Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year Everyone! 2014 already

There is nothing like New Years Day to make you reflect on your life is there?  You think about the year that just was and you begin to think about what you want to do and achieve in the next 12 months.

Me I don't make resolutions, over the years I learnt that usually within the first few hours of waking on NYD I have broken most of the things I was resolved to stop, but I do like to contemplate the areas of my life and that of my families which were great in the last 12 months and those that could be shaken up a little in the next 12 months.

This was the first New Years Eve in over 15 years we didn't go out to celebrate, but that got me thinking of all the wonderful NYEs we have had as a family and how I would scan for things to do NYE that were different from past years - a lot of this was to give thanks for the wonderful year we had just had and to be together to bring in the new year.

This year I was just woken up both at 9pm and Midnight by the fireworks from around the area - but was up bright and early ready to think about some of the things I would like to achieve this year and already I feel excited by the prospects of what 2014 might bring.

Yes I have to loose some weight, retirement has seen me put on a few kilos but that isn't the big focus for this year, its a must do but this is the year of the move for us, as we have now decided that living in this house made for 5 plus people and the amount of travel we do is silly, when we could down size the house and up size the money - so with this as our focus we have spent the last few days cleaning out years of boxed up paper work and items that until now we just couldn't have imaged throwing out, but if we are down sizing the house, that does mean we have to down size the amount of things we store.  We started this clean up a few days ago and I will say its lead to remembering some great times, sad times, new beginnings and the end of eras and the beginning of new ones as we went through boxes and boxes of items that have been hidden away in the storage areas.  Several trips to the dump later we feel a little more cleansed so this was a good start to our 2014 campaign.

New Years Day should be one where you remember all the wonderful things your friends, family and work mates have given you throughout the year with their support, love and caring about who you are and give thanks to those around you for making each day a little better.  So thank you everyone, we have enjoyed a lot of fun with you all over the last 12 months - and for those we didn't get to see in 2013 we have been able to keep up with your live through Facebook and emails which is so fantastic.  For those new friends which there are many thank you for entering into our lives.

Last year was a great year for us, we spent heaps of quality time with family both the ones we have close to our hearts always and new family members being met for the first time starting with the Todds visiting from the USA, a great lunch with Pam and Derek, Easter with extended Crossley folk (some we haven't seen for many years)  and meeting our sister-in-law her sons and 2 new special little nieces for the first time, and catching up with Stuart and of course Jim and James as well,  taking Mum away for her 81st birthday to Stanthorpe, D2's 21st birthday weekend and of course the standard everyday birthdays, Christmas etc.  Being retired we are able to do these more often and with a bit more gusto than in the past but all in all its family that means the most to you and its these wonderful moments we treasure.

We also caught up with heaps of friends this year as well which was so much fun, starting with Favvy and Bruce  and Ian and Pam in Melbourne after our Tassie trip, Mandi and Amanda here on the Goldy, Harvey Bay Barb, Erica and many catch ups with Tony and Karen, as well as some parties with friends and rellies so many great lunches, dinners and probably 1 or 2 too many drinks, but worth the headaches.

We discovered the driving holiday in 2013 starting with driving around Tasmania, a trip up to North Queensland, Northern NSW spending some lovely time in Coffs Harbour, Balina, Byron Bay, heading out to Western NSW and Queensland on 3 trips including Stanthorpe, Glenn Innis, Iverell, Tamworth and Warick where we did a little prospecting,  so these trips took up a good 8 weeks of our year.  While we sold the boat prior to going away in November, we really took full advantage of it over the year heading out many times and doing several 4-7 day trips exploring the great waterways around the Gold Coast and enjoying sun, fishing, swimming and relaxing (not that we need all that much of that any more).

Derek took up metal detecting after being given a detector for Christamas from D1 and this saw us travelling around finding new places for him to use it, and while not rich, he has over the 12 months collected quite a few hundred dollars in 1 and 2 dollar coins, but it provided him with a fantastic interest and got us out of the house for many wonderful days at the beach.  

Finishing off the year with 5 weeks in North, South and Central America rounded off our hectic fun year, which seemed to fly by too quickly as you recap on the year that was, and begin thinking about the year to come.

So Happy 2014 everyone, may it bring happiness and fun to you all.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas as a Retiree - Feliz Navidad

Here we are now working on our 2nd Christmas as retirees, and what a difference it makes to your overall participation in the event.

Over the years you do Christmas on autopilot, juggling work, kids, Christmas parties, shopping etc for a month or so hoping you will get through it again.  Once you have retired however Christmas takes on a new direction and meaning as your mind isn't full of all the things that need to be done at work prior to taking your leave.

Once again we arrived back from overseas in December  however we did get 2 weeks in before Christmas this year unlike arriving back only 1 week before like last year, but it didn't really seem to make that much difference.

D1s collection from USA and Canada
We were keen this year to get the Christmas decorations up (the kids had done this for us last year given the timing of our arrival back), although we elected to tone it down a bit this year and not use everything we have.  It was great just to only  use those Christmas decorations we have collected over the last decade on our overseas jaunts on the tree and it is now a lovely collection of items that depict our lives and our travels.  Collecting something like this is fun, but it also gives you something very specific to look for while travelling and they are generally cheap, and easy to pack.  We keep them in the bags that they were given to us in, receipts etc so that when we unpack each year we all as a family have a reminisce about where we got them from, and the funny little stories that many of them hold - so its a nice way to remember fun family times as well.  The kids now also do this while away and are always happy to provide their haul from their personal travel.  Some countries it is hard to get something Christmassy, however here I either buy a bell with the countries name on, or a snow ball that depicts something unique about the place, like my Egyptian snowball which is in the shape of a pyramid with the Spinx inside and gold glitter, very pretty.  Being in an area where Catholicism is the primary religion this year there were no shortages of Nativity scene decorations this year to add to my collection. 

My new haul 
We have so many great little stories on many of the decorations and where we found them etc and this years haul provided a few more funny ones.  When I look for my decorations I am very specific, it must contain the name of where it came from or be a landmark that is easily recognizable.  This year while there was no shortage of Christmas decorations everywhere very few of them had the name of the town, city or country on them and while in Panama I found a decoration which didn't have Panama on it,  when I tried to explain to the man in the shop this and why I didn't want to buy it, he immediately in broken English said his wife is able to put that on.  Here we are thinking she is going to have some beautiful art pen that she will use, but no.  She asks me why do I want her name on it, which I immediately indicated I didn't what her name on it, I want Panama on it, and then she just grabs a pen and scratches it on to the bauble - well I could have done that myself, but it sort of defeats the purpose, anyway, just another funny little story for years to come as we unbox these and remember the story.

As a retiree it is nice to travel internationally in the November/December period as well, it gets you away from the general commercial hype of Christmas - you know the TV ads etc and you begin to experience other cultures way of celebrating through their street decorations, festivities, food etc - so it helps to put your mind on Christmas in a relaxed manner.

Being in Mexico this year was fun especially as we were there for the beginning of their Christmas festivals but generally the whole of this area had begun their Christmas themes through street decoration, and while much is the same as we have, there are those small differences that are both interesting and fun. 

It also helps to inspire you when planning your Christmas meals, given you have just had a taste of an area your mind is able to think outside of the Traditional Christmas meal ideas.  So you guessed it, Mexican is featuring in our lunch this year. We had a trial run with some friends last week and it was delish. 

As we have no small children around as yet and this year it is only going to be 6 of us, I am also toning down the meals.  We generally start on Christmas Eve as I have always enjoyed everyone together early and having a Christmas Eve dinner - we set the airconditioning onto freezing, put the log fire DVD on and sit down to a hot traditional meal.  This year for something different I am going to put on an Italian banquet  for Christmas Eve and then have a cold Christmas Day lunch featuring beautiful fruits, seafood and you guessed it Mexican salsas and meats with Mexican breads. 

Both the Italians/Mediterian and Mexican  foods are fresh, look festive, are hearty and delicious as well as a little less filling than our standard Christmas foods and given it is just adults we can be less traditional at this point.

Of course there will be the standard traditional items like Christmas Yummy Corner, reading The Night Before Christmas, carols softly playing in the background and pudding etc but with a slightly different slant this year.

So Feliz Navidad everyone, NINKERs wish you a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cruising South America - 31 Day Inca Empires Cruise

So after a lot of blogging about the various ports we visited and sharing our experiences, photos and videos we finish our cruise holiday blog.

We traveled on Holland America and I would have to say I would be hard pressed to go on their line again, the service, food etc wasn't all that good compared to Princess and while there were no kids (I was the kid at one of the youngest on the cruise) the average age was 74 and most have never traveled with any other line, although for those who had, we all felt the same.

We did however have a fantastic time, met some terrific people and had a ball but after 15 ports, 31 days, 7 formal nights and a few rough sea days we were buggered and it was great to finally get home.

The flight from Brisbane to LA was quick and good, but the flight home well - our half day San Diego tour was cancelled a day before and given we were doing this because it dropped us at the airport and our flight had to be after 3pm, we spent a long day at San Diego airport - down with a cold we had gotten on the last day of the cruise.  After a quick 20 min flight to LA we hung around LA airport until 11:30pm before getting back to Brissy some 14 hours after.  Like most travel getting there is the fun bit, but travelling home is more laborious and usually longer as well for some reason.

We didn't forget Lil' Ted though while we were away and we did finally find him a Mexican Sombrero, how cute does he look.

I suppose one of the great things about being retired, is that at least we didn't have to go back to work, as it has taken us nearly 5 days to get everything put away, photos uploaded, blogging done, washing done and generally just catching up.  I am still glad we decided to retire early and enjoy these types of adventures while we are young enough and to be able to experience all the things we want to.  So many on the cruise had wheel chairs, walkers and walking sticks and while they got around obviously there are so many things they just can't experience and even when they are on tours they can do its hard work for them and everyone else around them.

This type of trip isn't for the faint hearted though, most of the ports where hot, dirty and the walking and touring quite arduous, but we loved it and it will be something we remember forever, but we have now been there and done that and one of the reasons we choose this cruise was it took in everything and we no longer need to go back so we have ticked a major area off our things to do in retirement list.

If you haven't read my blogs about the various ports, the links are below just click on them (at the point of writing this, I haven't gotten around to editing so excuse any mistakes - that usually takes me a while).  Share with friends you met on the trip and keep in touch.

Derek & Julie-Ann

Puerto Vallarta - Mexico - Final Port Port 12 Day 29

So after years of being raised on the Love Boat, this was the only port we had ever heard of prior to our cruise and just about everyone on the ship quoted Captain Stubbing upon arrival by saying Welcome to Puerto Vallarta.

Its a thriving port and I got greeted by one of the locals as you can see.

So why have I changed the format of this blog to all the others, well Puerto Vallarta doesn't need as much introduction as the others and the cooking school photos are so good I wanted to put them all up.

Keep reading below though to see what we did and how much fun we had in Puerto Vallarta.

This is another very well oiled tourist area and is extremely upmarket everywhere you look.  Once again we wanted to do something different at this port and elected to do the Taste of Mexico tour where we did a Mexican cooking school, best learn how to make the foods we had been eating for the last month.  After some sight seeing (boring) although at the end of this blog there is the mandatory scenery shots and shopping (more boring), we finally made it to our destination for a fun few hours of cooking, eating and of course drinking Margaritas from what could only be described as fish bowls, so prior to our trip I said you could find me down Mexico way hopefully with a Tequila in one hand and burrito in the other  and the photo above is testament to believing is doing and this is how we did end up finishing our holiday, which was fun, entertaining, relaxing and a feeling just a little timpsy.


 It was a great day and we had great company as well on this day, we even got presented with a Certificate as a MASTER OF MEXICAN COOKERY - how funny!  The Restuarant where this was held is call the El Andariego Restaurante - Bar and everything here was lovely.   

Manzanillo - Mexico - Port 11 Day 28

Heading back into Mexico for our second last port saw us doing the Colima and Comala tour which included more ruins the Pyramids of La Campana - which were probably the best we saw in the area. The museum was once again good and we finally saw Lil' Teds relatives - but they use to use them as food - boo to them see pictures below.  Colima was probably more up market than other Mexican cities we had visited on the first leg of the journey and they were getting prepared for Christmas so it was especially pretty.

See all the ancient Lil' Teds below

The Council building had a fabulous mural of the history of Mexico, which I thought was absolutely beautiful, do you agree from the pictures below?  This covered all the walls and as you walked through you could clearly understand the struggles over the centuries, particularly lovely.

After Colima we headed for Comala which is another small town, where we were served a fabulous lunch at the cafe in the main square and had Pina Coladas and Paunches their local brew, this coupled with about 6 courses of wonderful Mexican foods we full and happy.  The square was alive and they were about to hold a street festival which we were lucky enough to be there for as a part of their beginning of Christmas festivities, this was so terrific and ended a good varied day of ruins, quaint towns, good food and drink with a bang - yes a bang as they were setting off fire crackers (something rare these days in our world to see).

This was a bright and colorful day filled with lots of historical facts, ruins and a taste of Mexican life.  We finished the journey with a tour through the upmarket beach resort areas here which where incredibly like Santorini, so this general area has some lovely resorts, quaint villages and archaeological information.

One of the beach resorts

Port Quetzal - Guatemala - Port 10 Day 25

As we were nearing the end of the cruise, we had started to pick more adventurous tours so that got to experience more places and also challenge ourselves, so Guatemala was where we choose to do Zip Lining to break up the types of excursions we had been doing.  The port itself is quite nice and has a good array of souvenir shops, so if you are the type who doesn't like adventure the port caters for you.

There were only 6 of us doing the Zip Lining here as a number had done it at Costa Rica so we were added to another tour group, but lucky for us a couple we had made friends with throughout the cruise had also booked this excursion, so it was nice to finally share the experience with someone you knew.

Guatemala is not dissimilar to the previous few ports in its landscape however there are 3 main volcanoes in this area that are still active, the picture at the top shows the Myan Lady Mountain and one of the Volcanoes about to smoke, which was quite cool to see and made the drive very interesting as you watched for these along the journey and  below without the Myan Lady and more smoke coming out, I literally have about 100 photos of this throughout the day as we traveled along.


We headed towards our destination at the area's oldest coffee plantation at Finca Filadelfia which was beautiful in itself and we boarded our new bus to take us on our mountain journey to over 2000 meters above sea level or 6,430 pies which I can only assume means miles, not quite Machu Picchu, but high nevertheless, and exciting on the little truck we road on up more winding roads with shear drops.  Someone however should have told us it was going to be freezing up there.

So not only were we hyped with adrenaline as we got kitted up for our 7 Zip Lines back down through the valleys of the volcanoes, we were also freezing from the high winds and high altitude. It took a little while to get suited up and instructions, but soon we were whizzing through the trees, valleys, volcanoes and it was an incredible experience.  The first one was a little hairy, but after that your confidence built more and more and you could then enjoy it.  The views where to die for Check out the video Derek took on one of the legs.  Overall it was a great few hours as headed back to the plantation for lunch and rest prior to the Antigua tour. 

I don't know why, but I knew I wanted to go to Antigua and I am sure glad I did.  It was a beautiful little town and quite up market, although the street vendors here are pushy and follow you around, it has a beautiful architecture as you walk along the narrow cobblestone roads - it was quaint and I would have like a little more time here to shop as there were some lovely clothes shops here, but also some upmarket restaurants, and obviously the usual town square items like the city hall, churches etc.

Derek, Paula and Bill checking out that great architecture below LOL.  We were all getting quite tired by now after 4 ports in 5 days so we were looking forward to a few at sea days as we finished our time in Guatemala and said goodbye to Antigua.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Corinto - Nicaragua - Port 9 Day 24

WOW, WOW and WOW what a fabulous day we had in Nicaragua and at the Cortijo El Rosario.  Shocked yes you probably are, however the excursion we choose for this day being the Cortijo El Rosario Estate & Equestrian Show was fabulous.  Most people when they asked us what we were going to do in this port laughed when we said we were going to see the Spanish horse show, thinking it would be lame, but we really had felt by this time we had seen enough quaint village centers and this sounded different and different it was.

I think only 36 people on the cruise enjoyed Nicaragua and they all went to this ranch, which was just so beautiful.  Sure we didn't see the poor side of Nicaragua (which apparently there was plenty of) but what we saw was the best of Nicaragua, an excellent welcome, fantastic horse show, ultra beautiful property, horse and cart rides, wild animals, a fantastic Nicaraguan song and dance show, delicious food, great hospitality and much more.

The Coen family personally welcomed us to the estate with rum punches and we were treated to a fantastic Spanish horse show where you could literally reach out and touch the horses.  The estate is setup now as a foundation for the community but is several thousand hectares of lush, green, pristine landscaped gardens, with beautiful structures, statues, replicas around the property in which you are invited to enjoy at your leisure.  There is plenty to do here and we were certainly here longer than our allotted 4 hours.  The owners, their family and their staff took personal pride in showing you around the property and explaining their journey from exile and back to rebuild this estate and the pride they have in providing both animal protection and community support schemes The Coen Foundation Web Site and their other website is http://www.cortijoelrosario.com/.

Everything about this trip and property was fantastic, and words simply cannot provide you with enough information, the day was leisurely, entertaining, fun and more importantly up front and personal as we were only the 2nd tour group they had ever had come and visit (I hope it stays that way as it is a part of the charm of this property).

This is a blog where pictures tell the story. Thank you to all as everyone on the Estate seemed proud of who they were, what they were doing and showing us all a fabulous time and I felt like we were in a proud part of Nicaragua where we saw a traditional side of the culture and the people.

Images of us at Cortjo El Rosario - once again everyone THANK YOU  we had the best time this was a day that I like to call a bonus day, we had no idea what to expect but our expectations were well and truly exceeded.

Puerto Caldera - Costa Rica - Port 8 Day 23

This ended up being a funny port for us as 2 of the excursions we had booked were cancelled, so we ended up doing Tropical Forest Aerial Tram.  I hadn't really wanted to do this given we have done so many of these over the years in so many places, but I was glad that we ended up here as the day was a great one and our guide Eddie was extremely good.

The drive to the Rain Forest took us through some beautiful country side and Costa Rica was a breath of fresh air after Peru and Ecuador, it was quite upmarket in the main and the roads and countryside extremely clean.  We were all excited when we went over a bridge and looked down to see all the crocodiles lazing in the sun on the banks of the river.  Many people did the tour that included  mangrove cruise where you got a bit more up close and personal with these guys (I had thought like other trips we have done in the past that you would be lucky to see one in the wild, but not here in Costa Rica they are there so this extra option is worthy of consideration) see the photo above, they are everywhere and this photo was taken from a bus window as we drove across the bridge.

The Aerial Tram ride was lovely and the gondola has its own tour guide to explain the various parts of the canopy you are going through and to point out wild life such as monkeys (which we didn't see) etc.  It was a nice ride and the views were spectacular but I suppose given we didn't see any real wildlife it was no different to many we have been on in the world. Hi Bill and Paula (yes thats you in your gondola passing us).

After the tram ride which lasts about an hour, we went on a walking tour, where we did see much more wild life and once again Eddie was providing us with heaps of fantastic information.  The one thing we saw which was the first time I had ever seen this were ants march with leaves in very uniform lines that went for miles, it was quite incredible Check out the video of the ANTS.

A nice lunch was served here as well, but other than that we didn't really see or learn as much about Costa Rica as we would have liked, it was a nice day, but nothing we haven't really seen or done before.  Of course the country side looks incredibly like Queensland and is lush and tropical so we did enjoy the drive and sights from the bus window and our joke was "what is the difference between Cairns and Costa Rica?"  The roads are better in Costa Rica!