Testing out – try to add a new post


Was able to add a photo finally!

Unforgettable Alaskan Cruise

In March of 2009 we cruised the Eastern Caribbean and went on four excursions Su recommended.  In August we went on a land tour and cruise of Alaska with friends from Colorado, and in 2010 all four of us took a trip to Oberammergau, Germany, to attend the Passion Play given only once every 10 years.

We both like the way she communicates.  Not only does she ask the right questions to get us to hone in on what our goals and expectations are for our vacations, but she thoroughly investigates all the options available and gets back to us in a timely manner.  One of our favorite things Su was able to book was our excursion to see whales in Icy Strait Point, Alaska.  The company she used was reputable and very successful in finding whales, otter, sea lions and bald eagles!

Pete and Mary, Raleigh, NC

South Africa and Italy trip 2010

Hello, I got my itinerary and I’ve got to say I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to be excited. When I opened it up I finally got EXCITED! Thank you. You did all the things for me that I would normally do. I always set up an itinerary for us and compile all my information in one place. This time, I seriously wouldn’t have been able to and SOOOO appreciated your expertise, patience and company through many of our decisions. I especially enjoyed all the little extras you stuck in. How fun! Thanks, Su. You’ve made this a great experience and I’m really looking forward to it.

Everything was wonderful, thanks so much. Great experiences. I have about 4000 pictures!

Diane and Ed, CA

Summer and the Pinks of Spring

Pretty soon I will hear the cicadas begin their incessant call meaning that summer is well and truly on us, and so before that happens I wanted to make sure that I have captured and recorded spring.  In all her blushing pink!

Saucer Magnolia

Today the azaleas bloomed!  In the morning they looked like big fat lipsticks pointing straight up on the plants/among the dark green leaves, by evening they had opened!  Beautiful blossoms that unfurled as the warmth of the sun worked on them.

When I lived in Africa, I used to listen for spring.  As the sun moved back over the equator and towards us in the South, the hard cold of the Highveld seemed to break and if you were quiet enough you could almost hear the sap rising in the bare plants.  Slowly but very definitely, the tips become green and supple seeming to stretch towards that coming warmth.  I listened too for the sound of the African Hoopoe.  The “whoop..whoop” coming first from far away on the wind, then echoing from somewhere nearby and suddenly one weak sunny day, right in the garden!  Spring had arrived when I saw those cheerful little fellows busy grubbing in my dry lawn, their striking black, brown, tan and white standing out against the tired khaki of the winter-end landscape.
Here, in the Carolinas, spring arrives with the faintest blush of pink.  Stark grey and dark brown under cold grey skies one day appear to take on a rose tint.  From the tips down.  Then I see the dark pink beginning blossoms on the fruit trees, the plum, the cherry.  Every day a new tree rushes to join in this joyous celebration!  Soon the Bradford Pears are out, saucer magnolias in their pale pink plastic and frilly cherry blossom.  Rain in the season brings a clarity and washes the air leaving blossom carpets and turning the grass green in front of our very eyes. 
The Carolina Wren is insistent outside crying “It was you!  It was you!  It was you!”  The mocking bird has been trying out various different songs never sticking to any one for any length of time but running through his repertoire for our enjoyment.  The red Cardinal so flashy and noble in winter against bare grey branches and white snow seems vulgar now against the pastel colors of spring and so he sticks to the tops of the green pines and sings his sweet song. 
The air is literally filled with bird song as new arrivals greet those leaving for different pastures or cooler climes than ours.  I’m watching carefully every day now for that elusive and so exciting visit from the cedar waxwings.    They look for all intents like painted courtesans!  In fact they remind me a lot of the loeries in tropical Africa, especially the Knysna Loerie with their gorgeous white eye-liner and little crests on their heads, excepting in miniature!

Squirrels are busy too digging up their last winter stores, nibbling on sweet new leaf tips and forever chasing one another up and down trunks and along sketchy branches.  Mothers-to-be are re-lining and patching their nests and preparing for the arrival of babies.  The sheer exuberance and undeniable vitality of spring surrounds us all – how can we not respond in kind?  So I take joy in the pinks of spring, smile at each new blossoming bush, call to the birds and laugh at the squirrels while I brush out kitty’s thick winter coat giving him a sleek new spring look.  What a glorious world we live in!

North Carolina Shores

Not so long ago in the dead of winter, we hired a small place right at the very edge of the beach with an unobstructed view right down to the waves.  There was hardly anyone else down there and we felt as if we had the beach, and island, to ourselves.  With the outside temperature a fresh 40*F and a brisk wind blowing it was hardly surprising!  But that did not stop us from enjoying crisp cold walks on the deserted sands along with the ever-present pelicans skimming the tops of the waves. 
There is a different quality of light down at the beach at that time of the year.  Its all water-colours and pastels.  Pearly pinks and soft mauves blend easily with the cool aqua shades of water and warm frothy white of foam over pale blonde sand.  I love the way that the sea changes from day to day.  Every day a different personality!  Ever changing, ever the same, and always fascinating.  We watched as the sky and reflected sea changed moods from day to day.  From calm and silky-smooth building up through a coastal storm with lowering dark skies and exceptionally high tides to a scattered and tossed turbulence and back to a quietly heavy calm. 
I always forget how loud the surf sounds until I’m back there.  And going to bed the first night, I wonder how I’ll be able to sleep until soon it becomes more of a question of how will I ever be able to sleep without its ceaseless lulling rhythm.
 A special treat while we were there was a daily dolphin visit. Almost every morning at 10am or thereabouts, we would suddenly spot a gleaming curve, a splash and there they were.  Cavorting and playing in the waves and beyond the breakers, a whole school of them!  Even one happy morning the joy of watching an especially adventurous dolphin surfing toward the beach on the particularly big breakers, a remnant of the overnight storm. Honestly, we felt as if they had arrived and put on a show especially for us!
The Atlantic Ocean bordering the many islands and banks of North Carolina is a wonderful place to spend time.  There are many fascinating towns and villages to visit and a number of delightful places to stay.  It’s not a place for high rise hotels and active night life (unless you count the ponderous busyness of the turtle during the season as she lumbers ashore to lay her eggs!) preferring to be a shore line mainly of beach homes, bed and breakfasts and occasional condo blocks.  To hire a beach house for a week during the summer is almost mandatory once you live down here and can be highly recommended.  However to get a real bargain come in the winter – like us – you won’t be disappointed!
Hiring homes on the NC shore is best done through a local realty company of which there are a number.  A quick search on the internet will cause these to pop up.  The quaint names of the different islands and sea-side towns hide quite different characters and it really depends on what you and your family are looking for in a vacation spot.  Some of the beaches are very family orientated, while others tend to be more geared toward teens and young adults and yet others are wind-swept and lonely appealing mainly to the fisherman and shell-seeker. 
Houses can be rented right on the beach, while others will have a partial ocean view,  some will be listed as second row with beach access meaning that they effectively sit in the middle of the narrow off-shore island with a short walk to the ocean.  Don’t ignore those listed as having a ‘sound view’, as these houses look inland across the body of water toward mainland and often enjoy the most spectacular sunsets reflected in both water and sky. 
Our favourite isles, so far, are Emerald Isle and the Crystal Coast, Topsail Island, Surf City and Wrightsville Beach.  Depends on our mood – and that of the sea.  What’s available and when.  But no matter what season, I’ll see you on the beach!

Ocean visits

There are no two ways about it – I just love the sea!  Any time I get a chance to spend some time down at the beach, I’ll take it.  Any beach.  Any sea.  Any season.  Any time.  There is something about being close to that huge body of water that soothes my soul and revitalizes me at the same time.  It doesn’t really matter what ocean either. 
I have lived on the Indian Ocean and relished the crashing surf and long golden rough sands of the beaches there.  I love the rocky coastline with its tidal pools and sheltered coves of northern Zululand which also dot the Wild Coast and the Cape.  The magnificence of the cliffs, long rolling waves and stunning views as you drive the famed Garden Route of eastern South Africa, incredibly duplicated half way across the world on the Big Sur of California.  Or driving the Mendocino coastline through timeless redwood forests with breathtaking vistas across the Pacific Ocean and brisk ocean breezes, always cool even in the heat of summer. 
The cold waters of the Atlantic up around England with its chalky cliffs and huge tidal variation, smugglers caves and ancient shipyards have their own appeal.  Wind-blown walks on high promontories, exploring lonely sea-surrounded castles with wisps of fog blowing in with whispers of medieval happenings.  Like I said, any chance I get, I am down at the sea! 
And can anything at all compare with the multi-hued aqua colours of the warm Caribbean waters?  Gorgeous, silky soft water reflecting sequin shades of blues and greens sparkle in tropical sunshine. There’s a magical playground just below the surface filled with every cartoon fish-character you could ever hope to meet.  Beaches of white and pink and pastel coral colours, just beg a lazy afternoon snooze in a hammock strung between palms.  Every island a find and potential treasure – a worthy life-long goal, that of acquainting yourself with each one! 
We live on the eastern seaboard of the Atlantic Ocean now and close enough that we can reach our ocean shores in a short drive.  The North Carolina coastline, I read somewhere once, is actually longer than the Californian coast if measured in miles in and out all the many inlets and bays.  An extremely varied and fascinating coastline with stories and fables unique to the people of this state and intricately tied up with the very first settlers to ever arrive from across the sea. 

Most unique to this area are a string of border islands, mere banks of sands covered in wild sea oats, which provide a protective barrier to the mainland. This creates large bodies of water between mainland and island, called sounds.  They thrive with life both above and below the water and in turn provide much recreation and sustenance to those fortunate to live and play here. 

Iconic lighthouses have provided safety and direction to ships both large and small for decades and are often on the list of vacationers to this region.  Each one built or decorated in a very different and instantly recognizable pattern.  Huge black and white diamonds decorate the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, while black and white twirls mark the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, for all the world like some monochrome candy cane, as unique!
Sometimes my purpose when I travel down to this sea is to explore another lighthouse but often it is just to spend unhurried time there.  On the beach, by the sea, listening to the call of the gulls and hearing the ceaseless rhythm of the waves.  As I said, it soothes my soul and reminds me that there is something far bigger and more eternal than me.  It puts “me” into perspective again. 

10 Great New Year Travel Goals!

1)  Do not expect to find things as they are at home, remember you have left home to find a new and different experience.
2) Remember, if we were expected to stay in one place, we would have been created with roots.

3) Do not let other travelers get on your nerves.

4) Remember you are a guest, and that he who treats his host with respect shall in turn be treated as an honored guest.

5) Realize that unless all respect the frailty of the Earth and are willing to help in the preservation of its unique and beautiful destinations, they may not be here for future generations to enjoy.

6) Leave only footprints. Take only photographs. Do not take away “souvenirs” from historical sites and natural areas.

7) To make your travels more meaningful, educate yourself about the geography, customs, manners and cultures of the region you visit. Talk with and listen to the local people.

8) Respect the privacy and dignity of others. Inquire before photographing people.

9) Do not buy products made from endangered plants or animals, such as ivory, tortoise shell, animal skins, and feathers. Read “Know Before You Go,” the U. S. Customs list of products which cannot be imported.

10) While you are away, look around you and you will realize when you get home – just how truly lucky you are!

Travel is a natural right of all people and is a crucial ingredient of world peace and understanding.

With that right comes responsibilities.

My blog today comes with grateful recognition and thanks to Ya’lla Tours – Let’s Go!


Ya’lla Tours USA encourages the growth of
peaceful tourism and responsible travel.

Fall in the Wine Lands

From Cape Town city it is a 30 – 40min drive to the little university town of Stellenbosch, nestled at the foot of the Simonsberg.  These harsh grey mountains provided the first barrier to the pioneers trekking inland all those centuries ago.  As they persevered they discovered little protected valleys and slopes perfect for the growing of fruit and vines.  Many settled and today there are still some vineyards and farms that remain in family hands from the late 1600’s.  It is an outstanding wine growing region with some distinctive vintages and flavors completely South African. 
While in the Winelands we chose the River Manor Lodge in the heart of Stellenbosch and stayed in large comfortable bedrooms with gorgeous old claw-tub bathrooms. It is a beautiful old historic house with much care and attention given to both the indoor and outdoor decor.  Of old affluent farmhouse style – inviting and very welcoming! 
But it is the gardens and the trees that I love!  Masses of white iceberg roses under-planted with delicate Santa Barbara daisies, lavender and rosemary, green lawns, old oaks and the heady smell of ripe guavas everywhere from gnarled old guava trees lining the terrace.  Love that smell!  It takes me back to our childhood and the unsprayed guavas that mum insisted on picking and stewing up for dad, complete with all the uninvited organic “guests”! 

Cape Wine and Leisure Tours picked us up the next morning and took us off on a Wine Tour after first discussing our specific taste in wine (our palate!) and what, if anything, we would specifically like to see or taste. 
They operate a highly personalized and outstanding service which I found to be both most informative and informal enough to be loads of fun.   We drove up the magnificent mountain pass high above the little village of Stellenbosch to make a start on our wine journey at a modern tasting room at a company owned vineyard, Tokara.  The wine tasting was complimented by stunning views over the vineyards through the large plate glass window. 
 Through the day we wound our way around the Stellenbosch area through dozens of wines both red and white, table and dessert, through five other vineyards both small and large, family and corporate owned – old to ancient complete with cobwebs – and all the time aware of the breath-taking mountains and the scenic beauty of this region laid out before you like a feast!  We ended up with a light lunch at Delheim, one of a select number of vineyards that have restaurants on their property a long with tasting rooms.   Biltong salad and home-made fresh squeezed lemonade for me!!
That evening, as darkness fell, we walked from River Manor into the main street of Stellenbosch and wandered around looking at several restaurants before settling on a little Bistro which offered what we felt like eating. We had delicious butternut soup with fresh baked bread and skipped the wine!  Over dinner we decided that the next day we would venture over that same fantastic mountain pass to the quaint village of Franschoek. 

Cape Town Fall

Fall in the Cape of South Africa is a spectacular time of the year to visit.
The weather is that jewel clear warm sunny late summer type of weather and its hard not to find yourself unwinding with it.  I am in sandals and sorry I didn’t bring my shorts! After arriving at the clean and modern Cape Town airport, we went straight down to the Waterfront to enjoy fresh fish and chips for lunch.  We sat outdoors, watching the sight-seeing crowds milling around and all the pleasure boats and yachts heading out on an oily calm sea.  Not a breath of wind. It is amazingly clean and neat.  Very Pier 39-ish.

After lunch we headed past the tour boats and shops towards the cruise ship terminal and the lovely Table Bay hotel.  Ever “on the job”, I asked to be shown around the hotel and we had a fantastic tour – very professionally done and I am most inclined toward that beautiful hotel.  It is connected to the big shopping mall via a marble walkway so in bad/windy/rainy weather there is no problem at all in getting out and about and enjoying time at the eclectic shops in the mall. 

The rooms at Table Bay all have gorgeous views, either of the ocean and Robben Island in the middle distance or of the iconic Table Mountain, and are spacious while defined by understated luxury.  We were told while there, that the gleaming white yacht moored outside is owned by the “sixth richest man in the world” – but I have yet to research and see whom it is!  It was about the size of a Seaborne yacht so no small price tag!

Family room at Table Bay
We left there and wandered through the waterfront area enjoying the sights and sounds (plenty of seagulls here!) and visited two other hotels – the Victoria & Albert and the Cape Grace.  The V&A is actually an imaginatively refurbished 2-story warehouse.  It used to store the luggage for the old P&O Liners that called frequently in Cape Town on their World Journeys half a century ago!  It is very elegant and has a unique and comfortable character reflected in the painted brick and steel of its building. 

The Cape Grace is a little walk from there to the other end of the waterfront.  Again views of Table Mountain dominate the rooms that look towards land while other rooms overlook the working harbor and ocean beyond.  A gracious hotel with creative use of décor – look up at the chandeliers to see silverware arranged in a most artistic and comical way!  Both this hotel and the One & Only across the marina have private yachts moored outside which guests can hire (complete with crew) to explore the surrounding shore.

The Radisson Blu deserves mention here too as one of a number of luxury hotels with an enviable position poised at the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean.  The hotel boasts a wide verandah running around 2/3rds of the hotel with comfortable outdoor seating inviting guests to linger.  This is exactly what we chose and over a delicious margarita, we watched the day turn slowly to evening as it does in this most southern African city at this time of the year.  Sophisticated sundowners this time!  With the fresh ocean breeze, crashing waves on the rocks and wharf surrounding us, and catching up with old friends – life doesn’t get much better!   


Sophisticated sundowners on the Waterfront


Carolina Fall

Glowing autumn colours

I was gazing out of the hotel window a couple weeks ago when I was on a trip to Tennessee.  It is officially Fall but we have had unseasonably warm weather and the trees seem reluctant to turn.  The fact that we followed some incredible storms with wind and heavy rain, tornado sightings and generally what the Weather People here call “active weather”, spoke more of summer.  But as a skein of geese fly overhead calling disconsolately, I know that I am looking at the beginning of autumn. 

It often seems to me that trees are like people and many have quirky personalities.  Some of the trees out there are completely bare – almost flaunting their nakedness!  Not in a vulgar way as an exhibitionist, but rather a matter of expediency.  As if they know that they will be bare most of winter so instead of going about it slowly, they just got it done – in a green-today and gone-tomorrow kind of way.  Others almost seem apologetic and a little shy about this whole changing thing.  In fact some of these trees look as if they are blushing, turning pink or orange from the top down.  Then there are those trees which are just down-right determined to hang onto their green for as long as possible.  All this makes for gorgeous quilted-counterpane-scenery with soft golds, glowing yellows, blushing orange and starter reds showing against the deeper multi-hues of green.
Blue Ridge Parkway

Tomorrow we will travel up the Smoky Mountains and over to the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of a more advanced stage of autumn.  We expect to see a forest of trees in a far bolder dress.  There we will find the ones who have embraced this change of seasons and are flaunting their glorious colors before taking their well-earned winter rest.  There will be different colors at differing heights and dependant on the sunshine aspect of the slope or the protection of the valley.    

Smoky Mountains

A unique feature of the Blue Ridge Parkway is to be found in its name – this road of twists and turns often runs along the mountain ridge giving one the feeling that you are driving on the very tip of the world.  The views to left and right extend for mile after undulating blue mile.  It is one of those things so hard to capture in photographs which give but an indication of the magnificence and harder still to describe in words, all of which are inadequate.  It is truly a soul-kind of experience no matter the season you visit but perhaps especially true of the fall. Then the scenery takes on a living technicolor with specimens that continually surprise with their vibrant and extravagant color.  A stranger turned to us at one incredible viewing point, and said, “It makes you long to paint!” and I couldn’t have said it better.

Quilted-counterpane scenery
101 Painted Fall Way, Cary, NC 27513 | email: su@lazylizardtravel.com or keith@lazylizardtravel.com | tel: (919) 463-8009
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