Seaweed and no more Cuba

What a week it has been. Let’s talk about the seaweed first. That horrible stinky sargassum seaweed that is ruining people’s beach vacations all over the Caribbean.

But even worse than a ruined vacation – Poor hotels, poor local tour companies, poor local people who depend on tourism for their livelihoods. Hotels are doing their best to send crews out digging the stuff up and removing it but Mother Nature is relentless and sends it all back in again on the next tide.

It has now reached Florida and those who love boating in the Florida Keys are saying “Thanks, but no thanks” – they would rather swim in the pool at home.


What makes it worse is that once it has been sitting out on the beach for a while it starts to smell like rotten eggs. Gets better and better doesn’t it? Apparently sargassum is an important seaweed – but why is it so out of hand at the moment. This interesting article on explains some of it.

Sargassum weed however has nothing to do with the turmoil in the cruise industry caused by the US Gov’s decision to stop travel to Cuba. My goodness. Cruise itineraries are being re-organised, notifications being sent to passengers and travel agents, alternative options being offered. This must be costing the cruise business millions of dollars. I wonder what is being said behind closed doors in the boardrooms of cruise companies in Florida and California. I would love to be a fly on the wall.

In the meantime Canadians can continue to visit Cuba as often as they like. Cuba is one of those destinations that Canadians really love. It is safe, clean and reasonable inexpensive. Varadero beach has to be one of the most beautiful I have been on. And so far so good – the sargassum is not there according to this handy tracking tool.

And there is one other thing ….. I have heard many Canadians say to me in the past that what they like about Cuba is that it is so “European” in the sense that the majority of visitors are from Europe. – Not from the States. Don’t shoot the messenger – just sayin’

Venice is not Disneyland – yet!

Venice has been in the news lately – locals complain about day trippers ruining the island and have been demonstrating for years to cut down on the size and number of cruise ships coming up the Guidecca Canal. It must have been sadly satisfying for those protesters to witness the destruction of the Uniworld Countess river cruise by an out of control MSC cruise ship. I also heard one local complaining that a tourist had asked him when Venice closed for the day. He said it was as if Venice was a Disney resort. What a shame!

But there is still a chance to see Venice properly. You can enjoy a coffee at a stand up bar along with the gondoliers and it won’t cost you a fortune. Of course you have to see St Marks – but what a joy – I got to go there after hours and it was totally worth it having the Basilica just for our small group.

Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world – a miracle really of primitive but effective engineering linking together numerous islands by bridges and canals and erecting beautiful buildings on stilts in the silty marshes. And it is like a maze – a real one! That’s what is such fun about Venice – getting lost. Only a local really knows their way around the winding alley ways and tiny bridges. But by getting lost you can discover so much more. Find out where the locals hang out and spend more than a day there. Hotels are generally more expensive on the island but the bonus is that when the cruise ships have gone and the day trippers have returned to the mainland you will have the place to yourself (well almost!).

Spend more days there too and venture away from the main sightseeing spots so you can find cafes that the locals would use. Take your most comfortable walking shoes – go find the Ponte de Chiodo – one of only two bridges in Venice without a parapet

No handrail here! Be careful!

So spend longer in Venice. Sleep in, start late – stay out till past midnight and see Venice by night. It’s beautiful and less crowded.

St Marks Square on a rainy evening

On being polite

Being polite. We expect people to be polite. As Canadians we pride ourselves on being polite to the point of being silly (“I’m sorry … you first. No really … go ahead!”)

My recent trip to Japan made me stop and stare sometimes at the incredible lengths Japanese go to be polite … all without really realising it. Our tour guide in Tokyo laughingly explained that bowing to each other is so ingrained that you may often see a business man on his cell phone having a discussion and bowing at the same time – even though the person on the other side cannot see him. It’s a bit like how the Italians speak on the phone with all the gestures just to emphasise the point.

Spend a couple of weeks in Japan and you find yourself bowing to all and sundry – which can become quite a habit. It’s a great idea actually – in these days of colds and flu – much better to bow than shake hands! But some habits I observed in Japan were quite astonishing and I must confess made me stare all the more (not very polite of me I am sure you will agree).

We caught the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. As on any long distance train you have the little trolley with snacks and drinks that comes through the carriages. By the time the young lady attendant reached the end of the carriage and was about to depart the carriage for the next one she stopped, turned and faced all the passengers and gave a deep bow – before carrying on with her job. Wow!

While on the train I also noticed the Japanese have great respect for others around them and show this by not talking too loudly (if at all). And my goodness, every single man on the train had freshly polished shoes … I couldn’t help but notice.

Even the cleaning crew who have only 7 minutes to clean the bullet trains are super polite. Before and after they job they bow to the train and to the waiting passengers.

But the saga continues ….. when checking in for a domestic flight at one of the airports we were sitting at the designated gate. I noticed the flight crew and check in staff arriving at the gate. Before they even started their jobs they lined in in front of the check in desk, facing the waiting passengers, and all gave a deep bow. It was all I could do not to applaud them all!

I started to notice other differences – such as the immaculate taxi cabs with lacy seat covers or the fact that every small (cheap) purchase was meticulously wrapped by the shop assistant – as Lee Tulloch in an article for The Traveller noted –

“The concept of omotenashi, or selfless hospitality, is a cornerstone of Japanese culture. It’s a privilege for a host to welcome guests and make sure all their needs are seen to. This applies in every aspect of life, in shops, restaurants and even helping strangers in the street.”

However the Japanese don’t think they are polite at all which is why in 2016 they launched an initiative called the Good Manners Project and they have opened a special venue for this education project in Tokyo called the Good Museum. Wow – I think they are doing a pretty good job as it is.

There’s an app for that

How many apps do you have on your phone? It is really amazing how they seem to multiple overnight as surely I haven’t added all these apps myself! I challenge you to check out your settings and see just how many you do have. I have 69 on my phone…. 69 – goodness me. There are apps on my phone that I have no idea what they are for or how they got there.

Just looking through the list I found my favourite – Skip The Dishes. Now I know that has nothing to do with travel but it is my life raft when I come home late after a long day of putting together travel plans and dealing with schedule changes. And of course I have the usual apps like Uber, Spotify so I can listen to music, facebook so I can see whats happening to the older generation and Instagram so I can see whats happening to the youngsters in the family. (Funny how the kids are not into facebook any more – must be because us oldies have taken over). I have my Kobo books app too. But the best app I have is google maps. This has helped me out when I was in Belfast – it was quite late at night and my daughter and I had been to a restaurant and there was no sign of a taxi anywhere. So I just switched on google maps and then “the lady” guided me all the way back to our hotel.

There are some really useful apps like Lounge Buddy which tells you where the different lounges are in the airports you are travelling to and if you have your frequent flyer numbers entered into your profile it will work out whether you can get complimentary access or not and if not how much – pretty neat!

But there are a few weird apps out there – here are a few….

Sit or Squat – need to find a bathroom …. this has you covered ...

” Unfortunately, when we travel, nature doesn’t always call at the most convenient times. SitOrSquat is a database of thousands of restrooms all over the world. Not only can it help you find the bathroom nearest you, but also it features reviews of the bathrooms submitted by SitOrSquat users (the app implores users to keep the reviews informative and “consistent with ‘good taste’” — presumably to minimize the number of poop jokes). The app is produced by toilet paper giant Charmin — how’s that for vertical integration?  “

Or how about the Anti Mosquito Sonic Repeller

“If you’re traveling to a mosquito-heavy region and want to maximize your chances against those disease-carrying pests, there’s an app for you. The Anti Mosquito Sonic Repeller emits three different inaudible frequencies that the makers claim will repel mosquitoes. There might be some scientific basis to that, but using this app in lieu of insect repellent or mosquito nets is ill-advised (plus side: When you get malaria, you can use your phone to call for help). “

There’s one called Lobby Friend so you can meet up with people staying at your hotel …. mmmm …. a little weird that one. A bit like the KLM app where you can connect with someone on your flight. No thanks.

Pity there isn’t an app for when you fly on a long overnight flight so that you can sleep like a baby, have a shower and a hot breakfast in the morning before landing …. . oh hang on a minute…. that’s called Emirates First Class!

Boats bumping into boats

You might have seen some of the pictures of the damage caused when two Holland America cruise ships bumped into each other in Vancouver. Passengers on board said they didn’t feel anything – but I bet the Captain did – and the person who was responsible for guiding the parallel parking.

Look – I have a certain amount of sympathy for whoever was steering – remember that parallel parking you had to do to get your drivers’ licence. OMG – terrifying to have to do that. Today of course we have digital parking… not quite what I had back in the day I got my licence. And let’s face it tight parking can sometimes be a challenge…

However it seems that steering a big ship into port is more complicated than trying to parallel park a car … of course … look at the size of the vessels these days – over 100.000 tons in some cases. Also bumping into each other in port is not uncommon.

Two MSC cruise ships collided in port while one was parking – accompanied by the cries of “no, no, no”. And Norwegian Cruise Lines have also experienced parking problems …. in San Juan the Norwegian Epic demolished two mooring points –

Norwegian uploaded a statement to Twitter following the crash: “Today as Norwegian Epic was manoeuvring into Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico with a local pilot on board & the help of two tug boats, prevailing winds caused the ship to veer towards the pier, damaging two mooring points at Pier 3 East.”

Now it seems in all of this that the pilots are crucial to getting things right and play a huge role – especially huge when dealing with very big cruise ships and very tight parking areas. If you are interested in the role that pilots play you might want to read this article—pilots.html

To hone their skills some pilots work with miniatures of the mega ships. There is a school just for that in France. What a cool job – these guys get to play with toy ships The website is fascinating.

Wow – maybe there is a new career for anyone who is interested. Not me however! I have had my fair share of scraped car doors and bashed up headlights to make me realise that this would not be my chosen field 😦

Foreign foods and how to cope

I think I have mentioned before in this blog that I am not very adventurous when it comes to food. I am not really sure why …. I was raised in England so got very used to things like steak and kidney pie – and I know a lot of people just turn green at the thought of eating kidneys. Not to mention black pudding ….. (gosh I love that but I can’t believe it is basically a blood sausage – yuk – wish I didn’t know that).

So next week I am off to Japan. Yes – I know – I have a crappy job but someone has to do it 🙂

I have been looking through the food choices in Japan. Now some people just love Japanese food….. the jury is still out for me. I looked up the top ten foods to each in Japan – these are the top two favourites


Sushi is, without doubt, one of the most famous foods to come from Japan. A dish that was born in ancient times, sushi originated from the process of preserving fish in fermented rice. Today it’s made with vinegared rice and fresh fish, presented in a number of ways and shapes.A variety of sushi© George Alexander Ishida Newman / Flickr

A variety of sushi


Centuries before Japanese people were eating sushi, they first enjoyed raw fish without the rice. While the name “sashimi” refers to any thinly sliced raw food, including raw beef (gyuu-sashi), chicken (tori-zashi), and even horse (basashi), fish and seafood are the most popular varieties.Assorted sashimi© electricnude / Flickr

Assorted sashimi

Sorry – but I can’t do either of those …..

but maybe I could……… I quite like smoked salmon with cream cheese…..

Tempuru looks quite nice – maybe a bit fattening but definitely yummy so I can add that to my list. Then I saw that grilled chicken on a skewer is popular. That’s great …. until I read ….

Yakitori is a dish of bite-sized cuts of chicken grilled on a skewer. It makes use of every part of the chicken — including heart, liver, and even chicken comb — to avoid wastefulness, an important element of Japanese food culture.

Mmmm. what even is a chicken comb –

Oh…. I see. Shame! Not sure why I feel bad for the chicken. I do love chicken wings and chicken livers. Damn it. I think I am going to have to go vegetarian.

Now the problem for vegetarians in Japan is that many of the dishes are made with a fish stock base – so best to ask for miso which is a base made from soybeans. I have read this is no problem in larger cities and the veggies there are amazing. But I can’t really go veggie while in Japan because I might get the chance to taste some Kobe beef which is said to be amazing. (OK OK it’s not Alberta Beef I know….)

Kobe beef is renowned for its superior flavor, tenderness and high amount of intramuscular fat, giving the meat a marbled appearance. It is often cited as being healthier than commercial beef because of its high concentration of monounsaturated fats and omega-3s.

So all in all it is going to be an interesting trip. Sushi, sashimi, miso and a new era for the new emperor – The Reiwa Era. I think people will still be celebrating when we get there so I will have to learn how to say Happy New Era in Japanese – and I promise to try the sashimi and just pretend I am in Scotland having smoked salmon – och aye the noo!

Stop shouting!

Why do people shout? I am not talking about from one mountain to another – but sitting next to each other – on a plane!! Is it something to do with the fact that our ears block up and you need to “pop” them? I am not sure about this but I definitely would consider noise cancelling headphones after a recent flight within Canada.

The man sitting behind me chose to have a non stop conversation with the poor soul who had been assigned as his seat mate. OH. MY. GOODNESS. From the minute he sat down this guy did not stop talking – at the top of his voice. Poor window seat fellow didn’t get a word in edgeways. Thank goodness it was just a short one hour flight otherwise I may have been obliged to carry out a bit of air rage and put a bag over his head or something. I don’t think I could have sat there for 5 or more hours listening to this.

There is an up-side however (yes I am a positive and optimistic person). I am also incredibly inquisitive so if he is shouting his head off I might as well actually listen to what he is saying and get engaged (mentally) in the whole process. Ummm…. seems that he has been married three times. His first wife was OK – a very well regarded professional woman in Calgary – no mention of why that marriage broke up – maybe she lost her hearing! The second wife as – to quote him – “crazy”. Mmmm – maybe she was driven crazy by the constant shouting. No mention of how wife number 3 is getting on. By this stage I felt I knew him that intimately that I might turn around and ask him about that one – but I bit my tongue. It was hard believe me – my insatiable curosity will be the death of me. He drives a Mustang and has rented an Aston Martin as well. That’s enough about Mr Shouter. Hope you don’t get to sit next to him on your next flight. When he exited the plane and said goodbye to his seat mate I couldn’t help but notice the look of relief on the other man’s face.

Seems like I am not the only one bothered by shouted conversations and information that you probably don’t want to know –

“I often get folks in my cabin (most often international C) who talk loudly the whole flight. Even with earplugs and headphones I can often not sleep or read. Last LHR-SFO, 2 friends, each with an aisle seat, planned an entire wedding while talking across the aisle. I heard the whole thing. (BTW- the bride to be thought everything would be “just charming” and/or “really yummie”!! Help. I kept my mouth shut and didn’t get any sleep. Is this just me or do others have problems with loud talkers? Should I have said something? Any Advice? “

Someone on the forum had a suggestion –

” Standard issue UA dog muzzles. “

No …. that’s a bit too scary

No ….maybe I am being unfair. There is actually a condition known as airplane ear …..

Airplane ear can occur in one or both ears. Airplane ear signs and symptoms may include:

  • Moderate discomfort or pain in your ear
  • Feeling of fullness or stuffiness in your ear
  • Muffled hearing or slight to moderate hearing loss”

So there you go …. not shouty man’s fault at all…… except for the fact that he has verbal diarrhea, he can’t help it if he is shouting. And shame on me for listening in to people’s private conversations ….. Why do I do that?

I am fascinated by people, what makes them tick, how they interact with each other and sometimes this can drive my husband round the bend. We will be sitting at Starbucks having a coffee and while he is innocently having a conversation with me I am intently listening to the couple across from us and he is always astonished how I can tell him in detail what is going on with their conversation. It’s a problem. I think I need help. I am also worried that I am passing this trait on to my grand children. My youngest told me the other day that when Mommy is talking on the phone she holds her breath so she can hear properly. Oh my goodness. Maybe I should tell my daughter to start shouting on the phone so my grandchild doesn’t have to hold her breath for too long!