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Caribbean Cruise Christmas and New Year 2022-2023

Caribbean Cruise Christmas and New Year 2022-2023

Miami Beach, December 22-23

We aren’t strangers to Miami. In fact, we had a lovely weekend a year ago in Miami Beach at the Fontainbleu. We felt so much like regulars, we even went back to the restaurant where we had such an amazing anniversary dinner at last December. We love the vibrancy and the warmth. It felt so good to get off of that airplane and bask in the Florida heat and humidity knowing that we left behind some record breaking cold temperatures here in TN. The real drama was finagling the last two seats on the plane leaving a day early, sure that we would be delayed by weather if we stayed. Missing our cruise was decidedly NOT how we wanted to start this adventure! We stayed at an adorable boutique hotel, people watched and soaked up some poolside sun while we waited on our vacation to start. Yes, sometimes we realize just how fortunate we are to be us!

The Norwegian Encore Days at Sea- December 23-25

The cruise ship really is a floating resort. We spent the first two days at sea getting to know our way around, finding the best spots by the pool to get some sun, the best times and restaurants to show up for dinner and putting our drink package to excellent use. We had a great time on the sundeck watching sexy leg contests and making friends. We excelled at test-tasting mojitos, Bahama-mamas, and margaritas; although we never settled on a clear winner. The food was fantastic and plentiful. There were lots of people. Over 4,000 of them to be more precise. We settled in an embraced the experience. 

Aruba-December 26

At first glance, Aruba gave mixed signals. Beautiful water, but there were very few trees and lots of cheap unkempt industrial buildings and it just didn’t feel as clean as we expected for such a beautiful Carribean island. But, our first island day did not dissapoint. We didn’t have an excursion planned and just wanted to go to a beach and sit in the sun and enjoy the warm water. There were taxis right by the cruise ship pier and we shared a $15 cab ride with another couple we met while disembarking to go the highly recommended public beach known as Eagle Beach. We packed our own lightweight chairs, sunscreen and hats, as well as our own snorkeling kit and hit the beach. The water was crystal clear and and the sand was velvety soft. We got some rays and swam, then walked along the shore. When we decided to head back toward the boat we thought we would see how far we could make it on foot. We found a resort with a Tiki palava and got a fruity cocktail for sustenance. We then continued the journey, realizing that there is a boardwalk that runs from a public park just outside the cruise terminal, almost all the way to Eagle Beach! This includes many areas to swim and more waterside tiki bars. If we had known, we would have skipped the cab altogether. We did a brief walk down the mainstreet of town, but our stomachs and fair skin won out and we headed back onboard to have another evening of too much food and drink- woohoo!

Curacao-Decmber 27

One of the most common illnesses on a cruise ship is the dreaded GI bug- whether this was food borne illness or viral- the end result is that poor Adrian had a rough night and spent most of the day we were at port in Curacao catching up on sleep. I took the opportunity to check out a book from the ship’s library and the uncrowded pool deck to spend a very relaxing day looking out over the very beautiful Dutch island. Adrian’s take from the balcony was that there were more trees and seemed prettier than Aruba.

Bonaire-December 28

Years ago, Adrian added “Snorkeling in a tropical reef” to his bucket list. So, we had arranged with the cruise line to go on a snorkeling excursion while in Bonaire.  When we docked, we were thrilled with our decision, because the water was incredibly beautiful right off the pier and some people from the cruise chose to snorkel right there. In fact, the entire sea area around Bonaire is a protected marine park. The locals seemed friendly and cheerful and smiled as we walked by to get on the catamaran. The boat took us to two  snorkeling spots and both were incredible. It was like swimmming in a tropical  aquarium, with fish of all different sizes, shapes and colors. There were corals of all kinds- brain coral, tube coral, fans and so much more. Our favorite snorkeling spot was at No Name Beach on the island of Klien Bonaire. The beach was sandy and warm, the blue water clear as glass, and there was a small current that went from left to right. This meant we could walk up the beach, put on our snorkeling gear, swim out and be gently carried along while oohing and aahing at the amazing sea life below us. Adrian enjoyed this so much that he went back for a second run and almost got left by the boat. We did safely make it back to the ship, worn out after a wonderful day and then had to choose what fruity drinks to enjoy first. 

*Note: If you have your own snorkeling gear, you can get the same experience for far less money by taking a water taxi to the beach at Klien. 

St. Lucia- December 29.

St. Lucia was one of the highlights of the trip and we laugh about it often. First, Castries is a beautiful port with classic Caribbean views of blue water, sailboats, palm trees, mountains, and colorful houses. We didn’t have a shore excursion planned ahead of time and soon after leaving the ship, we found a local business called Papa Boat Tours offering a “two hour” catamaran tour to a beach and snorkeling spot for a good price (around $65). You know what they say about “3 hour tours”? Our “2 hour tour” was much better than that, but not without some adventures. 

St. Johns, Antigua December 30 -Dirty, locals hanging about, no obvious beach to go to

St. Thomas USVI December 31-Magens Beach, tiki hut, sea turtles, snorkeling, beautiful views, new years eve on boat

Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic January 1. Damajagua Falls. Adrians Birthday, dinner at french restaurant

Day at Sea January 2 -Finished books, made certain we got moneys worth from drink package, teppinyake




Red Right Returning July 22-July 24, 2022

Red Right Returning July 22-July 24, 2022

The United States is a vast and beautiful country. Our route took us through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. Even in our rush to get home, we managed to avoid the interstate until southern Indiana heading toward home. We can tell you, our nation’s corn supply in the summer of 2022 was a bumper crop and provided miles of green! It was even pretty. One highlight was trying to find food in a small Iowa town and stumbling upon one of the most authentic Mexican dining experiences since the Merida market! There we had some amazing tacos and tried not to think very hard about what they were made from.

We also made the acquaintance of a couple there for lunch. It turns out, they were part of the RAGBRAI group that was biking across Iowa. We learned that this was an annual event described as “an epic eight-day rolling festival of bicycles, music, food, camaraderie, and community. It is the oldest, largest, and longest multi-day bicycle touring event in the world”. This year there were over 18,000 participants! And this was no easy ride. It was hot, humid and hilly and the rides were often around 50 miles each day. It looked fun though and we ended passing scores of riders and imagined what it would mean for a little town in Iowa to receive 18,0000 visitors in one day. Wow!

A few other highlights were a delicious steak dinner at a nice little restaurant somewhere in Kansas and  realizing we had made a reservation to stay in a hotel at a casino complex somewhere in Sioux City that was overflowing with, of all things, little league baseball players. Home was within a day’s drive, so we bypassed spending any time in either Lexington or Louisville but would love to go back.

The feeling of knowing you are going to sleep in your own bed is delightful. But-here we are now, sitting on the front porch in the gorgeous early Tennessee Fall and thinking about this trip home-relishing the adventure. And we realize that we just can’t wait to get back out there and find other blank places on the map to turn into memories.

Idaho, Montana, and Yellowstone July 15-July 22, 2022

Idaho, Montana, and Yellowstone July 15-July 22, 2022

The drive between Mount Rainier and Yellowstone was gorgeous and followed the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. The sun was shining (we hadn’t seen rain in months at this point) glistening off of distant snow covered peaks and shimmering on green green grass and clear gurgling rivers. We spent the night in an historic hotel in Orofino, Idaho where the elevator was really an old dumbwaiter that fit about two people max. The steep steps up to the fourth floor didn’t seem like a great option for bringing in bikes and we caused quite a bit of amusement in the parking lot locking them up like Fort Knox. We heard “nobody around here steals anything, the cops are too bored. They have nothing else to do- it would be impossible to get away with”. There were also a lot “see, they are still here” good natured jests the following morning. We took in a car show walking along the classic downtown main street adjacent to the hotel and soaked up the local vibe (which was conservative, country loving, and unfortunately Trump devoted). Well, we forgave them that one and headed off toward Bozeman, Montana.

On the way we checked out the natural Jerry Johnson Hot Springs along the Clearwater River. After a short hike in we enjoyed bathing in some of the temperature variable pools. We also enjoyed some rather interesting people watching. This included a man running about fighting an invisible martial arts foe and naked man lurking in the woods. But, hey- you do you.

Since we are hot spring junkies, we had reservations to camp in Bozeman- at you guessed it-The Bozeman Hot Springs Campground. This is a fantastic place with a big indoor/outdoor aquatic center utilizing natural springwater. There is a giant indoor swimming pool with hot tubs of various temperatures. The draw for us were the four outdoor swimming pools in a resort like patio that included flaming fences and boulder gardens. This overlooked a large stage! We got to hear great Americana music while floating in the warm mineral waters and just had a ball. We also went into the town of Bozeman for lunch. It is absolutely charming and very “bougie” with well-dressed hipsters and high-end shopping. We soaked up the vibe here too, with no forgiveness for Trump supporters required. It was just out of our price range!

We had another camping reservation at Rainbow Point Campgruond right outside of Yellowstone and headed that way. There had been floods and the NorthWest entrance was closed. We were camping near the West entrance and had no problems. In fact, the publicity of the park closures had likely kept the normal throngs of people who visit Yellowstone down to about half-throng level. There were definitely some parts that were crowded, but we also hiked for miles sometimes encountering only one or two people. We met up with our good friend Sherry Adams who camped and toured Yellowstone with us. She has been living in Idaho Falls and is a National Park regular.


Both of us were pretty anxious about all of the bear warnings that encouraged us to sleep with bear spray in our tent. We didn’t have any the first night and slept with an axe instead! Not exactly sure how that would have helped but we did our best, and end the end, didn’t see a one. We did get a good glimpse of some bison, learned why they are not buffalo, and saw some beautiful country. We also wanted to check out Old Faithful and the historic Lodge. In the best win/win of the visit we realized we could get a draft beer from the lodge saloon and see Old Faithful erupt (almost on schedule) from a balcony overlooking the natural wonder. Our Yellowstone experience was fantastic, but the call of home was ready to be answered. The next few days would require hours and hours of two-lane highways and lots of corn visualization. We were up for the task.


Mount Rainier July 12-July -15, 2022

Mount Rainier July 12-July -15, 2022

Mount Rainier turned out to be one of the most memorable and jaw dropping places we visited, even among the National Parks, which are always outstanding. First there was the White River campground. We were coming in on a Tuesday mid-morning, so the first come, first serve National Park Campground wasn’t overly intimidating. In-fact we found several good contenders…but then-struck gold! We actually found a large campsite that backed up to just massive Douglas Firs with a whitewater stream running by, offering the best night’s sleep sounds and “evening campfire with glass of wine sounds” anyone could ask for.

We set off on a breathtaking hike right out of the campground up toward a basecamp for mountain climbers. We didn’t quite make it all the way, because the snow (yes, you read that right) the snow was too thick and icy to cross safely in our tennis shoes. We settled back at camp and had our usual gourmet fireside dinner. No one can accuse us of roughing it!

The next day we drove up to the Sunrise visitors center in some more rugged hiking boots. We still didn’t have ice traction or poles, but we figured we would try to go as far as we could safely. Wow! What an incredible day. There were definitively some sketchy moments of walking along narrow snow and ice filled passages next to a looong slide or drop down. But we had packed a lunch and were out for adventure. At one point, I took a rest while Adrian jogged to the next knob about ½ mile ahead and very much up. This set of balds looked out directly over the majestic Mt. Rainier and had views for miles. All at once there was a vibration and low rumbling sound that grew louder. A large cornice of ice broke off of a ridge near the peak of the mountain and came tumbling down. It was an avalanche! Adrian captured it on video. In his initial adrenaline rush he confused this very active volcano with its sister and can be heard describing an event on Mount Saint Helens. He says he really thought it was a volcanic eruption at first! After he recovered from the excitement, he joined me for lunch. It was the talk of all of the hikers passing through and just an awesome display of nature we felt very lucky to see and see safely.

Our time in Mount Rainier National Park was too short. But, we were off to Yellowstone with ear to ear grins.


Port Orchard, Washington July 5-July12, 2022

Port Orchard, Washington July 5-July12, 2022

We had been looking forward to Port Orchard since booking the quaint “Writer’s Retreat” cottage before we set out. The location was perfect. It was within viewing distance of Puget Sound, 10 minutes away from the Seattle Ferry, and about 2 hours away from Olympic National Park. The cottage was adorable; made from local bricks in the 1920’s and had loads of vintage charm. We enjoyed the option of indoor or patio fires every evening (it was chilly!).

Some highlights of the trip included a fun day in Seattle and dinner with my friend and physician mentor Asif Khan who took us on a tour of the swanky Belleview (home of Microsoft). We drove to the southern-most corner of Olympic National Park and completed a stunning hike. Adrian was able to stop in at a fish camp on the way home and get some delicious smoked salmon.

We lucked out and found some just sensational mountain biking right down the road from our cottage. It felt like riding through a Jurrasic Park mist- complete with with head high green ferns nestled between the redwoods- and more twists and turns than a roller coaster. We also tried out a few local venues, stayed in and cooked, and really just enjoyed the idyllic location. We were sad because we knew the trip was coming to an end. However, there were plenty of amazing places to visit left on our itinerary. The call of home was also starting to sound just a little bit louder.



Oregon, Southern Washington and 4th of July! June 22-July 5, 2022

Oregon, Southern Washington and 4th of July! June 22-July 5, 2022

Before we could make it to Portland, though, we continued our coastal excursions landing in Newport, Oregon. This was a very commercial town that did have a cute waterfront marina area that was a hustling hub of fishing activity. Adrian got to see more of it than he intended because unfortunately, the wi-fi at the Airbnb wasn’t great. He spent two full days at the Barge Inn Tavern conducting meetings over greasy breakfasts and later in the afternoon some happy hour wine. This went on while the locals had some rowdy fun in the background. He might have raised some eyebrows on Zoom that week!

We then camped at Tillamook Campground (Barview Jetty Camground) which was within listening distance of the ocean waves. This was great for sleeping, but again, very cold for beaching. Next, we were headed to Longview, Washington. Longview was also a pretty commercial town. Fortunately, we had an amazing Airbnb with great Wi-Fi, a deck overlooking the redwoods, and felt like we got some rest and reorganization before the big plans of the coming weekend. Woohoo!

While in Longview, we took an early afternoon to go visit Mount Saint Helens, which made a huge impression on us as kids when it erupted in 1980. We got to see the mounain up close, learn much more about the history and do some fantastic hiking. 

Portland turned out to be one of our favorite cities, which was unexpected. There were signs of previous unrest…boarded up shop windows…and there were signs of a homelessness problem. But, there are signs of a homelessness problem everywhere (including our own city of Knoxville). Overall, Portland was pretty, bikeable, safe and had a lot of charm. One of the best parts of the visit was getting to see my good friend Monica. Monica and I became friends when she was a PhD student in Gainesville. She moved out west after graduation, coupled up and had kids, but I hadn’t met them yet.

The next best part of the visit was a downtown Blues festival! And there were fireworks on the fourth of July! Great fireworks over the Willamet River with a playlist of bluesy versions of American standards in the background. Wow! Wow! We stayed at a very cute above the garage apartment in an historic neighborhood close to public transit. We met Monic and Oscar at the blues festival one night, had Monica to ourselves the next, and even went to dinner at their lovely home. It was great to meet their 3 children and see the family in action. The music at the festival was outstanding, highlighted by War and Treaty bringing the house down! What a fabulous weekend all around!!!

Northern California June 10- June 24

Northern California June 10- June 24

The drive up Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur, Carmel-By-The-Sea, Monterey and on to Half Moon Bay is famous for a reason. Stunning, beautiful, gorgeous- it is easy to run out of adjectives. The coastline is rugged with small bays carved out by whipping wind and pounding waves punctuated by sea stacks jutting up into the horizon. The towns were charming, especially Carmel-By-The-Sea. If you have not seen it, it feels fairy tale-ish. Cottages and homes- some with thatched roofs-coalesce in a walkable neighborhood overlooking a beautiful and rare stretch of California sandy beach. This town is going on the list of places to move to if we suddenly become multi-millionaires!

It was good that the drive was stunning because it was long! We made it to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a bucket list item for Adrian and had a great time. We even attempted to see the famous “Mavericks” surfing area in Half Moon Bay, but never got accurate directions. Also, I think we were tired and cold (yes- it was very cool along the coast, even in June) and were ready to be done with the drive. So we headed east toward Oakland where we would get to spend another week with Drew and Erika!

 “Welcome to Oakland Bitchesss!” ( hear Chris Rock in your head). This is pretty spot on. What a contrast between Oakland and the more “sophisticated hippie” vibe of Berkeley. Drew and Erika have a fantastic historic apartment with beautiful wood floors and doors and lots of windows and light.  We cooked at their place several times, played cards, and explored the neighborhoods. We ventured into Oakland for dinner one evening and ended up being filmed for a local television show called “Check Please”. As of right now, it has not aired yet but we are eagerly awaiting our starring debut. We wandered into a goth bar complete with skeletons on the ceilings and realized that there was something big happening. San Francisco was winning a basketball championship and we got to see the final 2 minutes and celebrate with the crowds as if we had known all along ;). Adrian and I took Drew to Point Reyes National Seashore to hike and visit the lighthouse while Erika was working. This is now one of the images I visualize when needing to go to a mental happy place. And we saw whales!!

To complete the adventure, we took the BART to San Francisco and ended up in a neighborhood music festival in little Italy. The sun was out and it was a gorgeous day in one of my favorite cities. We had a glorious time. Drew treated us to a delicious dinner in Japan Town and we successfully navigated the BART right back to Oakland. Easy Peasy. Having great public transportation is a such a treat, but not as great a treat as having Drew be our tour guide for the week. I was sad to say goodbye but grateful for the opportunity and time.

We made it up the coast to Fort Bragg and stayed in the small town of Rio Del, which is just a bit inland. From there we did a bit of exploring, bike riding, and had great tacos at a local pub. Our airbnb had a beautiful deck and yard, so some relaxing was in order. It was a nice place to spend the work-week, but I was pretty excited about our next stop. The Downtown 4th of July Blues Festival in Portland, Oregon!! And we were on the road again.


California Mid-Coast (San Louis Obispo to Santa Cruz) June 4- June 10, 2022

California Mid-Coast (San Louis Obispo to Santa Cruz) June 4- June 10, 2022

The stretch of California coastline from Santa Barbara up to Santa Cruz was really one of our favorite parts of an overall magical trip. We camped at Pismo State Beach and felt like were right back home with all the 4-wheel drives and flag bearing in the little dune side town.

As we continued up the coast, we made our way to the adorable town of San Luis Obispo, greeted by a free band in the park, locals dancing in the grass, and all the lemonade we could drink. This town sits squarely in a lesser-known area of wine country. We were fortunate enough to stay at an Airbnb that was a remodeled creamery on a working vineyard with some spectacular back deck views.  The creamery was charming; filled with antiques and memorabilia from the owner’s career as a film director.

From here we visited Morrow Bay which was windy and cold but stunning (this will be a theme), mountain biked, hiked to a Pirates Cove, and walked the quaint streets and boardwalk of SLO which overlooks a creek running through the town. This area is one to return to or possibly even live! As we drove further up the coast to Santa Cruz we got our first glimpse of redwoods, which is always magical, no matter if you have seen them before. We biked to the boardwalk and amusement park, did some hiking and got a beer at the Monty’s Log Cabin Bar, which was just exactly as I remembered it from a visit to California just about 20 years ago!! The people were still friendly and still discussing the local economy and soaring cost of housing. Will it be the same in another 20 years!!??


Southern California (LA to Santa Barbara)May 29-June 4, 2023

Southern California (LA to Santa Barbara)May 29-June 4, 2023

Again, LA was a place Adrian had spent quite a bit of time through work, but he was excited to show me around. For me, it was quite unexpected. First, our great Airbnb was the mother-in-law suite of a very traditional home in a Northridge neighborhood. Our host was a local middle school PE coach who was wonderful, and invited us to a Memorial Day cookout. The house was on a big 1+ acre lot, had a full garden, large swimming pool and chickens! The host, Robert, even gave us fresh eggs. We were even surprised to hear the whistle of a train go by. It felt very rural. However, not more than 10 minutes away was the LA I was expecting- the 405 freeway, glitzy Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive as well as the canals and contrasting beauty/seediness of Venice Beach. We had an amazing tour of Laurel Canyon and spent a wonderful afternoon at The Getty Museum.

Santa Barbara was just a few hours north and was really one of the most beautiful cities we had ever seen. Along the ocean there are greenways for walking and biking, lush green grass for picnicking and lounging, and parks. All this is set with palm trees and a panoramic mountain backdrop where lights from the floating neighborhoods twinkled down in the evening. There was a slight rain and what the locals called “May Grey” that kept the weather cool in the morning. We snagged a ritzy bonus free night at a seaside resort and used the location to walk and bike the charming downtown area. This included a direct view of the Marina and Pier and was where we started our lucky streak of Pier restaurants with reasonable beer/wine and fabulous waterfront views. We ate breakfast at an adorable café and were waited on by the lovely lady who had started the business over 40 years ago! Our short stay was over but that was just alright. We were excited to begin the drive up the dramatic and beautiful California coast.



Joshua Tree National Park May 27-29, 2022

Joshua Tree National Park May 27-29, 2022

Joshua Tree was a place that Adrian had been to before, but he could not wait to return and share it with me. This is a large national park spanning at least two desert areas including the Mojave and Colorado. We stayed in the Cottonwood campground within the Colarado desert part of the park. It was the more traditional desert landscape and very hot during the day as expected. The camping area itself was located near a true oasis with wonderful hikes.

It has been very dry in Joshua Tree- yes, even for a desert. The Joshua Tree only grows in two places on earth: The Mojave Desert and somewhere near Jerusalem. We were surprised to learn that the area was originally settled as a cattle farm with lush fields and a flowing river within the last 100 years.. Even then, though, water was the most important commodity and there was even a deadly shoot out over water rights. Many of the hikes were through the areas that were previously flowing with water or were home to springs, but currently dry. This did not taint the beauty of the otherworldly landscape.

The now endangered Joshua trees provided a Dr. Seuss-like shadescape that created polka dots of relief against dramatic rock formations. These rocks were often stories high and as large as a shopping malls. We would not have been shocked to see a dinosaur or a giant Komodo dragon dart out at any moment. Ok, we would have been- but they would have absolutely fit right in! The sunsets, too, were spectacular as the rosy desert sun melted in to the earth in exchange for the black velvet of the night sky. In this dark sky sanctuary, the nights were always punctuated with a dazzling number of stars.

The town of Joshua Tree was also with its own charm, offering a rowdy saloon with loud country music and good time feel. This offered up an absolutely mouth- watering post hike burger and beer that may be the best we have ever had. Then, we saddled up and were on to the city!