Vigo Plans, 6 May 2010

Wiki and travel sites are seen below:

Vigo is a dcity of 250,000 persons (450,00 metropolitan area) in Galicia in Spain. There is a small portion of road along the seafront both east and west from the pier. We will ride first north until the end of this road and look for sites within reach of the bicycles without too much of a climb. Then we will turn south past the port and try the rest of the path.


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Lisbon Ride, 5 May 2010

Belem fort and the Lisbon cross with the bridge in the background

Lisbon was wonderful! The day dawned clear but cool as the ship docked around 9am. We finished breakfast, found our bikes, and got off the ship by 945am to a clear area adjacent to the ship at the pier.

Marilyn waits pierside near the Sun

We rode and walked to and through the cruise passenger terminal and found our way past a few tour busses to the driveway and eventually to the street. On the way, I used my newly learned Spanish with two young women who identified themselves as locals and learned that Avenue de Brasilia could be found by riding through a park adjacent to the four lane road rising entrance to the freeway skirting the coast in this area. Once reaching the end of the park 200 yards away, we rode in a driveway-like area toward the east. I stopped to take a photograph of a store in a shopping center to our left along the coast which was called Hawaii. We then interrogated two landscape workers fixing a water line and found Ave de Brasilia was right here. I crossed the area where they were working and one of them helped Marilyn across—very nice fellows. We rode on this four lane road for a half mile before spying a walking path on the left and maneuvering through the sparse traffic to reach it. One hundred yards down the sidewalk, I spied a biker riding closer to the water and maneuvered through a parking lot to join him. Here, I found a broad walking/bicycle path right along the water. We found that this path ran for more than five miles along the river except for a few jogs around small yacht basins. This is an almost perfect path for riding and seeing this modern part of Lisbon.

The path along the river is well paved and marked both for walkers and bikers. Here in the river, one can see seabirds fishing, sailboats practicing their tacking, large sail-powered tour boats taking people out to the river exit to the ocean, and some freighters loading and unloading grain at a terminal one mile across the river. Along the river were hundreds of fishermen using long spinner-equipped poles to catch small sunfish, and hundreds or even thousands of other walkers and riders—a few cruise passengers and many more other tourists. Looking back, one could see NCL Sun nearly under the famous high Lisbon Bridge to the south side of the river and the huge cross atop the hill. Opposite the river lies a more modern part of Lisbon with universities and schools, many museums, a few older churches, and a varied residential area rising into the hills in the distance. A transit railroad parallels the river here along one of four separate rail lines. The stations are modern and clean. Ferry and

Monument to sailors along the river

tourist boat terminals also line the river, also very clean and modern.

One can see much public building including museums, roads, and stations. Perhaps this is part of the problem Portugal finds itself in with its economy. The building may have gotten a little ahead of the financing. Our conversations at dinner on the ship with citizens of other EU nations also revealed they had a very generous pension and unemployment insurance program alongside similarly generous health benefits. A Belgian passenger revealed he received 3 months vacation per year, free health care, and expected to receive a 1300 EU pension at a relatively young age. Some adjustments may be necessary, but this didn’t take away from my admiration of life in Lisbon. This 500,000 person (2.5 million in metro area) city is one of the wealthiest in the EU. Marilyn mentioned during the ride that she might consider adding Lisbon to our list of places we would consider as temporary two or three month homes sometime in the future.

We passed at least four yacht harbor basins along the way to our turn around point beyond the new construction for an art museum beyond the Belem fortification. On the way back, we had to make way for a large tractor trailer removing a new 50 foot hull to a customer somewhere else along the river. The river was busy with sailboats, too. During lunch, we saw two much smaller sailboats being pulled along the path in a trailer by a single man each. Boating is obviously a very important business and pastime here in Lisbon. I saw no commercial fishing boats, though, although I am sure that fishing is an important economic factor here in Lisbon.

We passed a huge modern art museum along the road and considered spending some time there but decided to continue on some more and try it on our return if we had time. Unfortunately, the port visit to Lisbon today was a relatively short one and we had to return to the ship by 330pm. We passed a military history museum along the river and a large monument dedicated to aviation over the past 100 years. This area was guarded by camouflage-dressed standing guards complete with swords standing in small guard shacks. More similarly dressed soldiers, both male and female, circulated in part of this building. Commonly, we saw small cannons lining the walkway and decorating various public buildings along the path. We saw no military ships in this area of the river either.

Then we came to a large four story high castle-like facility along the river and decided to stop and walk around inside. This was the Belem fortification constructed in 1547. We entered along a newly-built bridge, although the building had its own moat area and was now almost surrounded by water as the tide was rising. A fisherman waded in a shallow pond next to the building. We paid 10 EU for two of us to enter although we could have received a 50% discount had we noticed the discount for seniors. Considering its age, the fortification was amazing. It was constructed of limestone blocks in vaulted archways at least 15 feet high for each floor. The windows were shuttered. On the first floor, we found a dozen windows filled with cannon which were obviously not from the 16th century, although I could imagine older cannons they originally contained.

Children listen to the lecture inside the Belem fortification

Fifty uniformed children, 4-6 years old, sat listening raptly to a young woman lecturing them about the building’s history using oversized four foot square picture diagrams of ships and soldiers with their weapons. These were obviously very smart children because they even understood the lecture in Portuguese. Their teachers sat behind them and escorted them skipping to the lavatories when requested. We tried a few of the special tiny guard closets looking out to sea and land at the corners. The stairs upstairs were a real trip. The spiral staircases stood less than 3 feet wide and maybe 80 inches high with triangular steps less than three inches deep on the inside. Only one staircase served the building, so visitors going up had to deal with others coming down. Since there were more than a few hundred people in the building, these interactions were frequent. We became very close with many people here. The stairs and walls were worn smooth from use. The views from each floor were different and the open areas outside were also unique with rectangular lookouts on the second floor and pyramid capped columns at the top. It was pretty cool inside the building too, although the second floor held a fireplace. Nevertheless, I could imagine this to be an uncomfortable ordeal for its defenders 400 years ago. I thought about dueling swordsmen fencing up the spiral staircase but realized there was no way one could have room for such maneuvers. I would be surprised if any soldiers ever fought their way into this fortification; although a siege or attack from the outside with cannon might have been more successful.

Lisbon landscape rising in the hills seen from the Belem fortification

We walked beyond the fort onto the continuation of the bike path alongside new construction of a dramatic building likely to house a museum of some sort. We passed a dozen fisherpersons (at least one woman) and even played with a poodle belonging to one couple who were preparing a barbecue for some of their catch. Eventually, the path ran out as it entered the newest construction and we decided to turn back and seek a restaurant for lunch.

On the way, Marilyn needed to use the rest room and we stopped at the WC sign adjacent to the last military museum. Marilyn walked inside to find a room guard requesting payment of a half Euro. This was a problem since we had no Euros. Marilyn shivered with discomfort as we tried to convince the guard to accept a credit card (no luck) or dollars. At first he said no dollars and Marilyn thought he might accept American coins—also no luck. Eventually, Marilyn’s plight was brought home to him and he agreed to accept a paper dollar. We paid and he offered no receipt. I suspect he will keep the dollar for himself rather than try to explain to his superiors about the transaction. But Marilyn was satisfied. They even had paper, plenty of it.

We passed two or three modern restaurant buildings before we tried the restaurant at the nearest yacht club. This building was 30 years-or-more older than its neighbors and the second story restaurant lay at the corner of the building separate from the yacht club entrance. Three rooms served common diners, smokers, and more astute diners. We chose to sit in the room with the more astute and found ourselves joined initially by only two men at a nearby table. This was not inexpensive but the experience was unique to us and special for Lisbon. Fish here was a specialty and the diner was able to choose his own fish from a case filled with chopped ice and at least 10 kinds of fish. Upon choosing Besugo (bream), I was allowed to approve the particular two fish brought to the table by the waiter before he took them back to have them grilled. The waiter brought a tray of specialties to the table, including sardines, red and green pepper salsa, and squid; but we knew we would have to pay extra for these and we indicated, like our nearby fellow customers, that we didn’t want any. He took them away. Another bowl also contained five different kinds of bread, though, and we sampled this liberally. The raisin bread was delicious. I think this cost us 2.5 EU. We ordered a small bottle of the house wine which was delivered and opened by the waiter. Ten minutes later, the waiter returned and placed a cold sleeve over the bottle. Others began to fill the restaurant and we watched as they chose a variety of fish, sometimes individual whole fish, and sometimes a chunk cut off larger fish. Nearly everyone ordered the fish grilled. Our meal arrived soon served with two fish on one plate accompanied by two other plates, one containing acorda, a mashed potato-like garlic flavored cilantro-topped gruel, and the other containing small roasted potatoes, broccoli, and carrots. Marilyn prepared our individual plates while I carved the filets off the bones of the fish and tried to remove as many small bones as I could. The taste was superb. The view of the river was exciting. The overall effect was magic. Despite the almost-$50 lunch, I’d return here again and again. Apparently, this opinion was shared by many others in Lisbon as I found all tables filled and 30 patrons waiting for tables in the foyer when I left to use the restroom. We finished by sharing a coconut topped caramel flavored pudding-like sobremesa dessert with chocolate sauce on the bottom—unique and delicious. This was accompanied by two espressos served with cinnamon sticks and dark chocolate on the side. I highly recommend this restaurant, identified on my credit card receipt as Rest Ass Velo Centro. And the waiter was also very helpful as he supplied the Portuguese names of everything while we searched our Spanish-English dictionary.

Bream for lunch in Lisbon along the river

We headed back to the ship and this time avoided the actual street and saw the front of the Hawaii establishment, a restaurant, along with a dozen other restaurants along the water for especially attracting cruise patrons. They all looked satisfied. We worked our way through the Portuguese customs and joined a long line of cruise passengers waiting to board the ship. Again, we encountered dozens of passengers asking about the bikes and suggesting they would try it next time they sailed. I don’t think we will forget Lisbon for a long time. I think we’ll return.

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Ponta Delgado Azores Ride, 3 May 2010

An Azorean version of Stonehenge lies along the beach next a harbor fortification

The day was gray when the ship pulled in to Ponta Delgada in the Portuguese Azores, but the day was warming and the sun was peeking through before the cabin steward found our bikes and we made it onto the pier. This was a beautiful place. The port facilities were clean and modern and efficient and the buildings beyond were modern and attractive. Gentle hills rose behind several 3-6 story buildings surrounding the port area. The greater part of the new city lay to the west, but we took off to the east searching for a road along the coast.

Note the cows on the hillside above the Azorean neighborhood

We had had to ride up a fifty foot rising driveway from the pier but we then coasted down the sidewalk along a new highway and then back up a small hill past the Naval Atlantic Club. Then began a very nice ride along the coast on a waterside bike/walking trail. The homes on the left were small, but very attractive in their carefully manicured fronts painted in a variety of pastels—pink and yellow and blue and green. Child tot lots were spaced about a half mile apart. We rode uphill toward a church on the hill before the bike path ended and we had to ride on the street for about a mile. The town around us was like a European postcard with houses built right up to the street—no sidewalks.

Note the narrow streets of Ponta Delgada in some neighborhoods

A few cars passed, but the ride seemed safe because most of them were passing at less than 30 mph and they gave us plenty of room. We rode/walked uphill through a very narrow street and then came again to the bike path. This pattern repeated for the next hour.

Typically painted church overlooks a rocky bay

We rode the bike path on the coast past the rocky coast for a while and then struggled along narrow city streets through beautifully painted, neat worker’s homes. Clothes hung to dry on second story balconies. Bundled citizens waited occasionally at bus stops and responded in a friendly way to my calls of “Ola”, which is the Portuguese version of hello.

Marilyn rides before a typical Azores neighborhood

At one point we descended down a street in the city part, passed a small strip mall-like area with a restaurant and two story hotel, and spotted a long beach being manicured for the coming summer season. Beyond, lay a large rocky point with the image of a man looking seaward shaped in the rocks. The road split as we approached the point and we crossed a wooden bridge to a lookout showing the back side of the rocky point. We talked with the workers about places to eat and found even they were comfortable with s little bit of English. From this lookout, we could see miles down the coast in either direction.

The old man looks out to sea

The city of Ponta Delgada lay to the west and several coastal villages could be seen to the east with several sandy beaches on the way. We rode on for another few miles before coming to a hill near the town of Lagoa and decided to turn back because this was an early day for the ship to leave and we thought about seeking some Portuguese Bean Soup and a wifi site.

We stopped several times on the way back for pictures, to use the “Banos”, and to try places for lunch. We learned this was too early in the day for lunch (before 1230pm) and too early in the season for many of the seasonal tourist places, both hotels and restaurants. We ended up riding all of the way back to the ship and stopped at a large four story hotel for our internet tasks. This worked fine but we decided to forego the soup until we got back to the ship.

As we approached the ship, we decided to detour past the ship to the west to check out the sites on that side. The bike path continued here inside the port past a modern portside shopping area. The path rose to the street level near the center of the city. Here, we spotted more of the carefully painted fence-roofed buildings which made up the non-residential part of the city. Traffic here was heavier, but we were off the road on the bike path. At one point, workers were either building or demolishing a series of brown wooden stands on the bike path and Marilyn was completely stymied at one point. One of the workers jumped out of the crowd to help her off her bike and across an area where they had blocked the path. On the way back later, this same gentleman accomplished the feat once more. At the end of the path we came to the military museum with a uniformed guard with sword out front. In the garden here and on the park across the street were bunches of strange trees which had been recently pruned of all leaves and hung with lights. The effect was appealing. One of the older churches on the island lay to one side of the square and some other small government buildings lay opposite. We turned around here and headed back to the ship. Overall, I found this island so appealing that I think I would be willing to try living here for one or two months. I think the weather will be good and I bet the food will be great.

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Ponta Delgada Azores Plans, 3 May 2010

The wiki and travel links are here:

Map of Santa Maria

Ponta Delgada is a volcanic island about 20 miles long by 8 miles wide. There appears to be a coastal road which is relatively flat. We plan to start out east from the pier to fing the coastal road and work our way out ten miles or so.

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Ocho Rios Ride, 24 April 2010

Marilyn stands on the pier with the new Ocho Rios in the background

Ocho Rios was nothing like I remember from 41 years ago at Marilyn and my honeymoon. We couldn’t identify either the only hotel in the area from 1969 or the “villa” we rented for the week. They were the only modern construction in the area at the time, save the town of Ocho Rios off the coast of the bay with no paved roads, no houses with hard roofs, and with chickens running in the streets. Instead, we spied from the boat a grand bay with many sandy beaches, four or more large resorts, condos climbing the hillsides and thousands of villas accompanying them throughout the hills, and a town of around 40,000 over a 5 by 20 block street array.

Our old villa was in the hille just behind the beach here

The ship docked at 8am and we were off the ship by 945am on a partly cloudy humid day with temperatures reaching the high 80’s. The narrow pier connected to the beach over a several hundred yard long walkway. Ashore, we stopped first at a coffee shop for the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and an internet session. The session turned out completely unsuccessful when we tried to connect over Skype. A few locals set up nearby were using up all of the bandwidth downloading movies. We gave up after 45 minutes of trying. The coffee was good, though.

The locals around the pier were impressed that we were riding bikes around town. Traffic was moderate on this Saturday morning, but our fellow cruise mates were liberally spread around town after their early start. Many had tried the excursions to Dunn’s Falls, the tube rides on the river, the cable car rides along the coastal forest, or other visits through the forest. Except for the resorts, we saw few tourist quality restaurants or bars, but many establishments frequented by mostly locals. We passed through 20 blocks of stores and stands, many with no more real estate than a table and a fence to hold the merchandise. A few stores sold souvenirs, but most sold a small assortment of socks, t-shirts, and sandals. But the salespeople seemed friendly and I called good morning to most of them and got a smile and a “Good morning” in response. The people were mostly young, with few older than 40. I talked to many people at the pier and a few on the streets, asking about our villa on the hill. I found no one with any knowledge going back that far. The only road to Montego Bay they knew of was along the coast rather than along the crest of the hills along the coast. They knew nothing of a banana plantation in or behind the village of Ocho Rios. But they seemed interested that anything like that had existed as long as 40 years ago.

We rode west and north for about 4-5 miles and eventually ran out of town and into a sparsely populated section of road entering into a more hilly area. We decided to turn back and try for another internet café. After trying a few seedy restaurants and finding them empty and with no internet capability, we found a bar/restaurant claiming to be connected. A table in front of the hardware store next door held a few CDs and a loud stereo pounding out Jamaican music. We decided to verify the internet connection before testing any food. The connection to the router worked fine, but the bar mistress identified a problem with their own internet connection and finally fixed it on the third try. We moved onto the back porch to avoid the music and spent the next 90 minutes on Skype with a series of relatives.

We headed back through town seeking a place for lunch. The one way street setup forced us to use different streets than on the way out, but the general appearance was the same. Inadequate restaurants, closed bars, and a thousand small merchants passed by as we approached the ship. Then we spied tables in garden, customers at an adjacent bar area, and what could be a restaurant behind a gate manned by a single guard who turned out to be a DJ selling CDs of music playing at a reasonable volume in the background. We checked with a waitress and received menus. I noticed a table near the gate holding coconuts and a few bottles of what turned out to be rum. The place was called the Coconut Café. We ordered Conch/Shrimp fritters and a Jerk Chicken wrap to share along with a local beer and a Planter’s punch (lack of tomato juice spiked a first request for a Bloody Mary). The coconut salesman also convinced us to try the fresh coconut. He lopped off the top of a green coconut, stuck in two straws and convinced us to drink out half the liquid inside before he refilled it with rum.

The remains of the conch/shrimp fritters and jerk chicken wrap lay before a sated Marilyn

In sum, the meal was magic. The fritters and their accompanying special sauce were the tastiest and most unique food I have had so far on the trip. The wrap came with a spicy hot sauce and was, in sum, excellent. The shared three drinks left us with just enough buzz and we met a series of characters that made the trip to Ocho Rios memorable. The guard/DJ was really friendly and talked about the new Ocho Rios. The coconut salesman gave us his card describing Harvey Miller’s taxi service, complete with tours. He also opened up about the best of Ocho Rios.

A street dancer appeared and wowed this crowd of three with contortions, dancing, and facial manipulations to the tune of the Jamaican music played by DJ. And a friend from the ship (revealed to be an Israeli retired Navy ship captain with eight bypassed heart veins) joined him in a dance-off. We cheered and laughed and snapped photos, then called to other ship patrons to come in and enjoy the fun. By the time it was time to return to the ship, our memory banks were full. Great place, that Ocho Rios!

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Puerto Limon Ride, 21 April, 2010

Puerto Limon from the NCL Sun in port

The ship docked in 87 deg F heat at Puerto Limon next to the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas at 7am and we were on the pier by 930am. The day was partly cloudy and humid. Before us lay a broad parking area fronting a small customs zone and an area of small shops under a single roof. Behind this area lay a town of 60,000 persons running up the gentle slope toward the hills in the distance. The 300-500 foot high hills were clad with housing areas and communication towers. No high rise buildings were in view. I searched unsuccessfully among the shops for a map of the town and went into a specialized tour building behind the shops, eventually securing a map of the area with few details about the immediate port area. As I returned to the bicycles next to the shops area, one of the shop owner asked about my bike helmet and went on to describe himself as a biking enthusiast who even ran bike tours in another part of the year. He was extremely helpful, suggesting first a discomfort with my security with my choice of a ride through the north part of town before attempting a ride along the road closest to the north beaches. Upon further discussion, he became comfortable with my choice. He drew a map for me to show the way out of the port area and described the ride north. He agreed it was a good choice for our level of riding expertise and our goals for the ride.

Bicycle advisor with Marilyn at Puerto Limon shop area

On the way out of town, we passed a three story high hotel with a wifi-capable restaurant on the ground level. We decided to stop to relieve ourselves of our email and telephone responsibilities. No luck. We ordered coffee and coke light but were never able to successfully connect on the internet. We did see a special method of making coffee utilizing a tower mounted fabric filter pouch which held the coffee and through which hot water was poured. I learned later on the ship that this was a common way of making coffee in some parts of Europe. I later saw one of the tower stands in the shops area. The Costa Rican coffee was very good.

We left the hotel after a half hour and headed out for our ride around a seawall and through the light commercial area, past first a hospital and then a school, and then through a gradually density diminishing housing area. Most of the commercial establishments were not open, likely because we were too early.

Road through the forests in Costa Rica

We rode through heavily forested areas with an occasional glimpse of the shoreline for the next hour. The shoreline was 100-300 yards from the road in most places. The shores were rocky but flat over as much as 100 yards to the water. The rocky areas looked like coral or very dry mud. At only a few of the dozens of visible shoreline areas did we see any use of the shoreline. Those few areas contained snorkelers or scuba divers. The forests contained trees 100 or more feet high. Clumps of bamboo were sometimes as much as 50 feet high with 5 inch diameter canes. We saw few birds but heard many of them. Some of the birds were long-tailed black robin-sized birds. Some of the birds in the forests sounded like parrots. I saw turkey vultures circling 300 feet overhead and occasional single or paired medium-sized split-tailed long legged black and white birds.

The ride was over a two lane highway, relatively well paved, with few vehicles coming opposite us but a few more coming behind us. About half of them were busses and trucks with the remainder taxis and private cars. Most honked as they passed to indicate their presence. They all gave us adequate room to continue on the road. There were a few gentle up and down slopes along the road and a single longer, steeper area including one switchback which necessitated some walking over about 100 yards at the top.

We continued for about 5-8 miles past a second port area for commercial ships, some of which were banana boats as the road slowly rose to a point about 200 feet above the coastline. Here, we stopped for some photos and sat for a twenty minute bus stop conversation with a father and son duo. We talked about our origins and recommendations for restaurants in the area, following up with recommendations for specifics about food to order. This is a good shrimp fishing area and other saltwater fish are plentiful. Part of the commercial port area below us was a seafood packing plant.

Shrimp, plantains, and Yuca lunch on the beach

Downhill ahead laid a beautiful long, sandy beach with several hotel and resorts with restaurants. We decided to turn back here and try a restaurant, grocery store, beach area we had passed on the way out. Upon sitting down, we recognized many members of our own crew using the restaurant and the beach. We found that they had received this recommendation from other crew members with experience in the area. Crew from the second cruise ship in port also was using this beach. The veranda under the trees was inviting and comfortable and the beach was crowded with swimmers and sunbathers. We settled on shrimp for lunch accompanied by baked mashed plantains and baked Yuca, local specialties all. This was accompanied with a local beer served with an accompanying glass of ice. I dumped the ice into Marilyn’s Coke Light glass and poured the beer, which turned out not to be cold enough. It tasted fine, however. The shrimps were large and perfectly cooked, and were accompanied by a spicy hot sauce. I gave the food an A- and the service a C+. The overall effect was a B+.

After lunch, we searched the grocery store for cheap soft drinks in bottles or cans but found those available to be too expensive. We checked for Costa Rican coffee and decided to purchase that which had been offered earlier in the shops near the ship. But the store was air conditioned and we lingered for an extra minute before heading out into the 89 deg F heat and the bikes for the return trip. Traffic was a little heavier for the return, but the ride was uneventful except for the return of the hill which required some bike-walking and another spot where a walker warned us to use the opposite side of the street when walking the bike. I agreed with him and moved over for the 100 yard walk. The rest of the ride was substantially downhill and went quickly.

We returned along the same route we had taken on the way out and saw the stores now open and crowded with the after-lunch patrons. We had to modify our route back to the ship because the original route used one way streets which we could not now use to get back. The new route took us through a larger part of the town. Here, we also encountered more traffic but had no problems with it. The stores were small, mostly specialized ones in older buildings. A few contained a more extensive array of products like household items and food. We saw no sign of anything like a modern mall or even a modern building.

Returning to the shops near the ship, we purchased a few souvenir wood puzzle boxes and the coffee from Costa Rica, whole beans at about $5 per pound. Marilyn stopped for a shoulder massage. This massage and manicure shop did an amazing business among the cruise patrons who found their $15-25 prices for manicures, pedicures, and massages preferable to those costing in excess of $100 on the ship. I struck up a conversation with the shop owner as I waited 20 minutes for Marilyn. She giggled that some of the patrons were crazy, seeking bright, unusual colors for both fingers and toes.

Upon leaving the shops area we headed back to the ship through the usual gauntlet of passengers with questions about the bikes and their handling aboard the ships. This time, we got questions from both our own cruise ship passengers and those of the RCCL ship on the opposite side of our pier. We were soaked with perspiration from the heat of the day and the effort of the ride and headed immediately for the top deck cafeteria where we could rehydrate with iced tea. I had four glasses myself.

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Port Limon Costa Rica Plans, 22 April 2010

The wiki and Port Limon sites description are at the two links above. There is a beautiful road alond the beach past the airport to the south. We plan to take that ride and see a few sites along the way.

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