Lopez Island

Odlin County Park dock on Lopez Island

At 29.81 square miles, Lopez is the third largest of Washington State’s San Juan Islands. Ferry service from Anacortes links Lopez to the mainland and paved roads make travel around the island easy. There’s also has a small airport and private airstrips. Lopez island has two marinas, a village with shops and eateries, and numerous parks. Lodging is available in campsites, one hotel, and vacation rental homes. There’s even an Airbnb in a treehouse – looks like a fun place to stay.

Treehouse Airbnb – internet photo

Biking is popular on Lopez since it is not so hilly as the other main islands with the maximum elevation at just 220 feet. Other island attractions besides forest, beaches, and peace and quiet include a winery and museum and other local places of interest. Activities include kayak rentals, whale watching or fishing excursions, scenic flights and island bus tours.

Lopez Island ferry dock (internet photo)

Lopez Island was named Chauncey Island by an early expedition, but changed to Lopez by the British in 1847. The island is named for Spanish naval officer Gonzalo Lopez de Haro, the first European to discover the San Juan Islands in a 1790-1791 expedition. Haro Strait is also named after him. Lopez Island sits south of Orcas Island and east of San Juan Island, the two islands larger than it. Both of those islands are also serviced by Washington State Ferries, as is smaller Shaw Island northwest of Lopez between Orcas and San Juan. Blakeley and Decatur Islands sit east of Lopez. Haro Strait runs between San Juan and Vancouver Islands, with the USA/Canada border running through Haro Strait.

Odlin County Park

State and county parks are included among the parks on Lopez with Spencer Spit State Park and Odlin County Park on opposite sides of the ferry dock. Odlin County Park sits about mile south the ferry landing on the island’s west side, while Spencer Spit is 4 miles southeast of the dock on the island’s east side. Both parks are accessible by car or boat and have campgrounds.

Spencer Spit State Park (internet photo)

Spencer Spit State Park is a 138 acre park with 2 sandspits and a marshy lagoon. Activities include hiking trails, fishing, crabbing, clamming, diving, swimming, kayak rentals, and wildlife watching. Most of those activities are seasonal. Odlin County Park has a boat launch and dock as well as camping and picnic areas and trails. This park also has wildlife.

picnic at Odlin County Park

We made a brief stop at Odlin County park one day for a picnic lunch. We came by boat and tied up at their dock located conveniently a short walk from the boat ramp and seaside picnic area. The highlight of our brief visit was four otters swimming around between the dock and shore. We also took a short hike on one of their trails. This was during a time when the whole pacific northwest was shrouded in smoke from distant wildfires so the sky looked very gray that day. We could see tents on the beach in the camping area, which was not near the picnic area where we were. We did not see any other people at the park until we were nearly ready to leave and saw one car with 2 people. Which is good while on a social distance vacation during the Covid pandemic where other people are the last thing you want to see.

Lopez Village Market (internet photo)

Lopez village has a chamber of commerce with island maps and suggestions of things to do as well as shops, eateries, groceries, a museum, community center, wine tasting, and post office. The village is near to Fisherman’s Bay which has moorage available for those who come by boat.

fallen tree next to the trail at Odlin County Park

This island is a great place for visitors who want to get away from the crowds, but still have limited amenities available.

map of Lopez Island

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Limassol, Cyprus Sea Walk and Old Town

MSC Lirica in Limassol, Cyprus

Cruise ships visiting Limassol, Cyprus dock at a terminal in an industrial area about 3K away from town. Shuttle service brings passengers into the city. On our stop there on the MSC Lirica it cost 9 euro per person to take the shuttle. It stopped in a small parking area next to a marina full of yachts in an area of nice homes of newer construction near the ancient buildings of old town. The parking area had access to a road into town as well as a pathway next to the water passing by docked boats. There were shops and cafés in that area.

sculpture on the beach next to the seawall

Sea Walk

From the shuttle stop at the marina it’s a short walk through some shops and along a road until reaching the seaside walkway. A bike trail runs along the entrance to the marina offering another way to get to the seaside walkway. Either it or walking down the road toward old town will get you there. The sea walk runs about 5K from just east of Limassol and has lights along the path for those who are out after dark.

dock on the seawall

The seaside walkway is dotted with docks and bridges, as well as walking paths and the bike trail. For most of the distance there is a park running alongside it, though a ways down the park is on the other side of the street before it disappears. At first the waves come crashing over rocks right next to the seawall, but farther down a small beach runs alongside it. There is beach access in some places.

seawall walk and parallel path

For part of the trail the seawall ran parallel to the pathway, and people could choose to walk on either.

playground in the park by the seaside walkway

The park has open space and greenery interspersed with playgrounds and a couple small cafés. There are even some small restrooms next to the path.

pools next to the walkway

Some areas of the pathway are flanked by shallow pools. We even saw a row of accessible fitness equipment alongside the path in one spot.

bikes for rent

A row of matching bikes sat in the park waiting to be rented.

cat on a park bench

Docks jut out into the sea here and there along the way. Cats sleep under bushes or on park benches, or walk along the pathways. Cyprus seemed to have as many stray cats as the Greek ports we visited on this cruise.

catching fish for a cat

On one dock we saw a guy fishing with a cat hanging around next to him. He caught a small fish and gave it to the cat, who ran off with it – taking it to the 4 kittens the man said she had. He told us he was fishing for the cat he had given the fish to so he apparently provided food for her on a regular basis.

kitty and litter, but not kitty litter

Although there were a number of garbage cans along the pathways the adjacent landscape was still dotted with litter. Some people are pigs whatever country they are from. Then again that’s an insult to pigs since they don’t leave a trail of litter wherever they go. From there the plastic hasn’t far to go to reach the sea where it’s a danger to marine life and not just an unsightly mess.

mosaic on the walkway

Most of the pathway was plain, but we did come across a mosaic inlay.

Old Town

row of French themed stores leading into old town

Old town is a short distance from the marina, mostly behind the row of buildings directly on the road that runs past it, though there are some entrances from there. One store had a sign saying you could go through it to get to the old town. Probably a good way to get people into the shops in hopes they buy something while passing through. Not far from that store a little alleyway of French themed shops led into the old town area, which is one of Limassol’s main tourist attractions.

cannon outside Limassol Castle

Limassol Castle is a museum in the old town area. Besides the castle turned museum old town has winding little streets lined with small shops and cafes. And some cats. Most of the cats we saw there were in the courtyard by the museum/castle, especially in a garden area with interesting-looking trees whose bark had a woven appearance. There was also a reproduction of a rather large old olive press.

Limassol Duck Store

Besides the usual sort of shops one finds in touristy areas there are some unique local stores. One shop stands out as truly unique – the Limassol Duck Store. This little store sells rubber ducks. And that’s all they sell.

Not just plain ducks though. They have  all sorts of ducks. Bride and groom ducks, ducks for different countries, professions, or sports along with fancy ducks and duck key chains or toothbrush holders. They even had ducks representing specific people. Among the ducks displayed in the store window we saw Donald Duck, and I don’t mean the Disney character.

church in old town

A domed church in old town that appeared rather mosque-like from the outside turned out to be a catholic church – the Church of St Catherine built in the 1870’s.

inside the domed church

There is a mosque in the old town area as well, but we did not go there.

street in old town

The old town covered quite a large area with winding streets filled with quite a variety of shops and cafes.

ancient buildings

Some of the buildings look very ancient, especially near the castle. Others look old, but not quite so ancient.

street in old town

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
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How To Fold a Towel Whale

towel whale

Supplies Needed

2 bath towels

1 washcloth


How To Make a Towel Whale

fold towel over across the short side, leaving a bit of single layer at the end

Lay one bath towel out flat. Fold towel over across the short side, leaving about 6-8 inches of single layer hanging out beyond the end of the folded over edge of the towel.

roll in from corners of folded edge

Roll the edges of the towel starting with the corners of the folded edge and adding in the folded end and the sides.

roll the folded end and the sides

Keep rolling until most of the towel is rolled. Repeat with the second towel. Roll one towel a little more than the other so that the wider one fits over the top of the narrower one.

roll two towels with one a bit narrower than the other

Turn the wider towel over and set it on top of the narrower one. The mouth end sets up on top of the other towel while the rest of it covers over the edges of the lower towel.

put one towel on top and tuck the edges under

Tuck the edges of the top towel around the lower one so only the mouth looks like two separate pieces and shape the tail end into a narrow opening just big enough to insert the tail.

fold washcloth diagonally then over tip

Fold the washcloth diagonally so it makes a triangle. Fold the tip of the triangle back over the folded washcloth.

tuck up the center with the folded triangle underneath

Turn the washcloth over so the triangle folded over it is on the underside and bend it a little at the center to make it tail shaped.

insert the tail into the back of the whale

Insert tail into the opening at the tail end of the whale and tuck the towels around it. Shape tail and the rest of the whale as desired.

finished towel whale

Add eyes to finish the whale. Use big googly eyes or make your own eyes from felt or paper.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021

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A Virtual Christmas Vacation

Christmas in Pictures

When you can’t travel for real, travel vicariously on the internet. This was a real trip last year, now it’s a virtual one. One benefit of traveling near Christmas is seeing all the decorations – sometimes in unexpected places.

Heathrow Airport London, England

Christmas decorations at Heathrow Airport

Lucerne, Switzerland

at the top of Mount Pilatus

at a small gondola station halfway down Mount Pilatus

Vaduz, Liechtenstein

putting up decorations in Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Innsbruck, Austria

giant tree in Innsbruck, Austria

Santa pays a visit to Innsbruck

decorations at a Christmas market in Innsbruck

Christmas market in Innsbruck

On the MSC Lirica

stairway in the theater on MSC Lirica

gingerbread village under a stairway on the MSC Lirica

Limassol, Cyprus

Santa has a bike in Limassol, Cyprus

Santa has reindeer and his sleigh in Limassol too

Christmas market in Limassol

Dubai, UAE

Dubai may be in an Islamic country, but they’re not shy about putting up Christmas decorations. They aren’t offended by them either. There were at least as many locals as tourists in many of the decorated places, sometimes way more. Women in their hijabs and abayas walked under hanging Christmas wreaths and other decorations or past Christmas trees and displays without a care.

Mercato Mall

Atlantis Hotel

store window at Dubai Mall

in a store at Dubai Mall

giant Christmas ornaments at Dubai Mall

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Nordkette Seegrube station

Prior to our cruise on the MSC Lirica, we flew into Europe via Switzerland 10 days ahead of the cruise and made our way by train to Italy for embarkation with several stops along the way. After visits to Zurich and Lucerne in Switzerland, and Vaduz in Liechtenstein we went on to Austria for a couple nights in Innsbruck.

Nordkette funicular coming to the Hungerburg station

Our second day in Innsbruck, Austria was a mix of rain and snow so we bundled up before heading out to Nordkette, our plan for the day. That was our only full day in town so if we wanted to go up the mountain it was then or never. Nordkette is the name of the mountain range just north of the city, but it is also the name for the total series of rides and attractions going up the side of a mountain visible from town with a station near the river in the old town area. The entrance to the funicular that takes people partway up the mountain was not far from our hotel so we just walked there. If you don’t know what it is you could be standing right next to it, looking right at it, and wonder where it was. It’s across the street from a little waterfront park and looks like a bus station with a funny light green roof unless you notice the tiny little sign that says Nordkette and take the stairway or elevator down underground. A big underground room holds the ticket counter and the end of the line stop for the funicular. That stop is called Congress and the name of the funicular is Hungerburgbahn.

rainy day view from the funicular

Unlike any other funicular I have ever seen, which all just go up a very steep hill, this one first travels underground through a tunnel under a river. On the other side there’s a small station called Lowenhaus that has the same funny green roof as the entrance to the one on the other side, but that station is a little platform above ground giving people on the other side of the river a place to get on or off the ride – and the funicular a place to stop while the other car stops elsewhere as a funicular works with two cars in tandem going opposite ways.

you have to go from one building to another to get from the funicular to the cable car at Hungerburg

After that stop it goes uphill to another stop at Alpenzoo where people can get off to go to the zoo, or back on after visiting the zoo. It was pouring down rain when we got to the Alpenzoo on the way back down, but the town was visible from there. Far away and appearing much smaller than it actually is, we could see the big ski jump that’s a major tourist attraction perched on a different mountain on the opposite side of the city.

Bergisel Ski Jump (internet photo)

It’s called Bergisel Ski Jump. It was a site for the 1964 and 1976 Olympics, but was rebuilt in 2002. It has a stadium and a restaurant and hosts annual events. Even when it’s not ski season people go there for the 360° views. It’s accessed by an inclined elevator. We did not have time to go there. We just saw it in the distance from a viewpoint at the zoo.

town at the Hungerburg station

The last stretch of funicular track goes up a very steep grade more like normal funiculars. Its final stop is called Hungerburg. There’s a little town there, which had a Christmas market going during our November visit. The ground there was slushy with the same rain/snow mix as in town falling in the morning, but by afternoon it was just raining, like at the bottom of the mountain. Everything was shrouded in mist in the morning, but by afternoon part of the city below was visible through the clouds.

booths at the little Christmas market

One of the booths at the Christmas Village had some sort of liquor made from pine trees they said was a local specialty. They gave out free samples and it was actually pretty good.

view from the cable car

You have to go outside at the station in Hungerburg where the funicular ends and into another nearby building to catch the first of two cable cars, which travels from there up to a station called Seegrube. By the time we got that high on the mountain there was no more rain mix, it was pure snow falling at Seegrube, onto a thick layer of snow already on the ground.

snow bikes

The Seegrube station has a restaurant, hotel, tiny souvenir shop, and rentals of little bikes outfitted with miniature skis that people ride down a small hill by that station. Kind of like sledding, but on a bike. There’s a big flat area by that station where people go to play in the snow. A lot of them just stay there and don’t go any higher. Others go up the mountain to ski. We just passed quickly thorough that station on our way to the next cable car on the way up, but stopped in at the restaurant for lunch on the way back down.

lunch at Restaurant Seegrube by DoN

We had lunch at a table by a window. We had their homemade tomato soup and French fries. We had to ask for more ketchup. At least we were able to get it there. In Lucerne when we tried to get more than the skimpy amount of ketchup provided we ended up with unwanted extra orders of fries to go with it. The whole wall next to the windows had a radiator running the length of it. There weren’t a lot of people in the restaurant at that time so they all had tables by the window. Everyone spread their coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and whatever else they had that was wet out over the radiator by their table to dry while they ate. Everything we had worn out on the mountain that was not covered by our raingear was soaking wet so we had our gloves and things on the radiator too, and hung the raincoats over the back of a chair near the heat so the outsides of them could dry as well.

people in the snow

It stopped snowing for awhile while we were there so after lunch we went out to explore for a bit before going the rest of the way down the mountain. We didn’t bring proper snow clothes or boots that would keep snow out doing anything other than walking over the top of it with us on this trip, but we had good enough clothing to walk around the area a bit and watch other people having fun on the little bike sleds and playing in the snow.

cable car coming into the Hafelekar station at the top of Innsbruck

The last cable car takes people to the Top of Innsbruck station called Hafelekar, which is at 2,256 meters or 7,400 feet. In better weather people can take a short hike to the summit. There are other hiking trails up there too.

I made it to the top of Innsbruck sign in a blizzard

We stepped outside into a howling wind blowing icy bits of frozen snow so hard you couldn’t face into it with open eyes as the wind would drive those little bits of ice right into them. It was maybe a 20-foot or so walk to the sign that said Top of Innsbruck so we made it that far for a couple quick photos and went back inside. It was a long 20 feet in that weather and there was no chance of hiking any farther that day. It was snowing so hard we probably couldn’t have even found the trails if we’d tried.

view from the café at the top of Innsbruck

On a nice day the views up there would be awesome, but all we saw was white. There is a little restaurant at that station that has soups, salads, desserts, meals, and will make picnic lunches for hikers. The cable car to that station only ran twice per hour when we were there. I don’t know if that is standard or just because it wasn’t very crowded that day. Since the schedule flashed by on an electronic readerboard it probably varies because if it was set they’d likely have a more permanent sign, but that’s just a guess on my part. There wasn’t much else at that station so we got a cup of tea and sat in the restaurant watching it snow for awhile before heading back down.

view of the Seegrube station from the cable car

If we’d had more time in Innsbruck we would have chosen a nicer day to go up the mountain, but when your time is limited and you want to do something you do it anyway and just dress for the weather the best you can. We didn’t have snowsuits, but we wore good raingear so we did stay fairly dry.

cable car coming into the Seegrube station in the snow

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Limassol, Cyprus Cruise Port

MSC Lirica in Limassol, Cyprus


Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean, an independent country officially called the Republic of Cyprus. Weather in this area brings hot dry summers and rainy winters. Currency is the Euro. Limassol lies on the southern coast of the island and is known for its centuries old Limassol Castle, which houses the Cyprus Medieval Museum. Residents of Limassol speak Greek, but in touristy areas many also speak English or Russian. Limassol (Lemesos) is the 2nd largest city on the island.

building in Limassol

The economy is largely based on tourism, and we had no trouble finding English speakers working in the shops we visited there. The country also has industry and trade as well as agriculture and fishing. Agriculture was once the base of the island’s economy, and is making a comeback with resource-efficient farming of organic and superfood products.

the port terminal building is a series of oval pods


Cruise ships dock in the new port, 3k away from old town and the old port area. There may be free shuttles into town for some cruises, and bus 30 will also get people there. The terminal building has duty free shops, banks, tourist information, and taxis. The building itself is quite interesting looking. It’s a series of oval pods.

inside one of the pods at Limassol’s cruise terminal

The port is located in an industrial area not near anything for tourists to see. On our visit shuttles to a marina were available near our ship, the MSC Lirica. These shuttles cost 9 euro per person so there was no free port shuttle that day. Shuttle busses ran continuously from both ends with one leaving as soon as it was full and more always ready and waiting for the next load.

shuttle stop in Limassol

The buses stopped in a small parking area with an across the water view of some lovely homes. Boats there all appeared to be privately owned. From the parking area people could walk alongside the water past the boats in the marina or onto a street passing through town.

walkway at the marina

The area around the marina was newer construction with nice homes, shops and cafés around the fancy yachts moored there. From there it is not too far to walk to the old town area where buildings are far more ancient, or to a seaside walkway which has a seawall you can walk on as well as a walking paths and a bike path.

carousel in Limassol, Cyprus

Our wanderings took us through an area where a carnival had been set up, but it wasn’t open that morning. It still wasn’t open when we walked by later in the day on our way back to the shuttle stop. Perhaps it was setting up for the Christmas season and not yet operational. Or maybe it just wasn’t open that day or during the daytime.

the marina was full of fancy expensive modern yachts, and then there was this boat

Some people did walk from the ship into town, but you would have to know where you wanted to go and have some sort of map or mapping app to find it if you are not familiar with the area, as well as adding some distance to whatever you walk to once you get where you are going. We took the shuttle, but in my online research pre-cruise I found a site that said the walking distance into town is 3K so not a bad walk if you know where to go, assuming that information is correct.

view from the shuttle stop in Limassol


Attractions to see in Limassol include Limassol castle, museums, sculpture park, historic mosques and churches, medieval center, bars and cafes, Fasouri Watermania water park, zoo, Kolossi Castle, marina, ancient Kourian archeological site, Aphrodite’s Rock (seashore rock formation said to be where the mythological Greek goddess Aphrodite emerged from the sea), Molos promenade from old town to the zoo, Akti Olympion beach, Oleastro Olive Park & Museum, sanctuary of Apollo, Akrotiri salt lake, and Advimou beach.

Limassol Castle

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Europe, Lirica, MSC, Port Cities, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Decatur Island

Map of Decatur Island

Decatur Island is a private island in Washington State’s San Juan Islands. The island sits east of Lopez and south of Blakely. Lopez has ferry service and limited public amenities including a village with shops and a waterfront park with a dock, mooring buoys, and a campground. More lodgings on Lopez include vacation rental homes and other camping areas. Blakely is private, but has a shallow-entry marina with fuel, a seasonal store, permanent and transient moorage, and restrooms with showers. The only public facility on Decatur Island is a boat ramp in Davis Bay near Decatur Head on the east side of the island. It also has the Kimball Preserve, a wildlife preservation area on a tombolo and part of the headland at the southern tip of the island. It is open to the public for daytime use, but accessible only by human powered craft such as kayaks or rowboats. The easiest landing is on the sandy spit of the tombolo connecting the smaller island bit to the headland. A tombolo is defined as a sandbar or spit connecting an island to the mainland. In Decatur’s case they connect much smaller islands to the main island, which in itself is not all that large.

Kimball Preserve on Decatur Island

The island’s other tombolo, Decatur Head, lies next to much smaller James Island on Decatur’s east side. James is one of the islands in the San Juan’s where the entire island is a marine state park, accessible only by private boat. James Island has a dock, mooring buoys, beaches, a picnic area, hiking trails, pit toilets, primitive campsites, and a good amount of off-limits to people wildlife preservation area.

Piper on the beach at Decatur Island

Decatur Island was named for naval officer Stephen Decatur in the 1841 Wilkes expedition – an early naval exploration and surveying mission of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding lands. Decatur Island’s total area covers 3.524 square miles with elevations from sea level to 540 feet.

Decatur Island Store – the upstairs is a bnb

Decatur Island has some year-round residents and a number of vacation homes. The main residential/vacation home communities are Decatur Shores, which has a dock and and a small airport with a grass runway, and Decatur Northwest which has a dock. The cabins at Decatur Head have 2 small docks. Other residences and vacation homes on the island are in private areas without community facilities.

Decatur School

The island has a one-room school house for kindergarten through 8th grade, one of just a handful of active one-room schools still remaining in the USA. Near the school there’s a solar power generating facility and a small store which is currently closed. Gravel roads provide access from one area of the island to another. Residents have cars, but there are no gas stations so they have to have the fuel brought in. Old cars don’t seem to ever leave the island as there are many abandoned in the woods along the roadsides.

Island charter picking up passengers on Decatur Island

Decatur has no ferry service, but cars and freight come to the public boat ramp through Island Transporter and people can come to the island’s docks or boat ramp through either Island Express or Paraclete Charters as well as private boats. Small airplanes can land on the airstrip with permission from Decatur Shores. For anyone without connections to private homes or cabins on Decatur, accommodations may be found through Airbnb, but you have to look carefully because most of their listings are really located on other islands. Visitors to the island need to bring everything they will need during their stay with them since the island has just the one small store that has closed.

cabins at Decatur Head

We visit through my husband’s sister, who is part of a group owning cabins at Decatur Head. It’s a nice island, typical of the smaller San Juan islands in being mostly rural and forested. Some of the seaside areas have beaches while others end abruptly as rock cliffs jutting out of the water. Roads are gravel rather than paved. Other than birds and tidal sea life, small island deer are the most likely wildlife to come across while hiking about the island.

low tide swing hanging from a dead tree

Most beaches belong to the state and are accessible to anyone, but not crowded since there aren’t that many people on the island. I took long walks on the beach at low tide and never saw any other people. At low tide the beaches can go out for quite a distance, but some beach areas may disappear altogether when the tide comes in.

driftwood fort

Winter storms deposit driftwood of all shapes and sizes where currents bring them to the island’s beaches. People like to make forts out of the driftwood. A walk along the beach in an area that collects a lot of driftwood may bring you past various previous visitor’s forts ranging from small and simple to big and elaborate. None of them look as if they would provide much shelter from rain or storms though.


In areas where the cliffs above the beach are made of dirt instead of rock weather and tides may cause landslides.

limpets on a rock at low tide

Overall Decatur and many other islands in the San Juan’s are nice peaceful places to visit where nature is abundant and people are scarce.

Decatur Head at low tide

Photos in this blog are hazy because our last visit to Decatur was at a time when smoke from distant wildfires shrouded the entire pacific northwest.

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Posted in USA, Washington | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

iFLY Luggage Review

iFLY large and carry-on bags

I’ve always been partial to soft-sided luggage and resisted buying any of the hard-sided sort. My husband has had a big iFly bag for several years now, and loves it. After much online research on the best bags to get at an affordable price, my daughter bought a 3-piece set of iFLY a year ago on her last trip to the USA, to replace the falling-apart set of soft-sided luggage she arrived with. She loves her iFLY too. Meanwhile up until my most recent cruise I kept to the soft-sided luggage, though I did go with a higher quality medium sized bag on my last purchase as I was tired of replacing the cheap bags that either start coming apart or have wheel issues after a couple flights.

platform at Zurich train station – some of these stations are vast, like a giant shopping mall with trains

We knew we would put a lot of miles on our luggage on our most recent trip as we had quite a lot of train travel planned before the cruise. Because of all the train travel I just wanted to bring a small bag. Since we were traveling through Europe I also wanted one that would be at least somewhat secure. I did have a small bag in good shape, but that’s mainly due to not much use, and it has a couple external pockets so besides the wheels not likely holding up it was also not the best one for use in the vicinity of pickpockets and thieves. Although as it turned out the areas of Europe where we went did not seem to have such a problem with that as some of the more heavily traveled places.

iFLY is easy to lock. There’s just one central zipping area with zippers from each end that come together with a built-in spot for placing a lock.

Mainly because of having just the one central zipper and no external pockets as well as the hard shell and good wheels, I went with the iFLY carry-on size this time. While my daughter had found a great deal online for the 3-piece set, for just the one bag I wanted it was cheaper to buy it at the store. They had black and rose gold. While I’m not fond of rose gold, when you go to pick up luggage in baggage claim, the majority of bags are black so for ease of finding my bag amongst the sea of luggage on the carousel I got the rose gold. I also got a set of two tiny locks, one for my new theft-proof backpack and the other for the suitcase, though as it turned out we did not run into any problems with possible thieves on this trip. We did run into someone on the ship who said they had very few clothes for the cruise and no electronics as they had left their luggage unattended in the trunk of a car for a minute or two in the process of checking into a hotel and it vanished. Obviously not everyone had as good of luck as we did in avoiding thieves, though in that case it wouldn’t matter what sort of luggage or locks the victims had since the thieves took their entire bags rather than just getting into them when the people weren’t paying attention.

inside the iFLY bag

Inside the iFLY bags have two main compartments, one for each half of the bag. One side has a zipping flap that encloses everything packed into that side of the bag securely under the flap. The flap has a pocket in it too so anything put there can be both separated from either main half and easy to get to.  The other side has straps that will hold things like clothes in place. It also has a small pocket hanging along the long inside edge.

even the big bag fit into the biggest size luggage locker at the Zurich train station

I’ve had bags in the past that went from looking brand-new to filthy and ancient in one flight. I’ve also had bags that went onto a plane intact and came off barely hanging together. One so badly damaged that I had to have it plastic-wrapped between flights to hold it together or there would be nothing left in it by the time we got home. Another one went from rolling along just fine to having a wheel so bent it wouldn’t roll at all in the distance between disembarking a ship and the taxi stand. Granted there was a long walk through the port building and another long walk outside at that port, but a decent bag should still be rolling regardless of the distance.

walking to the train station in the rain in Lucerne with iFly luggage and Skechers boots

Our iFLY bags definitely got put to the test this trip. My husband’s several years old bag held up just as well as my brand-new one. In fact by looking at it you can’t even tell it’s been used at all other than a few scratches. Cleanliness is another advantage of the hard-sided bag. His being black it doesn’t show the dirt anyway, and the smudge mine came off a plane with wiped away easily rather than putting a permanent stain on it as airplane dirt has with bags I’ve had in the past.

wheels on my iFLY bag after our trip where we put several miles on them

We really put the wheels to the test. We took a bunch of different trains touring around Europe between landing in Switzerland on the plane and boarding the ship in Italy. Small bags are definitely the way to go when traveling by train. My bag fit into the overhead luggage rack on all but one of the trains we took. John’s big bag only fit in the overhead rack on one train. While large bags are fine when going straight from airplane to ship, if we were to travel around by train again he said he’d get a small iFLY bag like mine next time. Some of the trains had room for him to just have his big bag by the seats, but that only works when there are empty seats. The one train where the luggage racks were only big enough for backpacks had racks by the doors so both bags went there. Not the best situation since it would be fairly easy for anyone getting off the train to take someone else’s bag with them from that rack, but that train was too crowded to keep bags by the seats and luckily nobody bothered them. We did put the more important things in our backpacks so if anybody did take the bags they would just get clothes and shoes –  no computers, tablets or really essential things like passports and credit cards.

platform at Lucerne train station

At some train stations we wheeled the bags for quite a long distance getting to our platform. The distances they went at train stations or airports was nothing compared to how far we went between the train stations and lodgings though. Between all the different places where we stayed we put several miles on them, and the wheels aren’t worn at all. We also had to go about a kilometer in the rain to get to the train station one morning, so the hard-sided luggage was a bonus for keeping clothes dry there.

iFLY luggage

For anyone looking for durable affordable luggage where both the bag and wheels hold up under heavy use, iFLY is definitely a good choice. If I had planned on doing a review I’d have taken some photos of my bag when it was new and unused, but since I only decided to write the review after the trip because I liked the bag it was already used before I took any.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
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28 Days on a Cruise Ship with No Guest Laundry

Westerdam in Japan

Westerdam in Beppu, Japan

All the major cruise ships have a variety of cabin selections and plenty of food. Beyond that amenities vary greatly from one line to another, and even among ships of the same cruise line. Some lines provide self-serve passenger laundries on all their ships, some don’t have them on any. Holland America has them on some ships (like the Veendam), but not others (like the Westerdam). The best ship we’ve ever sailed on as far as guest laundries go was P&O Arcadia, where they were not only available, but free to use. All the other ships we’ve been on that had guest laundries charged something each for the washer and dryer, though the cost varied. Originally they were all coin-operated, but as time goes on newer ships or those who replace the equipment change it to paying with the same ship card people use to open their cabin door or make purchases in the shops, bars, or anywhere else on board. We took a 28-day cruise on the Westerdam from Vancouver to Shanghai, and would definitely have appreciated a guest laundry on that cruise if the ship had one. Unfortunately it didn’t.

cruise ship duck dinner

cruise ship dinner – it’s all good unless you spill it on your clothes

It’s easy to pack enough clothes to sail for a week without washing any clothes, but what do people do on longer cruises? If the ship has guest laundries of course that’s easy – they wash them. If not, there are other options. People high enough in the loyalty program often get free laundry service, but on some lines that requires a lot of past cruises. On Holland America for instance you have to get to 4 stars, which takes 200 cruise day credits before your benefits include laundry service. Free laundry service often comes as a perk for those who book suites, but not everyone can afford those. There’s always the option to use the bag provided in the cabin to send your things out to the crew for laundry service, but the price is usually steep, sometimes so much so that you could just about buy new clothes for what it costs to have the crew wash them for you. Although even at that paying for laundry service is still far cheaper than the price difference between a stateroom and a suite.

doing laundry on a cruise ship

sink full of laundry on the Westerdam

That pretty much leaves hand washing in the cabin for anyone on a budget. One advantage on the Westerdam was that anything above an inside cabin comes with a tub rather than a shower. This is useful for hand washing clothes because a tub gives a lot more hanging space than a shower. You could even use it to wash the clothes in if you wanted, though I do the handwashing in the sink. It doesn’t hold as many, but then the amount you can wash at one time is limited to the amount of space you have to hang them to dry anyway.

doing laundry on a cruise

laundry hanging on lines tied to metal fixtures on the tub

Cruise ship showers or tubs come equipped with a clothes line you can pull across and hook to the other side, which is great for hanging wet swimming suits or just a few laundry items, but not sufficient for much else. Luckily there are always places to tie things to if you come prepared. I’ve used just a plain clothesline rope and clothes pins in the past. This cruise I had a travel line that had clips attached already, but I supplemented those with clothespins because it didn’t have enough clips, and I also used clothespins on the line the ship provides. Clothespins often come in handy when traveling even if all you need to hang is a wet swimsuit. The sort of travel line with suction cups would come in useful as you would not need to tie it to anything, though its hanging distance is limited by the length of the shower or tub where the sort you tie can wind around giving more hanging space. Having both would be ideal to maximize the amount of hanging space and use areas where there is nowhere to tie a line to, which would help keep the wet clothes more separated – and separation helps them dry faster.

drying laundry on a ship

adding more laundry on the cruise ship line

Cruise ship bathrooms don’t tend to have a lot of airflow, so the clothes dry a whole lot faster if you keep the bathroom door open. Some things will dry overnight and most will dry within a full 24 hour day so long as the door stays open. Stewards tend to shut it whenever they clean the room though, so you have to open it when you get back. Once things stop dripping they can move to hangers. Usually there’s a spare towel shelf with a bar under it they can hang from. Things like thick socks or heavy jeans may take an extra day so that’s a good place to put them to finish drying, or to hang swimsuits when you get back from the pool or hot tub if the line is full of laundry. Even if you aren’t washing clothes and the only thing you hang to dry is a swimming suit it will still dry better in a cruise ship bathroom if you leave the door open.

doing laundry on a cruise ship

view of laundry lines from above

I’ve found that I can actually pack less clothes for a long cruise with no launderettes when I’m planning to wash things by hand than what I need for a shorter one where I won’t do any laundry or a long one that has guest laundries where I won’t need to wash clothes as often. Since there isn’t that much space to hang things if you wash clothes every day or two you don’t need enough clothes to last a whole week like you would for a shorter cruise or a long cruise where you can wash and dry a whole load at a time. Which is useful if you want to pack light to save on airline luggage fees. It does limit your wardrobe options so you don’t have a whole lot to choose from in what to wear each day though.

Great Wall of China

clothes worn on shore excursions might get sweaty – like when you walk on the Great Wall of China

My essentials for doing laundry in the cabin are a bottle of the sort of laundry soap intended for handwashing, clothes pins, and clothes line. Batch size of clothes that can be washed at once depends completely on hanging space, which varies from ship to ship depending on the size of the tub or shower as well as the amount of clothesline and clothespins you have available – and whether or not there is somewhere to hang the clothesline. It doesn’t help to bring a lot of line if you only have space to hang a little. Don’t count on using balcony space to hang clothesline as most ships don’t allow laundry hanging on balconies. It’s a safety thing. Ever since someone threw a cigarette butt off their cruise ship balcony and it landed in laundry hanging on the balcony below and started a fire most ships stopped allowing anyone to hang things on the balcony or to smoke there.

Great Wall of China

John’s clothes needed washing too after our visit to the Great Wall

Once your things are washed and hanging, wringing them out frequently will help them dry faster. Wring them out until they stop dripping. After awhile water works its way to the bottom of the garment and they start dripping again so they are ready for another wring. This is especially useful for things like socks that may otherwise take a long time to dry and don’t tend to wrinkle easily (and if they do it really doesn’t matter since putting them on would stretch the wrinkles out anyway.) Not so useful for clothing likely to wrinkle because the more you wring it the more wrinkles it will get and ships without guest laundries aren’t that likely to have irons available either. It does help some if you fluff the clothing up and smooth out all the wrinkles after you wring it out, and if you wring by rolling rather than squeezing the item.

doing laundry on a cruise

sometimes there is a lot of laundry crowding the line

If you’re ready to wash more things and some are still damp, but long done dripping they can move to hangers dangling from the towel rack or even into the closet if you have enough room there to hang things with some space between them and any other item so they get some airflow and to keep them from getting anything else damp. If you don’t mind clothes hanging in the middle of the room they’ll dry fastest hanging from the heater/air conditioner, which is usually a ceiling vent. Of course they would have to be well past the dripping stage and just finishing off a damp item for that because wet things dripping onto a carpeted floor is a very bad idea.

doing laundry on a cruise ship

when there’s less laundry you can spread it out so it dries faster

Handwashing in the cabin on a long cruise is something you have to keep up on throughout the cruise, but it does save a lot of money over sending clothes out for the crew to wash. You can cut down on the amount of laundry by wearing things more than once if they did not get dirty, sweaty, or spilled on. Often something just gets worn for a couple hours to dinner or some other onboard event so it doesn’t really need washing every time. Unlike gym clothes or something you sweated in all day on shore, which does need washing after each use.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
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Rhodes Castle and Walled City

View from the Knights Road with a bit of MSC Lirica in the background

Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes

Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes

Rhodes castle on the Avenue of the Knights is the dominant feature of the medieval walled city. This 14th century palace of the Grand Masters was occupied by the Knights of St. John, also known as the Knights of Rhodes from 1310 until 1523. Their presence influenced the character of the city with its walls, gates, churches, hospitals, and palaces.

one room in the Knights castle

The Gothic style medieval castle once functioned as the knight’s headquarters and a fortress as well as a palace. The castle was initially built during the 7th century as a Byzantine citadel and fortress on the foundations of an ancient temple of the Greek sun god Helios. After the Knights Hospitaller occupied Rhodes and other Greek Islands they were named the Knights of Rhodes. They turned the fortress into the palace of their grand master and administrative headquarters. They made numerous modifications and repairs early in the 14th century, but the castle was damaged in an earthquake in 1481 so they had to repair it again.

chapel in the knights castle

Knights Hospitaller were initially associated with a hospital and cared for sick and poor people. Over time they became more militant, participating in the crusades and defending the holy land as well as providing escort for pilgrimages to it. After their fortresses in the holy lands fell they found refuge in Cypress, but had no power there.  With the approval of the pope and the king of France they took Rhodes over from Greece after much fighting and many deaths on both sides as their presence had not been approved by the Greek emperor. Later they were called the Knights of Rhodes and defended against a succession of enemies including Barbary pirates, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire. In 1522 the invasion fleet of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire arrived. He sent 100,000 men against the island’s 7000 knights. It took the Turks 6 months to breech the ancient city’s walls and in 1523 the knights lost the siege and left Rhodes forever. The Ottoman Empire then used the castle as a command center and fortress.

display in the castle

An ammunitions explosion in 1856 damaged the lower level and destroyed many of the first floor rooms. It was restored between 1937-1940 when Rhodes was under Italian rule and the castle was used as a holiday residence first for the King of Italy and then for dictator Benito Mussolini, whose name is on a large plaque near the entrance.

You enter into this courtyard and find a lot of locked doors. There was only one open entrance to the inside of the castle when we were there.

In 1947 Greece obtained Rhodes and other islands in a peace treaty, and in 1948 the castle was turned into a museum. It cost us 4 euros to go inside. At first it seemed as if all there was to see was a giant courtyard, all doors off of it being locked other than one leading to a restroom, which was free to use since people have already paid to be in there. Just one stairway off in a corner next to where you pay to come in was open. That stairway led up to an assortment of rooms.

crowd in the castle

We hardly saw anyone out in the courtyard, or in most of the rooms as we went through them. We ran into a large tour group when we were nearly done looking around so at least for the most part we beat the crowd, which was likely a cruise ship excursion. They probably paid a lot more than 4 euros to see a castle within easy walking distance of the ship. If they stayed with their guide they might have found out what all the things with no explanatory signs are though.

one of many mosaics

Each room had different mosaics on the floor.

ornate furnishings

Some rooms had very fancy furnishings, others plainer furniture made of wood.

this light fixture definitely does not look original

Some light fixtures had a medieval look about them, but all held electric bulbs so whether they were original features adapted to electricity rather than candles, or more modern lights made to look old I can’t say. Some looked old and others did not.

a series of cables connected the columns to the walls

Some of the larger rooms had a series of columns in them, which were probably what once held the place up, but apparently are no longer up to the task as all of them had some bracing cables running from one to another, around each, and hooked into the walls.

these whatsits were around the walls of an entire room as well as in some hallways, but there was never any information about what they were used for

Each room had informational signs, but they were always about the pattern of the mosaic on that room’s floor and never about anything else in the room people might be curious about – like whether the rows of what appeared to be sort of bench type thrones were where knights sat, or was a structure to hold giant vases or to store their armor or something.

excavation exhibit

While the castle was well above ground and in good shape, one room was partly full of dirt with wheelbarrows and signs about excavating, with no explanation of why that would have been necessary. Possibly because some of the mosaics are not original to the castle, but were excavated on another island called Kos. Only 24 of the castle’s more than 150 rooms are open to the public.

fireplace in the castle

Some of the rooms and spaces in the castle are quite large, and it had some pretty massive fireplaces.

Knights Road leads to the castle

Rhodes Walled City

road between the castle and the moat

The walled city in old town Rhodes was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The Knights quarter occupied about a third of the city, with the remainder where the common people lived. Apparently somebody was lacking in math skills when the Knight’s quarter takes up a third of the space. The walls stretch for 4 kilometers and have 11 gates.

the former moat is now dry and turned into a park

Some of the streets snake through town under arches or over bridges that seem to be part of the castle, but aren’t, at least not currently. A long open parklike area under bridges sits in what was once a medieval moat, but now is dry land and greenery.

shops in the walled city

Architecture is predominantly Gothic, but also reflects the different time periods and occupations going back to the early Greeks and ruins of a temple of Aphrodite, as well as a Byzantine church and Ottoman Mosque among the cobblestone streets and stone buildings.

rock street corner with businesses on the wider road and residences on the narrow alley

Old town Rhodes is the oldest occupied medieval town in Europe. Current residents live in the same buildings where people lived in medieval times.  Quaint streets and alleys are interspersed with homes and businesses in these ancient buildings. Some of the smaller streets are made from small rocks rather than bricks or flat paving stones.

open square in the walled city

Open squares within the walled city are the result of World War II bombings.

cat on a plaque in front of the castle

Many cats live there too. Some are pets, but a lot of them are strays. The locals take care of them so even the strays have enough to eat. We saw one that was quite obese.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Europe, Lirica, MSC, Port Cities, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments