Panama Canal

I have referenced it so many times, but I realized I have never posted about what it is like to transit or take a cruise ship through the Panama Canal.

Overall, Panama City is an impressive modern city. Unfortunately, on our day of transit, it was a little foggy and rainy and it was hard to take a good shot.

Now, the most interesting topic is how does a ship actually go through the Panama Canal.  Needless to say, the space is very very tight and you can almost touch the sides of the canal from the ship.

You can barely see it in the previous picture, but in this one, the dedicated units that attach themselves to the ship with long cables and they PULL the ship through each stage of the canal.

Depending on the direction you traversing, you (ship) is pulled through numerous lock stages where the water is pumped in and out (to raise and lower the water).  It is hard to believe but the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are at different levels on each side of Panama.

I don’t know if it is finished yet, but when our ship went through the canal, you could see where they were building an expanded/widened canal for large ships that cannot pass through the canal today.

It is a slow trip and it takes a full day, but you do get to come across a large number of sites and local creatures.  Yep – this crocodile was just hanging out near the canal and watching the giant ship go by…

Last, but not least, once we reached the Pacific Ocean, we got the opportunity to check out the local area around Panama City.  What did I do? I went running of course!  I was able to run across the bridge across the Isthmus of Panama.  That means I was able to run across two continents: South and North America.  This is a picture of the Bridge of the Americas.

If you have not figured this out yet, I run everywhere around the world.  This is some of my other favorite spots:


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A Quick Stop in Costa Rica

After going through the Panama Canal, (yes, I know I need to add a posting for their, so stay tuned…) our ship stopped at a popular port called Puntarenas or Puerto Caldera.

The big highlight was to take a river cruise.  It was a nice drive out into the countryside where you get a good feel for the local life combined with the rich retired and vacationers that live right next to each other.  It feels odd when you see one home with fancy yard work and 5-series BMW only 25 meters away from another home with no door or glass in the windows.  This is the popularity of Costa Rica, but I digress…

They do not sound fun and appear to be very touristy, but you really get to see very real and very local wildlife on the river cruise.

You have to love the famous Halloween Crabs that you can see along the river banks!

And the bird lovers will love the wild parrots that you get to meet and see in quite large numbers in the trees.  Recommendation: bring a zoom lens with a DSLR camera!

along the way, I learned about cashews.  it is kind of weird to see in real life as the “nut” or seed is outside the fruit and is distinctly separate.  They are native to this part of the world and is surprising to see one in its true fruit form.

The best part was the run along the beach.  It is was one heck of a workout, but a great way to end the day as the sun was going down.  It was a nice cool breeze and a great way to enjoy a beer on the beach with some locals before heading back to the ship.

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Moscow Russia – Day 2

There is so much to see in Moscow, you have to spend more than one day.  Of course, I had to go visit the KGB building (Lubyanka) which is now known as Federal Security Service.

You can easily get here from the train/subway and actually ran into no hassles or security concerns!

One of the actual cool things to visit in Moscow is Gorky Park.

The Soviet attempt at copying the US based Space Shuttle is here – it is known as Buran.

Mentioning the subway, they are quite artistic and fun to use around Moscow.  If you see one of the bronze dogs, you definitely have to rub its foot or nose for good luck.

As a history buff, the Novodevichy Cemetery was a real highlight.  If you think of a famous Russian political figure, general or astronaut, there are most likely buried here.  Tons of history and worth a few hours to visit.

As it started to get dark, it was time to take in a few more sites that are best viewed when the sun goes down.  Does anyone know what this famous building is?  It is the famous Moscow University.  It is quite stunning.  And I am sure many students are proud to have studied here.

And not too far away was this famous lake.  Do you know what this place is famous for?  It is the inspiration for the Swan Lake ballet!  Kind of cool to visit the actual places where famous artwork, literature or music was created.

As it got later, we decided we could not resist and visit a classic Russian circus.  It was quite fun, very traditional and it was amazing to see how many expensive limos were outside the circus to pick up people.  Scary when you see multiple Maybechs outside of a $20 a set circus.

And since it was our last day in Moscow, we had to visit Red Square again at night. It is quite amazing and fun to visit.  The night atmosphere is very different and I think the pictures are quite magical as well.

If you missed the other postings, here they are:

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Moscow – Russia

Continuing from the few days we spent St Petersburg, we took the overnight train down to Moscow.  We took the Red Arrow train. This is a historic train and a true delight.  Not to be missed.  It is actually quite comfortable.

Now, one of the unusual snacks in Russia is not all the types of vodka…it is the chip flavors!  Just like we learned when we visited Japan has all the flavors of Kit-Kat, Russians love chips that taste like caviar, crab, etc.

Of course, in Moscow, the largest attraction is Red Square.

It is gorgeous and fun to visit, but here were the two surprises:

  1. It is much much smaller than it looks on television with all the famous parades
  2. It is really a shopping center with expensive shops and that is why most locals visit red Square

Now, the other reason the tourists visit is the rare chance to see Lenin’s Tomb.  Some call it a Mausoleum.  The lines to get a long.  Really really long.  It could take hours and you cannot take a camera in or take pictures.

What did I do?  Yep.  Paid a $20 bribe to cut in line.  It worked.

It was so scary seeing him…it was almost like a ghost that was going to sit up and start speaking in seconds.  I wonder what other secrets are hidden in this bunker…

and since I was in the heart of Russia, I had to explore getting a traditional hat.  What do you think?  Too warm for the summer I think…

There are so many historical sites, buildings and Soviet architecture to see in Moscow.  Do you recognize this one?

This is the famous building where Boris Yeltsin was at during his attempted coup that occurred in 1991.  All the memories…Stay tuned, more of Moscow will be shared in my next posting!

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Exploring Russia – Saint Petersburg

I just realized that I have never added a trip blog for Russia or as it is now officially called the Russian Federation.

Where to start?   It was nerve wracking from a visa application standpoint.  You have to provide all your schools…did you have military service…did you have any experience with nuclear or chemical warfare.  I am a US Navy veteran with some videos on my blog, so would they let me in?

It took a while and several visits to the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv to get our visa, but we finally were able to visit Russia for the first time.  I guess if you pay your $350 for the visa, it is all good!  The nice thing compared to cruise ship visits, is you can go wherever you want and not restricted in any way.

We flew in to St. Petersburg which is gorgeous place to visit in the summer months.  It is a delight to have a cold Russian beer that you buy on the street along with unusual flavored chips and watch the hydroplane races that are performed on the huge rivers.

It is the historical headquarters for the Russian Navy university, academy and military port both past and present.

Now, Saint Petersburg is known as the “city of museums” as I understand there are over 600 museums across the city.  You have to make some tough choices on which ones to pick as you cannot possibly walk to all of them.

Certainly the Hermitage is the most famous and a must visit…some famous art can be found here like the Madonna Litta.

but I think the best one was the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps which has an amazing collection of Russian and Soviet Union weaponry.

Some of the Cold War history artifacts were really fun and quite surprising to check out!

We also took a day trip to visit Catherine Palace which is about an hour away from St. Petersburg but a wonderful site full of history,architecture and artwork.  Luxurious to say the least.

Now, how many people know that Saint Petersburg was actually known as Leningrad during World War II?  It was actually once of the most brutal and long running sieges in the war.  The Nazi cannons were positioned all around the palace grounds to pound the city 30 KM away.

In closing, we enjoyed touring around the city for about 3 days and then hopped on the overnight train south the Moscow!  What an experience, not to be missed!

If interested, continue on with my next posting on arriving Moscow!


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Visiting Jamaica

I really never posted about visiting Jamaica, so it was clearly time to add that country to the entries on the site.

I have actually visited Jamaica twice – once in Montego Bay and once in Ocho Rios so we could visit Dunn’s River Falls.  Both times, we stayed at Sandals which is a great choice to get away, be safe and have fun at an all inclusive resort.  I have to admit that Montego Bay is more fun and very convenient since it is minutes away from the airport.

The cool thing to do at Sandals is to get certified to dive and this is where I started and got my PADI Open Water certification.

You can also easily do some deep sea fishing which is quite fun, but be ready with the Dramamine as it is easy to sea sick of if you are not used to rolling seas…

Now, the reality is Jamaica has lots of history and it is a great place to get a guided tour if you would like to learn more.  But work with your resort for a safe and recommended guide option.

Do NOT go out in town by yourself without guides or a formal tour. You do have to try and avoid the tourist traps of course, but this is much better than the risks of being mugged or running into crime which is rampant in the country.  This is why everyone stays at all inclusive resorts and they do not usually let you leave on your own.

Sandals and other reports are placed all over the island.  This is cool as some can be isolated, but at the same time, it take you HOURS by hot, dusty, unconformable tourist buses to slowly traverse over the pot holed roads.  My recommendation: take a puddle jumper prop plane to avoid the hours of bus and get to closer to your resort in Negril or Ocho Rios in 15-20 minutes.

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Visiting Stonehenge

This is a retro post from a past visit, as many people have been asking about other suspected alien related travel sites that I might have visited and would recommend.  Of course, one of the easiest is Stonehenge of course!

But…it is a very famous and popular site in England that everyone tries to visit when they can.

You can see from the photo that the stones are very large.  The question everyone naturally asks is:  Aliens?  Maybe.  Ever visit Easter Island like me?  It will certainly make you wonder…

Still to this day, I don’t know what these large independent rocks around the site are.  Are they related to monument?  How did they get here?  Unknown…

The rolling hills of the countryside are certainly gorgeous, so visiting the area is a wonderful afternoon jaunt outside of London.

After visiting, go have lunch in Bath and wonder what it would be like to live in Jane Seymour’s castle in the distance.  Many people like Bath for a great place to have lunch and check out the famous Roman baths in the town.

Overall, Stonehenge is only 1.5 hours drive or bus away from London…so it does not take a full day or tour to see it!  and if you jaunt over to Bath, it is a nice half day tour if you start early.

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