Wednesday, July 10, 2019

New York City - 2019

New York City



After a red-eye flight from LAX, we arrived at JFK in the morning and took the Airtrain and the Metro into the city. We definitely felt deficient in sleep but were only able to drop our suitcases off at the hotel and not check in until the afternoon.

Our strategy was to take a walk to Central Park and find a comfortable place to relax for a couple of hours. It was a beautiful day so we had a lovely walk through the southern end of the park, then parked our bodies on a grassy spot while listening to a solo guitarist near the lake. 

Central Park

Over the years, Diane and I had visited Central Park several times before but had not been as aware of all the enormous granite rock formations that were there. I suppose they just never made much of an impression on us before. This time, however, it was different. We really noticed their intrinsic, powerful and quiet beauty.


Since our hotel was only a couple of blocks from Central Park, we also took evening strolls through the park. Fireflies were ubiquitous. They were so much fun to watch flitter around. Too hard to photograph, though, so no photos of the fireflies. But I did get a photo of the sky scrapers at night.


The Hilton was quite close to Carnegie Hall. Upon passing it, we discovered that they gave tours of the hall a couple of times a day. Since it’s otherwise closed for the summer, we decided on taking a tour. 

Our tour guide, John, was a unique, crusty character and a brain filled with historical minutiae of Carnegie Hall. For example, he told us of why Carnegie bought the property on 57th Street, that at one time, the building was set to be torn down to be replaced by a gaudy architectural blunder, that it’s a venue solely for listening (not theater) and why the acoustics are so phenomenal to place it in the top three venues in the world for music. In the hallways, there were photos of some of the greats who played at Carnegie Hall. Needless to say, it was an informative and entertaining experience.






We toured the honey-combed looking Vessel at Hudson Yards. Unusual as it is controversial, we enjoyed it. We walked all through it from top to bottom and side-to-side. Aside from the architecture, apparently, the most controversial aspect of it is that it cost $150 million to build. Next to The Vessel is a cushy-looking building - odd but fun.




After our visit to The Vessel, we took a walk along the extremely crowded High Line. We wound up at Chelsea Market, where we explored some shops and stopped for lunch. On the way back to the hotel we meandered through various streets and avenues stopping at Times Square and a pub, where we got to see the Dutch girls soccer team beat the Swedes 1-0 during overtime. 



What really caught our attention was the shear volume of building projects in NYC. Everywhere you look, construction of new high rise buildings was taking place. Half of the workers in NY must be involved in construction in one way or another.


On the 4th of July, we took the metro to the southern end of Manhattan to the Whitehall station. We walked visited Wall St. and Stone St. The bars and restaurants were overflowing with patrons getting ready to watch the fireworks. 

After a glass of wine at an Irish bar, we walked along Water St. and found a spot to watch the fireworks on John St. along with throngs of other folks. Finally at 9:30pm the first explosions of the fireworks show commenced. It turned out we had picked a good spot to watch the show. 


We decided to skip the grand finale so we could get a head-start on the walk back to the metro. As we walked through the crowd, we could hear the beginnings of the explosive finale. After finding our way back to the metro station, the return journey wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated. 

On our last day in NYC we went to the Guggenheim Museum, a Frank Lloyd Wright designed building. Most of the exhibit was abstract modern art, which isn’t our favorite. But they did have a splash of what we enjoyed including paintings by Picasso, Klee,  Cezzane and Pizarro. Also, they had an extensive photographic exhibit that included works by the controversial artist, Robert Mapplethorpe. 







On the way back, we walked through Central Park and had the pleasure to meet a street performer named “Stevie Debbie” (he pronounced his last name with an “ea” sound). Stevie played a bongo drum and engaged us in conversation when I dropped some money into his bag. He asked us if we’d like to hear a song he had written. We said “Of course”. He played the drum and sang it (sort of a soft rap melody) about pastry. 

He then told us of a time when he was playing his drums in the park when Taylor Swift stopped by. At first I thought he was embellishing his story, but when he told us that we could watch it on YouTube, I began to believe him. Here is the Taylor Swift episode with Stevie Debbie. https://youtu.be/GVv6mAP8W_0   




Our final day in NY, our flight was departing for Amsterdam at 5:30 pm, so we had until early afternoon to play. We walked to Rockefeller Center, visited the MoMa shop, dropped in at F.A. Schwarz and strolled past the Tonight Show and Colbert auditoriums. Lunch was at Wholefoods. 

We checked out of our hotel at 1:30 pm and took the Metro and AirTrain back to JFK. Next stop - Amsterdam.







Saturday, June 22, 2019

Chesapeake Bay Cruise - 2019

Chesapeake Bay Cruise

                

As usual, Wes picked me up at Baltimore Int’l, and within an hour we were in Havre de Grace. We stopped at the grocery store for some last minute provisioning and were soon on the boat heading south on the Chesapeake Bay.

                       

Our first anchorage was Worton Creek, a hurricane shelter with a peaceful and natural setting.

                            

It’s always interesting to pass under the Bay Bridge. Today’s passage was serene with a view of clouds and angles.


                        
Once we got to Annapolis we were greeted by a flotilla of small sailboats racing around buoys. We spent the night there.

The following morning, after we had our coffee and oatmeal, we headed across the bay to Cambridge. With winds from the north, we had a superb sail southward. Wes was convinced that the two of us had anchored here before. But once we got there, I was sure I hadn’t been  there before. A scenic yet working waterfront with an inner harbor, where we anchored. We took a walk through the re-developed downtown area and found a decent wine/craft beer bar.                

                          
As we motored out of Cambridge, we were able to put up some canvas quickly. Solomons, across the bay, was our next stop. 

We had a comfortable sail nearly all the way to Solomons. There were only two other boats at anchor and so we positioned ourselves next to them. But the anchoring didn’t come easy. We had to re-anchor three times before the hook set. It was Friday night and the party scene going strong at the local pubs accompanied by lots of loud music.

                        

The following day we went for, what turned out to be, a day sail. The wind was from the south - just where we wanted to go. So instead of fighting the wind, we decided to make a few tacks back and forth across the bay. We came back to Solomons for another evening. The weather report tempted us with winds from the north the next day.

Sure enough, the morning brought us strong northerly winds. After weighing anchor, we immediately put up the sails after leaving Solomons and sailed the entire way to the Honga River entrance on the east side of the bay. Beautiful, warm and sunny day with 20 knot winds.

At the entrance to Honga River channel, we discovered that engine wouldn’t start - it sounded as if  the starter wasn’t fully engaging. We resorted to sailing up the channel to a shallow area where we doused the sails and anchored. Wes soon discovered the problem: the bolts holding the starter had loosened causing it to spin and not engage.

As soon as Wes tightened it, we tried starting the engine again - it cranked over immediately. We finished with lunch and prepared to get underway. But just then, the dinghy broke loose and immediately began to float away downwind. The seas were strong, as was the wind.

Wes immediately dove in, swimming after the fast-moving dinghy. He managed to catch up to it a couple of hundred yards downwind, boarded it and rowed back to the boat. We discovered that the bronze bow eye fitting that is used to tow the dinghy had broken. After securing the dinghy, we started the engine, motored up the channel and anchored in the lee of an island for the night. 

                             



                            

The wind subsided and it became a beautiful evening with a gorgeous sunset. We settled in and made a sauerkraut, potatoes and sausage dinner.

We woke up Wednesday morning with strong winds from the SE - a perfect wind to head back north. We weighed anchor and by 7:30am were underway. We almost immediately were able to put up the sails and headed north to Knapps Narrow (a narrow channel that leads to the bay). By the time we got there, the winds were blowing strongly with a bit of wave action. We anchored just north of Knapps Narrow in about twelve feet of water. It was 8:30pm - a long day but a great sail.

That nigh we had lots of rain and a brisk wind. But by morning the wind and rain had diminished. We weighed anchor and headed for the entrance to Knapps Narrow. The channel is very narrow and shallow leaving little margin for error. As we approached, Wes went on the VHF radio and requested the bridge to open, to which the bridge operator responded “You get it in here and we’ll get it up”.

             

                       

                      

We motored through under the bridge, thanked the bridge operator and briefly stopped at the Knapps Narrow Marina to get ice. 

The channel on the bay side was incorrectly mapped leading us to bump into a few shallow muddy spots. But with a little persistence we found our way out into the bay.

The cruise north to Saint Michaels was uneventful, with the exception of losing the oars from the dinghy we had in tow. The bronze fitting that secured the oars to the dinghy had come loose.   

As we headed into the channel towards Saint Michaels we sighted a school of dolphins. They were heading out of the channel as we were proceeding in. We anchored at St. Michaels and tried to get the two horse power Johnson outboard started. But it wasn’t in the mood. With no oars or other means to propel the dinghy, we relaxed on the boat and opened up a bottle of Muscadet and soon enjoyed another spectacular sunset.

                      

During the night we drifted onto a shallow spot in the anchorage. By morning, when it came time to weigh anchor, we were aground in the muddy bottom and couldn’t budge off the spot. It was low tide. We’d have to wait and let nature run its course. A higher tide would surely get us off the mud.

We had to wait until 14:30 for the tide to rise enough for us to get moving. We said our good-byes to St. Michaels without ever setting foot in the town since we had no means to get ashore. 

We motored back through the channel and were soon able to put up canvas. We sailed out to the main channel and considered Gailsville or Annapolis as our destination. With a south-westerly wind we opted for Annapolis since it was closer to home. We arrived at Annapolis at dusk and were fortunate to find an available mooring. 

                       
We were up reasonably early the next day and were underway by 8:30. The wind was from the south at about 15 knots. Perfect for a downhill run home. We hoisted the headsail right outside of Annapolis. After getting clear of the Bay bridge, we added more canvas by hoisting the mizzen sail. We had a great run, sailing for 10 1/2 hours right into Havre de Grace. And so ended yet another memorable Chesapeake Bay cruise. 




Sunday, June 2, 2019

Indonesia - Part V (The Last Stop)

Amed



As the crow flies, Amed is not that far from Ubud. But driving there is another story. Our driver, Nyoman, suggested a couple of stops along the way - the Goa Lawah temple (otherwise known as the bat cave temple) and Tenganan, a unique and traditional village. 



We were fortunate to be at the bat cave temple when a cremation ceremony was taking place.



It’s difficult to see, but the inside of the cave (by the greenery and elsewhere) is full of bats hanging upside down.


Tenganan is a village that has not changed much over the years. People live simply, mostly involved in crafts such as wood carving, weaving and hand painting on bamboo sheets and on egg shells. Nyoman also told us that should a villager decide to leave the compound, they are no longer welcome to return - it’s a one-way trip. 














By early afternoon, we had made it to Amed, an area composed of several villages. The hotel we had chosen to stay at, the Ocean Resort Amed, was in a village further out. It looked fresh, new, clean and right on the ocean - and when they showed us to our room, we felt confident that we had made the right decision.




We soon met Marie and Alban, who worked for Fun Dive, one of the many dive shops in the area. I quickly set up a dive with Alban for the following morning.

Alban came by in the morning to pick me up for the diving. We were set to go to two dive sites - a wall and a WWII wreck dive. I soon found out that, although there were others diving, they were with their own guides. For my dives, it was just going to be Albin and I - perfect.

Alban surprised me when he told me that the dives were done from the beach, something I had only done once in forty years of diving. It was about a twenty minute drive to the dive spot. It turned out that the wall dive and the wreck dive were next to each other. (The photos below are not ones I took.)








The wall dive was good but not superb. Decent coral and colorful mix of tropical fish. But later, when diving the USS Liberty (not to be confused with a Liberty-type ship), things were way different. Apparently, the wreck had provided the perfect environment for all sorts
of coral and fish to thrive. Beautiful soft and hard coral, fans and other sea life were on display. Colorful fish, slugs and garden eels abounded. Since the wreck was splayed wide open, there were were no compartments or structures to dive into. Regardless, it was a superb dive site that was thoroughly enjoyable.

One late afternoon, just before sunset, we rode our scooter to the Sunset Point Restaurant for a Bintang beer and to view the sunset. With the restaurant being pretty crowded, we opted to leave after the impressive sunset and venture to another place for dinner. That was an unfortunate decision because right after we left, Agun, the enormous volcano that looms over Amed, roared to life. After a sudden burst of thunder, lava and smoke spewed out of its crater. We missed the show but were told about it the following morning. Fortunately, we were on the windward side = several villages on the leeward side had been evacuated.



Agun (means “big” in Indonesian) is the mountain/volcano to the left.

The one outstanding restaurant that we found in Amed was recommended to us by Marie and Alban. The Galanga, a French restaurant with Indonesian fusion flare, is an unassuming looking restaurant. On the day we went, we got lucky - we didn’t have reservations, but got seated at one (of two) private tables (as long as we were done by 8pm). We had one of the very best dinners of the entire trip.



After five days in Amed, it was time for us to say good-bye. Nyoman was there at 11am to take us back to Denpasar. 

Our last evening was spent at the Garden Inn Hilton, which surprised us with how good it was. It had an enourmously long pool, a well-equipped gym, a fabulous breakfast buffet and it was right next to the airport for our long flight home.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Indonesia - Part IV

Ubud

After our arrival at the airport in Denpasar, we hired a taxi to take us to Ubud, a traditional town in the mountains north of Denpasar. Ubud is known for its crafts, temples, markets and home of the royal palace. 

We arrived at the Dewangga Bungalows, in the center of Ubud, after a harried drive of about two hours. Once checked in and settled, we took a walk around Ubud, to get acquainted with our surroundings. Our initial reaction to Ubud was one of shell shock - we had expected a serene, zen-like village with yoga studios and art galleries, but what we found was a bustling community, crowded and touristy, full of scooters and cars whizzing by everywhich way. 

Not far from our hotel was the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. We spent several hours walking through the lush and enormous park full of entertaining monkeys. At times it was hard to tell who was the observer because often, monkeys would sit and stare at the humans passing by. Sometimes they’d sneak up on an unsuspecting woman and try to snatch something out of her purse. We really enjoyed the sanctuary.







We had arranged for Nyoman to pick us up for a day’s journey to the areas surrounding Ubud. We visited the Nungnung Waterfalls, then drove to the Ulun Danu Beratan Temple (which resides on Lake Beratan) and lastly, drove to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Jatiluwih Rice Terrace, where we walked along the lush rice fields.




























The next day we took it easy, walking through the main market and later in the evening visiting Ubud’s temple. We had lunch at a restaurant Nyoman had recommended - the Warung Babi Gulung. The restaurant is known for  “Babi Gulung” or suckling pig, serving only lunch. They prepare one pig a day, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.



The temple in Ubud was holding the monthly full moon ceremonies. To enter men needed to wear a sarong, a colorful sash-like belt and a cap. Considering the ceremony was held monthly, it looked like quite an undertaking. Afterwards, the people all gathered to eat.










The next day, Nyoman again picked us up for some more adventures. First on the list was the Mas village, the center of the furniture and wood carving crafts. We had hoped to find a dining room table to ship home. However, we never found anything that suited our taste. Afterwards, we then stopped at a huge and impressive batik store. 





Next, we went to the 9th century temple of Goa Gajah. The compound has a cave, known as the Elephant Cave and a pool in which there are statues of women holding urns that pour water. As you approach the cave you can see eerie looking faces carved at the entrance of the cave that are meant to ward off evil spirits. Inside the cave it was pretty dark and smoky from the incense. It had a mystical feel to it. Note the photo stating that women who are menstruating should not enter the temple. 







The last place we visited with Nyoman was also a temple. Founded in the 10th century, the Tirta Empul temple is known for its holy water spring that, to this day, produces water. People bathe in it for cleansing of the soul. The spring water eventually finds its way to nourish the rice fields. 

Nyoman wanted to take us to yet another temple, but it required walking up about 750 steps. It was hot and it had been a long day. We were templed out and opted for the comforts of our serene cottage with a pool.