Thoughts on Hawaii

I may be the only tourist who ever went to Hawaii and was not head over heels in love with it. It was fun and I enjoyed it, but it is outrageously expensive. We never ate a lunch that was less than $50. I spoke with a woman one day and she said she and her husband went out to lunch: two cocktails, two appetizers and they split an entrée = $160 without tip. Even food in the grocery store was expensive as was gas at $4.53 a gallon.

  • One of the best things was the koi on both resorts. If you look at my artwork, http://SusanLStewartArt.com, you will find many koi paintings. I can’t wait to get home and back to the studio!
  • The people are extraordinarily friendly, even ones outside of the resort.
  • The Hawaiian language is impossible to read or speak. Normally when I blog, I like to include a pronunciation guide when I use foreign words but I just couldn’t get a handle on Hawaiian.
  • Pot is called Pakalolo or “crazy cigarette.”
  • There are no swear words in the Hawaiian language.
  • All of the pineapple and sugarcane is gone from Kauai. Our guide said it was cheaper to import it from other countries. At one time, the C&H Sugar Company farmed sugarcane on Kauai and shipped the product to California for processing. C&H stands for California and Hawaii.
  • We saw thousands of acres of sugarcane on Maui and along the roadside on our tour of the Hana coast; we saw a few very small pineapple trees. The pineapples are a pinkish red when they’re very young.

Overall, we had a great time. We enjoyed the activities and tours we did and the warm weather. Denver had a big snowstorm while we were lying around the pool or the beach. You can’t get better than that!

I’ll write the next time we travel. Until then, Aloha!

Susan L Stewart

The Hana Coast Tour is Exceptional

If you’re visiting Maui, I highly recommend taking the Hana Coast tour.

We had a great experience with Mahalo Tours and their Mercedes Benz vans seating a maximum of eight. Even though the tour was 11-1/2 hours long, our tour guide,

Rainbow Painted Eucalyptus

Rainbow Painted Eucalyptus

Cody, was knowledgeable and entertaining. By the time we got back, though, I was completely drained. I spent the next day resting.

Rainbow Painted Eucalyptus

Rainbow Painted Eucalyptus

We sat on the left side of the van – I looked at the map beforehand and figured out that that side of the van would be on the coast. I took over 300 photos. Beautiful coastlines.

The tour took us through 617 turns and 54 single lane roads. I lost track of the number of times we stopped. They involved climbing in and out of the van with a small, two-step, plastic stool. I’ve been having trouble with back pain that started before we left for Hawaii and I felt every turn, every bump, in the road.

Rainbow below us

Rainbow below us

Our first stop was Hookipa were I started the photo frenzy. Most of our stops were like that, an opportunity to take photos. Toward the end of the day, we encountered a little rain and there it was, a rainbow positioned below us. Most rainbows are so high in the sky and far away, that it’s impossible to see all seven of the colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. These are the same colors and order that you see on a color wheel. This one was so close that I could see all of them.

Black Sand beach

Black Sand beach

We stopped at one of Hawaii’s black sand beaches. The beach is surrounded by black lava rock that, over centuries, has been eroded away by the waves to make fine black sand. Tom climbed down to the beach. He said the sand started out with fairly large pebbles away from the waves, and got smaller and finer as he walked to the water.

One of our first stops was in an area with giant Rainbow Painted Eucalyptus. I’ve never seen such an amazing tree! One of them must have been 10 feet in diameter.

One more beautiful waterfall

One more beautiful waterfall

 

We saw cascading waterfalls Hawaii is so known for, and pools at the foot of the falls that were just begging us to jump in. One of them had a cave in the pool for more adventurous people. I took more incredible photos but we only had ten minutes and then it was back

Waterfall pool with cave

Waterfall pool with cave

in the van. We did have a stop where we could have gotten into the water but the waves were too menacing and the water was cold.

Everything is so lush and so different from Denver. Most people don’t know that Denver is a semi-arid state so growing tropical plants of any kind is impossible. One of the more popular houseplants is the philodendron. Here, they grow wild in the forest and climb up the trunks of trees.

Lunch was included in the tour. At one of our stops, Cody took down everyone’s order and then called them in

Beautiful Hana coast

Beautiful Hana coast

to the restaurant. The selection was much more than burgers and fries. I ordered the fish tacos. After a few more stops, Cody pulled off the road into a large space of dirt and parked the van next to our  restaurant: a food truck!

Philodendron climbing a tree

Philodendron climbing a tree

There were old long wooden tables and chairs. The table felt grimy with old food and dirt so I took the roll of paper towels sitting on it and made myself a placemat. It wasn’t long before everyone else on the tour was doing the same thing.

Ask any of my family members and they would all agree that I’m a picky eater. For example, I won’t eat leftovers that have been in the refrigerator more than 24 hours. All I can think of is bacteria growing in the food. Being picky doesn’t have to be rational; most fears aren’t. In any other circumstances, I would have told my husband to back up and keep going until we found something better. Of course I didn’t know there aren’t any more restaurants on the coast drive.

When someone set the plate of fish tacos in front of me, they looked more than just “edible.” They looked like a feast with lots of fresh slaw. I couldn’t find anything that said “Stop! Poisoning at risk!” so I took a bite. They were the best fish tacos I have ever had – including my own.

Small garden god

Small garden god

The last stop of the day was a winery with some unusual wines, like pineapple and papaya. I don’t drink

Maui sunset

Maui sunset

alcohol so I took a quiet walk by myself around the property. The setting was beautiful, flowers were blooming, and I found a little alter with a small stone god. The whole area brought a wonderful sense of peace to me. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful day.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

Haleakala Crater Spectacular Experience

 

Today we drove to the Haleakala crater. It takes about two hours if you don’t stop, but believe me, you’re going to want to stop a lot. We got lost a couple of times but that just meant we saw some extra things.

The drive up to the crater is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. We started at the base. It looked like just about everything else we’ve seen but that quickly changed. One of the things I have always wanted to try with my art is to paint fog. The thing is, we don’t get fog in the southwest suburb of Denver where we live. All of a sudden, we reached a place on the mountain

A beautiful brick church we saw when we got lost in Wailuku

A beautiful brick church we saw when we got lost in Wailuku

that was covered in beautiful, floating, fog.

We continued up the mountain, from sea level to over 10,000 feet, through switchback after switchback. Each one seemed to reveal something else to behold. I would say to Tom, “Pull over, pull over!!” and then the poor guy would try to find a safe place to pull over so we wouldn’t roll over the cliff.

At one point I looked to the right and realized we were above the clouds. I’ve seen that out of an airplane window but never out of a car window. We couldn’t find a place to pull over when the clouds were at their peak but I took many shortly after. Fluffy white clouds. And then I saw a cloud that looked like a space ship. That beautiful cloud stayed that way for a long time so I think it was created by the trade winds and held there.

Finally we reached the summit. From there we could see the back side of the crater. I didn’t know what to expect and I don’t think I could have guessed what it would look like. Basically, it looks like the craters on the moon to me. The darker blue in the background is not the ocean. We were high enough to see a change in the stratosphere. The little bit of white in the upper right side is a cloud. My camera caught the true color of the dirt. So barren but so beautiful.

It was a great excursion, especially because we could do it ourselves and stop whenever we wanted to. If you’re ever in Maui, I highly recommend it.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

Click on images to enlarge

 

 

Marriott Kauai Beach Club

Beautiful red and green

Beautiful red and green

 

Marriott Kauai Beach Club grounds are beautiful. I wanted to share some of the photos I’ve taken of it. The staff, from bellboys to registration, housekeeping, and restaurants, were helpful and extremely nice. That’s about all of the good things I can say about the resort.

The Wahili tower, where our unit was located, was originally built in 1959. We’re not sure  if it’s ever been renovated since then. On the seventh floor, at least, the paint in the hallways is scratched, service doors are scratched and filthy and the walls next to them gouged by equipment going in and coming out of them. The unit is dark and without proper lighting. The mattress is lumpy … Actually, I can’t think of one good thing to say about it. They have two newer towers but those are run like a traditional hotel and I’m sure they are expensive and beautiful. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this resort.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

Click on images to enlarge them.

Paris, Oh how I love Paris!

Me trying to torch Creme Brulée

Me trying to torch Creme Brulée

Today is our last day in Paris. I’ve loved every minute of it – except for the escalator disaster. Our hotel is just off of Montparnasse, a huge boulevard located on the Left Bank of the River Seine. This is the area in Paris where the creative community – artists and writers – met in the 19th century. I found an art store just a few doors down from the hotel and bought a real box of Conté crayons. The box is in French.

Photographing the Ace de Triomphe

Photographing the Arc de Triomphe

Emily had us scheduled pretty tight. We had about two hours in the Musée d’Orsay, the museum of modern art. I could have spent four or five hours there. We went directly to the two connected rooms with paintings by Van Gogh and his contemporaries. There is no photography allowed in the museum. After fifteen minutes, Tom and Emily were bored and went off to explore the museum. I spent an hour and a half in those two rooms, most of it spent sketching a painting by Gauguin.

From there we rushed through Paris, getting on and off the underground and finally arrived, five minutes late, at our French cooking class. Emily is a co-owner of a wonderful bakery and when she asked what we’d like to learn to cook, I told her to just choose something that she wanted to learn. She did a good job. We learned how to make little plum tarts, Madeleines, and creme brulée. I took a turn with the torch to caramelize the tops but it scared me. I’m not fond of fire.

The instructor was wonderful. She spoke very good English so we had a delightful conversation. I mentioned that the stereotype of the thin, elegantly dressed, French woman wasn’t a stereotype. I don’t remember seeing one overweight woman in Paris. She assured me that this was only in Paris. The rest of the country was more “normal.”

The day we went to see the Arc de Triomphe, I was having trouble getting a good photo. The Arc is in the middle of a gigantic traffic circle with multiple streets leading to it. Finally, I took my life into my hands and crossed half way across the eight lane avenue. I stopped in the tiny space between the lanes to take some photos not realizing that Emily was taking photos of me taking photos.

I will miss Paris.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

On our way to Paris

Sunday, October 14

City of Lyon

We’re leaving Lyon this morning on the TGV – the fast train to Paris. Lyon is a big city but it has some interesting things to see and do. The Basilica is beautiful and the square with the Musée des Beaux-Arts is amazing. But there are so many things that I didn’t have time for. They have a wonderful park, Park de la Tete d’Or, that I didn’t find time to see but Emily went. It has botanical gardens, a huge lake, walking paths and a zoo. The Old Town is a maze of interesting shops and street performers. These are just some of the reasons I would like to visit Lyon again. If you’re thinking of going to Lyon, I’d recommend spending some time on Only Lyon, the online site of things to see and do.

Our train didn’t leave until the afternoon so we slept in. Once we pulled ourselves together, we walked four blocks to pick up something for breakfast. Of course we could barely understand the signs. Emily pointed to a sign describing a sandwich with a list of ingredients including mozzarella cheese and ham. The shopkeeper shook her head, “No.” Then she rattled off a list of cheeses that we didn’t recognize. So Emily ordered a sandwich avec fromage [with cheese]. To keep things easy I nodded when she pointed at me and asked if I wanted what Emily was having. We thought it would have some ham on it, but no.

We ended up with a hard baguette – the French truly know how to make bread! – with a long, thick slice of Brie and butter – just in case the brie didn’t have enough fat in it. Nothing else. I don’t normally care for Brie but this was very different from the Brie I’ve eaten in the States. Not too bad for breakfast. I also ordered a pastry of some kind. The sign said pommeswhich are apples but inside the flaky pastry was applesauce. I took half the

Lyon Train Station

sandwich and the pastry on the train. I’ve never eaten so many pastries and so little ice cream before. But overall, the food and desserts are amazingly good. I’ll give myself a week back home to get back into a routine and then it’s time to lose some (a lot!) of weight.

I don’t eat sandwiches very often at home but when it’s made on a French baguette, it’s really good. if you don’t want to sit down in a restaurant for lunch, and pay a lot of money to do so, your only option is a boulangerie. The only lunch things I’ve seen here are ham and cheese sandwiches, chicken and cheese sandwiches, tuna salad sandwiches, cheese sandwiches and disgusting small pizzas – unless you want pastry in which case you have an almost unlimited choice.

On our walk back to the hotel, we passed a very shiny, black, motorcycle parked on the street with a pair of ladies panties in the corner of the wind shield. Someone had a fun night!

We got packed this morning and took our luggage down to the front desk. When we asked her to call a taxi, and told her we wanted to go to the train station she told us the station was only a few minutes of walking away. We knew that, having walked to the train station several times, but we both had luggage, carry-ons and purses. On top of that, many of the streets and sidewalks were made of cobblestones. We assured her we needed a taxi but when it arrived, the taxi driver gave us look like we were nuts not to walk.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

Our last day in Lyon

Saturday, Oct 13

The Basilica Clock

This is our last day in Lyon. You will notice the blue skies in the Lyon photos. That’s pretty much the last blue skies we saw on the trip.

Emily had to go to work for a few hours but now we have the rest of the day to go exploring. Lyon is the second or third largest city in France. Walking is a dream because the streets are flat. This is one of the best cities I’ve visited for public transportation. They have city buses, a trolley, and an underground – called the Metro.

Since we don’t know where we’re going, we are taking taxis. It’s more expensive but safer in the long run, I think. Here’s the thing about the taxis in Lyon: It is not unusual to be picked up in a new

The blue door

Mercedes or other luxury car. I’ve had a few taxi drivers who spoke English and one of them said that taxis are for upper middle class and rich people. They expect to be picked up in a nice car that is spotlessly clean. He said his car cost 150,000 Euros, In dollars, that’s basically a $240,000 dollar car. Maybe I misunderstood him. He spoke excellent English but, really? Can you actually spend $240,000 to buy a Mercedes? Mind you, this car was not gold-plated. The taxi prices reflect the cost of the car. I’m hoping they have “normal” less expensive taxis in Paris. We could go broke just paying for transportation.

As Emily and I walked around Old Town we noticed that there is a cathedral  – or what I would consider to be a cathedral – on almost every corner. Kind of like Dunkin’ Doughnuts in Boston. Did you know that Boston has more Dunkin’

What a great porch!

Doughnuts per capita than any other city in the US? I’m certainly not comparing a French cathedral to a doughnut shop but you get the picture. I guess in Denver it would be a Walgreens.

Finally, I was exhausted from walking around so much. With my fibromyalgia, I have to be careful not to overdo any activity. The problem is that it’s so much fun and interesting to be in France that I don’t want to miss anything. With her work, this is the only day that Emily has to explore Lyon. She wanted to stay out and walk around so I took a taxi to the hotel. I didn’t realize it but it the hotel was only 12 blocks or so from where we were. When

the taxi pulled up to the door of the Kyriad, the fare was 4.20 Euros. I handed

The Fountain Man. I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw this!

him a five and he said, “No, No, No. 6.40 Euros” and then a string of French I couldn’t follow. Finally, he explained it well enough that I could understand – 6.40 Euros is the base pay.

I’m suspicious of taxi drivers. Sometimes they will show up with 4.20 Euros on the meter – before we even leave the hotel. Other times they start out with 6.40 or more. OK, 6.40 is the base pay, but the meter starts ticking as he pulls out onto the street. It appeared to me that the taxi industry in Lyon is not regulated.

Not knowing French is a hinderance, but not impossible to overcome. Emily and I decided the most important phrase to know in France is not “Where is the bathroom?” which you have to know if you’re in Mexico. In France it’s “Parlez-vous anglais?” Do you speak English? and then, if they say “Yes” you let out a sigh of relief, even if they only know a little. They say total immersion is the best way to learn a language and I agree. I took two semesters of Spanish at our junior college but it wasn’t until we moved to Mexico for four months that I really got the hang of it. I was in France for 2-1/2 weeks and came home with a much better understanding of the language and pronunciation than when I left.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

The Place des Terreaux in Lyon, France

Friday, Oct 12

Beaux Arts Court Yard

I took a taxi to Place des Terreaux, a huge public square where I could visit Les Beaux Artes (Museum of Fine Art), the Lyon City Hall and the Bartholdi Fountain. The museum takes up

Happy Boy

most of one side of the square. When you walk in, there is a large courtyard with statues, lots of flowers and trees and places to sit. I call one of the statues “Happy Boy” although I don’t think he should be quite that happy considering where his dog is. A covered walk way goes around three of the sides. They reminded me of the art school building in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The museum features old paintings. I was also able to see Rodin’s The Kiss and The Thinker.

The Circumcision of Jesus

Covered Walkway

The Sisters of Jesus and Mary commissioned an Italian artist, Barbieri, to paint The Circumcision of Jesus, for their main alter. It was

Lyon City Hall

finished on January 1, 1646.

Another side of the square is what the taxi driver told me was the Opera House but is actually the Lyon City Hall. Can you imagine that as your city’s government building? Amazing. It’s gold inlaid and one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. There are gods and goddesses carved at the roofline. I didn’t have time to go inside but I can guess its beauty.

The other two sides of the square are made up of a hotel, galleries, restaurants and shops. On one of those sides is a gigantic sculpture of a woman, naked from the waist up, driving a chariot pulled by four huge, grotesquely violent horses. The sculptor created them in such a way that water sprays out of the horses’ nostrils making it look like they’re snorting steam. The woman is looking down at a child on her right side while another child at her left side looks like he’s trying to reach up to her

Bartholdi Fountain

but is on the verge of drowning. Hundreds of gallons of water pour down over the intricately designed fountain. This fountain/statue was not meant to

Bartholdi Fountain Horses

be pretty, or at least I hope not, because in truth, it is quite frightening.

To quote an article on Wikipedia: “The fountain depicts France as a female seated on a chariot controlling the four great rivers of France, represented by wildly rearing and plunging horses, highly individualized but symmetrically arranged, with bridles and reins of water weeds. It weighs 21 tons and is made of lead supported by a frame of iron and was presented at the Exposition Universelle in1889. It has been classified as a Monument Historique since 29 September 1995.”

The French sculptor, Frédéric Bartholdi, also designed the Statue of Liberty standing in New York harbor. The original name of this statue was “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

I visited a lot of museums in my 2-1/2 weeks in France. As a full-time artist, I happen to like museums and I had enough alone time that Emily didn’t have to come along to all of them. She and Tom went to the two museums in Paris: the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. Just on this page you can see a painting from 1646, a fountain that was unveiled in 1889 and the City Hall dedicated in 1891. One more thing about Lyon – actually there is so much more about Lyon! – is that it was the home of Antoine de St Exupery who wrote The Little Prince.

Until next time

Susan L Stewart

ECTRIMS, the Basilica and Paul Bocuse

City of Lyon

Thursday, Oct 11

Emily is a medical editor working at the ECTRIMS conference, an annual event where doctors,

30-story Orange Man at the ECTRIMS conference

researchers,vpharmaceutical firms and others gather to discuss the newest research on the treatment of people with

Multiple Sclerosis. ECTRIMS is in Chicago next year. Not quite as exciting as France, but Chicago’s nice.

I’m on my own for the next few days which is very unusual and very liberating. There’s a certain freedom to exploring an unknown city by myself that I enjoy very much. After 38 years of marriage, Tom and I travel very well together, but I’m enjoying my solitude.

I took a cab to the shopping part of town. The streets are closed to vehicles so people are walking around everywhere. I very rarely buy

The Lyon Basilica

anything on vacation – not even a souvenir. But I found two stores with large discounts. I bought a beautiful black sweater with silver threads and a rain jacket that I looked for in Denver but couldn’t find before I left. A woman from Russia ran the store with the jacket. I especially loved the stacking dolls from Russia that she had in the shop. You open the doll and there’s a smaller version inside it. You open that one and there’s an even smaller one inside. This goes on until you have a row of dolls from large to miniature.

After shopping, I took a taxi up to the top of a large, very steep,

hill where the Basilica is. The church takes up all of the top of the hill. It isn’t possible to walk around to the front that faces the city because it’s on the edge of a sharp drop. The interior is covered in scaffolding but I was still able to take

Mary at the alter of the Basilica

some photos – without a flash. My new camera does a great job in low-light situations. I

took some of the exterior, too. It’s a beautiful building standing guard over the city. On the other side of the courtyard, in front of the

Mural inside the Basilica

Basilica, is a Jewish temple.

Lyon is a flat city which makes it easy to walk around. I didn’t see people jogging in the city, but I saw many joggers running up that huge hill to the Basilica. I guess there’s no challenge in running on flat ground. Emily is a runner and

she said it’s not fun running in the city while trying to navigate the crowds and having to stop when the light is red, and the traffic is crazy; if you don’t watch out they will run you down.

 

Later that night we went to “Le Sud” [The South] restaurant. The chef/owner is the world-renowned

Paul Bocuse. I had heard of Paul Bocuse but didn’t know his restaurant was in Lyon. Emily and Linda had Ossobuco, a veal dish with

The Basilica

risotto that they liked very much. Since we were in a nice restaurant, I decided to be brave and ordered something completely different, a Moroccan dish – chicken tajine with lemon and couscous on the side. I’ve seen tajine dishes, usually lamb, on the Food

Network but I’ve never eaten it and didn’t know what to expect. Unfortunately, the very first bite tasted just like Pinesol smells.

Completely disgusting! Emily and Linda laughed at me. “How could something taste like Pinesol smells?” I don’t know so I gave Linda a piece to try. She gagged and said I was right. Emily declined to be our third taste tester – smart woman. The couscous was good as well as the broth so I ate that and the carrots and squash I could identify. I think the Pinesol vegetable was something they did to the lemon.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

Lyon, France: A Neighborhood Church

The neighborhood Church a few blocks from our hotel

 

Jumping girl with waning moon

Wednesday, October 10

Emily and Linda had to get to the conference early. I slept in the first morning, and missed the complimentary breakfast. I got dressed and started to walk, looking for a petit déjeuner [breakfast]. As I did, I came across a beautiful old neighborhood church and took almost 200 photos of it. You will notice the beautiful blue skies. This is the only time we saw the sun on our trip. Here are some I found very

Woman playing the harp

interesting. The first is a person getting ready to jump off the spire to her death. On the other side, there is a dog on the roof and a woman playing the harp. I wonder

Dog on the roof

who decides what sculpture is going to be placed on the roof of a church? Do they get a committee together? Can you imagine the discussion? I found some gargoyles, too. I think by the time I get home I could probably do a photo essay on the Gargoyles of France. We’ll see.

I’ve always thought of flan as a Spanish/Mexican dessert but I’ve had the best flan here. There are boulangeries, [bakeries] on almost every corner. They carry bread, quiche, sandwiches, and an assortment of pastries, a sugar-holic’s dream. Tried the quiche – not something I particularly care for. It isn’t that much better in France sorry to say.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

British Airways to France

Monday, Oct 8 – Tuesday, Oct 9

Another church in Lyon. There seems to be one on every corner.

I’m trying to blog every day but it’s been difficult. Every time I sit down, I want to take a nap. Actually, the jet lag over to Europe is not nearly as bad as coming back. The last time we flew back from Europe was from London many years ago and it took me about two weeks to get my body rhythms in sync again.

We flew on British Airways. It’s my second time to fly with them and they are great! If you have a chance to fly British Airways, I highly recommend it. The flight attendants actually seem to enjoy their job; they’re very accommodating and the seats are roomy and comfortable. The seats lean back a little more making sleeping easier. There were two crying babies in our section and I didn’t pack ear plugs. I asked if they had some and she said she’d check. She came back with a pair and didn’t even charge me. The food is better than other airline food, too.

Lyon is a big, fairly easy to navigate, city with an Old Town, a shopping area with a lot of stores offering discounts, and the Basilica.

One thing has changed as far as traveling goes. I have used my beloved Canon 40D camera with an excellent lens for years. It’s gone with me to Mexico and, last year, through the Panama Canal. But the pain from the arthritis in my hands has doubled and tripled this year and I found that, at 3+ pounds, I couldn’t pick it up anymore, let alone take photos. So I purchased a new Olympus EM-5 OM-D that weighs half the amount. I think I like my new camera although I received the lens three days before we left so I only know how to “point and shoot.” I have it set at fully automatic for now so I don’t need to figure out the various settings. I think it takes very nice photos, though.

The food is pretty good. Our first night the three of us – Emily, her co-worker Linda who we met up with in London, and I ate at the restaurant in the hotel. We were just too tired to venture out. They only had menus in French so we asked the waiter to translate. When he got to “tete du veau [veal’s head] served in a nice veal broth with … ” I tuned out. That was after a whole day of flying and, I don’t know, chewing on the head of a baby calf just before bedtime didn’t seem like the best way to go. I settled on a cup of vegetable soup.

I passed out before Emily had time to turn the lights out.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

We’re off to France!

To all,

A Paris apartment house. Notice the graffiti.

On Monday, October 8, our daughter, Emily, and I got on a British Airways plane to France. Emily is a medical editor for a company that puts on medical conferences. She, and a writer, Linda, are covering ECTRIMS, a large, international, conference on Multiple Sclerosis in Lyon, France.

When the conference is over, she and I are going to take the train to Paris where Tom (father/husband) will be joining us. We’ll spend time in Paris exploring as many of the things the city offers as we will have the energy for. Emily flies home on the 19th and Tom and I are taking the train down to Avignon, Provence for a few days.

In addition to loving to travel and seeing new places, I’m a full-time artist and I think France and Italy are two of the countries every artist should visit. While I haven’t been to Italy yet, I’m very excited to experience France. While Emily is working, I plan to sit in an outdoor café and sketch. I’m also going to visit all of the museums I can find.

Emily and Tom will gladly go with me to a museum but I never feel comfortable sitting and sketching while they’re sitting there, bored. Vincent Van Gogh is my favorite artist and he spent a large part of his short life (he died at age 37) in Paris and Provence. I feel like I’m on an artist’s pilgrimage. There are many places in France that were meaningful to Van Gogh that I want to see. So, for now I am organizing my life, trying to figure out what to take for a 2-1/2 week vacation while keeping in mind that the international flight baggage weight is limited to 51 pounds. I’m also taking a sketchbook, watercolors and watercolor paper. When I recover from jet lag, I’m looking forward to exploring museum after museum.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart

Amazing Cruise Sunsets

The sunsets we have seen on this cruise – from Aruba and Cartagena, through the Panama Canal, to Fuerte Amador and Costa Rica, and finally on to Los Angeles – have been incredible! I am a mixed-media artist and can’t wait to get back in the studio and figure out a way to use them.

I try not to spend more time on the computer “fixing” a photo than in the studio creating art. It can be hard to know when to stop. To keep editing to a minimum, I put each of these photos in Photoshop and just did three things. First, I adjusted the contrast. When shooting photos on the water, there is a haze that our eyes adjust for but the camera records. Adding a little contrast compensates for that haze. I also added a little bit of sharpening. Because of the ship’s vibration, photos without sharpening will look a bit too fuzzy. Finally I checked to make sure the horizon was level. I hope you enjoy!

Until next time –

Susan L Stewart

Bears Over the Pacific

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costa Rica

Costa Rica spans the isthmus of Latin America. Its major port/city on the east side of the country is Limon on the Caribbean Sea. The west side of the country is on the Pacific Ocean and has two large ports: Puerto Caldera, a major commercial shipping port, and Puntarenas where we docked.

We weren’t going to take a tour in Costa Rica. After three tours on three ports of call, we were just going to chill and hang out on the beach. Then we went to the meeting the Cruise Director does before each port where he talks about the country and what to see and do. The beach on the Pacific side of Costa Rica has black sand and murky water. He showed a photo of it and there weren’t any beach chairs or shade.

Several tours were still available. We signed up for a river cruise and had a great time. Actually, it was the best tour we took. I have learned that the quality of a tour is dependent on the quality of the guide. Throughout the cruise, we had a guide or two who seemed to be guessing about what we were seeing as we went along. This guide, Porfirio, knew his flora and fauna.

We started by taking a 1-1/2 hour bus ride into the center of the country. It was a beautiful drive up into the mountains, and we were in a comfortable bus, so the time passed quickly. We finally stopped at a small building with beautiful landscaping. This was our opportunity to stretch our legs and use the bathroom.

There was a variety of fruit laid out on a long table and water, iced tea and beer. For entertainment, there were two men playing a beautiful xylophone. I think it was made from teak wood. I haven’t seen or heard a xylophone since I was a young child in music class. I had my good camera and zeroed in on the keys. I took 48 photos and found three that were good – that’s the way it goes with photography.

After our snack, we boarded a large pontoon boat and started out. The point of the trip was not a leisurely float down a pretty river. No, we were on an intense search mission looking for Scarlet Macaws and any other wildlife. We saw white-faced monkeys, Scarlet Macaws, a lizard, a tiny red and black crab, egrets, hundreds of unidentified birds and a lot of crocodiles.

Scarlet Macaws mate for life. From what we saw, it seems like they roost very high up in the trees. We never saw them close enough to take a photo. They are on the endangered species list. Porfirio belongs to a group that works to protect them and help increase their numbers. This group made nesting boxes out of large, blue plastic trash cans. They didn’t do a count last year, but the year before they found 40 new Macaws.

Banana Flowers

Porfirio gave us a very long lecture about the cultivation and growth characteristics of bananas. I didn’t understand most of it, and most of what I did understand I have now forgotten. What I do remember is that there are more than 100 kinds of bananas. The purple flower on the end of the bunch of bananas has something to do with the growth cycle. On banana plantations, they put plastic bags over the cluster at a certain time to ripen them.

“Ugly bananas” – those with a dark spot(s) on the skin – are not exported because they know people won’t buy them. Costa Ricans know that the color of the skin is not necessarily an indication of the state of the banana within. Blemished bananas remain in Costa Rica and are used to eat, for baby food, animal feed and fertilizers.

Baby Croc

Apparently, it is unusual to see more than a couple of crocodiles on a trip. On our trip, every crocodile and his cousin showed up. They were often hard to see. We were in a rain forest during the rainy season and the gray crocodiles were the same color as the gray muddy banks. This is due, in part, because they have a lot of mud on them. As you can see here, they do have a sinister smile. The first crocodile we saw was a baby. He looked like a strange lizard. The last crocodile was full grown and huge.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country and much more than the white sand beaches on the

Sinister Croc Smile

Caribbean side. The interior is both beautiful and interesting. The terrain rises from sea level to 13,000 feet. Its rivers are quiet and calm like the one we were on, and wild and exciting for white water rafting.

The better to eat you with, my dear

The forests provide a variety of activities. Zip lining through the forest treetops is something Costa Rica is known for. The Rainforest Aerial Tram offers a ride above the treetops and past incredible waterfalls.

The Poas Volcano sits at 8,500 feet above sea level and is known for its geyser-like eruptions of gas and ash. We spoke with a couple who took the tour to the volcano. The day was overcast and rainy but they said when they got there the fog lifted and they were able to see it. Beautiful.

The Arenal volcano is one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. Lake Arenal is near there. The area is also know for its natural mineral hot springs.

I would say Costa Rica has more things to see and do than any of the other places where we stopped. If I had to pick one place to return to I’d pick Costa Rica, hands down. I could see many types of vacations in Costa Rica. From “laying around on the beach” to exploring the interesting interior, it would take quite a few trips before you would feel like you had seen it all.

Until next time,

Susan L Stewart