If I Wrote John Heald’s Blog…Again

Posted in Blog, Travel with tags , , , on Monday, 2 November 2015, by Stan

Carnival Imagination at Ensenada, Baja California Norte

Hello, my name is Stan. I’ll be writing John’s blog today, fully clothed, this time from the Carnival Imagination.

Last time I wrote John’s blog, things did not quite go as planned. I’ll have a greater challenge writing the blog this time. That is because John is way over in the Caribbean aboard Carnival Dream right now, somewhere between St. Kitts and St. Maarten. I’m here in the Pacific in Ensenada, Mexico. So I can’t bribe, er, talk to Ketut. Jacinta is still learning her new assignment so I don’t want to involve her…yet. I know…I’ll ask Mrs. Heald!

Now, Heidi is even farther away than John is so how can I pull this off? And since we have never met, I would have to tread lightly to enlist her as a co-conspirator, I mean, ask for her assistance. My olive branch to Heidi was a gift, a prototype of something called the No Bloke Remote*. Five minutes after I got the delivery confirmation that Heidi received the gift, I received an e-mail from her containing everything I needed to know to post John’s blog.

What is a No Bloke Remote*, you ask? Let me explain by offering the following scenario: John is sent to the Fincantieri shipyards in Trieste, Italy, to give us an update on how our new Carnival Vista is coming along. During the week, he gets to go home and spend some time with Heidi and Kye. When he arrives home, he hugs Heidi and Kye, reads Kye a bedtime story, takes Breeze for a walk, does battle with the dishwasher, and plops down in his favorite chair to finally relax and watch a spot of television. Heidi, with a sly smile, hands him the No Bloke Remote*. It looks just like an ordinary television remote control, except it has a special feature. Heidi enters a short code into the remote, a code that husbands will never remember, like an anniversary, and the functions of the remote become scrambled. Entering a channel number increases the volume. Pressing the lower volume button turns the television off. There is no way to figure out what any button will do because the result is completely random. Thoroughly frustrated, John gives up, utters his trademark “Oh, ___” (you know the rest), and hands the remote back to Heidi. Heidi then enters the code again, and, of course, the remote works perfectly.

On that note, let’s get to the Q & A, shall we?

Oh, I guess we can’t do the Q&A. I am not at John’s computer. Moving on…

I hadn’t planned on cruising for at least another couple of years. But then we got a call from Carnival with an offer for past guests that I just couldn’t pass up. A short weekend getaway would be just what the doctor ordered. So here we are with Carnival Cruise Line once again. Our previous Carnival cruise became a reality in much the same way; a call from our PVP (thanks, Valerie!) – actually it was a postcard – promoting the Baltic cruises at a great rate. That Baltic cruise was the trip of a lifetime. I will never forget it.

This cruise has a few significant milestones attached to it: Carnival Imagination will follow the very same itinerary as the very first cruise I took 31 years ago. 20 years ago around this time we took our first cruise with Carnival aboard the Festivale. I will be celebrating a very special anniversary with my wife on this sailing.

Our CD on Carnival Imagination is Goose. Goose, as it turns out, has been the CD for almost half of my Carnival cruises.

Our onboard plans are that we have no plans. The only things I have on my onboard agenda are food-related: try the Mocha Chocolate Getaway (John, why did you have to post that photo on your blog?), and have Eggs Benedict in the Main Dining Room for breakfast Saturday morning. Usually we have breakfast on Lido deck, even on sea days. I can’t remember the last time we both had breakfast in the Main Dining Room. Since Saturday is a sea day and we both need to relax, I think we’ll head for the Main Dining Room and let Carnival continue to spoil us.

Figuring out what to do while in port posed a bit of an issue. I have been to Ensenada a few times before now and wanted to do something different while here this time. I wonder, dear reader of John Heald’s blog, what do you do when you are at a port you have visited many times? Do you visit the same restaurant or bar or beach each time? Do you take the same excursion? Or do you try something new?

We ended up planning a fish taco tasting tour. Legend has it that the fish taco was born right here in Ensenada. What better place, then, to do such a tour?

Starting off the tour was a visit to La Bufadora via the La Bufadora Adventure shore excursion. I first was introduced to the market at La Bufadora in 2009. Back then, a storm brewing in the Pacific forced an itinerary change on our Mexican Riviera cruise and we ended up in Ensenada instead of Puerto Vallarta. It was on the Bufadora Kayak shore excursion that our guide stopped at the open air market on the way back to the ship and told us to try the fish tacos next to the parking area. So we wanted to try the tacos again and put them to the test. The place is called Lidia’s.

Vendors were offering samples of churros hot off the fryer as we walked down the market. Of the half dozen or so samples we tried along the way, we found the best churros at the last vendor on the right, at the bottom of Restaurant Blanquita, right before you reach the blow hole itself. They were even better than the ones we tried in 2009, which until today we thought were the best we had ever had.

At the end of the tour, we elected to be dropped off downtown where we went in search of a place called La Guerrerense. La Guerrerense popped up on an Internet search for fish tacos in Ensenada. It is near the dock so I decided to include it as part of the tour. When we found it, we were disappointed to learn that they only make tostadas and ceviche. No fish tacos. So off we went a couple of blocks up and decided to try a restaurant called Mariscos Playa Azul.

Our final stop on our fish taco tasting tour was a small stand simply called Fish Tacos Ensenada, or Tacos de Pescado de Ensenada. Fish Tacos Ensenada was listed by the Street Gourmet LA blog as the number one fish taco in Ensenada. We’ll soon see if we agree with that claim.

How did each taste? Which place makes the best fish tacos? You’ll have to wait until I can write the review.

From Fish Tacos Ensenada, it was a casual stroll past the shops and stores back to the ship. But we couldn’t leave Ensenada without a stop at Hussong’s for nostalgia…and a taste of their margaritas. Supposedly the margarita was invented at Hussong’s. I wanted to go straight to the source and try the original.

Each of my cruises to Ensenada has provided fond memories. The very first one may not count: we had to anchor off the coast because high winds damaged the only tug boat they had in port – this was before modern ship thrusters were invented – so we couldn’t get off the ship. I learned firsthand that even cruise ships aren’t immune to Mother Nature, thus don’t always make it to their intended destinations. On the second trip I visited Hussong’s and Papas & Beer. As a young twenty-something, I thought I had found the world’s greatest party. My fourth visit found me off the beaten tourist path at Haliotis, a restaurant highly recommended by locals. A friend that cruised with me then showed me the best place in Ensenada to buy leather goods. Also on that fourth visit, I got to spend a few minutes talking about my beloved Jamaica with one of the ship’s crewmembers during his break. I enjoyed seeing how his face lit up when we started talking about his homeland.

Onboard again, we attended comedy shows on 2 of the 3 nights, (we were too exhausted the first night,) and the Playlist Production show “Divas”. I have to admit that some of the dancing in that show may have been too much for a PG rating.

Now it’s time for some of those frequently discussed topics from John’s blog.

In the Main Dining Room for dinner, our staff treated us very well, always smiling and happy to interact with us. Some guests frequently complain on John’s blog and on his Facebook page about the waiters dancing. I must say I completely disagree. Guests really enjoy the dancing on all of the cruises I’ve been on, many times joining in with the waiters. And the waiters themselves looked happy. A few of them were really getting into it, which made the guests get into it. At the end of the performance, the entire dining room burst into applause.

And here’s another hot topic here on John’s blog. Yes, that would be the dress code in the MDR, especially on Elegant Night. On our Elegant Night, I saw several men in T-shirts, one in shorts, and a kid in flip-flops. That was just in our corner of the MDR. It didn’t affect my dining experience, but I wonder why people do not dress for the occasion. I know that some men do not even own collared shirts, dress shoes, slacks, or even a tie. Should they not be allowed in the MDR for elegant night? Others may just not want to dress up. One thing that does bother me, and has for the past several years, is when a guy goes out with his date/girlfriend/wife, the lady is always dressed up while the guy looks like a slob. I saw this a lot onboard this cruise. (Kudos, women, for looking nice when dining out). But that’s not just on the ships; it’s on land, too.

Cabin door slamming is indeed a problem. On the second night of the cruise, I was sleeping extremely well…until around 2:30 am. That’s when some of the younger party animals returned to their cabins. You could hear them from way down the corridor. And then the door slamming started. Maybe the CDs should consider making an announcement to remind people to be quiet when returning to their cabin. It may not completely eliminate the loud talking or slammed doors but it will reduce it.

Ship-specific pins. In three words: Bring them back! Or at least let guests order them online through the Carnival store. It would be nice to have them sent directly to the ship for guests to find in their cabins on embarkation day, but if that is not feasible, mailing them would be good, too. Besides, I need to add to my collection.

Another topic that has come up a couple of times on John’s blog is the jogging track. Since I am writing the blog today, I thought I would add my thoughts. On every Carnival cruise I have been on, I have seen people walking around the track in the wrong direction against the flow of traffic, people stopping on the track itself stretching, taking selfies, talking, which causes a backup (and inflamed tempers), and people walking two or three abreast, making it difficult for joggers to get around them. I had to dodge a few myself. I would suggest that there be certain hours that the track can be used: 6:00am to 8:00am for joggers only. After that, open it to walkers and joggers. Post a couple of signs indicating the flow of traffic around the track. There’s currently only one sign up there now. I would suggest at least 4 big red arrows on the wall surrounding the radar dome: forward, aft, port, and starboard. Also post signs that there is absolutely no stopping on the track between the hours of 6:00am and 6:00pm. After 6:00pm, stop, talk, roll around, photograph the sunset, whatever you want to do.

Have any of you had experience with the wake-up call system? We arrived (quietly) back in our cabin after midnight on the final night of the cruise. We wanted to set up a wake-up call for 6:00am to be ready in time for debarkation. The automated system confirmed a wake-up call for “tomorrow at 6:00 am”. I wanted the call for this morning, not tomorrow morning. Wonder if the next guest in that cabin was awakened by that phone call. I suggest clearing the system at debarkation. And maybe switching to a new system that will allow you to set a same-day wake-up call.

Last, but not least, pizza. To be honest, I didn’t expect much. How good could pizza made on a ship be? But when we tried it, we found we actually liked it! We ended up stopping by the pizza station each day of the cruise. And we weren’t the only ones. Every time we went there, there was a line.

I could get used to writing John’s blog. If I could just convince the beards to sign me to a two-year contract – one ship a month for each of Carnival’s 24 ships. Hmmm. Works out nicely, don’t you think?

I need to send a huge Thank You to Heidi for her assistance with this blog. May the No Bloke Remote* forever be in her control. And a massive Thank You to Carnival Imagination for making breakfast available before we disembark.  Wow, an entire blog with no mention of underpants…or yaks. I’m off now to find out the meaning of the text message I just received that says my Sail and Sign card

* = There is no such gadget as the No Bloke Remote. I just made it up for the blog.

Good Night, Lucille (A Tribute to B.B. King)

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , on Sunday, 17 May 2015, by Stan

What can be said when the man who has arguably defined and popularized an entire musical genre for eight decades passes on? How will Blues past be remembered now that its King has gone on to join those that have gone before him – names like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lightnin’ Hopkins? What will the future hold for the Blues? Yes, I know Blues is in good hands, especially when you see and hear groups like The Homemade Jamz Blues Band. But it feels as though Blues has lost its leader.

Riley B. King left us on Thursday night. I heard it on the news the next morning. Although I knew he had to cancel some shows last year due to health issues, I figured he and Lucille would be back on the stage after a couple of months.

During his life, countless awards and honors have deservedly been bestowed upon King. B.B. was also a spokesman in the fight against diabetes, which he had been battling for the last two decades or so. But that didn’t stop him from performing. In fact, his love of performing is what kept him going for so long. He was still giving concerts right up until last year.

King was able to incorporate Rock and Roll, Jazz, traditional Blues, Swing, and Pop into his unique style. While doing so, he influenced innumerable artists from across the musical landscape. Artists from the world of Jazz, Country, R&B, Rock and Roll, Blues, Rock, Pop, and more have all drawn on King’s stylings and recordings for their own projects.

Over the course of a career that has spanned nearly 75 years, King has recorded almost 60 albums. It was a song he cut with The Crusaders called “Better Not Look Down” that lead to a long resurgence in his career. After hearing it, I gained even more respect for this man whose music was now spanning several generations.

I’ve heard B.B.’s recording of  “Lucille” several times on SirusXM radio channel 70. Fittingly, the station is called BB King’s Bluesville. This song is a perfect example of why Blues is one of the best mediums for storytelling. Just listen to the lyrics. Bet it answers a lot of questions you’ve had about B.B.’s life. Then play it again. This time listen to Lucille embellish the story. Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

I would guess that Lucille will either go on to a museum or be buried with King. It just would not seem right for anyone else to play that guitar.



My first introduction to the music of B.B. King was via a song he released in 1962 called “Mashing the Popeye”. My parents had – and still have – a recording of this on a 45rpm. Remember those? My parents played this song quite often in our house. Not only did this song stay in my mind since I first heard it as a toddler, something about it stuck in my subconscious as well: the sound of a baritone saxophone. At that young age I had no idea what a baritone sax was. It wasn’t until junior high school that I actually got to play the instrument that made those sounds I was hearing on that record.


Mashing the Popeye


While looking up the links for “Lucille” and “Mashing the Popeye”, this next clip unexpectedly popped up on the YouTube player. It is concert footage I was surprised and extremely pleased to find. Why? Because I was at the Beverly Theatre during that concert. That was the night I got to meet Mr. King in person. As if meeting Mr. King in person was not enough, several other celebrities were in the audience and a few were called up on stage. (You’ll have to see the clip; no spoilers here).


James Brown and B.B. King – One Special Night – Legends in Concert


After 89 years, Riley King’s life has reached the coda. Rest in peace, Mr. King. And thank you for your musical and personal legacy. Thank you for the countless people whose lives you have made an impression upon.

Ode to the Motorola V710

Posted in Blog with tags , , on Tuesday, 5 May 2015, by Stan

Motorola V710

My flip phone, the venerable Motorola V710, finally took its last breath this weekend. It faithfully rode shotgun with me for 10 years. Obviously, as demonstrated by that fact that I am penning an elegy to a phone, I really liked my Motorola V710 and am going to miss it a lot. (Cue “Taps”).

When it came out late in 2004, it was top of the line. The flip action was as functional as it was cool to operate. (Think Star Trek). It was Verizon’s first Bluetooth phone. It had a large 2.2-inch display screen. And it had a ton of other features.

At the time I purchased the phone, the representative suggested I get the extended life battery if I was going to pair the phone to a Bluetooth headset, which I was. That extended life battery was good enough to provide me a week’s worth of power even with me making/receiving calls and sending/receiving texts throughout the day. I usually I shut the phone down at night to conserve power.

It was one of the first CDMA-capable phones to use Bluetooth technology. It had voice recognition, a feature that I eagerly (and frequently) showed off to my coworkers when I first got the phone. When it first came out, it boasted a 1.2 megapixel camera, placing at the forefront for phones with cameras. An expansion slot for a memory card made it possible to store extra photos and…custom ringtones!

Sound quality was superb, with clarity approaching that of a land line. When I first got the phone, many people could not tell I was talking to them from a cell phone. This was back when almost all cell phones had that tell-tale digitized distortion that prompted the person on the other end to ask, “Are you on a cell phone?” Not with this baby! And it dropped calls far less often than other phones.

My V710 featured an analog band in addition to GSM and CDMA bands, a combo commonly called tri-band. This allowed my V710 to work in places where the digital phones could not. Like remote areas. Like areas where if you were stranded, you’d be thankful your phone got a signal. With this phone I was able to place and receive calls and/or texts in places like highway 285 leading to Roswell, New Mexico, areas of Central California, and lesser-known locations in Nevada. I was able to use it in Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico City, and Ensenada, Mexico,  Rostock, Germany, and all over Jamaica – all without a SIM card or an international calling plan. Speaking of Jamaica, when our flight got cancelled one year and our group had to say overnight in Montego Bay, it was my V710 the group used to notify people stateside of our status; no one else’s phone worked.

There were many opportunities to replace it, but little things that other newer phones couldn’t do kept convincing me to keep my V710 in service. Then, of course, there was the cost of replacing it. Even the grief I was starting to get more frequently from friends and family alike couldn’t persuade me to part with my trusty phone.

Honestly, I had known this day was coming for a few years now. My first inkling was when it came time to replace the battery again and the Verizon store no longer stocked them. Then, when the belt clip finally broke after several years of daily use, I had to get a new case from Amazon. By then they were being sold at giveaway prices. Signs of the impending end started becoming more frequent: Verizon discontinued their Pix Place so I no longer had a way to easily store my photos and download them to my computer. The last two extended life batteries I ordered were already a couple of years old by the time I got them. That let me know the battery was no longer being manufactured, and eventually I wouldn’t be able to get one. Not too long ago, Verizon dropped my V710 and other non-smart phones from eligibility for an upgrade allowance.

Over the last six or so months, it became harder and harder to charge the phone. The contacts on the phone had worn down so much that making a solid connection with the charger became increasingly difficult. Last Friday night, I could no longer get the phone to charge at all. “That’s it, then,” I thought, as reality sunk in. Now I’m forced to get a new phone.

Once the battery indicator started beeping, I realized I needed to get the photos I wanted to keep off the phone and stored somewhere else. My V710 sent about four photos with lots of sentimental value before it gave up the ghost. Unfortunately, gone is a video of my first grandson’s first steps. Gone are some beautiful photos from my commute. Gone are a couple of pictures of close family friends. Gone are photos of strange but true incidents. Its last act of service was texting a photo of my son to another phone so I could store it later on a hard drive somewhere. It died seconds after completing that transmission.

Joe Sample – Gone Back Home

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , on Saturday, 4 October 2014, by Stan

It was when he played with The Jazz Crusaders that I first heard of Joe Sample. My cousin, who is way ahead of his time in his musical appreciation, often talked about The Crusaders (they had dropped the “Jazz” from their name by then). I have many memories of my father playing their music. Hearing them on what was then radio station KBCA (I’m dating myself with that reference) was always a pleasure.

The mid-80’s were a magical period in my life. It was during that time that I got to meet Joe and a couple of members of his family – actually I met his family members before I met Joe. I would later see him play several times live in concert, one of my favorites being at the Playboy Jazz Festival (the 1995 edition, I think) when he brought his trio featuring Doc Powell on percussion. It was amazing how much music came from that small group. Just another testament to how Joe can interpret and reinterpret his own music. In the ‘aughts’ I met a couple of musicians who had performed with Joe and got to hear some stories about what it was like performing with him.

Sample’s music was more than just good music to me. Quite a few of his compositions still evoke emotions, visualizations, and contemplations, and, of course, indelible memories associated with each song.

Over Sample’s lifetime, he recorded nearly two dozen solo albums, recorded 40-plus albums with The Jazz Crusaders/The Crusaders, and compiled almost 2,000 other composing, arranging and/or performance credits. The list of artists he has performed with is as varied as it is lengthy.

Since your browser would choke if I tried to post clips of each of Joe’s songs that I would like to post, here a just a few of my favorites:

With The Crusaders – “So Far Away


With The Crusaders– “Mellow Out” (from the Chain Reaction album/Mother, Jugs, and Speed soundtrack)




Burnin’ Up the Carnival” featuring Pauline Wilson and Flora Purim


All God’s Children


The world has lost another great musician. Rest in peace, Mr. Sample. And thank you for the legacy you have left behind.

If I Wrote John Heald’s Blog…

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , on Wednesday, 6 August 2014, by Stan
Carnival Legend at Rostock, Germany. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Carnival Legend at Rostock, Germany

Hello readers of John Heald’s blog. My name is Stan and I am pleased to be sailing aboard Carnival Legend, particularly on this itinerary. I will be writing the blog today, fully clothed, as John has buggered off somewhere and hasn’t been seen since we departed Estonia last night.

Today is a sea day. We are sailing past Latvia and word among the crew is that John has taken an unadvertised, unannounced, um, shore excursion. (Hmmm. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Calvyn, either. No telling where he could be.)

How did I gain access to John’s computer, you ask? Well, I tried bribing John’s trusty cabin steward, Ketut, but he flatly refused to cooperate no matter how much money I waved in front of him. But when I offered to clean John’s cabin, including picking up his underpants, within seconds the door to John’s cabin was opened, I was given the password to his laptop computer, angels began singing, and Ketut hasn’t stopped smiling.

Normally this is the part where John answers your questions. It looks like he did that before he ‘disappeared’, so let’s see what John’s got in the Q & A bag today, shall we? Off we go:


[Insert John’s Q&A here]


My wife and I travelled halfway around the world, taking nearly a day and a half to get to the Carnival Legend, our home for twelve days. In my six cruises with Carnival, this was by far the fastest embarkation we have ever experienced; well under ten minutes from the time we stepped off the bus in Dover, got checked in, through security, and to our cabin. It is amazing the amount of support and logistics involved in getting guests from various airports around London to the ship. Also as amazing were the personnel at the port dedicated to getting us all checked in and safely on board.

I am one of those who would prefer to get off the ship and go explore the city/country we are visiting. I do know a few people who would rather stay on board. Yes, the ship does provide ample activities to keep you occupied no matter what you choose to do on your cruise. But me, I’d rather go see and experience new places.

For this cruise we were seated with two other couples in the Main Dining Room. In our case it worked out very well. One couple is originally from India but now lives in the US. The other couple is from Ottawa, Canada. So we have three different languages being spoken at the table, three different lifestyles, but we learned we all have one thing in common: we love to travel. By the time we left Finland, it became a part of each evening’s ritual to share what we all had done that day.

One thing I’ve done on the last few cruises is ask our waiter why Carnival no longer serves the Baked Alaska flaming. I know why they don’t but the various responses the waiters give are hilarious, especially when they answer with a straight face.

As is tradition when I sail with my wife, we dined in the steakhouse; The Golden Fleece here on Carnival Legend. I had the lobster this time. While it was delicious, I think I’ll stick to the steak in the future. I’ll talk more about the steakhouse later.

We also took in a few shows in the Follies theatre and the Punchliner Comedy Club. It was at one of the comedy shows where my wife violated one of my cardinal comedy club rules; never sit in the front row. Yep, you guessed it. I got pulled up on stage.

I had noticed the designs and artwork inside Carnival Legend and initially thought it to be a mishmash of style. Then I saw the interview with the designer of the ship, John Farcus, on one of the cabin television channels. He explained that the ship was named first. Then he was able to design the ship around the name ‘Legend’, and came up with the theme of legends from around the world. Next day I started paying more attention, and wouldn’t you know it, it all made sense! It is nice to learn new things, even when you are on vacation.

We are still trying to get used to the sun not setting until 10:30pm, and trying to get used to 5 hours of twilight after that. It is pretty cool to stay up and watch the sunset, then watch the twilight…until you realize you have to get up in a few hours to start a shore excursion.

Now, then. This is my first trip to Europe. I was very excited about this itinerary and booked our trip based on the ports we are visiting, specifically St. Petersburg. Leading up to our departure, John’s timely posts about how he was putting together the shore excursions, visa requirements in Russia, etc., just whetted my appetite even more. In addition to the tours, my must-do list included trying food from six of the seven countries we visited, including England.

The descriptions of the Berlin Top 10 and 2-day Grand Tour of St. Petersburg covered most everything I wanted to see in the short time we’d be in those places so I signed up for those two well in advance. Though I prefer the warm weather, the Winter Wonderland excursion in Helsinki also sounded intriguing.

So far, we have explored:

Copenhagen – Here we took the Walking Tour of Copenhagen. Our guide was very knowledgeable and took time to tell us the history behind many of the sites we visited. Copenhagen was very busy with five cruise ships in port. Our walking tour did cross paths with the large crowds but also took us along side streets well away from the other groups.

I didn’t realize how many bicycles there are here. It would have been nice to have taken a bicycle tour of Copenhagen. (Dear beards: I am volunteering to test out any future bike tours Carnival may add to the shore excursion offerings.) One thing I really wanted to try but was not able to was an actual Danish. Our guide stopped at a bakery but only bought one Danish…to share amongst the entire group.

We happened upon a music festival that was getting started soon. Unfortunately, the ship would be leaving well before the festival ended so we could not stay to watch it. A highlight for me was learning the legend behind the Gefion Fountain.

Berlin – All I can say is Wow! Ok, I’ll say a bit more. The weather was perfect. The tour was perfect. Carnival chartered an entire train for Carnival Legend’s guests to take them to Berlin (kudos to Carnival for pulling that off), then arranged eight different tours once we arrived in Berlin. We took the Berlin Top 10 tour. This one takes you to see remnants of the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, and many other sites.

The train ride through the German countryside en route to Berlin was very nice. Henning, our chaperone from the ship to the train station in Berlin, took very good care of our group. Sylvia, our guide in Berlin, was fantastic. Not only was she friendly and knowledgeable about the places we visited and the history of Berlin, she, herself, is from the former East Berlin and shared with us her perspective.

A German lunch was provided. In the past, I did not like sauerkraut. That was until this lunch. And I am glad I listened to the voice in my head that told me to get an authentic curry bratwurst from a street vendor. My wife and I will definitely have to return to Berlin and spend a few days here.

Helsinki – Originally, we planned to do just the Helsinki Highlights tour. But my wife decided later to include the Winter Wonderland tour. Putting aside my dislike for cold weather, off we went to an indoor winter wonderland where our guide, Ritva, told us a bit about Finland along the way. After donning cold weather gear provided by Unique Lapland, we went inside a cavernous room chilled to -5 °C/25 °F, and darkened to resemble the polar night. There we were served a shot of Finlandia (what else?) vodka provided in a glass made from ice. We rode an actual sled pulled by a team of sled dogs, skied a very short course on tandem skis, tobogganed, and visited three ‘ice hotels’ shaped like igloos.

Returning back to the ship just in time for the Helsinki Highlights tour, we hopped aboard another bus and headed off to see these highlights. Our guide, Maria, narrated our trip and we had a few photo stops. I had never heard of Jean Sibelius, but after Maria taught us about him, I realized that I was familiar with his work. And at our last stop, a few minutes before the bus was due to return to the ship, we ran across a marketplace on the waterfront. Getting a chance to try reindeer meat in Finland was on my list of things I wanted to do, but with the tours we had scheduled and the short time we had here, the likelihood of finding any, let alone trying any, seemed highly unlikely. Sometimes wishes come true in the strangest of ways: what did one of the marketplace vendors have for sale? Smoked reindeer meatballs! Of course, I had to try them. Turned out they were among the best foods I have ever tasted! And the garlic sauce they added on the side made them even better. My wife found a street vendor that had some of the best veggie sandwiches she’s ever tasted.

St. Petersburg – There’s nothing like visiting a place in person to dispel years of school history book teaching and Hollywood movie stereotypes. We’re on the 2-Day Grand Tour and so far it’s far surpassed my expectations. It’s hard to believe we’re actually in a country that not very long ago we were not allowed to travel to. Many of the people we spoke to admitted that St. Petersburg was the main reason they booked this particular itinerary.

Natasha, our guide, was by far the best tour guide we have ever had on any of the Carnival cruises we have taken. Her knowledge was boundless. She was very patient and friendly. I wish there was a way to let her bosses know how good she is and how much her guests appreciated her professionalism. She led us on a whirlwind tour of St. Petersburg including Catherine Palace, the Church of the Resurrection on the Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and much more. Oh, I can’t forget about the authentic Russian lunch with borscht, champagne, vodka, and Beef Stroganoff. After a couple of hours on the tour, I was starting to read a few Russian words such as restaurant, bar, bank, and stop. I would need a week of writing John’s blog to cover everything we’ve experienced on just the first day here. Highlights in St. Petersburg were many but among them were: getting to use the few Russian words I know, my wife finding a gift shop owner who knew American Sign Language, and meeting two guys from Africa. We really wished we had more time to talk to them.

Tallinn – By the time we reached Tallinn, I had come down with a cold. While visiting the old city and learning about the Russian and Swedish history of this city was interesting, all I really wanted was to go back to the cabin and drink some hot tea and sleep. We took the Jewish History tour, which included the old city. When we arrived back at the port and went shopping, we noticed the very high quality of the souvenirs in Estonia. Naturally, we bought several. The highlight happened in one of these shops: The proprietor spoke no English and I know absolutely no Estonian. Out of frustration I said, in Russian, “sorry, I don’t speak Russian.” Her eyes lit up and with a huge smile she responded with a torrent of words in Russian. I can’t explain it but it was if I was hearing her in English. That was an encounter I will never forget.

In all honesty, I was disappointed that no bicycling shore excursion was offered in Amsterdam. From what I’ve been reading, Amsterdam is a very walkable city. Exploring it the way the Dutch do – from a two-wheeled perspective – sounds like the best way to see the city. Obviously, you cover more ground on a bike and that is exactly what I want to do while in Amsterdam, where we will be day after tomorrow.

Since I’ve have a few Carnival cruises under my belt (and I still have John’s computer), I’d like to offer a few suggestions to the beards:

1 – On the Carnival.com site, add an “Insider Tips/Past Guest Picks” link on the Shore Excursions page listing things to do while in port, in between excursions, or at the arrival/departure port before/after the cruise. Example: “The Crazy Lobster in Cabo San Lucas is a few blocks from the marina and within sight of it. Easy walking distance. Excellent grilled steak, lobster, seafood, and traditional Mexican fare. Reasonable prices.” The legal beards can add a standard disclaimer that says these are ideas submitted by guests, not Carnival.

2 – Also on the Carnival.com site, make it easier to compare the Shore Excursions. Extend the descriptions on the Compare page so that you can read the entire description of each excursion without having to click ‘more’. Or, once you click ‘more’, have the description extend within the Compare column without opening a new page. As of now it takes forever because you have to: 1) scroll to find an excursion that interests you. 2) once you find it you have to click to get a full description. 3) then you either have to click the back button or click on Shore Excursions again and wait while the page loads all over again. This could literally take hours to read about all of the excursions if you have a slow Internet connection and are looking at a 7-day itinerary or longer.

3 – How about adding a ‘weather bug’ from Weather Underground or The Weather Channel on the shore excursion main pages on Carnival.com?

4 – In the Carnival Cap, er, Fun Times, add a section called “Cultural Tips” to the embarkation issue. Adding a few do’s and don’ts when visiting a foreign country on Carnival’s itinerary may be helpful. Example: In Russia, never turn down a glass of Vodka when it is offered. To do so is considered rude. Always drink it down all at once; do not sip. Pointing with the index finger, giving the ‘thumbs up’ sign, or the peace sign are considered insults in certain cultures.

5 – John has discussed this many times here in the blog. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I agree with many others who would like to see a vegetarian entrée option or two in the steakhouse. (Yes, I know it is a STEAKhouse.) There are starters and salads that are vegetablist friendly (sorry, John’s computer is taking over), but no entrées. Myself, I love a good steak. But my wife is a vegetarian and though we enjoy dinner together in the steakhouse, I feel bad because she doesn’t have anything other than appetizers and salad to choose for her main course. John and I talked about this on his Facebook page and he offered a brilliant (where’s that option to turn off the ‘Johnisms’ on this computer?) suggestion. I’d like to take his suggestion one step further: How about putting a note on the online Steakhouse Reservation page that says if you would like a vegetarian option to contact the Steakhouse a day ahead of your visit to discuss preparing something to your liking? The same note can be placed on the reservation confirmation placed in the cabin.

Ketut just ran in and informed me that John has been spotted back on board. I had better sign off of John’s computer before

 Jazz Around the World – The Inside Story

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , on Thursday, 12 June 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


How did Jazz Around the World get started? Well, it wasn’t an intended project. It just evolved into one.

Two years ago I wanted to do something on Facebook in honor of Jazz Appreciation Month. I started out by just posting a link every few days to a video of a few US Jazz musicians. After the first couple of postings, I decided to find a few international Jazz musicians to add to the mix. The feedback I received was positive and motivating.

At the time, the international musicians I featured were those I had heard of before. It was nice ‘revisiting’ them again. By the time Jazz Appreciation Month came to an end, I realized how much I was enjoying posting and watching the videos.

Not long after, an idea began forming, an idea that I could not put out of my head. What if I expanded this? What if I could find Jazz in 30 different countries? What if I could feature a different person or group each day of Jazz Appreciation Month? What if I could turn all of that into an around-the-world journey? Thus was born Jazz Around the World.

Now all I had to do was find another 20 countries. But after thinking about it I realized that I was familiar with artists from at least a dozen more countries. That left only eight or so to reach my goal of 30 countries.

My research began slowly, adding an artist or group once in a while. It began to pick up in earnest around December of 2013. The process led to discovering many new groups and artists. I think that was the best part of this journey.

Along the way I made some unexpected finds. A friend sent me a link last year to a clip of the standard “Four Brothers”. When trying to find that clip again, a group called The Big Friendly Jazz Orchestra appeared in the results. The name caught my attention so I clicked their link. I was blown away by what I saw. It took some digging but I learned that these were high school girls from Japan. I decided to feature them as the closing group on our tour, showcasing them as an example of what today’s youth are doing with Jazz.

One very big surprise was being introduced to Aziza Mustafa Zadeh of Azerbaijan. I woke up one morning and began mentally running through countries that I could include on the tour. At the time I had 29 of them so I only had one left to complete the tour. For some reason Azerbaijan popped into my head. Mustafa Zadeh’s name came up after only a couple of minutes’ worth of research. All I can say is to listen to her. Just listen.

Putting the tour together reacquainted me with groups I hadn’t heard in a long time. Shakatak is one of those groups. It had been nearly a decade since I last heard their music. I remember how much I enjoyed them when they first burst onto the music scene in the early 1980’s. Their music still brings back those memories.

Another thing I experienced was just how versatile these musicians are. Here in the States, we know some artists play at such an advanced level that they are ‘first call’ musicians for many projects, world wide. But once they travel outside the US, we never hear about their collaborations with other musicians. Bassist Richard Bona has an impressive resume chock full of international musicians he has worked with. Because he has worked with so many different artists, that means he is able to play countless different styles of music, not just Jazz. After adding him to our tour, I sat and listened to his music on YouTube for an entire day.

Along those lines, I noticed a handful of US musicians popped up frequently when looking a clips of some of these artists: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, and Marcus Miller. All of these musicians are on the Jazz Around the World tour.

There were a few road blocks along the way. For the visit to Cameroon, I wanted to feature bassist Guy N’Sangué Akwa. But the only clips available on YouTube were of his solos; no full-length material. Since I couldn’t use any of those videos, I was forced to choose another musician from west Africa. That is how Akwa’s fellow countryman Richard Bona became part of the tour.

Another obstacle was labeling – or lack thereof – of music posted on YouTube. There are many, many videos out there that only list the artist or a genre, but not the title of the song. I found some music that I wanted to feature with the musicians on our tour but could not provide song titles because there weren’t any. Note to those who will post new music videos on youTube: please include the song titles. That way, we can actually buy the music to help support the artist so they can make more music for us to enjoy…and for you to post.

Looking up the music of Christiane Legrand took hours. Among the many groups she sang with was a group called Les Double Six. Les Double Six did not use the same personnel on every track during a recording date. So just picking a song by Les Double Six at random may not be the one on which Legrand sang. Of course, the information on the YouTube clip did not show who sang on which song. Furthermore, the Internet itself did not have any information on who sang on which track. Add to that, the album that introduced me to Legrand in the 1970s is no longer on YouTube.

This project has been as much a labor of love as it has been fun to put together. My hope is that somewhere during the course of this tour around the world of Jazz, you will be introduced to artists you may not be familiar with, and that that will lead you to seek out more more music from that artist.

I would really love to get a grant to do this for real; to visit 52 countries in a year and listen to live Jazz in each of those countries. And, of course, write a blog or series of articles about it so more people can experience just how connected the Jazz world is.

World On the left is a graphic of all the countries we visited on our Jazz Around the World tour.

Jazz Around the World – 1 May – California, United States

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , on Thursday, 1 May 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Welcome back to the United States. Unfortunately, here ends the Jazz Around the World tour. I’d like to thank you for joining me on this unique journey. I hope you enjoyed the music as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you. One of my dreams is to put together a real Jazz Around the World tour, hitting all of the major Jazz festivals and some of the smaller clubs.

If your flight does not leave right away, we have one more artist who wants to play for you.

Bassist Joshua Crumbly was only thirteen years old when he played along with his dad, saxophonist Ronnie Crumbly on the CD Like Father, Like Son. Fast-forward to 2014: Josh, a native Californian, is currently touring with Terence Blanchard. A recent graduate of The Julliard School, Crumbly is one of the young lions; definitely one to watch.


Trio performance at The Julliard School – “Stablemates”


With Beka Gochiashvili – Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”


Bass solo with Terrance Blanchard in St. Louis


Map of CaliforniaThank you again for joining me for Jazz Around the World. Support the artists. Buy their music. Go out and see some live Jazz today!


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