Swimming with Dolphins

dolphin smile

Is the dolphin “smile” the reason why humans have such an affinity for these amazing marine mammals? Or is it their friendly and playful personalities that make them so appealing? Dolphins are featured in human records all the way back to Greek mythology.

One of the most amazing and fun activities my family ever experienced was swimming with the dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. They are so playful and friendly and swam among us, letting us pet them. They are very social and attuned to each other, which is why you so often see pictures of them jumping and diving together. When we were swimming with them, they were always in pairs. They did “kiss” us and wave bye-bye.

The highlight of our swim was a trick in which two dolphins swim up behind you and together they lift you in the air and plow forward in the ocean, giving you an amazing ride.

They are strong, but gentle. They seemed to be having as much fun as we were, but who really knows? Though I must admit I’m not the type who ever fancied being pushed through the air by dolphins, I was really glad I did it. (nope, not me in the pic)

This was one of the best activities my family has ever done, worth every penny. We even bought the video afterwards, which is something I’ve never done before or since.

This is an expensive outing (plan on $150-200 per person). We were told that part of the reason for the high cost is that some of the money is used for research to help the dolphins. I hope that’s true. The trainers we met said they (the trainers) were all marine scientists and the animals were treated well. It was definitely not an amusement park type setup but…

There is controversy over using dolphins to entertain humans, and I can see the problem. These dolphins had been trained to perform and, although their pens were “invisible” to us, they were not fully wild.

On the other hand, there are marine scientists who argue that the money raised through allowing human interaction with dolphins provides funds for research and education that will ultimately help the dolphins. Also, bringing humans into closer contact with dolphins is seen as a way to develop support to save not only the dolphins, but other sea creatures as well.

Dolphins are under threat not only from man (fishing, coastal development, etc.) but also from the general threats to the sea and to all marine life (pollution, pesticides, loss of habitat, etc.).

Ultimately, their fate will most likely depend on humans.

Let me leave you with a few facts about dolphins.

They are social animals who live in groups. They only breathe consciously, not automatically as humans do. They don’t sleep as we know it, but do nap for a few minutes at a time. It is believed they communicate with each other through sounds they make. And finally, to keep us somewhat on topic, dolphins are sexually promiscuous and the males compete for females (in much the same way human males do through displays of power, fighting for dominance in the pecking order and showing off.)

They are awesome animals when seen up close. If you ever get a chance, please put in a good word for them. Keep them smiling!

 

London in Pictures

side entrance-fortnum & masonLondon is one of the world’s great cities, with something for everyone. In honor of the Olympics, I’m sharing some pictures of London sights.

If you’re a foodie, London might not be your first thought. But their food markets are wonderful. Fortnum & Mason is a well-known store with exquisite windows and food displays. The first picture on this blog is the side entrance, and gives you an idea of the uniquely British decoration. The Royal Family does business with this store.

Harrods, the department store has beautiful displays of food to eat there or to go. Check out the candy display and this fanciful cake. Harrod's candy display (2)The cake is actually for sale for 2,000 British pounds, about $3,000 US.

Last, but not least, for you pet lovers, Harrods has an adorable pet shop.

Harrod's pet store-dog 1

See more of my London pictures here.

 

 

London for Tourists

London has amazing historical sites that you shouldn’t miss.

Photo of Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Here’s Westminster Abbey. My kids wanted to go inside because that’s where the marriage of Kate and William took place. Hubby and I had already been in, so we decided to walk over to the War Rooms which have been preserved intact from WW 2.

This is where Churchill and his top war ministers lived while London was being bombed. It’s all underground, quite tiny and spartan. The kitchen gives you a good idea of how they lived.Photo of kitchen in Churchill's underground bunker After the war ended, they discovered the underground bunker was not properly constructed and never would have survived a direct hit from a German bomb. But, for the duration of the war, they at least thought they were safe there.

Our reward for taking in some history is that we saw the Queen drive by in a big caravan of limos. This was in June of 2011 and she was celebrating her birthday. There was no one around because she was merely on her way to Buckingham Palace 2Buckingham Palace, where they were having ceremonies. We didn’t tell our kids. They would have been so disappointed to have missed her.

Traveling for Water Fun

Hawaii 010Everyone loves vacations in sunny beach locations. But even when the beach beckons, my family would rather be active. Water sports are a lot of fun and can be tailored to all different ages.

The picture to the left is Hanelai Bay in Hawaii, famous on the Island of Oahu for its snorkeling. My family has snorkeled in many spots; it’s a good sport even for youngish children as long as you find a sheltered area. One of my kids recently became scuba certified and I would love to do that. But she has more time than I do.

This next picture is jet skiing, also in Hawaii. Hawaii 011It’s not my favorite sport, though many people love it. The last time I was on a jet ski was in Puerto Rico where we were vacationing with many of my husband’s friends. He felt compelled to race with one of them on the jet ski (which was also transporting moi). I was so mad at him, I made him stop the machine and I jumped off and swam to shore. He’s crazy and I’m sane (and he’s also not here to dispute my facts). That was it for me and the jet ski.

I used to love Sunfish sailing when I was younger, though I’m not a huge fan of regular sailboats. The fun part about a Sunfish (at least the way we played with it) is that it tips over constantly. I much preferred being tipped into the water than flying over it. I don’t know why.

The Naked Male Tour of Austria

Photo of St. Gilgen, AustriaI did not go to Austria to view naked men. That was just a side benefit of my trip.

We started our vacation in Vienna. The city provides a wealth of inspiration for a writer, with everything from richly decorated historical buildings to fabulous baroque art and even the Lipizzaner horses (amazing show and the riders…yum). Most every restaurant and cafe has outdoor tables and the city is full of charming side streets and entire city blocks that are vehicle free. Vienna is a walker’s and bicyclist’s paradise in many parts of the city. In the Spittleberg district (where 18th century men could “enjoy life to the full outside their home”) we had drinks one evening at an outdoor cafe on one of these cafe-lined side streets. Totally romantic. I went inside to use the ladies room (identified by the bra on the door).

As I was washing my hands, I looked up where I expected the mirror over the sinks to be. What I saw, however, was two young men doing their business about two feet from my nose. In place of a wall above the sinks, there was a large, empty glass fish tank (immaculately clean) which occupied the space between the men’s and ladies’ bathrooms. One could scarcely avoid the “view”.

I was shocked, but it’s great for a story tidbit. Dibs, ladies. I reported back to hubby who said that women are total voyeurs, but they don’t want to admit it. Are they? I have to say, I wouldn’t have looked intentionally. One has to keep in mind that all kinds of guys use the facilities.

We moved on to Salzburg, a unique city that has been carefully maintained to retain much of the beauty and charm of the past. Photo of alley in Salzburg, Austria(Mozart was born and raised in the yellow house on the left.) However, the old city has been given over almost entirely to shopping, and chain stores abound. We accidentally stumbled upon the Mirabell gardens where (supposedly) the original Maria von Trapp and her stepchildren could be seen singing and dancing around the fountain. What we saw was my next naked man, a fellow who was strolling inside the fountain pool, attempting to hang onto his shorts. But he lost the battle just as we walked by and we were successfully mooned. You know, I bet the children were a lot more charming.

Next we drove up into the lake district for some hiking. When we passed by Lake Mondsee (also a setting for The Sound of Music movie) hubby noticed a nude beach. We did not even take a peek (having learned in our travels that there is rarely a person on a nude beach you want to see, well, naked).

But we did not escape the lady sitting on a bench on the regular beach who was changing her clothes. Took off her bathing suit top as we approached and, by the time we were walking by, she was in the process of removing the bottom. Okay, that’s the naked lady story. Off subject.

We drove into the Austrian Alps on the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, a white-knuckle ride up to the highest mountains in Austria. This road hugs the Alps, ascends to more than eight thousand feet in the course of 30 miles, and was lined with bicyclists making the ascent. Can we say fit men? Unfortunately, none of them removed their clothes for my enjoyment. When we got to the top, however, there was a male hiker disrobing. Standing right there in the parking lot, with dozens of people milling around. He stripped himself naked to change his outfit. I don’t know why, though it’s not the first time I’ve seen such a thing. However, he wasn’t hot. Not that I looked.

Our last night in Austria taught me, oddly enough, why everyone wants to know what a Scotsman has under his kilt. It is well worth knowing about. Now, I am happily married and can’t take advantage of this knowledge. But, if you’re not, get yourself over to Scotland.

So, here’s the tale. We were at Octoberfest in Salzburg.  Photo of Oktoberfest band in Salzburg(Technically, it’s a religious type holiday in Austria, but even the Austrians admitted it was hard to tell the difference.) As you see from the picture, they gather in large groups to drink excellent beer, sing along to an oompha band, and dress in native costume. (Think flowered dirndl dresses with aprons for the women and leather shorts and checked shirts for the men.)Photo of people at Oktoberfest

The sight of two Scotsmen in full kilted gear added to the festive atmosphere. Added considerably, as you will see.

Everyone sits at big picnic tables family style, that is, wherever you find a seat. The Scotsmen were at the table next to mine, and I was keeping a casual eye on them. (Yup, casual.)

Though we were all eating dinner, it was still full daylight. They were bantering with an Austrian woman at my table, laughing and having a grand time (in German).

The Scots guys stood up, still joking with her, when suddenly one of them simply pulled up his kilt and exposed his wares for the Austrian lady.

That’s right. He wore not a stitch under that kilt and not only that, he was shaved as bald as a robin’s egg. No, dinosaur egg would be a better simile. Because that man had a set of pipes…whew, I’m still agog. It’s amazing how shock immobilizes you, and yet allows you to focus intently.

He dropped the kilt and the Austrian lady and I started to cry.

No. No. We didn’t. She blushed brighter than the red stripes on the tent. (We think she had dared him to do it.) I managed to close my mouth and tell my husband what had happened. The man sitting next to me and I laughed for ten minutes (though he was blushing). It was so unexpected. The two Scotsmen sat back down and within five minutes, there were two young women sitting across from them (coincidentally, I’m sure.)

Well, in the US, that stunt would probably cost him a night in jail. But the Europeans are much more casual about public nudity. ♥    ♥    ♥    ♥    ♥

Carly’s Books

 

Bicycling in Amsterdam

 

bicycle-2-kids-1024x768What is the most common mode of transportation in Amsterdam? If you looked at the picture, you know the answer. A bicycle.

As a city reclaimed from the ocean, Amsterdam is totally flat. Therefore, bicycling is easy, and everyone does it. You will see chic ladies in high heels and skirts, businessmen in suits and ties, senior citizens, and kids of all ages, including teens in social groups.

The authorities have encouraged the practice by building bike paths everywhere there is a road. Bicyclists also have the right of way over anyone else, including pedestrians. Which means walking can be hazardous. Each road consists of the car roadway, a paved bike path, and a sidewalk. Major streets also include tram tracks. Oftentimes, all these things are on the same level, with little to mark one lane from a different one, not even a curb.

Whatever method you are using to get around, you need to be very careful as people and cars come from all directions. Cars often park on the sidewalks, which forces pedestrians onto the bike path, and bicyclists will not be happy to see you there.

bicycle-2-kids-150x150

Notice the two children on the bike on the picture to the left. It is common to see a parent moving his or her children around this way. Below is an alternative method, with the child in a box up front.

bicycle 1You will see people holding up umbrellas in the rain, texting, talking on their phones. People ride on the back of the bike. Even adults. I loved this shot of an older couple. The woman is pedaling along and the well-dressed man is enjoying the ride.bicycle - older couple-AmsterdamYou may have noticed one unusual fact about bicyclists in the Netherlands (versus the US). No one is wearing a helmet. No one. I never saw a single helmet on a bicyclist in Amsterdam. Not even toddlers in the little boxes attached to the front. But I did see my first bicycle garage. The bike garage is right over a canal. How cool is that?Bike Park- Amsterdam

ETA: I almost forgot to mention the scooters zipping around! They apparently can go on either the bike path or the road. But Amsterdam is a very safe city traffic-wise. I did a little research. Approximately 200 people per year die in bike accidents in The Netherlands, with an average of only 6 per year in Amsterdam. http://www.tobysterling.net/2007/12/bike-accident-deaths-in-amsterdam-and.html

Death in traffic accidents overall is the lowest in Europe at 45 deaths per million inhabitants per year vs. the comparable US rate of 147 deaths per million and the European rate of 90 deaths per million. (credit Toby Sterling). So I guess that’s why they don’t feel the need for helmets.

Which is your favorite photo?

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