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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There’s an old saying that goes: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” I have a nice example of that philosophy that occurred this weekend.

We headed down to a Corps of Engineers campground called Ortona South. It is located at some locks on the Caloosahatchee River between Lake Okeechobee and Fort Myers. It’s a beautiful campground with nice level sites and great views. We are continuing our familiarization with the RV, lounging and strolling the campground. We met the local otter family, watched boats passing through the locks and did some light biking. All in all, a very relaxing weekend.

This coach, as I described in my last post, has a very advanced electrical system that includes a built-in surge protector. Despite that, one of the first accessories I bought was a surge protector that sits between the power cord and the plug on the pedestal. It not only protects the RV’s electrical system from surges, it monitors the state and quality of the power being delivered and shuts down if the voltage is too high or low or if the receptacle is mis-wired. It seemed a bit redundant and I almost returned it when I realized how nice our coach was, but I decided that multiple levels of protection could only be a good thing.

I need to mention that when we have no power, we have an inverter that supplies AC power for the fridge and most, but not all, of the outlets. Last night when we went to bed, we left our phones plugged into one of the non-inverted outlets. At 4 AM, we woke up to the sound of power being applied to our phones (“ding”). That signified the return of our 50 amp service. Turns out the external surge protector had detected an over-voltage situation (>134V). It had automatically isolated the coach until the power returned to an acceptable level, potentially saving it from damage.

This took place on our second trip. As far as I’m concerned, the device already paid for itself. I think I’ll remain paranoid, at least about stuff I can control.

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Lady Sybil at Ortona South, 11/10/17

 

Boats queuing for the lock, Ortona South, 11/10/17

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The local family getting ready to dine, Ortona South 11/10/17

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Dinner, Ortona South, 11/10/17

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We took the new RV out for our first run to a local campground. The goal was to start testing out the various systems and start getting smart on the many, many features available. We had big plans.

It should be pointed out that this is in Florida. In August. And it was hot. Really hot. This was not an issue for us, since the vast majority of our planned tasks would be taking place inside our coach, which has 3 air conditioners on the roof. The plan was to pull into the site, hit the auto-levelers, plug in, attach the water, and voila! We’re good to go.

Lesson #1: The auto-leveling system rocks! When we pulled in, Patti had some concerns that the site was not very level and that we would need to utilize our newly bought leveling pads to raise the front end in order to keep the tires on the ground. I thought we’d be OK and gave it a shot. We backed into the site, I hit the button, and a few minutes later we had a nice, level RV with all of the tires still on the ground. Success! This was not a sign of things to come.

Lesson #2: Pay attention when making reservations. I had been so glad to get a site here that I apparently missed an important point. When I went to plug in our 50-amp, 4-prong electrical plug into the pedestal I discovered only a 3-prong, 30-amp receptacle waiting for me. Crap. Those 3 air conditioners I mentioned earlier? They want lots of amperage. After a few choice words directed at myself, we went to the desk to see if there were any 50-amp sites available. No such luck. The lady told me, helpfully, that I’d be able to run one of my air conditioners and if I tripped a breaker they’d be happy to reset it for me. Thanks. We went back and fired up the generator to take the edge off of the 95 degree interior. I can run all three of the ACs using the generator, but it a) sucks diesel, b) is loud and c) generates fumes. Not a long term solution, but at least we could cool off a bit.

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Missed it by that much!

Lesson #3: Bring extra everything because you will eventually need it. This is why I have a 50-amp extension cord and an extra segment of sewer hose. What I didn’t yet have, but had on the list to get, was an extra water hose. I had 25 feet with us. The water spigot was 29 feet away. Crap. Again. Put that on the list to pick up. This afternoon.

OK, it’s time to “adapt and overcome,” something we need to get used to if we’re going to full-time. Crap happens, as they say, and we’d better get used to it. The water hose was an easy fix. A short road trip and the judicious use of a credit card and problem fixed. As to the shortage of electricity, I used this as a learning opportunity. This RV has a pretty sophisticated Electrical Monitoring System. I whipped out the manual (yes, this engineer actually RTFM!) and discovered that when plugged into anything less than 50 amps the RV, when using too much current, will automatically shed loads until it’s within the available power. Huh. So I turned off the generator and turned on two of the three ACs. And it worked! Until it didn’t. After 20 minutes or so I believe the fridge must have cycled and started to draw too much current. One of the ACs turned itself off, just like it was supposed to. Cool! (No pun intended.) I later determined that each AC draws about 14 amps, so running two was on the hairy edge, but it worked. Knowledge gained. And it will re-enable the shed load when enough power becomes available.

The rest of the weekend was fine. A bit warm, but careful use of the generator during the day took the edge off and one AC was fine during the night. We got a lot done, including exercising the outdoor 40″ TV by watching the Orlando soccer team lose while sitting outside talking with the neighbors and enjoying a few adult beverages. I like it!

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Watching the Orlando City SC on a warm Saturday evening.

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There goes a Disney Cruise ship out to sea.

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Lady Sybil Ramkin-Vimes, Duchess of Ankh and Campgrounds

PS: As you can see, we have named our RV. The christening will take place in December. We’ll explain then. Maybe.

I'll try (almost) anything once. Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/9/15

I’ll try (almost) anything once.
Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/9/15

During our week in Costa Rica we had a front row seat to some excellent surf, at least compared to what we’re used to seeing. I even dragged these bones out with my niece and nephew and took a lesson. I told the instructor that I will go out “until I hurt myself.” I was out for much longer than I expected. I was out for long enough.

The instructor told us that a big swell was heading our way on Thursday and that the spot where those in the know would be was just down the beach from our house, so I headed out there that morning and tried my hand at shooting surfers (in the photographic sense). It was fun. And, man those people had a good time too!

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 3/12/15

When we finally determined that the bareboat cruise around the islands of French Polynesia was actually going to happen, we started researching the logistics of the issue. Patti eventually decided to talk to a travel agent (yup, there still is such a thing!) and we hooked up with Uschi at Crossroads Travel. We had several back and forth conversations where we discussed what we were doing (sailing with family & friends) and what the best way to execute would be. At one point Uschi said, “This is a bucket list trip, right? Then you need to spend some time ashore either before or after your sailing.” We gave that the thought process it deserved (about 20 seconds) and responded “OK!” And that is how we found ourselves at the Moorea Pearl Resort for three nights and, holy crap, was it ever the right decision.

Our (very) private pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/25/14

Our (very) private pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/25/14

One thing needs to be said up front: we are not usually “high end” travelers. It’s not like we scrimp on our comforts, but usually a clean room and decent meals meet our needs. That being the case, we can honestly state that a) the Pearl rocked and b) if we ever find our way to Moorea again we will be staying there again. The staff was exceptional, the facilities beyond comfortable (our room had a private pool!) and the meals delicious. There were enough recreational activities to satisfy the most energetic of guest (which was NOT us) and plenty to do on the island itself. We didn’t begin to touch the extent of the possibilities.

So what did we do with our three days on Moorea? Well, we took a 4×4 tour of the interior (more on this in the next post) during which I took a ton of beautiful shots, had a lovely sunset dinner at the Moorea Beach Cafe (yum!), spent a lazy morning under the big shade tree next to the Pearl’s infinity pool and wandered through the nearby village of Maharepa. A true highlight, not just of our time on Moorea but of the entire trip. was our dinner with Dr. Michael Poole and his lovely wife Mareva.

Before we left Florida we mentioned to some friends that we were going to Moorea. They said, “Oh, we have a friend there.” Turns out that our friend’s college roommate became a marine biologist, moved to Moorea many years before and is now the expert in French Polynesia on humpback whales and spinner dolphins. He offers eco-tours where he takes folks out to actually see the whales and is well known as the premier guy for this type of thing, so much so that Patti had already heard of him before we discovered this “small world” link. Although, due to circumstances out of anybody’s control, we couldn’t take the tour, Michael and Mareva picked us up at the Pearl, took us to the Hilton Resort where he gave a talk, and then we went out for a great meal and excellent conversation. One of my biggest regrets from the trip is that I took zero photos of this wonderful couple. Oh well, yet another reason to return.

After three days we flew to Raiatea and hooked up with our shipmates at the Hawaiki Nui Hotel, where we received an upgrade to an overwater bungalow! It was a beautiful experience to lie in bed and watch the sun rise over the Pacific. We had an interesting dinner with the entire crew, enjoyed a cocktail or two and got ready to board the boat!

Next time: inland on Moorea.

The Pearl Resort poolside, Moorea, 9/25/14

The Pearl Resort poolside, Moorea, 9/25/14

Patti chilling by the pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

Patti chilling by the pool, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

An over water bungalow, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

An overwater bungalow, The Pearl Resort, Moorea, 9/27/14

Over water bungalows, The Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Overwater bungalows, The Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

The Admiral & Captain on our deck, The Hawaiki Nui Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

The Admiral & Captain on our bungalow deck, The Hawaiki Nui Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Poolside at the Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Poolside at the Hawaiki Hotel, Raiatea, 9/28/14

Sunrise over Huahine, Raiatea, 9/29/14

Sunrise over Huahine (in the distance) from our bungalow, Raiatea, 9/29/14

Well, we’ve been back from our Italy adventure for a bit over a week now and it’s time to reflect on our travels. We have two subjects to talk about this time: Italy itself and traveling on a formal tour as compared to rolling our own. Let’s start with our thoughts on Italy.

And those are: wow! We had a great time. From the hustle and bustle of Rome to the coast of Cinque Terre, we saw things old and new, appreciated great art and great food, and enjoyed the Italian people and culture in ways that exceeded our expectations. We learned that good food can be incredibly simple, good wine can be incredibly inexpensive and good art can be found everywhere. Everywhere.

Some of our memories include:

  • Learning how pesto is made (it’s extremely simple) in a swanky hotel on the Italian Riviera.
  • Being stopped on a side-street in Florence for a short lecture on the history of the street and the flooding of the river by an Italian gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English. Actually, we’re not sure just what we were lectured on, but he was certainly passionate about it.
  • The best people watching we have ever experienced. Both women and men, no matter the age, were stylish and handsome.
  • On a related note, watching women walk the cobblestone streets in extremely high heels was interesting and a bit scary.
  • A taxi ride through Rome that was comparable to any Disney ride. An experience in itself.
  • Discovering that wherever there is a beautiful view the Italians have placed an establishment to enjoy the spot with a glass of wine. Quite civilized.
  • As usual, we were rewarded by unplanned activities. After being caught in the rain we ducked into the nearest site, the Medici Chapel, where we found ourselves in a room with several Michelangelo statues.
  • I was attacked by a urinal. But that’s a story for another time.

Bottom line is that we would return in a heartbeat. There’s more to do.

As to the Rick Steves tour that we were on, we couldn’t be happier. Our guide, Cecilia, was a wonderful woman, passionate about her country and eager to show it off. The other travelers were people that we were comfortable to journey with and as filled with the joy of new experiences as we are. Having local guides added a dimension to the places we went that is impossible to achieve otherwise. Comfortable hotels, excellent meals, great company, what else could we ask for? We would not hesitate to go on another tour with Rick Steves.

Here’s just a handful of the many beautiful shots we took. You’ll be seeing more in the weeks ahead.

Pesto! Sestri Levante, Italy, 9/12/13

Pesto!
Sestri Levante, Italy, 9/12/13

Sunset over Florence Florence, Italy, 9/17/13

Sunset over Florence
Florence, Italy, 9/17/13

Not all art we saw was old. Rome, Italy, 9/8/13

Not all art we saw was old.
Rome, Italy, 9/8/13

The Colosseum Rome, Italy, 9/10/13

The Colosseum
Rome, Italy, 9/10/13

Street Busker Volterra, Italy, 9/11/13

Street Busker
Volterra, Italy, 9/11/13

Artisan working alabaster into a bowl Volterra, Italy, 9/11/13

Artisan working alabaster into a bowl
Volterra, Italy, 9/11/13

The Pantheon, The Colosseum and The Vittorio Emmanual Memorial Rome, Italy, 9/18/13

The Pantheon, The Colosseum and The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument
Rome, Italy, 9/18/13

Street Scene Riomaggiore, Italy, 9/13/13

Street Scene
Riomaggiore, Italy, 9/13/13

Although we have both been under the weather for the past several days, we are still managing to have a fantastic Florentine experience. We have leaned how to make marbleized paper, how to buy leather (an expensive lesson indeed), how to partially communicate when there is no common language and how to eat very, very well. We have seen policemen carrying their dog’s poop, briefly lost (and barely recovered) our backpack and seen Florence from several different high locations (I am writing these words from the very top of our hotel’s private tower). The weather has been iffy, but it is beautiful now, just cool enough for me to wear my new jacket to dinner!

Tomorrow it’s the high-speed train back to Rome, but for now it’s a glass or two of red before dinner.

Ciao.

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We are in Florence for the last days of our formal tour. In fact, in about an hour we are off to our “Last Supper,” our final dinner with the group. When we made our plans we decided to stay an extra two days here in Florence in order to unwind and perhaps have an adventure or two. We’re glad we did.

Both Patti and I have head colds. Pretty bad ones. My bad day was yesterday when I actually left the group and returned to the hotel early for down time. It’s a bummer because I missed some partially complete Michelangelo statues that I had been looking forward to. Patti told me they were impressive. Her bad day was this afternoon, but fortunately it was free time so she didn’t miss any planned activity.

Florence, like the rest of the trip, is a target-rich environment for photography. Here are a few from our neighborhood. The first is the view from the roof of our hotel. Stay tuned for whatever we get into over the next couple of days. Perhaps we’ll go on a quest!

BTW: I have a great post on Cinque Terra written but it seems to be stuck in WordPress hell. I’ll get it out when I figure out how.

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When we first started planning our big 2013 vacation we knew early on that we wanted to try out a Rick Steves tour, the only question was: where? Turkey was in the running for awhile, but when we looked at the Heart of Italy tour and I discovered the Cinque Terra region, which I had never heard of, I was sold. Five extremely photogenic villages connected by a series of panoramic trails, it was made for me. As it turns out, this is a case of the reality meeting the expectations. Wow. I’ll write more, and show more, after we get home, but here are a handful to keep you until then. Ciao!

(This is being posted post-trip. It was trapped in “Draft” mode & I couldn’t figure out how to post it from the WordPress app. We’ll be posting a summary of the trip later this weekend, but I wanted to give you a glimpse of this beautiful area.)

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A very brief post, since we have no wifi in the room (ah, the deprivations of travel). We went yesterday from Volterra to Lucca to The Cinque Terra. I believe the phrase I’m looking for is OMG! You will see a lot more when we get home. I’m off to eat my fancy breakfast and then hit the trains.

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We spent last night and today in the Tuscan hill town of Volterra. It is a charming small town made for exploring, full of history and good food. We had a meal last night that our guide described as “demanding,” meaning that it demanded a lot of space in our stomachs. It was delicious and, even though we seem to be eating our way across Italy, I’ve had to tighten my belt due to the exercise we are getting.

Today we learned a lot about the Etruscans, saw alabaster being worked and started our shopping. This place is beautiful. I’m just sorry we have to move on in the morning to the Italian Riviera. Between now and then we have to suffer through a wine tasting and search out another decent meal. We’ll probably muddle through somehow.

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