Thursday, December 8, 2011

Catch up time!

It's been forever since this blog was updated, so I guess I'd better fill you all in.

In November, my sisty, Missy, and I went on our first cruise.  This was a combination quilting/sightseeing cruise (read that to mean shopping...), and we had a ball!  Our ship was the Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas out of Baltimore, MD harbor.  The stateroom was spare but had a nice, big window and was adequate for our needs.  This picture is of our ship docked at Labadee, Haiti.

Here's a shot of the interior of the ship.  It seemed there was always music playing somewhere, and in the evenings there was dancing or shows to entertain us.  During the day while we were at sea, we worked on quilting projects created just for us by our teachers, Bonnie Hunter and Pat Sloan!

Bonnie is known for her extraordinary scrap quilts, and Pat is our applique guru.

Missy and I took Bonnie's class on the first day.  Bonnie introduced us to the Baby Lock machines provided by a dealer in Florida, and we made a small needle case with them just to get the hang of how they worked.

Here's the finished project from the familiarization exercise with the sewing machines.  We worked on the blocks for Bonnie's quilting project after making this needle case.  There were four days at sea -- two down and two back.  Two of those days were spent with Bonnie.  Although all my blocks are made, I haven't assembled them yet, so I'll post the final result of those classes another day.

On the second day at sea, we began Pat's class.  Again, we had a small initial project to do prior to starting on Pat's special pattern for us.  Here's my wool applique needle case from Pat's warm up exercise.

Cute little thing, isn't it?  I hadn't finished the stitching around the outside of the case when I took this picture, but you get the idea.

This is the final project, all assembled but not all appliqued, for Pat's class.  I will be doing machine applique in a blanket stitch for this wall hanging.

We were heading first for Puerto Rico and arrived there around 1 PM on the third day at sea.  This pictures El Morro, the fort that sits at the entrance to the harbor.

With very little time for shopping, we briskly walked the narrow, cobbled streets of old San Juan, finding this and that for our families back home and enjoying the architecture.

I never did find out exactly what this building was, but someone thought it housed part of the city government.  I thought it was charming.

On the fourth day of the cruise, we landed at St. Thomas, USVI.  This is one of my favorite islands in the Caribbean.  DH and I used to come here annually for my medical conferences and some wonderful scuba diving, but we stopped after several tourists were murdered, preferring the safety of Grand Cayman thereafter -- and GC has better diving.

Nonetheless, you can't beat St. Thomas for shopping.  Sisty and I did our share to boost the economy of that small island, I can assure you.  One has to bargain in the Caribbean.  You must NEVER accept the asking price for anything, or you will be taken to the cleaners.  If the vendor asks $100, you start at $10, because chances are that he paid no more than that for the item.  However, this is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those who do not know the true value of an item, particularly gems.  Here we are with our favorite jeweler.  At one point, I was ready to walk out the door without a purchase and thanked him for his time.  Need I say more?  I have a lovely ring and watch as a result.

Our next stop was Samana, Dominican Republic.  DH and I had vacationed for our first anniversary on the northern side of the DR during a gasoline rationing crisis where the lines were miles long and the gas stations had armed guards and the locals'  idea of scuba diving was to take 8 divers out in a small dinghy and throw them overboard with their gear and tell them to gear up in the water, so we had never returned.  Most of the island looks like this.

We were greeted with residents clothed in traditional colorful holiday garb and swaying to steel drum music that was impossible to keep from dancing to along with them.  Small lorries that held up to four passengers were powered by one man on a scooter at the front.  Housing was dismal, and the pretty homes on the hills were only for the very rich.  Closer to the town, the government had made a mighty effort to clean up the view from the main street and had built or refurbished small adjoining cottages that housed souvenir stores.  Outrageous prices demanded serious and sustained haggling to get the cost down to something even vaguely comparable to the price in the US.  Of course, I LOVE to haggle, so I got that $55 hat down to $3 in no time.  Heaven help those meek souls who bought anything at face value, though!

I must admit that I was very concerned to be visiting Haiti, what with all the poverty and storm damage and crime on that island.  I thought that a bunch of rich (comparatively) tourists should not descend on a town that was desperate for reconstruction and just the basics of life.  So I was not prepared for Labadee, which is a peninsula privately owned by the Royal Caribbean lines.  The scenery was breathtaking.  The beaches were clean and the water a wonderful Caribbean turquoise blue.  Because this part of the island is privately owned, we were prohibited from leaving this portion to tour any other part of the island.  Local craftspeople had remarkable painted clothes, well turned wooden boxes, beautifully fired ceramics, and some of the best painted steel drum sculptures I have ever seen.  The prices were pretty much the same as in the states for such mementos, and the locals were not very flexible in their bargaining, but I bought a few things to take home with me anyway.

So, we bid adieu to this lovely place and spent the next two days at sea, where our course took us through a major storm that we could not escape.  This was my first experience with aiming for one place and ending up at another whenever I sallied forth from my cabin in those tumultuous seas.  Fortunately, neither sisty nor I got seasick and were able to enjoy our final two days of classes.  We even got up VERY early the last morning in order to see the coastline from Virginia Beach north and to watch the sun come up over the Bay Bridge.

Would I do it again?  Well, let me break that down into quilting cruise vs cruise alone.  Maybe to the quilting cruise, and no to the cruise alone.  Unless DH was with me so I could dance under the stars and have him to share the romance of the seas.  I have to say that if I didn't have the quilting projects to fill my time, though, I would have been a bit bored on this trip on the days that we were at sea.  DH and I, being scuba divers, much prefer flying to a land base and exploring from there, both the under water beauty and the sights and activites on land.  Going out here and there with unknown diving companies at various islands is not our scene. So we're not likely to take a long ocean voyage in the near future.  But I wouldn't mind flying to the Greek Isles and then touring them by boat.  Or Loch Ness.  Or the fjords of Norway.  Something new and different to see.  So we'll just have to keep our minds open about all that.

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