself to Barcelona and originally a round trip to Cuenca Ecuador for my wife and myself and still have over 325,000 miles available. As a write this blog post, I just had a business card approved for another 70,000 miles which will bring my totals to over 400,000 miles total, if I don’t feel the urge to use some for a spur of the moment week to Europe, Asia or even South America.

 

One of the ways I manage to use the minimum amount of miles each time is to look carefully at the award chart from my flight company and see if I am flexible if the miles used will be reduced by changing the date of departure from Texas or the departure date from my intended destination. This insures I don’t waste my miles. A great example is this upcoming trip that will use 70,000 to 80,000 miles less because I moved my departure date back from Texas five days and my return date I pushed three days. This is for both my wife and myself, so we in essence saved enough miles to make another round trip to Europe by optimizing our mileage usage. We originally were looking at 140,000 to 160,000 miles round trip to Brussels.

 

 

Pastries at Vienna Christmas Market

 

 

Additionally, I always gravitate to Credit cards with no International fees, as we tend to travel almost exclusively abroad. My first trip a travel blogger in 2012 was unbelievable and the fees associated with my credit card that was originally obtained for travel in the US were astronomical. I will caution you and ask you to be observant. If you use your cards at restaurants, ATMs or for transportation please be vigilant and make sure you validate you charges fairly often. My wife and I were in Bratislava Slovakia and we used her Debit card for cash. Immediately Chase Bank notified us that there was suspicious activity on her card and a $600.00 charge was canceled thank goodness.

 

When traveling I would rather use my credit cards for purchases than to carry a giant wad of cash. That’s just asking for trouble in my honest opinion. I would also tell you that it is imperative you make contact with your credit card companies and inform them of your planned schedule, countries and major cities to be visited.

 

Flavors of Gouda Cumin, Truffle, Walnut, Cayenne, LoFat Plain, all from Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 

When I first started collecting miles I was employed and only captured the personal expenditures during a fiscal year. Probably not that much to write home about, but certainly helped me establish my account. Slowly but surely I have been amassing miles in order to hopefully one day hit the million mile mark with my flight account. Certain benefits will become available at that point and flying can become extremely fun again, not the arduous process it is currently. I am excited to hit that plateau one day and begin again. Every time they alter or change the rules I jump on the advantageous items and hold off on those that would impede my progress.

 

I will never forget losing 68,000 miles because I was inactive. I would have already been very close to achieving this goal of a million mile flyer. In those days one could not achieve miles unless you were actually flying. Now just having the credit card, making purchases with it will land you a massive amount of miles over time, especially if you have extraordinary expenses like teeth or medical surgeries. These have helped my get my miles collection nearer my goal. Alas it’s been at a substantial cost from the events of my life, both medically and dental wise. Recently I have expanded to other airlines and started attaining miles from them. Truthfully though the best way to accumulate miles is to have a card that can be used for any and all flight miles programs. My favorite method though is and has been lately, to sign up for the personal and business cards offering large amounts of miles dedicated to my account.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My First Manbag Review

 

 

For years I’ve admired the young men in the world that carried a manbag. I watched as they threw everything inside and tossed the strap over their shoulders. Being from Texas I was, to say the least, tentative about the possibility of carrying one myself. I generally thought I would receive snark remarks in regard to my manhood, testimony about my missing boots and general degradation in regard to my lack of masculinity. Fifteen to twenty years ago I wouldn’t even have considered carrying a manbag, for fear of being ostracized by my male friends and shunned by society.

 

Having said all this, along with my travels through Asia, South America and Europe more recently, brought me to the conclusion, that given my age, it didn’t really matter what others think. As one gets on in years, fitting in gets less and less important. I decided I would start the process of looking for a manbag that came across rugged, constructed from hearty materials and a lack of flash. Even though I wore Hawaiian shirts for ages, I am not really inclined to tote gaudy items or accessories.

 

The Satchel Pro by NutSac

 

I came across a company founded in 2009, in Corvallis Oregon. The name of the company is NutSac and it manufactures cool, well-designed, American-made bags. The company name is explained in this direct quote from their Home page. “NutSac was named because the founders realized that you’d have to be a little bit nuts to manufacture in America and compete against cheap products. You’d also have to be a bit nuts to try to source American-made materials. And you’d have to be really nuts to trust that your customers will value your commitment to fair business practices and quality design.”

 

There are round magnets on the bottom corners of flap that folds over the top and secures the bag. This component is appreciated more than you can realize! This additional perk is the icing on the cake and helps make this satchel a superb product! You just toss the flap over and it stays in place without zipping it closed.

 

NutSac Logo

 

The bag is constructed from full grain leather plus has a waxed canvas covering. It comes in this natural color or a black. The bags are hand sewn in the US and guaranteed for life! The Satchel Pro has ample room inside of it as shown in the photo below. I can carry my tablet and all my items that normally go in my shirt and pants pockets.

 

Going through security at airports isn’t a nightmare any longer. I just pull my tablet out, zip the main compartment and walk through the x-ray machine. In the past I fumbled with my glasses, wallet, business card holder, keys, Swiss Army Knife, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, pen, handkerchief, passport and money clip. Now I just send this wonderful bag through on its own. There is a zippered compartment on one side of the interior, two slip in pockets on the other side and an expandable middle section that opens to around two and a half inches wide, more than enough room for my 12 inch Samsung tablet.

 

Satchel Pro Interior Pockets

 

My first venture outdoors was in Brussels recently, when we all went to a neighborhood outdoor organic market filled with all sorts of fresh produce, bread, pasta, sweets and of course waffles. I loved seeing what fruits and vegetables were available and how pricing varied with US prices. One item I came across was golden kiwis. I’ve never had them before. They were delicious. The market also had organic breads, cheese, sweets and of course Belgian Waffles. You know I had to try one and it was so good!

 

Brussels Satchel Pro in the Organic Market

 

On the fourth day in Brussels we went to a park located nearby and ran into people of all ages walking, riding bicycles and treating their pets to some fresh air, along with the fact that it was a rare day filled with bright sunshine rather than the usual gloom and foggy atmosphere. It was a gorgeous park and I couldn’t believe how green Belgium was, especially given the temperatures at night. I thought this rock bridge made for a good photo with the huge felled tree in front of it.

 

Satchel Pro in a Local Park in Brussels

 

On the exterior is another zippered pocket in which I show my new favorite flavor of gum, Trident pineapple. The pocket unzips to the length of the bag and approximately seven inches deep. The shoulder strap can be removed, adjusted in length and is made of heavy duty webbed cotton material that would take a lot of pressure to tear or cut through and with the metal hardware it’s very secure.

 

A quote from the Satchel Pro page describing the bag’s dimensions, “Technology just keeps getting bigger doesn’t it? Not to worry, the Satchel Pro will make your life easier. The Satchel Pro is designed for the iPad Pro or other pro-series tablets. Larger than our Satchel or Mag-Satch, the Satchel Pro has extra capacity for your larger devices. The Satchel fits larger tablets like the 12.9″ iPad Pro and Surface Pro.” The bag is 12.4 x 9 x 2.5 inches and weighs only 1.94 pounds or .88kg. I rarely make such a strong case for travel items and as much as I am for my NutSac manbag, you know it must be a quality product!

 

Satchel Pro Exterior Pocket

 

In the end I am more than pleased with my new manbag and it goes with me everywhere now. I love tossing it over my shoulder and taking off. I am passionate about the quality of this bag and I know it’s going to last longer than I will. Over time it will take on a character of its own with the waxed cover getting scratched and marked by things it comes in contact with. Regardless of my travels this manbag will accompany me where I go from now own. Did I tell you I really love it yet? At the end of the day I am more than pleased with this manbag. It is an extension of me and I can’t believe I waited so long to acquire one. NutSac has several sizes and I am sure you can find one that suits your needs. I highly recommend this product and am so happy I am working with this company now.

 

 

***NutSac sponsored the bag for my review. As always, all opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

Lewis N. Clark Travel Gear #2

I am lucky enough again to be testing several travel products from Lewis N Clark. I am very happy that they have decided to work with me and allow me to test products they produce primarily for traveling and the outdoors. As in my last post on their products, I will be open and forthright in regards to my impressions.

 

My first item is a pair of flight compression socks to keep my legs from swelling on long International flights. They are intended to help prevent deep vein thrombosis. I received a size medium, as I wear a size 9 men’s shoe and it says men’s 6-9 shoe. This was actually a little too tight for my extra large calves and I should have asked for a large. On the positive side my wife loves them and wears them constantly. So if you order these just make sure you take your calf size into consideration.

 

 

Flight Socks

Flight Socks

 

 

The next item shipped was a three pack of compression packers which are ideal for travel and storage of bulky items, like sweaters. The compression works best when you roll the air out, rather than folding the bags. They are great if you have additional items you are packing for and extended trip or if your trip requires several dress options. The sizes in the 3-pack set includes one of each of the following: Small: 20in x 14in, Medium: 23in x 16in, Large: 28in x 18in.

 

To unseal the bags just pull open the zipper from the middle. Additionally they work well for wet clothing that you do not want soiling the other clothes. They are completely reusable and protect against dust, bugs and weather. Definitely a thumbs up for the compression packers.

 

 

20160811_104854-blog

 

 

My next item is another hanging toiletry kit, with a different type of layout and material. Features water-resistant TPU and mesh compartments to accommodate a variety of toiletries. This brushed twill hanging toiletry kit fits anything from contact lenses and hand wipes to lotion and lip balm. It contains many zippered compartments on the interior and exterior both. It has elastic straps to hold items and has a metal hanger that fits most towel bars and knobs.

 

 

Hanging Toiletry Kit

Hanging Toiletry Kit

 

It zips completely closed and if truth be known, I use it daily to go to the gym as a man purse to hold my wallet, keys, smartphone and everything else I would ordinarily carry in my pants pockets. I love it and trust me it travels well when you use it for a toiletry kit. It’s very compact. It only weighs 6 ounces prior to placing items in the kit. The exterior is a brushed twill.

 

 

Closed Hanging Toiletry Kit

Closed Hanging Toiletry Kit

 

The last item is one that I use daily and is such a convenience. Most of the adapter plugs I have bought and used were a bulky, hard to carry unit and barely fit in my backpack pocket. This adapter kit is small and has every type of plug used around the world. It’s so fantastic and even I can align the various plugs so that they fit into the carrying case, which is only 2in x 3.5in x 2.5in. It weighs 6 ounces and is light as a feather in my opinion. I love this item.

 

Adapter Plug Kit with Dual USB Charger

Adapter Plug Kit with Dual USB Charger

 

The photo above displays all the various plugs which will work in more than 175 countries, including most parts of Africa, Asia, Europe (both standard and recessed outlets), the Middle East, New Zealand, North America, and Russia. Here’s my favorite factor about the kit. It has two USB ports for charging everything from your laptop to your phone to your MP3 player. This sold it for me. I am constantly using this feature at home and while traveling.

 

 

Adapter Plug Kit with Dual USB Charger with 2 USB Ports

Adapter Plug Kit with Dual USB Charger with 2 USB Ports

 

 

 

***All products were sponsored by Lewis N. Clark for testing and review. All opinions are as always, those of my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lewis N. Clark Travel Gear Review

Several months ago Lewis N. Clark, a travel accessory company, asked me to try out and review four products. Since I rarely do reviews I decided to really put these items to use and give them a good workout to determine their quality and value. They have accompanied me to Asia, Europe and two of the items I use daily. I am satisfied they have all been put through a sufficient testing period.

 

Lewis N. Clark Featherlight Packing Cubes

Lewis N. Clark Featherlight Packing Cubes

 

The first item is the Featherlight Packing Cubes. Every trip I have made abroad I have stuffed these three cubes with my socks (small cube), my underwear (medium cube) and my undershirts (large cube). This meant, as you can see above, they were loaded with as many items or changes, as I could pack. I am not one who likes to pay exorbitant prices to have my laundry done. I also dislike washing my undies in the sink, unless there is no other choice. I like that the cube can be transferred from your luggage to the dresser, with hardly any effort.

 

 

In the past year I traveled to the Yokohama and Tokyo area of Japan; Barcelona, Costa Brava, Girona and Seville in Spain; Istanbul Turkey; Rimini, Sicily, the Aeolian Islands and Milan in Italy; London England; Budapest Hungary; Bratislava Slovakia; Vienna, Durnstein, Linz, Melk and Salzburg Austria, Passau Germany and Prague in the Czech Republic. This is over 20 cities around the world and not once did the cubes present any issues. The zippers are all in very good working order. The mesh is still in one piece on all three cubes and holding my underwear in. One can use the cubes for anything you need to stay organized while traveling. I highly recommend the Packing Cubes and they have helped me stay efficient with packing, on all my travels.

 

Lewis N. Clark 2-in-1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow

Lewis N. Clark 2-in-1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow

 

The second item is a 2-in1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow. Pardon my face in the photo above, but I think I was tired and falling asleep. This product works very well and I have used it on every plane trip I have taken since acquiring the items to test. It is very comfortable and meshes well around your neck to any position you need. The pillow has many uses. In addition to the obvious neck rest, it can be unzipped, turned inside out and rolled into a lumbar support, which works very well. This comes from an individual with five back surgeries. The last option is to turn it inside out and it turns into a pillow. So if you are in need of any three options I recommend the Neck/Lumbar pillow. It is still in top notch condition after at least eighteen flights.

 

Lewis N. Clark Hanging Toiletry Kit

Lewis N. Clark Hanging Toiletry Kit

 

If any of the items have been over tested, it is surely my hanging toiletry kit. I have used this everyday since I received it and everything is still in great working order. I also have maxed out the supplies in my toiletry kit and it holds up to stretching, heavy weight and sharp items. I carry everything I could use in this kit and the ability to hang it on a towel rod is fantastic. No counter space needed. I carry my aerosol shaving cream, my after shave, bath soap and all sorts of grooming needs, plus my toothbrush and toothpaste. Everything I need can fit in the kit including my mouthwash, shampoo and conditioner. All the clasps, zippers and casings are in good working order and I use it daily. It is a very durable item.

 

Lewis N. Clark RFID Tri-Fold Wallet

Lewis N. Clark RFID Tri-Fold Wallet

 

My last item is the RFID Tri-Fold Wallet. Some men like a dual fold, but for some reason I have always carried a tri-fold. It holds all the credit cards, ID’s and information a person needs. Trust me I carry a large amount of domestic and International cards and I have two medical alert cards inside the cash area, just in case. As you can see above it has 6 credit/business card slots, 2 full-sized bill sections and and ID window, perfect for my business card. It is made from Lambskin and blocks unauthorized scanning of RFID chips, which we use more and more these days! Very helpful in protecting the theft of your identification, from the despicable individuals that thrive on stealing other people’s identities!

 

Overall I was more than satisfied with all four items and would recommend them to anyone in the market for these items. Lewis N. Clark is obviously a very quality company and stands behind its products. I would like to thank Mary Chong, of The Calculated Traveller, for sending Lewis N. Clark in my direction. I am now going  to look into more of their products as the need arises and I recommend you do also.

 

 

 

 

 

 

***All products were sponsored by Lewis N. Clark for testing and review. All opinions are as always, those of my own.

My Amazing Life-Chapter 11, Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket Review

My recent  excursion to Thailand and Malaysia was a trip of a lifetime and I owe a great deal of gratitude to the Tourism Authority of ThailandThai Airways  and Tourism Malaysia USA. The trip was full of 5-Star hotels, restaurants and some of the most fabulous tours I have ever been on, but staying at this hotel was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. The Centara Grand Beach Resort was one of the top five hotels I have stayed at in my entire life, including my many trips to Asia, as a buyer for Six Flags amusement parks in the seventies.

 

Centara Grand Beach Resort in Phuket

Centara Grand Beach Resort in Phuket

 

Flying in from Bangkok we saw a view of Phang Nga Bay and all the wonderful islands. We had a bus waiting and drove through old town Phuket for a quick shopping spree and drove up to this entrance. It made a statement and everything had been prepared for us and we immediately were prepared to be taken to our rooms. Before I go any farther I will tell you this post will have more photos, than any post I have published. I think I took around 200 total of just the hotel, spa, beach and grounds.

 

Centara Entrance

Centara Entrance

 

If you know me, you know I have a very weak bladder, so before the tram took us to our rooms, I used the facilities. My word it was like I was outdoors and we even had a waterfall, just in case we needed any coaxing. Not an issue with me!

 

Mens Restroom Waterfall

Mens Restroom Waterfall

 

I walked out and one of the ladies was coming out of their restroom and asked if I would like to see it. She assured me it was vacant. Well of course I said yes. Their view was similar except their sinks looked out over the waterfalls. I was so blown away that it is included in my video later on in the post.

 

Ladies Restroom Sinks

Ladies Restroom Sinks 

 

We had our luggage loaded on trams and were taken to our “rooms”, passing several buildings on the way. This section appeared to be similar to the area we were staying in, but not as secluded. You can see the rooms on the bottom floor had pools or Jacuzzi’s by the tile.

 

Rooms with Pools (Bottom Rooms)

Typical Centara Rooms

 

Every morning when we came down to eat breakfast at The Cove Restaurant, we roamed along this lovely courtyard and glimpsed the beach. The view was magnificent and literally took your breath away! It was a short hike from the room, so each of us really worked up an appetite, as we strolled daily.

 

Courtyard to Dining at The Cove

Courtyard to Dining at The Cove

 

This photo is of the Omelet station and of course I ate my share while we were there. This gentleman had the preparation down to an art and never made any mistakes. He had a lot of satisfied customers.

 

Omelet Station

Omelet Station at The Cove

 

They make a crepe like item that is sparsely spread on the large griddle in the middle and cooks very quickly. It can be topped off with jams or have products inserted while cooking. It was a daily ritual for me and tasted so good. I hope I am not getting the name wrong, but it reminded of me and was similar to a product we ate, named Roti Canai, later in our trip. If I am incorrect I apologize to my readers. If you know the true name please leave a comment below the post and share with my readers.

 

Fresh Roti (Bread) Station

Fresh Roti Canai or Crepes (Bread Stuffed with Sweets) Station at The Cove

 

Inside there were so many stations with fruits, breads, various traditional Thai breakfast soups served over or with rice and just about anything you can imagine that one would eat at breakfast whether normal or not to you.

 

Carious Local Broths and Rice

Various Local Broths and Rice at The Cove

 

My room was very spacious and had a coffee area with refrigerator stocked to the limit. The work area or desk was phenomenal and had enough electric outlets to charge every piece of equipment I had at one time. The view out the sliding glass doors was tremendous and inspiring. It may not look like it but this King size bed was huge and very comfy.

 

Desk Area in Room Behind King Size Bed

Desk Area in Room Behind King Size Bed

 

How many photos can one take of their room? I knew it would be hard, but I had to include the glorious shower with a high pressure rain head. It was spectacular and really had an aggressive spray. My tired and aching body loved it for sure, every day I jumped in.

 

In Room Shower with a Great Rain Head

In Room Shower with a Great Rain Head

 

What’s this? I walked out my sliding glass doors and found a unimaginable patio setup complete with a huge swimming pool and Jacuzzi. I was blown away that they would have this type of arrangement and I found out we all had a similar room. The privacy curtain could be raised at your discretion to keep nosy passers by from observing your activity. My only regret is I didn’t take a photo at night with the pool lit up. It was stunning.

 

In Room Swimming Pool

In Room Swimming Pool

 

The Centara’s spa was named Cenvaree. It is out of this world, with first class amenities and options that one could use the entire day. Again, my issue was how many photos do I share? I decided I would let you see what the waiting area looked like. We were served water prior to our wonderful massages and a warm tea afterwards. I truly love having my body beat up and my muscles dug into. It is so relaxing. I had a traditional Thai massage, in which they use their elbows and get deep into the tissue. It hurt substantially at first, but as it progressed I grew used to it and had all my stress and sore muscles relaxed afterwards.

 

 

Spa Waiting area

Spa Cenvaree Waiting area

 

This is what the pedicure room looked like, but I only had so much time and couldn’t take advantage of the therapy. I did later at another hotel. There is nothing like having your feet massaged to relieve your body’s stress. Okay go ahead call me a Metro-Sexual. I really don’t care. I love spas.

 

Pedicure Station

Spa Cenvaree Pedicure Station

 

The Centara is located right on the water and you just have to walk just across the entry road to reach their fantastic beach. On my first visit I was totally surprised at the size, the beauty and all the normal chairs, umbrellas and beach lounges. I had no idea it was so large. Of course I took around 30 to 40 photos and had a dickens of a time trying to decide which to keep. So I decided on these three with the first one showing just the beach and a great wave.

 

Centara Beach

Karon Beach

 

This one show you what the chair and umbrella arrangement looked like looking to the south and kind of back towards the hotel entrance. I could have stayed on this beach all day for our entire visit, but we had tours and restaurants and shopping to participate with.

 

Beach Lounge Chairs with Umbrellas

Karon Beach Lounge Chairs with Umbrellas

 

The last photo, yes I said last, was of the beach facing north and giving you a taste of the cove we were located in. In addition you can see the view that a few locals had from their wonderful villas up the side of the hill.

 

Beach Lounge Chairs with Umbrellas

Karon Beach Chaise Lounge Chairs with Umbrellas

 

All good things must come to an end, but I cannot rave enough about this hotel. A friend ask recently about what accommodations were available in Phuket, as she had a friend getting married and they wanted it to be on the beach. They had broken it down to Phuket and an island area in Thailand. I couldn’t type fast enough. I recommend the Centara Grand Beach Resort and told her that her friend would remember her wedding forever, just like I will remember my stay at this luxurious establishment forever.

 

 

 

 

*** My trip to Thailand and Malaysia was sponsored by Thai Airways, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Tourism Malaysia USA. All opinions are solely mine and as always, generated without any influence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chocolatier

Heading out of Cuenca early last Wednesday morning, we passed the Feria Libre Market. This is the biggest market in the city and one can wonder for hours, bartering, looking and touching everything from quinoa, rice, fish, pork, to fruits and vegetables. It is a magical place. I could not believe the amount of activity at this time of the morning. People were unloading trucks and carrying merchandise to their stalls.

 

We headed out to the lower portion of Azuay Province. I displayed the geographical lay of the land in my Banana blog, but one item I didn’t show you is below. It seems that a large portion of the chocolate beans are brought up to this region from the Coastal growing area and the beans are laid out to dry in the sun for two days. They have to be brought in at night to avoid the moisture in the air and placed back on the concrete drying beds again the next day. They are then bagged 100lb bags and transported to their processors.

 

Cacao Drying Beds in the Dry Area of Azuay Province

Cacao Drying Beds in the Dry Area of Azuay Province

 

We did the banana tour and headed 30 minutes away to Santa Rosa with the Cacao Plantation’s owner in our car. We had time to discuss why he had resumed his cacao business seven years ago and Byron Trujillo Erazo told us it was simple mathematics. The chocolate industry was booming and he wanted to get back in it again after a forty-year lay off. We arrived at the Casa Ostrica and it was similar to what I expected. It had a tropical look and was filled with all kinds of plants and flowers that one would expect in a tropical setting. This is an example of the orchids growing on the entry poles that line the driveway. Amazing in my opinion!

 

Orchids Growing on the Entry Poles

Orchids Growing on the Entry Poles

 

The resort was constructed with a great deal of bamboo, which grows in large clumps on the Plantation and is used for a majority of the wood needs. This photo is what you see as you enter and arrive at the lodge. There are little cabanas all over the resort. I am guessing the resort can handle about 75 people at one time. Enough of this talk. Let’s head out to the Cacao Plantation ane see the process in action.

 

The Casa Ostrica Lodge

The Casa Ostrica Lodge

 

As you enter the Cacao section and look ahead all you can see is a plethora of trees filled with varying colors of the Cacao seed pods. The bright red ones are the ripe pods and are ready for harvesting. Each day the workers journey through the Cacao trees and harvest the ripe seed pods for processing.

 

One Red Seed Pod Ready for Harvest

One Red Seed Pod Ready for Harvest

 

Our guide showed us the method used to harvest the pods. He had a huge machete and I had no reservations about letting him do the cutting. Knowing how much a klutz I am, I figured it would very easy for me to lose a finger or two and I let him do the job.

 

Harvesting the Seed Pod

Harvesting the Seed Pod

 

He then started the process of cutting the seed pod off and making the delicious fruit inside available. A lot of people are more than likely not familiar with the fact that the huge seed pod has fruit that surrounds the interior smaller beans.

 

Staring the Process of Harvesting the Fruit

Staring the Process of Harvesting the Fruit

 

He hacked into the seed pod and tore away a section of the outer shell. The seed pod is actually quite hard and he does not hack gingerly. I know I would slip and hurt myself, if it was left to me. I had an idea what the interior looked like, but had no idea of the taste. There is a white fruit that surrounds the beans and this has to be removed to get to the beans. The guide gave us a sample and I was floored. Once in my life have I had such a delicious morsel of fruit. That was in the Philippines when I tasted Mangosteen for the first time. I was addicted immediately. I scooped out about half the beans and ate them one at a time as we walked the Plantation. I cannot describe in mere words how wonderful the beans fruit tasted. It made the whole day worth the drive, etc.

 

Interior Cacao Beans with Fruit

Interior Cacao Beans with Fruit

 

Normally the beans are taken up to the drier climate and sun-dried for two days, but they had a quick way to dry the beans and that was using a wok like skillet over a bed of coals. You stir the beans over the heat until the outer shell becomes brittle.

 

A Shortcut to Drying the Beans

A Shortcut to Drying the Beans

 

When the beans are ready you individually shell each bean. At first it seems a very daunting task and I couldn’t get it right. I kept breaking the beans apart and not harvesting solid beans. I tasted one of the beans after shelling and it was very bitter. I couldn’t believe that this would turn out to be a tasty treat. One of the ladies helped me and showed me how to snap the bean which left you with the entire bean in one piece. A much better step and saved the beans.

 

Diana Shelling the Beans.

Diana Shelling the Beans.

 

The next step was to place the beans in a contraption that had been used for a long time and physically break the beans down into chocolate. I though, okay once through the grinder and it would be a piece of cake. Oh contraire. I had to keep scooping the chocolate residue back into the grinder and re-grind the concoction about six times. By the ends of the process I was hot, sweating and thankful I had my Tilley Hat to block out the sun from my face. The young lady broke down and the crew got her a hat, as she was starting to sunburn. By the time we got through I was worn out and my arms ached.

 

Nomadic Texan Grinding the Beans

Nomadic Texan Grinding the Beans

 

After I finished the grinding it was time for a chocolate drink. This photo shows that they do not waste the seed pods and use them to serve the drinks in. One also receives a dark chocolate bar from their cacao plantation and the illustration shows a cross-cut of the seed pod.

 

Interior of the Seed Pod, Candy Bar and a Chocolate Drink

Interior of the Seed Pod, Candy Bar and a Chocolate Drink

 

Okay I had worked up an appetite and it was time to eat a traditional meal from Casa Ostrica. Obviously Mr. Erazo wanted us to taste ostrich and that was what we were served along with rice, salad and fried plantains. I have taken a liking to the plantains and didn’t think I would. For the record the ostrich tasted just like beef to me. The others thought it had a gamey taste. Before the meal they served us a hot chocolate drink made from the chocolate shavings. It was so good I had to have a second cup. It also acted to drive my temperature down as the Green Tea in Asia does. Caught me off guard.

 

Traditional Meal of Ostrich, Rice, Salad

Traditional Meal of Ostrich, Rice, Salad and Fried Plantains

 

I talked with my wife Kim prior to our trip and she asked me to bring back some of the cacao beans if at all possible. I obtained a bag and literally scooped the remaining beans from the wok like pan over the BBQ and let them cool down. They gave me the large ball of chocolate from all my efforts and I will try to bring it home. Wish me luck as I am not sure they will allow this to enter the US. We will see. Please cross your fingers for me. I hope I can and that way my family can sample the dark chocolate. I wish that there was some way to bring home a seed pod and let Kim try the taste of that fruit. It is one of the highlights of my trip to Ecuador.

 

My Chocolate Ball and Cacao Beans for Kim

My Chocolate Ball and Cacao Beans for Kim

 

I am thankful that Mio Tours allowed me to accompany them on this fabulous trip and I learned so much about Bananas and Cacao. This El Oro Province is amazing and you drive and drive through a vast amount of banana plantations, the number one export of Ecuador, but you also are privy to all kinds of fruit trees growing wild alongside the highway. For the purposes of full disclosure both Mio Tours and Tilley Hats are sponsors. Regardless I have to say that this a fabulous tour and tasting the Cacao fruit is worth the entire trip. I also have to say a tour of Casa Ostrica is a fabulous way to spend a day in Ecuador. If you get the opportunity to take this tour, jump on it! Saludos mi amigos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Road Most Traveled

 

Every time I visit Ecuador I fly into Guayaquil and stay over night. There are no “direct” flights to Cuenca from current airline operations. I can either fly back to Quito spend the night and then fly into Cuenca or I can stay overnight and take a shuttle to Cuenca the next day. At my age the Quito route is about 25 hours total and too taxing on my body. So I opt for the shuttle from Guayaquil. Besides, I would miss all the gorgeous scenery if I flew into Cuenca.

 

Mangos Growing Wild

Mangoes Growing Beside the Road 

 

I always know that I can count on my friends at Mio Tours to insure my safety and guaranteed arrival. Lately some of the more illegal shuttle companies have been falling into trouble with the government militia, as they are not official and have not secured the appropriate licenses to transport individuals along this route. I would caution you to investigate this issue and make sure your shuttle service is licensed. Other wise you just might be stranded alongside the road, as a few tourists have been lately.

 

Toll Booths at Puerto Inca

Toll Booths at Puerto Inca

 

The road is nice and there are a few tolls, but you go from sea level basically to a high of about 13,000 feet in the Cajas National Park. Along the way you pass many items of interest. The current road is great, but the Ecuadorian Government is widening  the road to four lanes and it will be a smooth ride from Guayaquil. We usually obtain lunch in Puerto Inca about and hour into the ride and the special is $3.00 per person.

 

Government is Improving the Highway and making it Four Lane Like an Interstate in the US

Government is Improving the Highway & making it Four Lane Like an Interstate in the US

 

 

You pass through many small towns that have various methods of shuttling their population around and one can only guess what the experience is like. Unless you have been to Asia and are familiar with the Tuk Tuks, then you are very acquainted with this system. The taxis vary in color and structure, but are usually built in the same manner and have the same open door look for passengers, with a motorbike front for the driver.

 

Tuk Tuk Like Taxi in Rural Area Towns

Tuk Tuk Like Taxi in Rural Area Towns

 

As you move into the more remote areas you see a different style of taxi as pictured below. They run around the countryside on motorbikes and shuttle the locals back and forth to their homes along the dirt roads. It is difficult for me to imagine there is enough business for this many “taxis”, but apparently its a lucrative operation.

 

A Form of Taxi for the Locals at the Base of the Andes in the Country

A Form of Taxi for the Locals at the Base of the Andes in the Country

 

 

You also find open fish markets where the locals buy their fresh catch. The fish are transported from the coast and made available to the locals for a reasonable price. It is a very unique approach and has been the same for all the years I have visited Ecuador. I just would like to see a little ice under the fish for safekeeping.

 

Local Rural Fish Market

Local Rural Fish Market

 

 

We always stop at several random spots so that I can take photos and this one is a reflection of the valley below and the cloud structure that covers Guayaquil at higher elevations. One begins the ascension and starts to have indications of altitude by ears popping, etc. The vehicle struggles a little more and doesn’t have the same get up and go as it does at sea level, but it is more than adequate to navigate the Andes. After you rise above the clouds (yes that is at a very high elevation) the view is magnificent and the skies are clear. Many photo opportunities exist at this altitude and the guides from Mio Tours always stop when I ask to take photos or if I need a bathroom break.

 

 Looking Out Over Guayaquil

Looking Out Over Guayaquil

 

As you hit the continental divide in Cajas National Park, you know its all downhill from there and you will be in Cuenca within an hour. The anticipation starts to rise and my thoughts increase as the wonderful city approaches. I am and always will be, totally in love with this city, its people, its culture and its lovely food. The great thing about driving is it gives you three and a half hours to prepare yourself and anticipate how wonderful it is to be in Cuenca. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

 

Day Two Road to Cuenca and Cuenca 2013-03-08 011 30X30 Blog

 

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