Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cruising the Southern Caribbean on the Celebrity 'Constellation'

I have just come off the Celebrity Constellation, where I was serving as the educational speaker during a two-week cruise through the southern Caribbean! Following are images from our various ports of call, starting with those most recently visited and working back toward the earliest ones. I have yet to post images from Kralendijk, Bonaire, and Oranjestad, Aruba (and did not take any either starting or ending in Fort Lauderdale), but have currently got four each from Willemstad, Curacao; Castries, St. Lucia; Bridgetown, Barbados; St. George's, Grenada; St. John's, Antigua; and Phillipsburg, Dutch St. Maarten. Pictures of more and additional text to come!

Kralendijk, Bonaire
Bonaire is much less developed than many of the Caribbean islands but, like most of the others run by the Dutch, feels more Europeanized than many of them. It is also very flat, even moreso than Aruba, with sporadic highlands scattered around the island. Pictures here are a type of traditional local fence made from live cactuses (which I have talked about in some of my lectures but never before seen such a good example of); the port area as seen from an upper deck of Constellation; a Lions Club time capsule sealed in 1964, added to in 2004, and due to be opened again in 2044; and the creepy mascot of a local eatery that my wife posed with.

Willemstad, Curacao
This was much more of a real city than many traditional cruise ports and had a very European feel to it. Images here are of the historic district; part of the "floating market" of fish, produce, and crafts brought up by boat each week the 40 miles from Venezuela; the Queen Emma Bridge, a pontoon span that gets moved to allow boat traffic through; and a view past one of the many forts that still have remnants throughout the city. Internet: For a good free -- if you're drinking -- connection, check out the cute and brand-new little KubaKor cafe right next to the cruise ship docks.

St. George, Grenada
This was a much more interesting and charming island than we expected it to be and we will keep our eye out for future itineraries that include it. Internet: for customers there is a good free connection at the bar just inside the cruise ship terminal.

Bridgetown, Barbados
Following are images of Lord Nelson at Hero Square; the Parliament of Barbados; the Oberon 5009 Sea-Axe megayacht escort vessel; and a view of the Bridgetown cruise terminal at night on our way out of port. We had a great tour of the houses of Parliament while in Bridgetown, courtesy of Facilities Coordinator David Best!

Castries, St. Lucia

St. John's, Antigua
Views of the port from and looking toward our ship; the local cathedral, currently under renovation and not open to visitors; and the Celebrity Constellation itself! For anyone who is interested in ghosthunting and related subjects, I have also posted some pictures of the probably-haunted graveyard graveyard of the cathedral on the America's Haunted Road Trip site, at

Phillipsburg, Dutch St. Maarten

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Texas Bucket List

In its March 2010 issue, Texas Monthly magazine ran a wonderful feature about an 83-item “bucket list” of things submitted by its readers that people in the Lone Star State should do at least once before kicking the bucket.

A list like that is subjective, of course, and there were many things on it — including some I would otherwise not been aware of — that I will definitely make a point of getting out and doing. There were certainly a handful of items that I was just not interested in and which did not need to be on my bucket list, as well as a number of personal “musts” that did not make the magazine’s list.

The primary function of lists like that should be to inspire rather than dictate anyway, and it certainly did the trick with me. Accordingly, I started to compile my own “Texas Bucket List,” a few initial items of which appear below. (The numbering system presented here is for purposes of this article only and is not intended to represent a qualitative rating).

#1) Visit Canyon Lake. It is amazing how often I meet people from other parts of Texas who have never heard of Canyon Lake, much less visited it, and it thus seemed like a good place to kick off this list. Visiting the lake any time of the year can be rewarding, but my first impressions of it — during a blazing summer when the still waters of lake were spread out below a cloudless blue sky and the limestone rim around the shoreline was almost too bright to look at — are likely what will always come to mind when I think of it.

“Canyon Lake, in my opinion, is the most beautiful lake in Texas," said Seth Warnick, co-founder of Operation Float a Soldier, which brings wounded warriors out to the lake. "I haven’t been to every lake in Texas but I’ve been to a lot of them and am absolutely totally in love with Canyon Lake and go out there often. You get [wounded warriors] out of the hospital and out on Canyon Lake and it’s such a beautiful place that they just forget about their injuries and their rehab, and it’s part of their healing. It’s just such a great mental break.”

#2) See as much of the Guadalupe River as possible. As a resident of Canyon Lake, I have the pleasure of being able to drive across the Guadalupe on a regular basis, both the brown, rolling river above the lake and the more placid teal stream below it. It is amazing the extent to which this river, which rises in the Kerr County Hill Country to the west of Comal County and empties into the Gulf of Mexico, changes along its course. Spots along it I have yet to visit include its North and South Forks converge to form the main body of the river near Hunt, and where it splits near its mouth to flow separately into San Antonio Bay as the North Guadalupe River and the South Guadalupe River.

#3) Eat pork asado at Chuy’s in Van Horn. When the publisher of the newspaper I edit, Karen Russell Holmes, recommended my wife and I eat at Chuy’s restaurant in her hometown of Van Horn during a recent trip through west Texas, I admittedly took her words with a grain of salt. To say that the establishment’s savory, hot, red chili pork asado is very possibly one of the best things I have ever tasted would in no way be an understatement. And if you don’t eat pork for some reason, then try the delicious catfish pecado instead.

#4) Become a Texas Master Naturalist. If you live in the Lone Star State, there is probably no better way to obtain an understanding of its plants, animals, geography, geology, and everything related to them. I graduated from the year-long training course in November 2010 and am currently working on my certification for it.

#5) Visit Natural Bridge Caverns. To say that the two networks of caverns associated with this attraction north of San Antonio are a world-class natural wonder would certainly be an understatement. Located near a well-known natural rock bridge, the caverns were discovered by four adventurous college students in 1960. (I have also posted an entire feature about the caverns on this site, titled Natural Bridge Caverns: Bridge to Another World.)

That is probably a good start on my own Texas bucket list and, hopefully, it will inspire you to start thinking about your own. And if you would like to share the top one or two things from your list with the other readers of this TravelBlogue, go ahead and send them in!