Discovering “Decebalus Rex” on a Danube Viking River Cruise

After writing scores of articles about ocean cruises, we decided to see what motivates vacationers to take European river cruises. We are glad we did.

So much to choose from

There are endless selections of river cruise itineraries on the internet, so we sought the guidance of three prominent river cruise companies in Europe – Amway, Uniworld, and Viking.

Viking River Cruises comes through

Viking River Cruises was most generous with their public relations department and customer service time, so we selected their 11-day Budapest to Bucharest cruise on the Danube.

Casting off

We boarded our Viking longship, the Jarl, in Budapest. We pulled away from the dock just after dark.

If you have seen the Viking commercials featured on shows like Downton Abbey on PBS, you know what the Hungarian Parliament Building looks like by day. The picture above, shows it at night – it is a spectacular sight!

Our itinerary

Our chosen itinerary would take us to five eastern European countries including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia.

This is the first story from our first river cruise experience.

Romania

Romania is a country steeped in mystery and shadowed folklore. Brahms Stoker never visited the country, but he borrowed from the harsh legend of Romania’s 15th century Prince Vlad Tepes of Transylvania to create his eerie and unforgettable character, Dracula.

Another famous (in Romania) real-life character was King Decebal. He was the last king of Dacia, an ancient land located in present day Romania. He is the subject of the historical curiosity in this story.

King Decebal

Decebal was a strong and popular leader who dared defy Rome and Emperor Trajan’s conquering legions. 

The thundering silence of Decebalus Rex

Decebal is immortalized in an enormous stone likeness of his solemn face gazing toward the far (now Serbia) shore of the Danube – the place where the Roman armies camped and prepared to attack – two thousand years ago.

After many years of struggle, the Romans finally crossed the Danube River and decimated the Dacian armies in circa 105 AD.

Surrounded by faceless generals of stone, Decebal’s ghostly visage stands alone to witness the final defeat that took his country, and eventually his life. He is fated to stare into the distance, and relive his humiliation, throughout time.

A giant undertaking

At 140 feet tall, the Decebalus Rex monument is the tallest rock structure in Europe. It is considerably taller than the more famous U.S. Mount Rushmore at 59 feet.

The stone monument appears ancient, but was actually just completed in 2004 after a difficult decade of site preparation and carving. The project was funded by a private Romanian citizen, Giuseppe Constantin Drăgan.

The Tabula Traiana

Just across the river on the Serbian side lies the Trajan Table. It is an ancient carved memorial at the Danube’s edge commissioned by the great Emperor Trajan to commemorate his victories over the Dacians in the first century.

Trajan considered the ending of the Dacian Wars to be one of his greatest triumphs; so important that Trajan had another monument constructed to commemorate the event – the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Pressing forward

Our Viking river boat glides silently under the brooding face of Decebal and past the ancient Trajan Table, and on through the Kazan Gorge, one of the four narrow gorges that make up the legendary Iron Gate of the Danube. This is the most scenic part of a Danube river cruise.

Our next stop will be Bulgaria.

About our river cruise ship

The Jarl is one of the 60+ longships in the Viking river fleet. She’s a sleek 443 foot vessel with 95 comfortable water-view staterooms.

She has a crew of 50 and moves effortlessly and quietly through the water with a modern diesel/electric hybrid powerhouse.

Most of the Jarl’s staff is multi-lingual, and all are well trained in the nuances of excellent customer service.

On our cruise, the food was good and ample. The chef featured cuisine from the countries we visited. If you have a palate for paprika, you will be delighted.

River ship’s hierarchy

Aboard a river cruise ship, the Captain is responsible for the operation of the vessel and the safety of the passengers. Everything else is the responsibility of the Hotel Manager.

During our 11-day cruise, we changed our Captain once. Our Hotel Manager, the genial Franz Wusits, was with us the entire trip and kept the ship’s staff on their toes – everything ran smoothly.

We interviewed Franz in our Explorer Suite located at the back of the ship.

The suites aboard the Jarl are large, and well appointed without being trendy.

Franz’s “river stories,” will provide smiles in future articles about our Viking River Cruise. Stay tuned.

More to come

We will also write about several of our excellent bus excursions on the Danube trip, which by the way, are all included in the price of the cruise. A nice bonus to river cruising.

If you go

Viking River Cruises has an itinerary to please every taste. Check out their website at www.vikingrivercruises.com.

Viking made the arrangements for our flights to Budapest and back to the US from Bucharest. We appreciate the effort.

This will not be our last river cruise, and we highly recommend the experience.

As always, if you have questions, write us at the2writers@gmail.com

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © 2017 Judy Bayliff


The Legendary Walled City of Dubrovnik: Pearl of the Adriatic

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Established in the 7th century A.D., the ancient and scenic port city of Dubrovnik lies in the southernmost part of the Republic of Croatia, – almost directly across the Adriatic Sea from the “spur” in the boot of Italy. It is a beautiful city of colorful red-topped tile roofs and cobblestone streets, all of which looks very much like it did centuries ago.

The Pearl of the Adriatic

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Among the city’s many admirers was Lord Byron who called Dubrovnik, “the Pearl of the Adriatic.” A century later the famous playwright, George Bernard Shaw proclaimed, “If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik.” If you visit Dubrovnik, you will see that it is indeed worthy of high praise.

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To spend time in Dubrovnik is to feel the drama of a city tossed through time and finally settled in recent history as a place of peace and beauty.

Early Dubrovnik

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The years have put many unique stamps on Dubrovnik. The city may very well be the world’s first planned community. As early as 1272, there was a town diagram, and in the following two centuries, the avant-garde citizenry opened a pharmacy (still in operation), a home for the aged, a quarantine hospital, and an orphanage.

Libertas

Most extraordinarily, 74 years before Columbus discovered America, the aristocracy in Dubrovnik abolished slavery and slave trading. In honor of the visionary proclamation, they adopted a new flag that was seen throughout the trading routes of the world. Dubrovnik’s mighty fleet of merchant ships sailed under a white flag inscribed with the word Libertas (Latin for “freedom”)

The wall

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Dubrovnik is renowned throughout the world as the “ancient walled city.” The wall that surrounds the city was originally constructed in 900 A.D. – and was further fortified in the 15th century.

The wall, which is a popular walking attraction from which all aspects of city life can be viewed, is 1.3 miles long, 10 feet thick along the sea, and 20 feet thick elsewhere. There are substantial fortifications on all four corners.

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A cruise-tour group rests at the ancient water cistern

Although some of the fanciful architecture dates back to the 7th century, most of the public buildings were rebuilt after a great earthquake killed 5000 residents, and leveled many dwellings in 1667.

A couple from Florida enjoying the ocean breeze on the wall

Florida cruisers enjoying the pleasant Adriatic breeze on the Dubrovnic wall

Old wars

In the succeeding centuries, Dubrovnik suffered bombardment by a Russian fleet, and conquests by Napoleon, the Nazis, and Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. In 1973, the old city declared itself a demilitarized zone in hopes that it would never again be a casualty of war.

Unfortunately, fate was not yet ready to bestow peace on Dubrovnik.

Recent conflicts

23-100_1936In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia, and on October 1, 1991, under a mantle of dispute, Serbians of the Yugoslavian People’s Army laid siege to Dubrovnik.

Once again, the ancient city with so many historical treasures was barraged as if it were a common piece of dirt, and the rest of the world stood by and watched. The attacks lasted until May 1992 when the Croatian Army liberated the city.

Most of the damage from the latest conflict has been repaired. The renewed city has taken its rightful place as the jewel of the Adriatic – complete with storybook architecture and picturesque twisted streets and alleys.

Bucket list

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We highly recommend Dubrovnik to photographers and tourists interested in antiquities, history, and architecture. The old city is a superb vacation site with an ideal climate and gracious and hospitable inhabitants – both to be enjoyed in a genuine fairytale setting.

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Click here for more information.

Happy travels!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

A National Scenic Wonder in Winter: The Magnificent Coast of Oregon

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Much of the Oregon coast consists of miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches, which may be exactly what you are looking for if you seek total relaxation.

However, if you crave excitement, check out the wild 40 miles of rocky shoreline that begins in the north at Waldport, Oregon and zigzags south along curvy Highway 101.

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Here, for your winter touring pleasure, nature provides scenic headlands and lofty volcanic outcroppings that plunge precipitously to the unbounded Pacific several hundred feet below.

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The best of the stretch is known as Cape Perpetua. The views are so exceptional that the rugged expanse has been federally designated a National Scenic Area.

Local history

Captain James Cook discovered and named Cape Perpetua in 1778. The mountainous wooded territory remained virtually unreachable until it became part of the Siuslaw National Forest in 1908.

In 1914, the U.S. Forest Service carved a rough road around the Cape and joined the two small neighboring towns of Yachats and Florence by constructing a wooden bridge across the Yachats River.

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By 1930 the old wooden bridge had been replaced by a span made of steel. The road was greatly improved and is now part of historic Highway 101 stretching 1,500 miles from Port Angeles, Washington to Los Angeles, California. The panoramic Central Coast of Oregon is now accessible to all.

Thank you CCC

The Civilian Conservation Corps was created in 1933 to provide jobs to thousands of America’s youth during the Great Depression. The result of the CCC effort in Oregon made Cape Pepetua a unique travel destination with miles of inviting trails.

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Imagine being young and strong and working in this pristine domain of breathtaking beauty where you can see for miles along the jagged coastal shoreline. 

Visualize waking to a crackling fire amid a silent coastal fog, and gathering with your fellow workers for that first warming sip of morning coffee.

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The work was hard, but satisfying, and the participants of the CCC experienced life in convivial communal encampments — the remains of which are still visible at Cape Perpetua.

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These were the lucky ones in hard times, and although most of them are now departed, their lasting legacy of trails and shelters are still in use today.

Attractions at the Cape

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There are three major natural attractions within a short walk from the parking lot of the Cape Pepetua Visitors Center. Thor’s Well, Spouting Horn, and Devil’s Churn – the most exciting being Thor’s Well.

In simple terms, Thor’s Well is a collapsed underwater volcanic cave that formed a large round hole on the surface – think very big blow hole. 

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The hole is about 20 feet deep, and during incoming tides and rough seas, the water rushes into the submerged cavern and erupts into a mighty blast of foaming ocean that can easily tumble curious onlookers that venture too close.

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Seconds after the upward explosion, the Well dramatically inhales the ocean that it just hurled-up.

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Be careful, you don’t want to be on the ride back to the sea!

Trails

It’s an intermediate-level hike across the rocky shoreline and up through dense spruce forests to the outlooks.

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Fortunately, the trails adjacent to the Visitor’s Center are paved for easy access by all. There are 11 trails to choose from; a total of 27 miles of hiking adventures and spectacular views.

Sea lion caves

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Approximately five miles south of the Cape Pepetua Visitors Center is another unusual natural attraction – The Seal Lion Caves. This is North America’s largest sea cave, and well worth a visit. You can learn more about what to expect at the caves by viewing our photos and reading our article on the subject here.

Heceta Lighthouse

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While in the area, plan to visit the historic Heceta Lighthouse. We spent two nights in the lighthouse keeper’s residence — a unique experience indeed. You can read that story here.

If you go

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For campers there’s the nearby Washburne State Park Campground where you can pitch a tent, and park a trailer or RV. For under $50, there are also several yurts for rent.

For more creature comforts

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If you prefer something more comfortable than living in the great outdoors, we highly recommend the Three Rivers Casino and Resort  in nearby Florence, Oregon.

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This is our favorite casino, and is less than 15 miles from Cape Pepetua.

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The rooms at the Three Rivers Casino are reasonably priced, clean and spacious, and just steps away from an exciting gaming facility.

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We are non-smokers, so the separate smoking and non-smoking gaming halls are most welcome.

Outstanding buffet

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If you love great food, you cannot beat the World Market Buffet at the Three Rivers. The buffet offers a wide selection of savory entrees, with several made-to-order specialties. We have reviewed many buffets, and we rate this one – tops.

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For more information or reservations, click on the Three Rivers Casino website.

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A Winter Odyssey

For an awe-inspiring look at the Oregon Coast, check out this excellent video from Uncage the Soul Productions.

We love the Oregon Coast in winter. We think you will too!

Happy travels!

*************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Remembering December 7, 1941 On A Tour Of The Arizona Memorial At Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona Memorial is a national monument honoring those who served in the Pacific Theatre during and after the Japanese naval assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The memorial structure is built on and directly over the rusted remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona. This is the final resting place of 1,177 Americans killed when a bomb penetrated the deck above the ship’s munitions magazine during the Japanese air attack on Battleship Row.

The loss of life on the Arizona represents more than half of all the Americans killed on December 7, 1941. It also represents the greatest number of casualties on any American warship in history.

Now a garden setting

If you have not been to the memorial lately, you will be much impressed with the park like setting at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center.

While at the Center, be sure to see the 23-minute film and audio tour that brings that fateful morning at Pearl Harbor to life.

Well done

The exhibits at the Center are designed to pull visitors deftly into that specific moment in history, as they relive the politics and events leading up to the Japanese attack.

The presentations are poignant – be prepared for a holistic experience you will not forget.

A solemn journey

When their background education is refreshed, visitors board a launch operated by the Navy and are ferried across the harbor to the waiting memorial. It is a short and quiet ride.

After pulling alongside the monument, passengers disembark and walk up to the cenotaph resting on the Arizona.

At the far end of the memorial, look for the Wall of Honor with the names of those that gave their lives on the ill-fated Arizona. They are now resting beneath your feet.

Visitors speak in whispers, tears are visible, eyes are cast downward into the entombing water, and minds imagine the confusion and utter chaos of that December morning so long ago. It all seems surreal to the observers who now stand in the gentle Hawaiian breeze – safely atop the remains of the Arizona.

The ultimate sacrifice

One can only wonder what life might have held in store for the one-thousand plus soldiers and sailors below – if they had not been aboard the Arizona on that fateful day. Had they lived, what famous Americans might they have fathered for our generation, what greatness might they have achieved? America moved forward, one-thousand heroes remain at their post.

The tears of the Arizona

Seventy-five years later, oil still seeps from the sunken battleship. It randomly appears on the water’s surface – then like a spirit – it floats slowly away. Observers have named the oil manifestations “the tears of the Arizona.”

Be sure to visit the USS Arizona Memorial

Save a day during your vacation on Oahu and take your family to see the USS Arizona Memorial. For some, it is an awakening and first time realization about the many Americans that have sacrificed everything to keep our nation free.

The USS Missouri

The Arizona Memorial is now symbolically guarded by the ever-vigilant USS Missouri battleship. “Big Mo,” is permanently docked in Pearl – just up-harbor from the Arizona. The Missouri fought in and survived WWII and her deck was the historic site of the official surrender of Japan in 1945. It seems fitting that a battleship that participated in ending the war in the Pacific, should rest near the dreadnought that was the earliest casualty of the conflict.

The great Missouri went on to fight in Korea, and Operation Desert Storm. She was decommissioned in 1992, and took up her post as silent sentinel for the Arizona in 1999.

The USS Missouri has the distinction of being the last active battleship in the world.

If you go

The USS Arizona Memorial is located in Pearl Harbor, which is two miles west of the Honolulu International Airport.

Look *here* for more information about the USS Arizona Memorial, and *here* for the USS Missouri Memorial.

Heroes are still being interred on the USS Arizona. This video explains – You Tube

Happy travels – Remember our troops, not only today, but always.

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

 

Celebrate Veterans Day at the Thayer Hotel at West Point

No other hotel in the United States can boast the patriotic pedigree of the Thayer Hotel at West Point.

We paid a visit to the award-winning Thayer Hotel during the holiday season, and felt it especially appropriate to write about this unique hotel on Veterans Day, when we honor the members of the military that have gallantly served our country.

General Douglas MacArthur stayed at the Thayer whenever he visited the military academy. Dwight D. Eisenhower did the same – both as a general and as president of the United States. Four other presidents including John F. Kennedy enjoyed visiting the hotel – you will too.

The beautiful Hudson River Valley

It is little more than a one-hour drive along the Hudson River Valley to reach West Point from New York City. At the entrance to the military academy, you are required to stop at a small stone guardhouse. There you advise the sentry of your intentions to visit the hotel, and he or she will direct you to your destination atop a steep driveway to the right.

As you slowly drive up the hill, you are drawn to the many leaded glass windows of the fortification like building. You immediately sense that this is a special place, and it is.

The Thayer Hotel

Completed in 1926, the hotel is situated on a prominent bluff that offers breathtaking views of the Hudson River far below. As you walk the manicured lawn towards the adjacent woods on the riverside of the hotel, you will see many stone outcroppings – an assurance that the hotel, like the academy, is built on very firm ground.

There is a short marble staircase leading from the old wooden front door to the grand reception lobby. Flags decorate the overhead between the first and second floor of the hotel. There is a large fireplace directly across the room from the top of the entry stairs.

The whole picture is that of the interior of a castle or military fortification – yet at the same time, there is an extraordinary warmth about the lobby that is quite inviting.

Guest Room Dedication Program

We were at the Thayer to attend a ceremony where a guestroom is named after a distinguished graduate of West Point. Honorees are selected from academy graduates that have made significant contributions to the United States and the world.

The dedication program is part of a recent multi-million dollar renovation at the hotel. The program is a work in slow and deliberate progress of the hotel’s 151 guestrooms.

Honoring outstanding United States Military Academy graduates

The officer being honored with a dedicated room at the Thayer at the time of our visit was General Roscoe Robinson, Jr., a 1951 academy graduate, and the first four-star African-American general in the history of the U.S. Army.

General Robinson served in both Korea and Vietnam. He was the recipient of many service awards in his 34 years of service to his country. In April 2000, the USMA named a new auditorium in his honor. General Robinson died at the age of 64 in 1993.

We had an opportunity to chat with a few of the cadets that attended the dedication. The experience was refreshing and left us with an appreciation for the caliber of our future military leaders being schooled at West Point. They are bright, dedicated, and most impressively, patriotic.

The room we occupied during our stay was dedicated to Dr. Thoralf M. Sundt, Jr. of the class of 1952. The walls of this guestroom are filled with great period pictures of Dr. Sundt as the cadet that later became a pre-eminent brain surgeon at the Mayo Clinic. Other photos include Dr. Sundt’s family and one of him with President Ronald Reagan who was a patient in 1989. Dr. Sundt was the subject of a segment on “60 Minutes” before his death in 1992. He was just 62 years old.

Great place for conferences and reunions

While we were there, we also had an opportunity to talk with several alumni of the 101st Airborne who were attending a reunion at the hotel. It was an honor to meet these retired soldiers and defenders of our American way of life. Humble to a man, they came to celebrate life, but also to remember fallen comrades.

The Thayer has eight meeting rooms and six boardrooms and has become a favorite location for corporate conferences. What better place to instill team spirit and inspiration!

Duty, Honor, Country

Walking the Thayer’s historic hallways is a lesson in patriotism and heroism. There are pictures and mementos everywhere to remind visitors of the motto of West Point – Duty, Honor, Country.

Dining at the Thayer

The hotel’s MacArthur’s Restaurant is a stately dining room with leaded glass windows that in daytime cast an oneiric light on the walls and the historic photos of soldiers past, and in evening, add to the rich ambiance of the dining experience.

Glowing light from the vintage chandeliers enhances the pleasing sensation of a comfortable setting that is equally fit for a romantic rendezvous or an elegant social gathering.

There is also a cozy bar/restaurant at the Thayer. It is appropriately named “General Patton’s Tavern.”

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point  

We learned some interesting trivia while at the Thayer Hotel:

The military academy at West Point dates back to 1802. Since its inception, West Point has been in the center of U.S. history.

George Washington paraded his troops on these very grounds.

The USMA encompasses 25 square miles – a piece of real estate just a bit smaller than the island of Manhattan.

West Point graduates commanded troops on both sides of 55 of the 60 battles of the U.S. Civil War. Of the remaining five battles of the war, a West Point graduate commanded the troops on one of the sides.

Edgar Allen Poe attended one semester at West Point, and General George Armstrong Custer is buried there.

Two U.S. Presidents graduated from West Point, as did 18 NASA astronauts, 74 Medal of Honor recipients, and 3 Heisman Trophy winners – and scores of great statesmen, diplomats, business leaders, doctors, and engineers.

A hotel for all seasons

Our visit to the Thayer Hotel and West Point was in December, and even in the cold of winter, the terrain is magnificent to behold. We plan to return to West Point so we can savor the woodland setting in the green of summer – and the fall when the cool air creates a kaleidoscope of changing colors. This is a truly beautiful part of the eastern United States.

If you go

When you walk the land at West Point, you walk in the footsteps of many who gave all for their country. If you are an American, you are on hallowed ground.

The Thayer Hotel is a Historic Landmark Hotel. Staying at the Thayer is like living inside history.

Their website is full of information about the hotel and surroundings. Check it out at http://www.thethayerhotel.com

Happy travels!

*************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff. Photo of General Robinson courtesy of U.S. Army

Visit This Historic Lookout in Hawaii: It Will Blow You Away!

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The next time you  are in Honolulu, make it a point to experience this unique site. Take a short drive up the Pali (Cliff) Highway to one of Hawaii’s most scenic points – the Nuuanu Pali Lookout.

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This vantage point oversees Oahu’s lush and panoramic windward coast. The location was the site of the historic Battle of Nuuanu, after which, victorious King Kamehameha I was able to unite Hawaii under one ruler.

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The famous battle claimed the lives of hundreds of warriors from both sides. It is recorded that many of the combatants were forced over the edge of the mountain and fell a thousand feet to their death.

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Legend has it that the spirits of the fallen warriors have created the almost constant wind at the site. The howling gale is frequently so strong and consistent that it is literally possible to lean against it without falling.

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Add it to your list of one-of-a-kind travel experiences!

Happy travels!

Aloha ‘oe

You might also enjoy our story about Pearl Harbor

***************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel: The Stunning Pink Palace on Waikiki Beach

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Rainbow from the beach at the Royal Hawaiian Resort by Judy Bayliff

If you have ever marveled at the iconic “Pink Palace” on Waikiki beach, and wondered about its colorful origin, so did we. Here is what we found out about its interesting history.

In the early 20th century, a group of capitalists with substantial interests in Hawaii had the foresight to envision a burgeoning tourism future for the Hawaiian Islands – Oahu in particular.

The first luxury hotel, the Moana, had been successfully catering to the carriage trade for over 25 years, and it was evident that with the right combination of transportation and accommodations the Hawaiian luxury travel market could be profitably expanded.

Regal location

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Touring the artwork at the Royal Hawaiian Resort

King Kamehameha I conquered Oahu in 1795 and built a residence on the pristine oceanfront that was destined to become Waikiki Beach. During the prosperous 1920s, that same prime land was acquired by the Matson Navigation Company from the Royal Family of Hawaii and was to become the future site of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

The development of tourism in the area was arrested until 1920 when the Ala Wai Canal was built to drain the wetlands and swamps that were just inland from the unspoiled beach. The construction of the canal, which runs parallel to the ocean and the main street of Waikiki Beach, opened the door to rapid expansion.

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The early Royal Hawaiian Hotel from the Royal Hawaiian Gallery

Construction on the Royal Hawaiian started in 1925. She was built of sandstone block covered in stucco. Her contemporary Spanish-Moorish architecture was fashionable in California at the time, and fit quite nicely into the coconut palm groves at Waikiki. Pink was a popular color on the mainland, and again, it too was well suited for Hawaii.

One thousand and two hundred celebrants greeted the opening of the Royal Hawaiian to island high society on February 1, 1927. She quickly attained the nickname, “The Pink Palace of the Pacific.”

How they came

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Rich tourists from North America first came by ordinary steamship. Then in the mid-20s, the Matson Navigation Company built the Malolo – a luxury cruise ship with 650 1st class cabins. She could do 21 knots and made the crossing from San Francisco to Honolulu in 4.5 days. The Malolo was built specifically to cater to the affluent guests that would occupy the new Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

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None of the other luxury hotels in Oahu was considered opulent enough for the passengers of the elegant Malolo.

The Great Depression

Business was brisk at the Pink Palace until the advent of the Great Depression, then like the mainland, hard times hit the islands.

The silver lining

Counterbalancing the ill effects of the Depression, air travel in the mid-30s was making access to the Hawaiian Islands faster. No longer tethered to lengthy steam ship journeys, the working rich began taking the weekly flight to Hawaii – that led to more flights and cheaper fares for everyone.

It soon became possible for tourists of limited means to reach Oahu for short vacations. A boom of ‘everyday’ hotel construction on Waikiki was followed by more services for all.

The luxury hotels, especially the Royal Hawaiian and Moana ultimately did very well during the travel renaissance.

World War II

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In January 1942, the US Navy leased the Royal Hawaiian and transformed it into a Rest and Recuperation Center for sailors. The famous Coconut Grove Cocktail Bar was made over into a soda fountain, the tennis court became a basketball court, and a new baseball diamond was built on the property.

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The hotel was turned back to its owners almost four years later in November of 1945, at which time a major renovation ensued. Twenty years to the day the Royal opened, she re-opened with a gala celebration on February 1, 1947. It was the end of war, and the beginning of great times for Hawaii and the Pink Palace of the Pacific.

Matson takes a bow

With less demand for steamship travel, Matson officials decided to concentrate on their core competency of shipping goods and materials, and subsequently sold their hotel interests in Hawaii. It was an end of an era, and Matson can be credited with a commendable job of developing the tourist industry on Oahu.

The Royal Hawaiian today

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The Royal Hawaiian regularly undergoes changes to keep her competitive with other luxury hotels in Hawaii, but she will never lose her main advantages of location and historic charm. The Royal Hawaiian is a truly extraordinary hotel in every sense of the word ‘hospitality.’

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If you go

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The Royal Hawaiian is located just off fashionable Kalakaua Avenue on Waikiki Beach and nine miles from Honolulu International Airport. For more information check out their website at www.royal-hawaiian.com .

If you have an opportunity to stay at the historic Royal Hawaiian, take it. You will find that the experience cannot be duplicated. There is no other luxury hotel quite like it anywhere in the world.

Happy travels!

*********************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2016  Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff – vintage photos courtesy of Royal Hawaiian Gallery.

Exploring Sitka: Our Favorite Alaskan City

 

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Stepped in history and culture, and surrounded by picturesque forested islands, towering mountains, a distant volcano, and soaring eagles – Sitka is what most tourists imagine when they think of Alaska’s natural wonders.

Founded by Russian explorers in the eighteenth century, Sitka (once called New Archangel) is within easy view of Mt. Edgecombe, an extinct volcano that adds drama to an already rich and colorful landscape.

Sitka before Juneau

The city of 9,000 residents was the capital of Alaska between 1867 when the United States purchased “Seward’s Icebox” from Russia and until 1912 when the territorial seat of government was moved to the current state capital, Juneau. The site where the transfer of ownership of Alaska took place is a brief walk from the cruise-tender dock on Sitka Bay.

Things to do in Sitka

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A visit to Sitka offers the traveler an opportunity to participate in Russian cultural tours, and outdoor activities that include fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, and nature walks and other attractions.

Visit the cemetery

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We always try to offer up something a little different in our travel reviews, and our choice for Sitka is the Old Russian cemetery, which dates back to the early 1800s.

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Noted on tourist maps, but not on any organized tour, the old burial ground is located a short walk from the center of town.

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The graveyard entrance is not conspicuously marked, and judging by the narrow footpaths, it is not frequented by many visitors.

100_3358The cemetery was built on a difficult landscape of densely forested hills – along dark winding paths lined with moss and ferns – not particularly conducive to carrying a casket.

The grounds are not maintained. Most of the century’s old weathered headstones have sunk into the wet peat soil and rest at odd angles to the surrounding terrain – resulting in a macabre geometric mélange of ghostly forms. If you like reading Poe, you will enjoy a visit to this eerie yet enchanting graveyard.

Eagles everywhere

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The last time we saw a bald eagle was at Big Bear Lake in California, when a fellow tourist spotted one soaring high above the water. The sighting caused quite a stir among the onlookers.

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Contrast that single sighting experience to Sitka where there are bald eagles everywhere – hundreds of them.

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The proud and beautiful American symbol with the white head and huge wingspan is an integral part of life in Sitka.

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Bald eagles soar overhead – constantly, and look like white Christmas ornaments as they perch in the tall evergreen trees that line the shore.

How to get there

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Sitka is situated midway up the Inside Passage in the Alexander Archipelago on Baranof Island, and is frequented by most of the cruise ships that sail the Passage.

Sitka is also serviced by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry fleet, and Alaska Airlines.

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If you travel the Inside Passage, be sure that Sitka is on the itinerary. You will not be disappointed.

Happy travels.

**************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Returning to Historic Catalina Island and the Echoes of Big Bands Past

The Grand Casino in Avalon Harbor

Long before Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, throngs of everyday Americans in the difficult 1930s and 1940s were keeping a stiff upper lip to the world’s problems and singing “…I left my love in Avalon…” to the Big Band sounds of Miller, Herman, Goodman, James and Dorsey.

The song “Avalon” was first recorded by Al Jolson in 1920, and has been re-recorded and played for almost a century. It has immortalized the famous Casino Ballroom situated in the northwest end of Avalon harbor, on the enchanting island of Catalina.

Through the years, the name “Casino,” which is often associated with gambling, has caused disappointment to some island visitors expecting a gaming opportunity. However, there never was a plan to offer gambling in the Catalina Casino.

The island’s owner, the late chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., chose the name “Casino” because it means “public gathering place” in Latin, and that is exactly what he envisioned in 1928 when he began building the now famous circular icon.

The massive twelve-story structure has two main elements of entertainment, a grand ballroom and a theater. 

The 18,000 square foot ballroom is on the building’s top level and is accessible by circular walkways from the main floor – no doubt a challenge in the days when high heels were obligatory for the ladies.

The Casino Ballroom has the world’s largest circular dance floor. It must have been quite a site on May 29, 1929, when the new structure opened with 2,500 couples swinging to the sounds of Maurice Menge.

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They danced on a ballroom floor layered with felt, acoustical paper, and cork – all sandwiched between the support beams, and the elegant maple and rosewood dance floor. Five Tiffany chandeliers provide the light from atop an arching fifty-foot ceiling. Mr. Wrigley spared no expense.

The Casino has no heating or air-conditioning, so the round ballroom was constructed with massive floor to ceiling doors that allow guests to move freely to the spacious outdoor balcony – where all could enjoy the  gentle evening breeze, and moon lit view of Avalon harbor.

View from Casino balcony

If you tired of dancing, you could descend the walkway to the main floor, and the luxurious 2500 seat Avalon Theater.

On opening day in 1929, you would have been thrilled by Douglas Fairbanks in the “The Iron Mask.” It was a silent film, so Mr. Wrigley made sure his guests had the pleasure of accompanying sound from the world’s largest Page Organ – it provided the proper audio emotion for every moment.

Today the Casino organ is listed with the American Theatre Organ Society’s National Registry of Historic and Significant Instruments, and is one of only four working Page organs in the world. It still delights Friday and Saturday night patrons of the theater.

To further enhance his guests listening enjoyment, Mr. Wrigley had the high domed ceilings of both the theater and the ballroom designed for optimum acoustics. Amazingly, no electronic amplification is necessary in either chamber.

In 1934 and smack in the Great Depression, Philip K. Wrigley arranged for nightly broadcasts of Big Band music from the Casino Ballroom. Thousands of people huddled near radios every night in anticipation of the words “From the beautiful Casino Ballroom, overlooking Avalon Bay at Catalina Island, we bring you the music of…” Of course, the names of the bands changed over the years, but the music played on at the Casino until the 1950s.

One summer night in 1938, a record 6,000 people crowded the Casino Ballroom floor to dance to the Kay Kaiser Band. Can you imagine? What a night – what an extraordinary memory.

We like to return to Avalon whenever we are in Southern California. There is so much to enjoy on Catalina Island, and we always make it a point to visit the beautiful landmark Casino with its classic art deco ambiance – and echoes of America’s past.

Catalina Express

Getting to the island from Long Beach,Newport Beach, or Dana Point is easy on the Catalina Express, which docks in Avalon Bay, just a short stroll from the Casino. The 20+ mile sea journey takes about 75 minutes.

During our cruise to Catalina, we often talk about the many thousands of excited couples who made that same passage over the years on the long-gone steamships of the 30s and 40s. In those days, the trip took over two hours. We think and muse that it would have seemed a very long voyage – as they anxiously anticipated dancing to Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey’s rendition of “Avalon.”

If you enjoy the era of the Big Bands, and are fascinated by America in the hardest of times and during the greatest of conflicts, the grand theater and ballroom on Catalina will prove a considerable satisfaction.

For more information about the island, places to stay, and things to do, check out the excellent website hosted by the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce *here*

Happy Travels!

************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Vacation like a San Francisco Sea Lion and head for Oregon

The famous San Francisco sea lions that occupy prime dock space on Pier 39 first appeared there shortly after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Then in 2009 they mysteriously disappeared for three months. Where did they go? 

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Oregonians believe that the celebrity sea lions headed north to holiday on the turbulent and exciting shores of the central coast of Oregon. To be exact, they headed for the famous Sea Lion Caves in Florence. 

As evidence, the Oregon locals point to the massive increase in the annual sea lion population soon after the SF lions turned off the lights in their famous City by the Bay. 

Sea lions everywhere 

Sea lion fans rejoice. Currently, nature is providing ample amounts of the odoriferous mammalia to go around.

Along with the flabby fellows comes the infamous sea lion aroma. The gamey bouquet is pervasive on the famous California pier, and is inescapable in the celebrated Oregon cave. Take heart, most people recover rapidly from the first initial shock.

When they are in Oregon 

From about December to August the jolly lions inhabit the largest sea cave in America, which is located just 11 miles north of Florence, and some 200 feet below the roadbed of busy US Highway 101. 

The cave is 25 million years old, tall as a 12-story building, and about a football field in length. It’s big.

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The building entrance to the cave sits on a curve in the road that during the summer months percolates with tots and teens under the watchful gaze of parents – all anxious to view the famous pinnipeds in their natural habitat.

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 Once you have paid your admission fee inside the gift shop, it’s a relatively-short and scenic walk down to the elevator pavilion. 

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The elevator was installed in 1961, and today it’s fun to watch people cheerfully bunch into the hoist that transports them 208 feet down to the giant sea grotto below.

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The cave’s resident Steller and Northern Sea Lions are viewed in their natural habitat from behind a metal mesh screen, which can be a challenge for picture taking, but it is doable. 

Now you see them and now you don’t 

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The lions come and go from the Sea Cave on a loose schedule determined by Nature. The choice rock space begins to fill up around December 1st of every year, and the last of the several hundred cave inhabitants usually have somewhere else to go by mid-August. 

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Even when there are just a few – if any – sea lions in the cavern, the Cave is a worthwhile experience. 

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Over the years, the owners of the Sea Cave have embellished the attraction with ample parking and a great topside gift shop (try the delicious homemade fudge – yummy). 

What you will find down under 

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Look for the natural rock room where the public can view an engrossing film about the sea, cave, and the flora and fauna of the area.  It’s interesting to note that there are several species of endangered birds nesting in the cave.

Additionally, there are educational displays, and creative colors and lights that are conducive to the grotto setting.

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From the subterranean sea lion viewing level, walk up the staircase to the observation platform.

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There you will find a dynamic panorama of the sea – an excellent place from which to view the historic Heceta Lighthouse* perched on a cliff just a few miles north of the cave. 

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The Sea Lion Caves is a fun family activity. We suggest you give it a go.

Where to stay 

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On this visit we chose to stay in Florence at the Driftwood Shores Resort, the only oceanfront hotel in the area. 

The view astonishes

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Every room and suite at the Driftwood Shores has a spectacular view.

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All the rooms overlook miles of pristine beach, and the fresh air, and roar of the crashing waves is a welcome sleep inducer.

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In addition to the usual hotel conveniences, our generous lodging had a full size kitchen,

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and a front row seat to breathtaking sunsets from our private balcony. 

Other unique amenities include an indoor aquatic center, and an electric car charging station.

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The resort offers ocean cuddling accommodations from single rooms, to one bedroom suites, and three bedroom condos. It is a comfortable base from which to explore the many attractions and activities offered in this scenic part of the Oregon coast. 

The Driftwood Shores Resort would be a great venue for a wedding, large family, or small corporate gathering. There’s ample gathering space for about 100 people. 

It’s a beachy-keen accommodation that we think you will like.

Where to eat

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The Surfside Restaurant and Lounge is located right on property. The food is first rate. Open seven days a week, the restaurant is a celebration of the region’s produce in a striking setting with panoramic views.

If you go 

For more information about Sea Lion Caves reach out to their website at http://www.sealioncaves.com 

To check on current specials or make reservations at the Driftwood Shores Resort click here

*To read our story about the historic Heceta Lighthouse look here

Happy travels! 

**************************************** 

“Get out there, but be prepared.” 

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance

You can plan your trips with Google Maps

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2016 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff 

Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff – some Driftwood Shores facility photos courtesy of Driftwood Shores Resort.