There is something so delicious about this time of year!  Apart from the turkey and trimmings….. it’s a thing called love and family and sweet beginnings. Many a canny mother or dad seem to know to keep a special bottle of champagne hidden away for that “unexpected” occasion.  Champagne

We are going to the New Year’s Eve celebration of the NC Symphony again this year and I hope we are treated once more to another romantic evening.  Last time as we gathered for the second half of the concert the young girl sitting next to me, a total stranger, turned to me in sweet joy to show off her brand new engagement ring!  Her boyfriend had proposed to her during the interval and she was beside herself with delight!! A whole row of unassociated persons united for a few short minutes rejoicing, laughing and exclaiming with the happy young couple.

Yup, it’s the time of love, family and sweet beginnings.  Planning a wedding can be stressful and a somewhat daunting undertaking – but planning the honeymoon afterwards can be the easiest part if you turn to experts for help!  We have that expertise in romantic destinations.

This is the perfect time to try an exotic trip to Africa.  It’s surprisingly affordable.  Combine the elegance of the Cape winelands and the stunning scenery of the Peninsula with the thrill of a photographic safari in the bush.  Makoro canoeOr travel to the golden sands and pounding surf of the Indian Ocean and on to Big Five Wildlife in Zululand.  Glide on makoro canoes through the Okavango Delta, watch elephants splash and play in Botswana, marvel at the magnificent Victoria Falls and end your journey sipping sundowners as you watch the sun set from the top of ancient granite boulders. Marriage is a big adventure and what better way to celebrate than starting out with your own African adventure?

Do you dream of the sun-bathed islands of the Caribbean and see the two of you relaxing on white sand beaches, toes in warm aqua oceans while sipping something tropically colorful?  There are so many wonderful resorts to choose from on a bewildering array of islands, each with their own particular charm.  It makes all the difference to have expert assistance in picking out the one just right for you.

Perhaps it’s the time-drenched cultures of Europe that appeal.  A rambling wander through countryside dotted with castles, vineyards, olive groves or lavender fields.  Castle ChateauxJourney down a river on an elegant cruise, ride bikes or hike mountain trails, take a fast train or test drive a new Mercedes, focus on food or beer or art.  There are so many ways to make memories in Europe and what a special way to begin your life together!

Planning honeymoons and destination weddings are some of our most favorite trips.  It’s such a wonderful way to begin and as we celebrate our 33rd year of marriage – we think we know what we are talking about!  We’re looking forward to hearing from you in 2014 and beginning those plans.

Jamaican Sandals Royal Caribbean

Our exploring over for the while, we returned the car to the depot at the airport and met up with the Sandals Representative in the luxurious private lounge in the arrivals hall.  Our luggage was tagged and taken away while we were offered an ice-cold drink and then escorted to our mini-van.

Beach at Sandals Montego Bay

Beach Sandals Mo Bay

We traveled with other passengers who had just flown in to the island, many of whom were returning Sandals guests, something we found not to be uncommon.  We were booked to spend the rest of the week at Sandals Royal Caribbean and as such were the last to be taken to our hotel.  We were able to get a peek into the Sandals Carlyle Inn and the Sandals Montego Bay on our way.

All of Sandals Resorts are adult-only luxury included resorts and sold as such with the emphasis on “couples in love”.  I was a little skeptical about this and not at all sure if I would find it to be a little cloying and even uncomfortable.  How wrong I was!

Ocean and beach view at Royal Caribbean

Ocean and beach view at RC

From the minute we arrived, the high standard of service and discretion that the staff employed was reassuring and it turned out to be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable vacations we have ever enjoyed.  Imagine no whining or screaming kids to detract, no childish demands to impinge upon your time, nobody else’s bad mannered children to irritate – just no children!

In addition, the emphasis on couples in love means that everyone is taken care of, “hooked up” or “coupled”, so you never find yourself in a position where you are being picked up, propositioned, or made to feel uncomfortable.  It’s such relief!  And makes for easy friendships and conversations whether you are in your couple or having some alone time while your partner is at the gym, or diving or whatever!

Keith windsurfing


It is as easy to spend time just the two of you, as it is to meet new friends or even plan to go as a group of favorite friends.  It’s the perfect resort to enjoy a destination wedding with only your adult friends in attendance, or travel with your close family.

Sandals Royal Caribbean resort is spread out in such a way that there are so many different places to go and things to enjoy that you have to make a plan to meet!

Private coves at Royal Caribbean

Private coves at Royal Caribbean

With gorgeous landscaping all set around buildings offering different experiences from swim-up rooms, to beachside walk-out suites, there is bound to be something to appeal.

This resort is designed around a series of little coves all looking west over their private island and beyond the stunning sunsets.  It is an exclusive, intimate and very inviting place to enjoy some special time with your precious partner.

Sunset on Jamaica

Sunset on Jamaica

St Lucia honeymoon 2010


Su, sadly we are back home. We had the most amazing time at Sandals La Toc and look forward to some day going back. We need to get the pictures printed and would love to share them with you. Thank you so much for all your help.

Katherine and Michael NC

Jamaican Jottings – intro to the “eyeland”

Ridiculous to assume and yet we all seem to!  We go on pre-conceived notions that are simply just not true or at the very most – have only a particle of truth.  Take Africa for example.  How many times have you heard someone say “Africa” and “jungle” in the same breath?  Well, yes, there is certainly some jungle in Africa and even rain-forest but what about the miles of desert sand, savanna or even teeming cities?    In the same way, the word “Jamaica” seems to immediately bring certain images and life-styles to forefront.  Reggae, Rum and Rastafarian to name a few!

Jamaica from the air

So it was with more than the normal curiosity that we embarked upon our latest adventure and traveled to the  island of Jamaica in the Caribbean ocean.  Most of our trip was to be spent in the luxurious environs of a five-star Luxury  Sandals Resort, but we had also decided to take an extra couple days and explore on our own.  It is not something that many of the thousands of tourists that visit Jamaica each year do.  Many arrive and are met by their Resort Representatives and escorted to one of several all-inclusive resorts catering to almost every type of person or vacation imaginable.  Most hardly ever feel the need to leave their beach-side retreat.  And for many this is probably the best way to do things.  However, if you are at all adventurous or class yourself a seasoned traveler, Jamaica is a treat waiting to be savored!

As I began to research this destination before our arrival I found more and more of fascination and interest in this island.  It was one of many “discovered” during Christopher Columbus’ epic sailings.  It was later fought over between the British and the Spanish and when the British took control in the 1600’s they turned it into a pirate haven.  They allowed pirates to wreak havoc upon Spanish galleons for some pirate return and to British gain.  Later still it became a place of plantations and wealthy gentry while there was still a fortune to be made in sugar.  Runaway and freed slaves formed their own communities in hide-a-way and hard to find places on the island. Sailors, soldiers and others generally seduced by island life have continued over the centuries to add to the exotic mix of peoples.  During Manley’s government rule it became synonymous with the free-wheeling lifestyle of the 60’s and 70’s and Jamaicans were known for liberal attitudes towards anything amoral.

Forgotten sugar mill aqueduct

While there will always be some around to hold to this image, they seemed no easier to find on the north coast of Jamaica than they would be on the east coast of America!  Instead we were delighted to be met with a friendly, enthusiastic welcome from a people genuinely pleased to have us visit their “eyeland” who, upon discovering that we intended to explore a little on our own, bent over backwards to ensure our stay was better than expected.  Take the Avis car Hire people.  Big smiles and thorough service with advice and time to converse with us while upgrading our modest rental to a more rugged 4×4 so that we would not feel any discomfort on their inland roads.  Which were, as they warned, in a patchy state of repair!  With almost every afternoon in summer seeing short but torrential downpours and the island covered in steep mountains, it was not surprising.  However, in contrast, the coastal road, was mainly a four lane, well-maintained highway with clear sign-posts and very easy to navigate.

In fact, all the Jamaicans employed in the service industries seemed to us to be highly motivated, friendly, hard-working people and toWood carvers enjoy their employment.  Remarkable to us too was the healthy condition of the population.  The fit and strong Jamaican athlete appears not to be the exception but instead it seems that most of the people we saw must spend a considerable amount of time working out!  We hardly saw a fat Jamaican or a very skinny one and this despite the great disparity between rich and poor as one so often finds in a third world country.

The island is a lush and fertile land with soft white sand beaches in coves with natural harbors, hills that climb quickly to misty mountains, an abundance of fresh water springs and streams  and a climate that encourages any number of tropical fruits and crops, all surrounded by changing hues of aqua blue Caribbean.  The sea provides another bountiful harvest, and all this is gleefully offered to the visitor providing Jamaica with one of their most profitable sources of income, that of tourism.

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. 
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