Cruising the Mediterranean

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By Sunny Lockwood and Al Lockwood

Guest Post

For those of us who love to travel, there’s rarely a question of why?

We know why: we want to see new places, learn about new cultures, try new foods, and simply have fun in a city or countryside where we’ve never been before.

The questions we ask are: Where do we want to go next? How can we get there? When can we leave?

My husband and I have had the travel bug since we were young. Now, well into retirement, our wanderlust is strong as ever. And the rewards are equally great.

Studies show that travel is good for the body, the brain and the spirit. And even though our older bodies lack the endurance they once had, we find that travel enlarges our concept of “home” and enriches our experience of wonder.

Imagine being awakened by the deep, resonant melody of church bells, bells that have rung each morning for centuries. That was our experience in Florence.

Or being enveloped in the fragrance of incense from a fortuneteller’s shop. We experienced that each afternoon in Barcelona. Our Airbnb apartment was right above her shop.

Imagine the flavor of dark chocolate gelato setting your taste buds dancing. That was our daily experience in Venice. That and the scene of shiny black gondolas sliding calmly through narrow canals.

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Our stunning world is immense. But our individual lives are brief. So if there’s something you dream of doing, our advice is do it now. While you can.

Sweetheart Al and I choose ocean cruising as our preferred method of long-range travel. There are many reasons for this, including our modest travel budget and our declining mobility. We can no longer hike like there’s no tomorrow, jump into sleeping bags, or pedal bicycles for miles.

But on a cruise we can see the world at our own pace and in our own way while sleeping in the same comfortable bed each night.

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And we’ve chosen to share our adventures through travel memoirs.

Our newest book, Cruising the Mediterranean, brings readers along on our 12-day cruise to Venice, Athens, Istanbul, Ephesus and three Greek islands.

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Even before we left California, we started our trip by adjusting our internal clock so that we’d be on European time when we arrived in Amsterdam. We added four days in Amsterdam just because Al wanted me to see that historic city, before boarding our cruise ship.

In Amsterdam, we used Airbnb. A first for us, and we loved the experience. We stayed in the heart of historic Amsterdam. Actually, our room was in the Red Light District, so our “window shopping” introduced us to the latest in sex toys, edible underwear and items we couldn’t even identify.

We cruised on Holland America. We’ve cruised on other lines, but this 12-day trip fit our pocketbook and visited places we really wanted to see.

At every stop, we experienced something wonderful, from standing on the Acropolis as the morning sun gilded its marble monuments, to watching a rug weaving demonstration in Istanbul.

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We discovered delectable Turkish Delight during a dinner cruise along the Bosphorous Strait. And enjoyed the largest piece of Baklava we’d ever seen in a family-owned restaurant on the island of Santorini.

We’ve done our best to capture in words (and a few photographs) the wonder of our trip. Our goal in writing travel memoirs? To share our fun and fabulous experience. And to encourage others to make their own travel dreams come true.

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*Sunny Lockwood is a retired newspaper reporter, columnist and editor. Her freelance stories and articles have been published in MS magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other national and regional publications. Al Lockwood is a retired Silicon Valley engineer. He’s a fine art photographer whose work has been published in magazines and newspapers.

*All the images courtesy of Sunny Lockwood and Al Lockwood

 

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Weekly Photo: Reward

By Nora Vasconcelos

reward by NVS

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‘Your Best Bet’ – Short story

By Nora Vasconcelos

From his window on the plane, Marco saw the first hints of the Rivera Maya. It had been a long journey, visiting different countries in which he had intended to bring some international investors to collaborate with him in his business.

With more good wishes than concrete results, Marco had finished his trip and now it was only a matter of minutes for him to finally be home. He was really anxious to go out of the plane.

He couldn’t help it, any time he was on an aircraft the words of his father came to his mind, over and over: “Die young and die rich.”

What his dad wasn’t aware of was that one day, quite soon, his wish would come true when his jet crashed on a road close to Las Vegas, where he had hoped to repeat his last winning streak which had doubled his fortune with only one very lucky hand.

As a young adult, Marco had never been really interested in his family’s fortune, but it was perhaps because all his life he had been rich, thanks to the ravings of his father at the poker tables, the roulette, and even the slot machines. Gambling all the year-long around the world, money had flowed around his mansion in Rivera Maya, the same as if it were a river full of gold.

Marco often wondered what it’d be like if things were different. “How it’d be to have less money and a full-time dad?”

One day, the same as it’d happened with his father, life fulfilled Marco’s desire …sort of, because with his father’s death, money had stopped flowing and then it was time for him to take matters into his own hands. He and his mum sold their beach house, then they got an apartment in Cancun, and started an ecotourism business in Rivera Maya.

As the business grew, several trips a year were required. People seemed to like Marco’s style and hired him frequently to lead special tours in other countries when they wanted their foreign partners to be impressed so, they would open their wallets and invest in new business ventures. And for that, he had to overcome his aversion to flying.

The first time he got inside a plane -six months after his father’s death-, Marco was victim of an unusual dizziness. It was so strong that he thought he’d pass out in the middle of the flight.

However, continuous breathing exercises and a glass of Bordeaux helped him survived the rest of the trip. Anyway, memories of his dad’s death accompanied him the rest of the way.

Marco though he could remain in control until the plane landed, but it was just when the captain announced that they were about to touch land, when the nightmare began. He started to imagine the last moments in his father’s life. “Was he terribly frightened? Did he have enough time to say a final prayer?”

“For sure he was thinking about his family?” Marco thought, shaking his head. “Did he ever get time..?” He shivered.

Then he felt he couldn’t breathe and a flight attendant had to come close to him to calm him down and help him breathe normally. The plane finally landed, and Marco went on with his trip, knowing that the same terrible thoughts would torment him not only during his flight back, but also during the following flights for a long while.

In general, Marco was the spitting image his father. He had shared his taste for music, so he always enjoyed spending time at the club, listening to any new band that came to town. French wines were always present on the table and Sundays at the ballpark were a must.

Marco’s dad had also encouraged him to acquire all his wisdom regarding the cards and he had done it, but he didn’t enjoy it. However, Marco had always acknowledged his dad’s passion and dedication towards this activity, which he had considered a “real job full of entertainment and excitement.”

Gambling was out of the question for Marco, but he kept from his dad’s passion the complete dedication to his work. He also remembered frequently his father’s advice: “Look son, whenever you go to work be well prepared, measure your opponents in advance, find out what’s happening in the world, be a good conversationalist, dressed well because presence is important, but never look down on anyone just because you’re wearing a fancy suit.”

Marco had remained truthful to his dad’s advice ever since.

Now, several years later, although he ran a successful operation guiding tourists across the natural areas in the Yucatan Peninsula, Central America, and the Caribbean, keeping the business afloat had become more complicated since the problems with the global economy had caused that many people had to stay home for the holidays.

More money was needed, there was no doubt about that, but Marco refused to dismiss any of his employees, and even when he had inherited his dad’s ability at the gambling tables, he had refused to cash on it. So, he decided that finding some international investors would be his only option. “May be the foreign tourists he was taking on a trip tomorrow would be interested in a business deal?” He thought.

It was almost 6pm and the sunset was taking over the ocean view with its brilliant colors. For a few seconds, he fixed his eyes on the horizon. Several buildings were under construction along the bay. This bothered him a little, because all these new towers would block the sea view. But new hotels meant more tourists, and that was just what his business needed.

The following morning, Marco left his apartment very early to guide a group of 8 people who wanted to have a good sailing day on their way to the Caribbean islands where they had planned to spend some time doing business.

They had come from different countries and were interested in developing cruise-trip options for bays, marinas and small beaches not as popular or advertised as other places, but with lots of potential. Their plan was to use small boats that would allow them to offer luxury trips to people who wanted to explore new lands in style.

The first part of the trip was relaxing as the passengers mainly rested or had some snacks, leaving Marco alone. Then, as the vessel reached deeper waters, they seemed to have some interest in the way their guide dealt with the boat’s controls.

Finally, one of them said to him: “Hey, son. We’ve heard you run a good business here.”

Without taking his eyes apart from the horizon, Marco nodded, as the white boat continue getting the splash from the sea.

“We also know that you’re looking for some cash to sustain it,” the man, in shorts and a polo shirt, continued while trying to find a steady position. “What about coming to work with us. You would get some good money, and you can leave someone in charge of everything here,” he said with a hoarse voice.

Out of surprise, Marco seemed tempted for a second to turn his head, as if he wished to be sure that what he had heard was true. But he continued driving his boat steadily.

“What do you want me to do? What I mean is, what kind of job would pay me that much for me to have someone taking care of my business here while I work with you guys?” Marco asked, hoping this was the break he was waiting for.

One of the passengers, wearing a beach shirt and sunglasses, came close to Marco and told him almost in a whisper: “don’t play the fool with us, boy. We all know that you’re a much better player than your dad, he used to brag about it all the time, while we played cards together in Vegas. Finding you here running a legit business was surprising, but we’re sure this is just a front…”

It took a few minutes for Marco to bring the boat to a complete stop. Then he studied briefly all of his passengers, the same as if they were at the poker table, and with a firm voice he told them: “I don’t know what you’ve heard. Whatever my dad said about me being good at gambling, it’s just not true. I will take you to the next port and once there you’re on your own.”

“Come on boy!” The man wearing the polo shirt told him. “Don’t be like that. What’s the point on hiding your talents? You can be rich, the same as your dad was, and we need a talented man to run our casino business on our luxury mini cruises. It’s a win-win situation.”

“On the other hand,” the guy with the sunglasses intervened – getting very close to Marco -, “we’ve heard this is a deep dangerous sea for people who fall off their boats… why to risk it? Why don’t you come closer and tell us that you’ve decided to come to work with us boy…”

(To be continued next Wednesday on: http://www.obinnaudenwe.blogspot.mx/ )

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* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

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The dream of Crusing the Panama Canal… and writing about it!

By Nora Vasconcelos

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As it often happens we save things to do them “someday”, but for Sunny and Al Lockwood a car accident made them decide that “someday was today” and then they agreed that it was time for them to go on that long dreamed cruise that would take them from San Francisco, California to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, traveling for 17 days aboard The Zuiderdam, a cruise ship which also would sail from the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic through the Panama Canal.

But the dream didn’t end there, from their experiences, Al and Sunny wrote a book: Cruising Panama’s Canal, savoring 5,000 nautical miles and 500,000 decadent calories, published by Front Porch Publishing.

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“We came up with the idea before we left on the cruise. We were reading books and articles about the history of the Canal in preparation for our cruise, and the history was so dramatic, so fascinating that we thought describing our trip through the canal would be interesting to others,” tells me Sunny, while talking about their book.

“Since I’ve made my living as a writer (for newspapers and magazines), I go through life with a notebook and pen in my hand. And Al almost always has a camera. So the idea of writing about our trip seemed pretty ‘normal’ to us.”

So, after 17 days cruising, and one year working about 5 days a week on their book, “writing and re-writing, cutting and throwing out stories, adding stories, trying to shape and polish”, Sunny and Al completed a book that invites the readers to be part of this literary trip, like good all friends who get together to share their traveling stories, from the moment they booked the trip, to the time they boarded the ship, the amazement that came from finding such an ample art collection aboard, as well as the cooking classes, the fun and relaxing times and the unexpected and surprising experiences.

Page by page, they take the readers along with them through the different areas of the ship, share their advice on how to keep fit and healthy, and their thoughts on how to transform the desserts time into magical and savory moments whenever Al has the chance to indulge his sweet tooth and write about it.

“I know a fair bit about desserts because I just love eating them. I also love cooking—baking especially, but I’m purely self-taught. And every time I find something really unusual—the Sacher Torte, for example, I’ll research its history (that one’s fascinating),” says Al when I ask him about his deep knowledge on the subject.

Al and Sunny also share their experiences on how to make the most of the shore excursions that, in their case, took them (and the readers along) to visit places like Zihuatanejo and Huatulco in Mexico; Costa Rica and its beautiful natural wonders and its unique Doka Estate and Coffee Plantation (a real paradise for coffee lovers); Cartagena, Colombia, and Half Moon Cay, Bahama.

And when the long awaited time comes to cross the Panama Canal, they share in great detail, step by step, all what it takes for a ship as big as The Zuiderdam (operated by Holland American Line), to fit into the different sections of the Canal.

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Funny, entertaining and informative, Cruising Panama’s Canal invites everyone to go along on this journey “of thousands of miles and tens of thousands of calories”. Because this book is much more than a travel guide, this is a book that “has been a labor of love and sharing”, as the authors state on the acknowledgments section.

* All the images and photos courtesy of Al and Sunny Lockwood

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A fun book to borrow from the library

By Nora Vasconcelos

Library
Some weeks ago, while I was on vacation, I got into a library and started wandering around. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I was just enjoying the fulfilling experience of being there.

Of course I looked at the book titles, and even though I was tempted to read many of them (some of which I had already at home) I resisted it and kept on looking, until… of course I took one.

The funniest thing that has happened to me in a library, as the title of this particular one was The burglar in the library!!! It was so hilarious finding this title right in a library!!! I had to read it!!!!

So I borrowed the book, of course, and I have to say that it was kind of funny when I stated the title on the library log. I even had that funny urgency of checking if someone was looking over my shoulder… And I think someone was…

Anyways, I borrowed the book from the library and started reading it right away. I had never read anything by Lawrence Block, and I felt somehow bad as I love mystery books a lot. But, it’s never late to start, right?

The first two chapters passed like time itself, fast. Then I couldn’t just leave the book there, sitting in my room and I started to take it everywere I went… then the fun continued as everytime I encountered someone I knew, they asked me “What are you reading”…

I’ll never forget the expression on their faces when they read the title, expression followed (everysingle time) by the inevitable question, “but you’re returning that book to the library, aren’t you?”.

Suddenly I felt that I had become an accomplice of Bernie Rhodenbarr, the main character of this book, who, happens to enter a British Cotagge style hotel in the oustkirts of New York city, just to get a unique copy of a valuable book written and autographed by a famous author some time ago.

It was even funnier because right below the title was pasted a huge stamp that noted “this book belongs to the library”.

So, feeling myself like a character created by Block, I just smiled at the situation, enjoyed every single page of the book, and journeyed along the guests of the British-like cottage created by Block, as they were followed, room by room, by mysterious events that made them fear, doubt and bond to each other during a strange weekend that went way beyond the walls of the library, and that finally made Bernie Rhodenbarr realize that getting this book for his personal benefit wouldn’t be that best of all ideas.

As for me, it’s needless to say that I returned the book to the library right on time.

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Weekly Photo: Sea

Photo by Nora Vasconcelos

May the Magic of the Ocean speak by itself.
May the Magic of the Ocean speak by itself.

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Weekly Photo: Happy

Happines to go.
How this lovely teddy bear won’t be happy if he’s going on a trip, safely packed as for him to enjoy every minute of the traveling experience!

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The sweetest of times

The Sweest ot times.
Every now and then, I come across with some of the Curios George books or cartoons on TV and then, it doesn’t matter how busy I am, I take some little time off to enjoy the cheerful adventures of this lovely sweet monkey that was created in the 1930’s by the German couple Margret and H.A. Rey.

The stories might seem simple and focused on little children but the innocence shown by this curious monkey called George, make him completely irresistible.

It’s being the same since the beginning when Margret wrote her first children’s book Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, book that was illustrated by her husband Hans A. Rey.

It was back then in the last century when Curious George managed to stand out over the other monkeys presented in the story, and because of this, Margret and H.A Rey, started to create new stories in which George always gets in trouble due to his unstoppable curiosity and it’s always due to his immense charm that he manages not only to get out of trouble but also to save the day, every day!

The most recent Curious George books that I’ve read are, Curious George Gets a Medal, in which George goes to the space; Curious George goes camping, and my very favorite one: Curious George goes to a Chocolate factory.

It’s in this book, when George finds his way inside of a chocolate factory, where he’s absolutely happy getting to know, and to eat, of course, different kinds of chocolate. As things go wrong with one of the machines, George’s ability to catch and pack many chocolates at the same time helps the workers to get all the boxes done despite the problems with the machinery.

As I was passing the pages of the book, it was hard for me not to feel like eating chocolate, and then my mind flew back to the time I visited the Hershey’s town in Pennsylvania, and also when I went to the Hershey’s Macadamia nuts factory in Hawaii, where I, the same as little George, had the chance to see how Macadamia chocolates were made.

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Weekly Photo: Movement

Tons of fun!
It’s always so rewarding to see how little kids can have so much fun with very simple things like this little boy that’s enjoying the fast movements of this ride at the fair.

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Weekly Photo: Together

Good times.
Good times.
Lovely are all those afternoons when people can get together, walk around the bay, admire the sculptures and enjoy the last minutes of the sun standing over there in the horizon, just before the night comes around.

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