Friday, April 29, 2016

RonnieAdventure #0201 - Aruba - 2016

My wife said that the Island Princess Captain reminded her of me. When I responded that I assumed is was because we were both such dashing, tall, dark, good looking guys; she shook her head and said: "No!  It's because when the Captain pulled the ship into the Aruba port, he made an announcement that everyone had four hours to get off the ship, buy souvenirs, take a few pictures, and then get back on the ship. He had a tight schedule planned for the rest of the trip, so anyone not back on the ship by 4 PM would be left!" Hummm - that does sound familiar!

The island of Aruba was discovered by Amerigo Vespucci and Alonso de Ojeda in 1499 and settled by the Dutch.  After years of colonial rule, in 1986 Aruba became its own country, although it still remains a Dutch protecturate. Dutch is the official language;  however, most people also speak English and the local shops are more than happy to accept American dollars or American credit cards. Aruba is the most visited island in the Dutch Caribbean.

 We did not purchase a shore excursions for Aruba and had planned to just get off the ship and walk around Oranjestad (port city); but as soon as we stepped off the ship a local entrepreneur approached us and said that he would give us a guided tour of the Island for $20 in his private van (same as the $70 ship tour). How could we resist! The Island is only about 3 miles wide and 20 miles long, so it does not take a lot of time to see most of the island.

Much to my surprise, Aruba is a desert island -- similar to the desert of Baja, Mexico that contain a variety of different cacti! I do not recall seeing any Divi-Divi Trees in Baja, but they are plentiful on Aruba. (The trees do not grow straight up - they are bent over and always point southwesterly due to the constant trade winds.)

Photographer Unknown
We stopped at Casibari Rock, where I climbed the tallest formation for a beautiful panoramic view of the island. (From the top of the rock you can see 45% of the island.)

Next stop was the Aruba Aloe Balm Factory and Museum, where you learn how aloe is grown and transformed into world famous skin care products. They just also happened to have a retail outlet center that is more than happy to sell you their Aloe products! (They will even ship their products anywhere in the World for you!)

The California Lighthouse was built in 1910 and named after the California steamship that hit a reef and sank off the coast. They told us that on a clear day the views from the top of the Light are fantastic. However, the structure was closed for renovations, so we had to settle for a mango smoothie sold by locals in the parking lot. 

On the way back to the ship we drove along the white sandy beaches and the beautiful crystal clear turquoise waters made me wish we had more time so that I could go skin diving. (A tourist publication states that Aruba has the "best beaches in the world.")

Our tour guide dropped us off by some little roadside shops (probably owned by his cousin) that were near the ship and then we walked around the old section of the town to see the impressive Dutch Colonial architecture. (The colorful buildings are often described as "Holland meets Disney Fantasia.")

At 4:00 PM sharp, the Captain pulled anchor and headed out to sea!

Friday, April 22, 2016

RonnieAdventure #0200 - Florida, 2016 Part III

The Cape Florida Lighthouse is located at the south end of Key Biscayne in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Guided tours of the Light and the Light Keeper's Quarters are available on a limited basis; unfortunately, we were there on the wrong date. We did, however, walk around the land point and the beach. (The beach was reported to be one of the "10 best beaches in the US".) As a bonus, on the way back to the freeway there are several road pullouts for taking pictures of the Miami skyline. 

After fighting our way through some unbelievable stop-and-go traffic in the Miami Art Deco National Historic District, we stopped by the Ancient Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach. 

The Monastery and Cloisters of St. Bernard de Clairvaux were constructed in Sacramenia, Spain in the year 1133. Cistercian monks occupied the monastery until a social revolution in the 1830s, when the property was seized, sold, and converted into a granary and stable. 

In 1925, William Randolph Hearst purchased the Cloisters, dismantled the structures stone-by-stone, and carefully packed the stones in numbered wooden crates. The crates were filled with hay to protect the individual stones. 

When the 11,000 crates arrived in the United States, the Department of Agriculture quarantined the crates because they were afraid that the hay used for packing was contaminated with Hoof-and-Mouth Disease. As a safety precaution, the Department opened all of the crates, removed the stones, and burned all of the hay. Unfortunately, no attempt was made to determine which stones came from which crate, so the Department randomly replaced the stones in any crate that was available.  

Since Hearst was having some financial difficulties at the time, the crates were placed in a warehouse until 1952 (one year after Hearst's death), when the crates were sold to William Edgemon and Rayond Moss. When attempting to reassemble the structures, the confusion with the stones and crate numbers was discovered and it required 19 months and $1.5 million dollars to put the Cloisters back together. Time magazine called the re-assemblage process "the world's biggest jigsaw puzzle."

In 1964 the property was purchased by a wealthy philanthropist and donated to the Episcopal Diocese. 

Today, the Monastery is home to the Church of St. Bernard de Clairvaux and has an active Episcopal (Anglican) congregation. The Monastery is considered to be the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere

The Church gift shop contains a small museum with a number of artifacts. Of particular interest are the Spanish iron-bound strong boxes that were used for storing valuables in the 16th and 17th centuries, knight's armor from the late 1600s (part of the Randolph Hearst collection), and a ring worn by the Knights Templar

When I was younger I was an avid fisherman, so when we reached Ft. Lauderdale I stopped by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) Hall of Fame and Museum, only to find that they were in the process of moving everything to Springfield, Missouri. (I really question how many swordfish you can catch in Missouri!) One of the workers told me that I was not allowed in the building, but I could go next door to the Bass Pro Shop if I wanted to see some fish that were similar to the fish on display in the IGFA museum!  

Since I was in the area, I also visited the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF), but did not go swimming in any of their pools.

Many people do not start their bucket list until they get older, but I actually started writing my List at a fairly young age. Thus, people are often surprised when they learn that the #1 thing on my List was to go to Ft. Lauderdale over Spring Break. As a point of clarification, I should probably explain that the #1 thing on my List is not necessarily the most important thing on the list, it is just the oldest item recorded. (Key West and Everglades National Park were also in my Top 10 items!)

In 1960 I saw the movie Where The Boys Are with Connie Francis, George Hamilton, and Tim Hutton and decided that I should go to Ft. Lauderdale over spring break some day and added it to my list. (Little did I realize that it would be over 50 years before I made it to Ft. Lauderdale over Spring Break and even more surprising is that I would arrive with a grandma!) 

I remember scenes from the movie where there were large crowds of people walking down the sidewalks and the beaches were so crowed with young people that it was difficult to even find a few square feet to lay down a blanket and get a suntan. In the movie, everyone was friendly and having a great time!

Much to my surprise, when I arrived at the Ft. Lauderdale beach, there were no crowds on the sidewalk, no crowds on the beach, no young people, and I did not even see any friendly people having a great time!  All I saw were a few old people my age crossing "Ft. Lauderdale at Spring Break" off of their bucket list. I drove down the road a few blocks and it was the same thing - just a few old people trying to find their way back to the home. Not what I had envisioned - time to edit the Bucket List! 

Continuing along the beach I came to the Ft. Lauderdale Port, and there she was - the beautiful, sleek, Island Princess. Time for a RonnieAdventure on the high seas!