Travels with Stuart

Sitka, Alaska

After leaving the port in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, our cruise ship, the Celebrity MILLENNIUM headed up through the inside passage for our first port of call in Sitka, Alaska. It was in Sitka that the ship took on the fuel we would need for our eight straight sea days before reaching Japan. Half way through those eight days we are scheduled to cross the International Date Line where we will lost an entire day in a moment’s notice. Yes, this year the month of September has only 29 days in it while on the ship; there is no Friday the 15th!

One of the things that Sitka is known for is the strong Russian cultural heritage. Given that Alaska was actually “Russian America” until it was purchased in 1867, there was and still is quite a Russian presence in the town. Most of what you will want to see on a short visit to the town is on Lincoln Street that runs mostly parallel to the harbor line. You can visit the Sitka Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at sitka.org.

St. Michael's CathedralSt.Michael’s Cathedral sits right in the middle of the “fork in the road” along Lincoln Street as it makes it way down past the shops toward City Hall and Castle Hill. The original cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1966, but fortunately most of the relics, treasures, and paintings were saved by the locals. It took ten years to finance and rebuild and exact replica of the old cathedral, and today’s building is worth a short stop to look inside (and to take photos of the front of it.
Just to the right of St. Michael’s (as you face its front) is the Lutheran Church (of Finnish origin) and with its 1844 Kessler organ from Estonia. It has an interesting mix of glass treatments on the inside.

Totem Pole at Totem SquareContinuing down the street, and down the hill toward the water, on Lincoln Street, you’ll come to a nice grassy park area in front of Pioneer Home. This state home was built in 1934 for elderly Alaskans and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places (visitors are welcome). In the park area out in front of the Home is Totem Square, punctuated by a tall totem pole that displays the double-headed eagle of Sitka’s Russian heritage. The plaque gives the chronology and the history of the Baranov Totem Pole.

Russian Bishop's House Russian Bishop's HouseGoing back up Lincoln Street past the main stop light (the only one?) you’ll see the Russian Bishop’s House. This is a National Historic Landmark Site, and it’s the oldest intact Russian building in Sitka. It was built in 1842 by the Russian American Company (remember that what we now call Alaska was called Russian America before its 1867 purchase by the USA) as a residence for the bishop of the Orthodox Church. When you’re in Sitka, you’ll notice the proximity, about a quarter mile, of the Bishop’s House to St. Michael’s Cathedral back down Lincoln Street.

Our time in Sitka was short, but it was nice to be able to stretch our land legs as we would be using only sea legs for the next eight days!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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Gardens — An Amazing Part of Travel

It’s no secret that I really do love to travel, and these days I’m doing a lot of it by speaking on cruise ships. Here it is the first day of June, and I’ve spoken on four cruises with seven more booked for the rest of this year. There’s no question that I’m visiting many amazing places and seeing lots of fabulous sights. Please read down to the end of this article for a link to 55 of the most amazing botanical gardens in the world!

Many of us spend our time in museums when we go places, and they’re a great place to revisit history, view awesome artwork, or even seek indoor shelter on a hot or a rainy day. Another venue to consider is a garden. On our recent set of cruises in Southeast Asia, we did visit the Glover Gardens in Nagasaki, Japan — a couple photos are below; the gardens are included in this posting from two months ago.

A year ago we went on a 19-day road trip, and one of our stops was in Palm Desert, California. While there, our host John took us to visit the Living Desert, a botanic garden where native animals and plants all co-exist in natural environments. The children we saw there really enjoyed feeding carrots to the giraffes. A couple photos are below, and here is the link to last year’s article.

For a great resource on some of the most amazing botanical gardens in the world — I’ve been to a few of them — I highly recommend that you check out this article from Sproutabl (www.sproutabl.com), a lawn and garden blog that aims to help people learn about all kinds of gardening, lawn care practices, and plant care. The article is 55 Stunning Botanical Gardens You Really Need to See Before You DieCLICK HERE for the link. If you like gardens, you’re sure to like this quick-and-easy reference to these amazing gardens — please let me know what you think!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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The 2017 Los Cabos Highlights Tour

May 15, 2017
I just got back home in Boise, Idaho, after leading another small-group tour in one of my favorite places to go — Los Cabos at the tip of the Baja California peninsula. The 2017 Los Cabos Highlights Tour was a huge success with more people learning about the beauty (and SAFETY) of the area around Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, La Paz, and Todos Santos. CLICK HERE to read about the 2018 Los Cabos Highlights Tour that is being held in June next year so that teachers and other school employees/students are able to attend.
Some of the highlights of our “Highlights” tour:

The hotel for our tours is the charming Casa Bella, the #1 Trip Advisor boutique hotel in Cabo San Lucas. Barbara and her staff always make us feel as if we’re her invited guests in her own home. Each spacious room is individually styled with a large bathroom and huge walk-in shower. There are no in-room televisions or telephones, but there is free WiFi throughout the property, including by the cozy swimming pool. Even though we’re right in the middle of town, just one block from Cabo Wabo Cantina, it’s very quiet and only a short walk (two to three minutes) from a great coffee house, a wine bar, sushi restaurant, and a dozen more places to eat.

The guests arrived on Sunday afternoon and I picked them up at the airport. We returned to the hotel where they dropped their bags and we headed out for a quick lunch of tacos. We then came back as Cabo Kruzer (Mirek Hrbanek) was setting up to give us some information about tequila. We tasted four different types (Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, and Extra-Añejo), and he left the bottles with us — that’s one of the reasons we did Tequila Tasting on the first day! We now had some nice tequila for the rest of the week. We had dinner that night at Captain Tony’s on the marina, and Barbara had a delicious Caesar Salad that was made right before her eyes.

After breakfast on Monday we went to Casa Dorada where we had a great cooking class hosted by the Cabo Wine Club. We first made tortillas, then some guacamole, then a molcajete salsa, and finally some tempura fish. All of this was for our Baja Tacos, which we thoroughly enjoyed as part of a delicious three-course meal. The chilled Sauvignon Blanc wine was the perfect beverage to go with everything. The views from Casa Dorada into the bay were absolutely stunning, and two cruise ships came into port to add to the sight.

After some time to let that huge lunch settle, we walked one block over from the hotel to the world-famous Cabo Wabo Cantina. We sat outside where the music was still quite loud, but the drinks were very delicious. We were not all of one mind when it came to picking our drinks — beer, Piña Colada, and Waborita were the three drinks (two of each) that made it to our table. Where we sat was a great place for people watching, an activity made easier when most people came in, had one drink, and left after seeing the price of that one drink! Dinner that night was Italian at nearby La Dolce.

Tuesday began with too much to eat down the street at Mama’s Royal Café. The service was excellent, and it’s easy to see why it has an excellent reputation for one of the best breakfasts in Cabo. We hopped into the van and drove the fifty miles north along the Pacific Coast to Todos Santos. What else are you going to do in Todos Santos if you’re not going to the Hotel California? Yes, there are legal arguments going on about trademarking, etc. Who cares? It’s a fun place to go, and we had two plates of baked nachos (they’re enormous!) and some margaritas. Sadly (perhaps upon legal advice), they didn’t play one song by the Eagles! We walked around a bit, did some shopping, visited the church (misíon), and then headed back to Cabo. We pulled off the main road as we were heading back and drove down to a little fishing spot called Punta Lobos. There was a small fish market set up there, and they were selling buckets full of the fish they’d caught. It was interesting to see them drive the boats straight toward shore and then up onto the sand; they’d then lift the motor, attach a rope to a truck, and the truck pulled the boat up to the “parking” area. Dinner that night was at my favorite restaurant — Maro’s Shrimp and Lobster House. Those who’ve been to Maro’s know it gets quite crowded, and it was more than that when we got there. There were quite a few groups outside, parhaps thirty people in total. I walked through them, greeted Maro, and he asked me, “How many?” I told him, “Seis,” and he pointed to a table and I went back out and got the others. There’s a real advantage to having eaten there over tow dozen times in the past ten years. He appreciates my coming back all the time and bringing friends — loyalty does have its rewards!

BEACH DAY — Wednesday was a day at the beach, literally! We started with breakfast at The Office, where the tables are in sand right near the water on Medano Beach. The Mimosas were tasty (so I heard; I wasn’t consuming) and the food was great as always. Barbara had a fruit platter that was big enough to serve the table. It was Mother’s Day (Feliz Dia de la Madre) in Mexico — it’s always May 10th, and it is also a Federal Holiday, so families were out celebrating in all forms and multiple generations. After our breakfast we got into a glass-bottom boat for a ride out the Land’s End, and the Arch. After a trip around to the Pacific side, we returned to the bay where we were dropped off at a small sandy area called Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach). If you walk across the sandy stretch back to the Pacific Side, that area is called Divorce Beach — perhaps because the water and undertow are so rough, that if your spouse goes in . . . you get the idea. We spent a couple hours at Lover’s Beach before getting back in the boat and going back to The Office where we retrieved the van and went to the hotel. I had a great place picked out for lunch, but it was closed (that happens quite frequently in tourist towns), so went to another local haunt where the tortas are as big as a football — I hope I remember that next time. For dinner, we continued with the “Beach Day” theme and went for an evening cruise on Cabo Escape. The liquor was flowing quite freely, literally, and the fajitas were well-portioned and flavorful. While most of the younger set was on the upper deck enjoying the sounds from the DJ, we stayed on the main deck, watching the sights and the other boats. The water in the Pacific was too rough for boats to go out there for the sunset, so we maneuvered around in the bay until it was our turn to return to port.

Thursday is always a fun day in Cabo, especially in the time from November through May. There is the world-famous Art Walk in San José del Cabo that we try to attend each time we’re down there. We began our trip to San José by going north of the international airport (code SJD) to the Tropic of Cancer Monument. Unfortunately, all the buildings were closed, but there were still items inside them, so perhaps they didn’t open until the weekend. Some workers were taking down “party tents” in the parking lot, so we thought that they must have had a celebration there on the previous day (Mother’s Day, a Federal holiday). Even though we didn’t get to see much there, my guests were impressed with the rolling landscape and roaming animals (donkeys, goats, cattle, horses) that we saw along the way. We had a late lunch at el Toro Guero, a local restaurant that is very popular with the locals. I was at first concerned that it might not be open at three o’clock. Then when we got there I was hoping there would be an open table. The place was packed. They serve excellent seafood is why they’re so busy. Darlene’s shrimp soup had so much shrimp that she couldn’t eat it all. We ordered a seafood platter for the table, and it had something on it for everyone – shrimp, scallops, fish, octopus! This was the fifth time I’ve eaten there, and I’ve always been more than satisfied with the service and the food! We all waddled out of the restaurant and then went to Art Walk so we could walk off our lunch! Attendance was a bit sparse as the season was winding down; there are just a couple more weeks until Art Walk is closed for the summer! But we enjoyed stopping in to see some of our favorites, stop at the Blown Glass factory, and even take in a stroll through the municipal cemetery. All in all, we had quite the day in San José!

The week was coming to a close, and Friday was a fairly relaxing day as people needed to pack, do some more shopping, and then just sit around and relax. The evening started with some amazing margaritas at Monkey Cave’s Bar next to the hotel. I thought that the “sun” that they made out of a lime was really interesting, so I had to take a long look at it and figure out how they did it. We then walked up the street to the Cabo Wine and Jazz Club where we had dinner and some wine. The music was quite good, and the artists, Daline and Diego, had a good following there for the evening. It was getting and so we called it a night. Tomorrow was approaching, and that was our departure day.

It was a pleasure for me to once again show people around Los Cabos, an area that many don’t want to go to because of bad press that is only in certain parts of the country. Cabo is THE SAFEST place in all of Mexico, and so I’m looking forward to hosting another Los Cabos Highlights Tour in 2018. CLICK HERE for more information about that tour. Or if you’re more interested in Food & Beverage, check out my new Cabo Foodie Tour for next year by CLICKING HERE.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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Reflecting on Eight Weeks of Cruising

May 1, 2017
We’ve been back home in Boise, Idaho, for a little over a week, but these past nine days pale in comparison to the fifty-six days we were cruising in Southeast Asia. I’m not complaining; I consider it a blessing that Celebrity Cruise Lines likes the presentations that I give to its passengers and that they continue to invite me back to speak on their ships. These recent cruises, starting in Singapore and ending in Yokohama were on the Celebrity MILLENNIUM, a ship that I’ve now been on for seven cruises.


The typical reaction from other guests at dinner when they found out what I was doing, or they recognized me from coming to my presentations in the theater, was “That’s a pretty good gig.” And I agree; it is a good gig, and I don’t take it for granted. In case you’re curious, more information on my speaking on cruise ships can be found by clicking here.

One of the nice things about speaking on ships I’ve been on before is that I see many of the staff and crew that I’ve previously met. The Master of the Vessel, Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis, is a very warm and engaging leader. He always greets me by name, tells the other guests about me and my novels, and is widely liked by all. His wife and young daughter were also aboard, and we would typically see all of them at the evening show in the theater. Manuel, the Activity Manager, was always smiling even as he was rushing from one Celebrity Life event to another. There were a few of the wait staff that had been on last September’s Vancouver to Tokyo crossing that I was on who were just finishing their “contract” and looking forward to the trip home and a two-month break. I don’t blame them — everyone on the ship works very hard seven days a week.

Life on the ship is a little different for the speakers and the entertainers. Our schedules are fairly simple, and we’re not required to do anything extra. I typically let the Cruise Director and his staff know that I’m available to help with anything they need, or to give extra talks in case a “port day” turns into a “sea day.” This doesn’t happen very often, but we did have a day of total fog where we sat anchored outside Shanghai because the port pilot felt it was too dangerous to move — we could see over two dozen ships that spent the day there. Some of the guests were disappointed because we then had to skip our next scheduled stop in Nagasaki, Japan, after I had given a talk highlighting the wonderful sights and people there. Lucky for my wife and me was that we’d already been there twice in the past month so we’d already been able to visit the Peace Park, Glover Garden, etc.

The weather wasn’t always the best at times, including the day our small-group tour went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall; it was cloudy, rainy, windy, cold! But . . . we were at the Great Wall of China!

We did have some very good meals while we stayed in Beijing for the three days. One evening we went to a restaurant recommended by our guide, and the six of us had Peking Duck, vegetables, rice, beer, dessert — all for a grand total (for ALL six of us) of just under $60! On the way back to the hotel, we saw this bottle of wine and just couldn’t pass it up.
While in Beijing, we also went to Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, and we did a Hutong tour. It was interesting to hear first-hand from long-time hutong residents about the life in those small areas where the housing is somewhat communal. Four families might live in one building; they each have their own separate living and eating areas, but there is usually a central courtyard to be shared by all. The rooms are small and sparse, but they have what they need and seem quite content.

Overall we went to seven countries (Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, China — mainland and Hong Kong) on the four cruises. Besides our time in Beijing, I think the most interesting places were Halong Bay and Hoi An in Vietnam. The limestone caves in Halong Bay are amazing and colorfully lighted. Even the locals go to view them so you know they must be special! Hoi An looks like a sleepy little town but the life along the riverfront is amazing — full of shops and hotels. Our tour group ventured through the central market and took a cooking class before Darlene and I headed out on our own to wander the small streets.

Back to why we were on the cruises. I gave two types of presentations: on two of the cruises I gave a series of talks I call “Now That We’re There” — highlights of the locales we’re visiting; tips on getting around; where to get local information, free Wi-fi, etc. These talks are greatly appreciated by the independent travelers. “Music of the Masters” was the title of the classical music presentations (most of the time was music) that I gave on the other two cruises. There were many devoted music fans watching and listening and completely absorbing the beauty of the music from Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. On one of the sea days, I led a matinee presentation in the theater accompanied by the classical string duo. You can watch the videos from that presentation on my YouTube channel by clicking here. The videos are titled “SeaConcert part1” and “SeaConcert part2.” I hope you enjoy the great music from the duo.

Eight weeks — yes, it’s a long time (and some people take 100+ day round-the-world cruises), but it was a great opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, share some of my travel and music knowledge, and to visit some very interesting parts of Asia. What’s in the forecast for more travel?

    Leaving again soon:

  • May 6-13: leading a small-group tour in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico — details here
  • July 9-23 and July 25 – August 9: speaking on 80-passenger boat that tours Hudson River, Erie Canal, 4 Great Lakes with Blount Small Ship Adventures — details here
  • August 28 – October 9: speaking on 4 cruises in the Mediterranean aboard Celebrity CONSTELLATION — visiting such amazing places as Venice, the Greek Isles, Malta, Barcelona, and many more!

Speaking of tours, I am leading two small-group tours in 2018 during the summer months (June and July), making them ideal for teachers and others in the school system. Have you ever wanted to go to Cabo San Lucas (with someone who’s been there over 20 times), or what about Copenhagen and Norway? Click here to see the tours and what we’ll be doing. Remember, each tour group is only 8 to 12 guests!

If you’ve ever thought about cruising, do it! Don’t start with eight weeks, but start with a cruise to someplace fun, warm, and adventurous. If you want help in finding the right cruise, send me an email and I can send you the name of a travel agent I’ve used who can find the perfect trip for you!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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Beginning the Next Cruise

March 20, 2017
Our first cruise on the Celebrity MILLENNIUM ended in Hong Kong where we spent an overnight before starting out on cruise #2.


Hong Kong — March 10th
The weather was quite overcast and cool so we didn’t feel like taking any extended trips especially since we’d be back in port for three consecutive days at the end of cruise 3/beginning of cruise 4. We took the complimentary shuttle from the cruise terminal to Plaza Hollywood where we did find a nice place for lunch, and then out for a stroll. There is an amazing garden and nunnery right there in the middle of the city, and so we sent a couple hours walking around enjoying the sighs and serenity of the Nan Lian Garden.
Aerial photograph of garden layout
Highways pass directly overhead
A delightful pagoda
One of many interesting rock formations
The first “Rockery” I’ve ever visited!
More great rock formations
Sign over some rocks
What the sign says
Another amazing rock

After visiting the gift shop where Darlene got a nice pair of earrings, we crossed the overpass to the Chi Lin Nunnery that is mostly closed to the public.
Louts flower lamp
Decorations on enormous doors
View along the roof edging



Keelung, Taiwan — March 13th
After a rather stormy 36 hours at sea, we pulled into the port of Keelung, gateway to Taipei. Because we’d be returning to this port on two other cruises (for one day and for t days, respectively), we opted to just walk off the ship and into town. Our first stop was in the Passenger Terminal where we exchanged some more for local currency.
They’ll take most Asian currencies

We then headed off for a walkabout.
Let’s go to the “park”
There were a lot of steps
The mist made for careful walking
Green was the color of the day!
Those leaves were huge!
We passed one small pagoda
Our destination — visible from ship
We took the steps DOWN from the Martyr’s Shrine

We did see some interesting plant formations along the way.
Just hanging there
Visible roots
Looks intriguing
Pansies were the popular flower

We crossed the river and noticed that each bridge had different animal symbols
Bridge 1 – Dog
Bridge 2 – Rooster?
Bridge 3 – I thought Monkey; Darlene thought Bear

We worked our way into the famous Miaokow Night Market; most night markets are also open during the day. All the local delicacies are there.
One of the main entry points
This did NOT interest us!!!
Our meal – crab soup and rice
Where we ate
There’s an ornate temple in the market area
Dedicated to ships and sea merchants
Even a dark-skinned statue



Nagasaki, Japan — March 15th
We began four consecutive port days with a stop in Nagasaki, Japan.
A temple, a shrine, and a church — all close by
We ordered way too much food!

We continued our walk up the street and entered Glover Garden.
There were escalators to take us to the top of the hill
The namesake Scot
Flowers in front of his house
More flowers
Inside the house
View from building at top of hill
Windows in the house
Puccini set “Madame Butterfly” in Nagasaki
Madame Butterfly


Our three next ports of call were in South Korea where we didn’t do much — we were saving energy and health for our upcoming 3-day/2-night stay in Beijing!

Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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