Been very busy lately, have not had time to do much more than micro blog. Once the mad holiday dash is over, I will post some more.
Among news - our trip to Aruba was great, relaxing fun. It was difficult to come back to to the sunless cold of Chicago. Aruba an excellent place to go and enjoy a perfect climate and do largely nothing. We felt safe and well cared for by the Arubans and the Marriott Surf Club was well-appointed, clean and friendly. The pools were even more fun than the ocean (lots of sharp bits of coral in the sand). Floating on the "lazy river" pool was fantastic and I am afraid my tan is largely on my back... An amazing variety of lizards (french-fry stealing) and really cute yellow finches (sugar thieves) were also entertaining. This Dutch protectorate is very familiar to the North American tourist. Natives are not aggressive or hard-sell, unlike Jamaica. Everyone speaks perfect English, the electrical system is the same and the food at the hotels is remarkably familiar.
We did go during the rainy season. Like Hawaii, the rain generally came in short bursts or overnight. It meant that most places were always freshly clean and the flowers were in full bloom. Only occasionally brief flooding of streets was inconvenient. There were more clouds during the day time, which was probably good for us, as we did not burn much. Well, we did also always use heavy-duty sunscreen, even with cloud cover we were about 2 degrees above the equator.
One down side is that our travel companions were a bit younger and childless. They are fabulous friends, but lifestyle differences were immediately evident. We all stayed in a condo with a separate lock out for us. We did cook a number of meals together with food from the Ling and Sons IGA in Orangestad. Our companions were less prepared for a small desert island lacking major tourist draws as well as life with a precocious child. We worked hard to make sure Fi left them alone as much as possible and everyone agrees that she was an angel. Regardless, her incessant questions are exhausting - perhaps even more than the usual 7-year-old as they usually involve a high level of complexity. We found ourselves parting company more by the middle of the week, as Fi really needed to be allowed to be a child and I knew our companions were not prepared to deal with that. Fi made a couple of little friends and learned how to swim, much more than with her lessons here in a 4-foot-deep, cold-water pool.
Highlights included a trip to the rugged coast. Rocks in little piles as far as the eye could see (no doubt by the millions of tourists) inside a rough coral bank at the base of old gold-smelter ruins had a very Blair-Witch feel to them. At one tip of the island, a trattoria next to the California Lighthouse was a special treat, with the best Italian food I think I have ever eaten. The views were outstanding, too. Some of the rock formations inland also had a very interesting feel, but they were also sheltered from the 15+ mph trade winds so the air was too hot and still. Shopping was typical for Caribbean islands, with the jeweler-to-tourist ratio really quite high. We did find some nice Delft porcelain and hand-made tablecloths. We also had some decent Dutch pancakes at Linda's, a short distance from the hotel. Other food was predictably generic - largely the stuff you get at any North American tourist draw. Only one restaurant disappointed: Tulip on Eagle Beach had dismal service, no convenient parking, unremarkable decor, non-existent landscaping or views and blah food that was ill prepared. Even condiments, like sugar for tea were missing. Not worth the expense at all. The food had been advertised as upscale and elegant.
Had Fi been older and a stronger swimmer, we might have done more snorkeling or diving. Perhaps next time. Really, I did not miss it.
One small weird thing, when you leave Aruba, you pass through both Aruban and U.S. Customs at the Queen Beatrix Airport. This means you ought to get there about 3 hours early as it is a strange marathon of checking bags, recovering them for customs and checking them again before you reach your gate. You go through two sets of metal detectors, too. Your customer service at check in? Your airline flight crew. One funny? One of my companions really wanted her passport stamped for return to the U.S. The customs official rolled his eyes and stamped. At Miami, we realized that he never bothered to take the cover off of his stamp. He faked her out.
Once I get moved into my new computer, I'll post some pictures.