An unexpected treat…cruising through Alaska!

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Waiting, waiting…

An incredible opportunity opened up for Charlie and I to join a press group, cruising Alaska’s waterways with Holland America Lines on the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. The offer was last minute, as in 2 ½ weeks, but the calendar was clear and, luckily, we brought our passports to NC, so we were in. The key to a happy retirement is flexibility and spontaneity. No moss growing on our rolling stone!

The plan was to fly from Asheville to Vancouver and back via Chicago. It takes an hour to get to the airport from the mountain house and the flight was on time when we left. Arriving at the airport, however, we discovered our flights, in both Asheville and Chicago were delayed. We started sweating bullets when our originating flight wound up 3 hours late but managed to find our terminal and gate in Chicago in time.

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The Pan Pacific, overlooking the terminal

The rest of the trip was seamless as we were picked up in Vancouver, driven through the streets of the city and dropped off at the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, atop Canada Place’s cruise ship terminals. Arriving around 6 pm we had time to walk a few blocks to dinner at Original Joe’s on Robson Street. Of course, our brains were telling us it was 3 hours later so we were disinclined to imbibe in the local beer offerings as we were afraid we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel.

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The Pan Pacific is gorgeous and next morning our ship was in dock waiting for us to board. We met our fellow journalists for breakfast and were amazed at how far some of them traveled…Australia, Holland, London, Austria, Belgium and a few more from the states…all lovely people who were a joy to accompany on this trip of a lifetime.

Leaving beautiful Vancouver

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View from our deck

The ms Nieuw Amsterdam is one of HAL’s larger ships, much bigger than the ms Maasdam, on which we cruised through New England and Nova Scotia last year. The comfort level and beauty were the same, however, this time with a touch of Manhattan and NYC art deco touches. Our Verandah was roomy, located at the back of the ship, which proved to be a perfect place to view all that Alaska had to offer.

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We met our group again at the Crow’s Nest on the Observation Deck, for a welcome cocktail and then dinner in the Manhattan Dining Room. The food on these cruises is just phenomenal and the champagne was flowing that night, along with perfect wine pairings. We were reminded that we needed to take it easy and not eat our way through the trip…not an easy task!

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Next morning, we met for a private Galley tour. What we saw was a well-organized effort to feed over 2,000 guests and more than 900 crew members. The kitchens were spotless and we saw smiling faces and beautiful culinary creations. Here are some stats…a typical 7-day cruise goes through 23,000 eggs, 1,675 pounds of butter and 137,500 pounds of fresh vegetables. It’s mind-boggling the amount of work that goes into storing, preparing and serving this much food. And they do it cheerfully and meticulously.

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Working so fast, his hands are a blur

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The final taste test

That night we met at The Pinnacle Grill, one of three fine dining choices, which will cost extra but are well worth the price. The menu highlights Pacific Northwest steak and seafood along with an ample choice of wines. Looking out the window we spotted the backs of a few whales cruising alongside the ship. I should mention that the other dining choices, which are included in the price of the cruise, are top of the line. You can choose the Lido buffet which changes offerings every day, along with the Manhattan Dining Room, which is a 2-level, formal dining experience.

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Pepper?

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Vid and Savi, Bruised Passports

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Delectable crab cakes

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Captain Edward Van Zaane and his lovely wife, Apollonia…yes, that Apollonia!

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Here are a couple of links to my blog posts on hypeorlando about this trip… Sushi virgins no longer and What the rest of the world thinks of Americans – Next up, Days 3 and 4, sailing through Tracy Arm, arriving in Juneau and Skagway.

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3 Reasons to visit Asheville

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North Lodge on Oakland

I just want to share some of my recent posts about Asheville in hypeorlando and TravelPulse. We were invited to stay in 3 lodges which are indicative of the hospitality and beauty of this city.

TravelPulse is a newsy travel industry site which is heavy on words, but not photos. Here’s the link to that one… Click here for TravelPulse

I broke down each of the Inns on hypeorlando as more of a pictorial:

The North Lodge on Oakland is a small B&B, close to the Biltmore Estate, operated by a lovely couple who take pride in their home. Click here for the North Lodge

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Gary and Cindy Broaddus, Innkeepers

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Library Room at the North Lodge

Our next stop was the Reynolds Mansion where Billy Sanders treated us like royalty. This home was built by slaves and has undergone massive renovations with the intent to restore it to its original beauty. Click here for The Reynolds Mansion

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The Reynolds Mansion

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The Reynolds Mansion Guestroom Lila

I can’t believe I had never heard of the Omni Grove Park Inn. An NC neighbor recommended it and I was amazed by the history and architecture of this lodge. Click here for the Omni Grove Park Inn

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Photo courtesy of The Omni Grove Park Inn

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Sunset over Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains

We’re now in the last week of a month-long visit by 2 of the grandkids and will be heading back to Florida to deliver them to mom. After a short stay in Orlando, we’ll be returning to Wolf Laurel with Ali and James in tow.

So far the weather has been the reason we moved up here for the summer. The temps have risen in town but when we drive back up the mountain to our house, we’re back in the 60’s or low 70’s. There is definitely something to be said for high elevations!

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Home sweet NC home

Wolf Laurel Update

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The view when we arrived April 13

It’s been a little over a month since arriving at the mountain house for the summer. One thing we’ve learned is, next year, we’ll head up this way later in the spring/summer. Although it has been fun seeing the wildflowers of spring, the temps are chilly…just this morning we woke up to low 30’s, brrrr. Hopefully, this is the last cold spell and we won’t have to turn on the heat again. Our rhododendrons are about to bloom, much later than those in town and toward the bottom of the mountain…I’m guessing the low temps play a part in that.

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What a difference a month makes!

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Mayapples are everywhere. Each one only produces one tiny flower under an umbrella of leaves.

We’ve been busy fixing up the house, painting, patching, hauling stuff we don’t want to Goodwill. We enjoyed bonding with the Bonds last week during their visit after nephew, Andrew, graduated UCF. They are experienced hikers so we had our hands full keeping up with them while visiting their old vacation haunts. Checking out the stars on Andrew’s telescope in the pitch blackness of the mountain was a high point. The night sky provides quite a show when light pollution is not an issue. Looking forward to more visitors…Jess, Chris and the grandkids are arriving mid June, then Ali and James in July. We’re feeling a bit like empty-nesters since sis, Patty, and her crew left, though.

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Snow on Big Bald

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Missing the Bond’s boots on the porch

Critter sightings include deer, turkey, chipmunks and, we think, a big fat groundhog. No bear scares but we are always vigilant.

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This little lady charged toward Patty and I on our walk. We were the “deer in the headlights” til she darted away.

We enjoy our visits to Mars Hill, Weaverville and Asheville, when we need a dose of civilization. One thing that stands out, everybody is so friendly and happy up here, whether at the grocery store, restaurants, shops…always a smile and ready to help. And highway driving is way more civilized than what we deal with in Florida. Missing our newspaper home delivery and still can’t find where the Sunday NY Times is sold. We’re old and old-school…getting our news online is just not the same.

This is a whole new world for us and it’s been a bit of a learning curve. We’re happy with our choice of house and area, we just have to become more accustomed to the harsh terrain. We’re so spoiled in Florida…bitch as we might about the heat and humidity, it’s an easy environment in which to live, with all its flatness.

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Every night the sunsets are phenomenal over the ridge

Check me out on TravelPulse.com

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Gotta blow my own horn here, so to speak, with the news that TravelPulse.com has published one of my blog posts and I am in contract with them to write further content. Most will be based in Orlando but I’ll be writing about Asheville this summer, also. First post is about the rise of the craft beer industry in Orlando…research was great fun!

It’s a major step for me as I’ve been slooooowly working towards this kind of validation as a writer, focusing on travel, and it feels good to be validated. Thanks to Kim Warrner for informing me about the Orlando Sentinel‘s blog platform,  hypeorlando.com, right after we moved back to Orlando. Writing for them has been a wonderful exercise in discipline and the support really helps, as sitting at a computer, hoping to get noticed, can be very isolating. Just when you feel like giving it all up, someone in the hypeorlando group will pat you on the back, come up with a few words of encouragement and spur you on.

Geez, this is sounding like an acceptance speech for an Academy Award! Actually, it kind of felt that way when I saw my name under the TravelPulse banner yesterday. More to come…

When Plan A fails…make sure you have Plan B, C and D available

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So the deal wasn’t done and the papers weren’t signed, lucky for us we had an honest inspector who immediately saw structural issues and did not continue the process. Inspections are pricey in the mountains and he saved us quite a few bucks by not going any further. He said a structural engineer needed to see the damage and go from there. It was enough for us to cancel the contract and move on. Very disappointing, especially since the owner is a structural engineer and should have disclosed the problems on the contract.

We’ve learned not to become emotionally attached to anything we attempt to purchase so we weren’t envisioning family holidays on the deck quite yet. There were others on our short list and some more popped up on the MLS, so we kept shopping. Our criteria and must-have list was short – 3,000 feet in elevation, a view, high ceilings (we want to feel like we’re in a mountain house, not sitting in a subdivision somewhere with low ceilings), and a location that doesn’t need a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Elevation is a must as our main reason for purchasing a summer home is to get out of the heat and humidity of Orlando. Our research has shown that 3,000 feet pretty much insures not having to turn on the a/c all summer. A panoramic mountain view is fleeting. The house that failed inspection had a killer view off the deck but that deck might be sliding off the mountain in the future. Another house had a great view but was too small and, inside, felt like we were anywhere but in the mountains. Another one had a death-defying drive-way and a larger car would have to back out of it without being able to turn around.

In the end we’re losing the view with the chosen abode, but it’s just a short walk away, along with the Appalachian Trail, and the size and location make up for it. Check out my hypeorlando.com blog at Forever Young but Growing Old for details on our last visit. Hopefully, we’ll close in early December and have more to report with pictures. But those photos might include snow!

 

 

 

Second trip’s the charm

On our second house-hunting trip to North Carolina, we chose to stay at a bed and breakfast within the Wolf Laurel community. Our research found several houses in the area and we figured what better way to get a feel for the neighborhood than to spend a few nights in it. Good choice on many levels…

Our digs for the week

Our digs for the week

The Bald Mountain House, run by Monica and Tony Martin, was a delightful find. The high elevation with drop dead mountain views, along with the comfortable sleeping arrangements would make for a memorable stay by itself. However, add to that the phenomenal breakfasts and interesting conversations and I’d say we hit the jackpot.

The Mount Mitchell suite

The Mount Mitchell suite

We stayed in the Mount Mitchell room/suite with a king bed and roomy sitting area, on the third level, with gorgeous views. In the middle of September it was a bit chilly to leave the windows open at night but during the day the fresh mountain air wafted through the rooms.

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Each of the four mornings we were there, Monica whipped up creative and tasty dishes to start our day of house hunting and gave us tons of tips about the surrounding Wolf Laurel community. Tony has his own HVAC business and winterizes most of the homes on the mountain so he proved to be a wealth of knowledge whenever we mentioned an address in which we were interested.


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Tijuana Flats…not just good food but good people

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Recently I was invited to a blogger event at the Tijuana Flats on East Colonial, in Orlando. These events are one of the many perks of writing a blog, especially with hypeorlando (the Orlando Sentinel blog platform). We get to taste-test new menu items and get an insider view of house local restaurants operate.

I’m including a link to my recent Tijuana Flats blog post with hypeorlando…”Tijuana Flats, superb Tex Mex and giving back to the community

It’s heartening to know that local businesses play such a big part in helping our community by giving back in ways we might be aware of. And the sangria is awesome!