and Marla's Walking Tradition
I am a man with three careers and a hobby.
My careers are dance, travel, and
My hobby is walking.
This is the story of how they all
Certainly my first career is in the world
of Social Dance. I spent 30 years running SSQQ Dance Studio,
a highly innovative program that proved "Group Dance
Classes" were an effective and highly economical way to
learn to how to dance.
When I began my teaching career in 1978,
the business model for dance studios was "private lessons".
When it came to developing dance excellence, I discovered that
"group classes" could be just as practical. Through the use of
parallel classes and the invaluable "Practice Night" that followed
each class, our students learned the true meaning of "Practice makes
turns out that the real secret to dance excellence is repetition.
Yes, group classes failed to point out every single detail, but the
classes were so much fun that students acquired the necessary skills
anyway thanks to all that practice.
misunderstand me. If someone has the money, "Private Lessons"
are surely be the quickest way to the top. But people forget
that Gravity is still the greatest teacher on Earth. After
all, we all learned to walk without dance teachers, right??
Same thing for dance. The trick was motivating our students to
If my group lessons could
get people close, all that practice would help students develop a
grace that would far transcend anything they learned in class.
did not anticipate were the powerful social ties that were forged
between the students. In a way similar to college friendships,
students taking classes at a similar time made friends with the
people they danced with in class and at Practice Night. It
gave me immense satisfaction to see a vast social network form at
the studio. Our dance classes had become equally important as a way
to connect to close friends on a weekly basis. The studio grew
by leaps and bounds.
At its peak, SSQQ had 1,200 students a
week walk through its doors. SSQQ was without a doubt
the largest dance studio of its kind in the USA.
Cruise Trips and Dancing
Is it possible that the
remarkable expansion of the studio can have a downside? I
would say yes. The studio had grown by leaps and bounds thanks
to the Zoot Suit Riot Swing Era of the late Nineties. SSQQ was
so swamped with dance students that I slipped into a role closer to
administrator than leader.
Of course I continued to
teach; I have always loved to teach dance. However, the studio
was so big now that we had six classes every night and twelve on
Sundays. Factoring in my two nights off per week, I taught one
class in eight. Now I took a step back and analyzed the
situation. The studio had reached an unusual point. After 20
years of struggle, SSQQ was "established" now. For the first
time, I realized that the studio would continue to be successful
whether I showed up or not.
Although I was happy at
the studio's success, I found myself fretting over my backseat role.
By coincidence, a basketball friend who just happened to own a
travel agency had been suggesting that a cruise trip might go over
well at my dance studio. His suggestion struck a chord.
I had been upset with
myself for neglecting my traditional role as the leader at the
studio. Maybe a cruise trip would be a good way to reconnect
with the students.
So in 2001, I put all my
energy into promoting a late summer cruise trip for the studio.
It was a lot of fun to see my efforts pay off. We got 100
passengers on my first try.
turned out to be quite a cruise. In addition to meeting Marla
and falling in love,
discovered on during our voyage that cruise trips and dance classes go hand in hand.
It turns out that a cruise trip is the perfect place to dance.
For starters, everyone
has spent the day hanging out together at the pool or being
ridiculously silly in the hot tub.
Now after a tough day in
the hot tub, everyone is dressed up and they are ready to dance!
The floor is just an elevator ride away and there is a live band
waiting for them. Best of all, no one has to get up in the
morning and go to work.
On Rhapsody 2006,
these goofy characters were attempting to set an SSQQ
Hot Tub Stuffing record. I believe they succeeded with a total of
have all the time in the world to dance the night away... and of
course the setting at sea is intoxicatingly romantic.
100 passengers on the 2001 Celebration cruise heartily agreed.
From that point on, they signed up for each new dance cruise in record numbers.
They felt a dance cruise was the perfect
reward for hours of dance classes and practice back in Houston.
cruise trip was their big chance to seek romance, enjoy themselves
and show off a little in the process. The dancers didn't mind
a bit that other passengers would line the level above to
watch with admiration as our dancers performed on the floor below.
the way, these same dancers developed a curiosity about cruise
trips as a way to see the world as well.
This gave birth to
Marla's successful career as a travel agent organizing both dance
cruises and adventure cruises.
Rick the Travel Writer
course I immediately documented the results of our successful
2001 Celebration cruise for the people back at home. I had
a strong hunch that my story about our successful trip would make
for good reading. Perhaps some of the "left behinds" would
consider joining us the following year.
2013 marks the 15th year
of my writing career. Mind you, I haven’t made a
direct cent off
my writing that I can think of, but maybe the money isn’t
necessary. For starters, I have certainly
received a great deal of satisfaction from writing the
equivalent of several books on the SSQQ Website.
And let me add that I am well aware my writing has been an
invaluable tool for promoting studio activities over the years.
My writing career began in a very odd
way. Back in November 1997, I
spent a month visiting my friend Gary Richardson
daily at his Floppy Wizard computer store in the Memorial City Mall.
Here was the deal – I said I would buy
a computer from Gary if he would show me how to use the darn
thing. I was baffled by this Windows stuff. Gary said he
would take that deal.
So here is how it worked – I left my
new computer sitting on a back desk at Gary’s store. I went
all in - scanner, printer, CD burner, monitor, modem and
computer plus wires upon wires hooking it all together. It
was all bought and paid for, but since I did not know how to
use the system, why bring it home?
Instead, every weekday for the month of November
I drove over to Gary’s store for a lesson. I would stay an
hour or two and Gary would give me a homework assignment.
When he wasn’t working with a customer, he would come over
and check my work. Slowly but surely, I learned how to use
Windows, my beloved Paint Shop Pro
and programs like Excel,
Microsoft Word and Microsoft Publisher.
Finally I was ready to take my computer
The writing career started exactly one
year later in November 1998. Now that I had a computer,
Gary talked me into creating the SSQQ web site. Okay,
so it was a big hassle, but it got
done. Now I had a web site.
Only one problem – no one bothered to visit the web
site. Uh oh!!
decided to write stories as a way
to entice readers. Swing Dancing was big at the time, so
one of my first stories was the
History of Swing. Then came the
History of Whip and the
History of Western Swing.
I told my students about
the website, but when I checked my statistics, almost no one
was visiting. Darn.
So I ditched “dance history” and
switched to "advice". I wrote
Advice to Men, the
Secrets of Following, and
Speed of Music in quick succession. Still no
readers. I was getting desperate!
Nothing worked. No one knew about my
stories. That’s when I had an inspiration. Why not start a
gossip column on the web site? Calling
it the SSQQ Grapevine, I wrote silly
stuff about people who thrived on the
attention. Only half of it was true, but
it was so harmless, who cared? All that mattered was that my
were forced to check what I was saying or
risk letting my nonsense damage their reputation.
Meanwhile everyone else couldn’t
wait to see what horrible things I would
say next about their
friends. Now that did the trick!
The SSQQ website exploded into popularity.
I had learned the ancient tabloid secret - nothing in journalism
works better than throwing a little dirt around!
The SSQQ Newsletter
First came my new computer (1997).
Then came the SSQQ website (1998) followed in quick
succession by the SSQQ Grapevine. One month later, the
SSQQ Newsletter made its debut. This was about the time that everyone
decided to get an email address. Once I noticed that
people were starting to put together email group lists.
It didn't take much
imagination to realize I could email a Newsletter to each
student publicizing new dance classes. Previously I
had publicized classes with bulk mailings of the new
schedule. This email newsletter proved to be an
incredible improvement. Instantly I saved $2,000 a
month in printing and postage fees. And naturally I
would tease people a little with the latest goofy scandal I
dreamed up as a way to tantalize them into reading the rest on the
But I realized I needed more material.
That same year I wrote my first
for the 1998 Cruise Trip.
Only one problem - I had more pictures than I had stories!
I was brand new to web design and couldn't figure out how to
match copy to the pictures I had. The only solution I could
think of was to add more copy. That was easier said
than done. I had already written every detail I could
think of from our trip. That's when I had an idea.
I had already learned to fib in my
gossip column, so it wasn't much of a stretch to begin
adding fibs to my cruise report as well. In order to
fill up space, I began to
tell some really tall tales. For
example, I remember writing a story about
how our ship had smashed into the pier at
Cozumel. In fact, I even
published a picture!
all took place before people
realized my tendency to exaggerate a bit.
They read my copy and saw that picture and believed every
word I said. For days students
were talking about how our ship had
ruined the pier in Cozumel and nearly killed people!
I could not believe people thought
this goofy story was on the level!
I had to
quickly write another story
in the Newsletter explaining that I was just kidding. As
for that picture, it was a promo picture from the movie
“Speed 2” where a cruise ship crashed into
Finally the fuss died down and
everyone had a good laugh. No harm done. Hey,
everyone likes a harmless joke now and then!
In fact, people
started to read just to see what kind of fairy tale I would
make up next. Eager to please, each
new cruise trips had all sorts of exciting developments like
seeing naked mermaids and being attacked by pirates.
Finally the web site was a success.
So was the Newsletter. So was the studio.
There was, of course, a wonderful side
benefit. As interest in the Newsletter grew, interest in
the dance studio grew as well.
The publicity generated by the website and newsletter
propelled the studio to its strongest attendance in history.
During 1999, the first full
year of the web site, the studio grew by leaps and bounds.
We made so much money that year that we re-invested $100,000
into a brand-new wood floor for the studio.
And the money left over went into a trust
fund that paid for my Sam's college education ten years
later. So maybe all
that writing wasn’t wasted after all.
Marla Makes a Career out of
the Cruise Trips
I have said for years that Slow Dance
leads to Romance. Let me add that the legend of
Romance on cruise ships is no myth either. The sea and
dancing are powerful incentives to Romance.
mentioned I fell in love
with Marla on the 2001 Cruise Trip. I knew Marla from
the studio, but to my chagrin learned she had a steady boyfriend.
Once Marla told me they had been together for six years,
I didn't dare make another move. However, one day Marla
signed up for the upcoming cruise by herself. Now I
was curious. So I asked Marla what the story was
on the boyfriend. Marla
explained that the two of them occasionally took trips
independently. Since her boyfriend didn't like to dance,
he decided to pass on this trip. Frustrated with that
gave up hope.
Marla and I just barely knew each other when the trip began.
To my shock and delight, that changed quickly on the first
night at sea. By the end of the trip, Marla and I were
inseparable and the boyfriend had been thrown
overboard. We have never been apart since.
Incidentally, if you like love stories, this is a very good
One year later on the 2002
Cruise, I asked Marla to consider becoming a Travel Agent. I had a feeling that dance cruises would become an important
part of our lives. Why give the commissions to someone
else? Marla agreed
completely. The following year Marla was
Director of SSQQ Travel.
Marla and I effortlessly moved into
our separate roles at SSQQ Travel. I would help publicize
trips with my web site and Newsletter and she would handle
the nuts and bolts of organizing the trips and attending to
all the details.
Now that I was writing for not one, but two
businesses, I found myself spending more time writing
than I did teaching dance classes. Throughout the
2000s, every day I would wake
up, write write write, teach dance class,
and go to bed. That’s
a pretty good description of my daily
routine for the past 12 years.
It’s been a lot of work, but since I enjoy writing,
I have enjoyed every minute of it.
I wasn't happy about selling the dance
studio in 2010. I still had plenty of gas left in the
tank. However, the final four years of running the
studio on Bissonnet had become a nightmare due to certain
landlords. Their policies made running the studio very
difficult. With the lease to expire in 2010, I was so
bitter at the way they treated me that I vowed never to sign
2010 sale of the dance studio did at least
free up some time. Along the way, I found a very good
use for that extra time. Starting in April 2012, I
added a one hour walk
in Memorial Park to my daily routine.
behind my walking project.
You might be surprised to learn
I owe my new-found
walking habit to our cruise trips!
always hated deliberate exercise. Some people can go to the
gym, but not me. I have never worked out at a gym in my life.
Other people use exercise classes based on dancing like Zumba or Tae
Bo. Not me. I tried a "jazzercise" class once and didn't
stick with it. For that matter, I knew that social dancing
with the ladies was good exercise, but I certainly never approached
dancing with that particular goal.
One of my memories from the month
at Gary’s store were the dozens of women who passed by his
store en masse every day. Now that
I couldn’t figure out why there
were legions of women walking back and forth all day long.
At first, I thought they were shoppers,
but when I saw the same people pass by again and again carrying
nothing, I got suspicious. One day I asked Gary what they were doing. He said they
were walking for exercise.
Walking for exercise? Really? I had
never heard of that before.
I laughed. Why walk? How
That’s what I had basketball for.
Now that I am 64,
walking doesn’t seem
so silly any more. Scientists are starting to think that
regular aerobic exercise may be the single most important
thing we can do for the long-term health of our brain. While
the heart and lungs respond loudly to a sprint on the
treadmill, the brain is quietly getting fitter with each
step, too. For mental fitness, they recommend at least 30
minutes of physical activity every other day.
I might add these same scientists also highly recommend social
dancing as a way to stay mentally sharp. For more
information, please read my
Dance Smart article.
As for "30 minutes every other day",
Marla and I do much better than that. We walk
three miles a day
over at Memorial Park six times a week.
It take us between 50 minutes and an
hour. Marla and I have
reached the stage of life where long walks make complete
sense to both of us for lots of reasons. For one
thing, thanks to the daily workout,
we are both in great shape.
My blood pressure checks out at 120 over 80.
Not bad for an old guy.
As for my pulse, it only rises when my
wife gets near.
Marla is looking especially good these
days. In fact, Marla looks so good she has been getting
compliments. For example, on our walk
one morning, Marla
was beaming. I asked why she was in such a good mood and
Marla opened up.
She said that two nights earlier several
people had said nice things to her at the Chandelier
Ballroom. When Marla first entered the room for the Telstar
Dance, several people who had not seen her for a while were
shocked at Marla’s 20 pound weight loss. Marla explained
she had dropped the weight in preparation for the Hawaii
Cruise in October 2013.
had watched Marla diet every inch of the
way for six long months. No bread, no butter, no sweets, no
nothing. Such discipline! In so doing, Marla changed her
appearance dramatically. When you think about it, 20 pounds
on a woman who wasn’t overweight to begin with is a lot of
Marla suffered during the six month
ordeal, believe me, but in the end she was rewarded.
Besides the return of my favorite curves, I don’t mind
adding how much fun it is to have a really good-looking
wife. I am very proud of Marla.
There was a highly amusing extra
benefit as well. Periodically Marla would scream with
delight from another room. I would grin because I knew what
that glee meant. Every five pounds or so a beloved outfit
from a previous era was suddenly available to her again.
By the time the trip rolled around, Marla went Retro.
Marla had so many “new” clothes to wear for the Hawaii
Cruise she didn’t bother to buy anything new for the trip.
As for me, I didn’t drop a pound during
Marla’s crusade, but then I wasn’t
A recent visit
to the doctor for my annual checkup confirmed my weight is
the same today as it has been for the past 5 years.
Well, actually, that last statement
isn’t completely true. I did have one bad year. Back in
2012, I stopped playing basketball. It wasn’t fun anymore.
Too much arguing for my taste. Unfortunately, there was an
unexpected negative consequence
to my decision. I had gained
It turned out that those 6 pounds were
the inspiration for our daily walking project. Here's
Origin of the
Cruise Trip Walking Tradition
San Juan, Puerto Rico (Eastern
Caribbean 2011, Dominica 2012)
in April 2012 I was packing for the
Dominica 2012 cruise.
When I tried on my khaki pants, I
Not only did the pants not fit, it was
not even close. Holy
smokes!This was completely
rarely bother to look at a scale since my weight is
typically stable. This unpleasant weight gain really took me aback.
By chance, Marla was at Macy’s for the same
reason. Her clothes weren’t fitting either.
So I called
Marla to ask her to buy me an emergency pair of pants for
Formal Night on the cruise. Then I spent the rest of the day feeling
humiliated. No one enjoys feeling
For the trip, Marla and I arrived one
day early in San Juan, Puerto Rico. With a full day on our
hands, we decided to take a long walk around the fascinating
Old Town area of San Juan.
While we walked through places like
Morro Castle, Marla and I talked about
our recent weight gain. Maybe this long walk today
would help. Then we began to reminisce.
Inspired by today's walk across the town,
we began to talk about our famous long walks from earlier cruises.
New Orleans (Mardi Gras 2004)
Our first big
walk was on the
2004 Mardi Gras cruise.
We meandered through the wild,
insane streets of New Orleans all day long and had a blast.
MG Anseman saved the day. As
a Louisiana native, MG was very familiar with New Orleans
and kept us on the right track all day long. Even
better, MG kept an eye on us. We all felt very safe.
Marla and I had so much fun we
even became part of the show. As we passed a bar, we
heard some great blues music being played inside. So
I took Marla in my arms. Right
there on the sidewalk we started dancing the Whip.
Soon we had a
huge audience cheering for us complete
with wolf whistles for Marla. So what was that all
Normally a bit on the
reserved side, Marla decided to put on a show.
Thanks to margaritas and a lot of encouragement
from her admirers, Marla turned her hips loose.
Judging from the smiles, the guys
definitely liked what they saw.
Sometimes women can be sexy with their clothes on. Imagine
Juneau (Alaska 2005)
Our second big walk was totally
unexpected. It came out of nowhere.
trip, Marla, daughter
Sam, and I found ourselves in Juneau
with nothing to do. That
morning we had taken a helicopter trip to a massive glacier.
Now we had a couple hours before it was time to go.
Sam pointed to a gondola ride just
a few hundred miles from the cruise ship.
Marla and I shrugged. Why not?
The gondola took us to a mountaintop
Juneau. We had no idea what was up there. First
we looked down and gasped at the Juneau fjord
2,000 feet below.
Then we began to explore.
To our delight,
we discovered an incredible Alpine rainforest complete with
Oh, what a treat it was to walk through
this dense forest complete with ferns, mist,
and giant mountains!
This was great! We intend to
do this again on next year’s
Alaska 2014 trip.
Rome (Greece 2008)
The walk that changed our life
took place on our
2008 Greece Cruise.
This walk was not planned, but it sure was wonderful.
Oddly enough the day didn’t
start off very well. We were going
to visit an art museum, but I nearly ruined our entire day thanks
to the Evil Map of Rome. There
was something about this map that
confused me. Thank goodness
for Boy Scouts. We were supposed to be heading east in
the morning, but the sun was at our back. We were
definitely going in the wrong direction.
When I told Marla, she paled.
Considering the terms of our visit
was ‘Use it or Lose it’, Marla was
panic-stricken. This was our only chance to visit
the world famous Borghese art gallery!
Once I figured
out my mistake, we got off the bus and
found another one headed back
in the correct direction. Would we
have enough time? Would we be able to find it?
The museum wasn't even on our evil map!! Adding to
the suspense, Marla suspected a man who befriended us on the
bus was actually trying to rob us! Good grief.
Once we got off the bus, we made a
quick getaway. Just then I saw a nearby park with lots
of trees. We entered the grounds not knowing if this
was it. Then to my absolute relief I confirmed we had found the
outskirts of the vast Borghese estate.
We barely made it to our
pre-paid appointment at the Borghese Art Museum
with moments to spare.
was so relieved to correct
my mistake. That rescued our day.
We had a terrific visit. After it
was over, Sam wanted to see the
Church of the
near the Spanish
Steps (#3). This
church had a link to Duchesne, her school here in Houston.
Sam's special request
turned out to be a break because it got us walking in the
correct direction. Once I saw how far we had walked
relative to the map, it occurred to me we had enough time to
walk to the Colosseum rather than take a cab.
This discovery led to an all-day adventure
that allowed us to pass by many famous spots such as the
Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the
Roman Forum. Starting at
noon, it took us four hours
to walk five miles from
the illustrious Borghese Gallery to the
gigantic Roman Colosseum.
Then, as a reward, we figured out how to use
the subway which whisked us 10 miles all the way back to our
hotel across the street from the Vatican
in no time.
how pooped we were, that subway ride was an exquisite
All three of us took a nap. Then
that evening we explored the streets near the Vatican until
we found the perfect sidewalk cafe. A delightful meal of pizza,
wine, and bread left us all totally contented after one of
the best days of our lives.
distance from the Borghese Gallery at the top to
the Roman Colosseum was about five miles long.
Marla, and Sam at the Trevi Fountain in Rome
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
(2008, 2009, 2011)
Marla and I had
learned a special lesson on our long walk in Rome. Not
only did we cross more ground on foot than we had realized
possible, we had a great time seeing the sights. That walk
turned out to be the highlight of our trip. We had so much fun that
two months later Marla and
I decided to try something unusual on the upcoming
Conquest 2008 dance cruise.
We decided to try walking the entire
Seven Mile Beach on Cayman Island in the Caribbean.
However, we were very worried.
Could we cover 7 miles in our limited amount of time?
Fortunately the actual walk turned out to be closer to 5
miles, so we made the crossing with plenty of time to spare.
What an experience! Seven Mile Beach is the “River Oaks”
of Cayman. That’s where all the expensive villas and ritzy
hotels make their home thanks to the fabulous views of
perfect beach and the beautiful ocean.
To our amazement,
the entire stretch
of the beach
is open to the public. This allowed poor, ragged cruise riffraff
like us to use the beach! In a
sense, we were basically crossing through the back yards of
these estates. As we walked
this long sandy
stretch, we were able to view the beauty
of the vacation homes
and lush gardens of the super-rich. Too much fun!
this beach walk
was so much fun that we have repeated this adventure two
more times since -
Conquest 2009 and
will do it again on Navigator
could walk 5 miles in Rome, could we walk 7 miles in
Rome (Barcelona 2009)
"accidental walk" in Rome had opened our eyes to the
possibilities. The success of the long walk on
the beaches of Cayman had further boosted our confidence. From
this point, Marla and I were determined to take a long walk
every chance we got on a cruise trip. So immediately we bit off much
more than we could chew!!
Without a doubt, the craziest long walk
that Marla and I have ever taken occurred on our 2009
Barcelona Cruise. You have no idea
how bad it was. This walk was so
scary that I gave it a weird name.
I refer to the story of our scary
The Evil Map of Rome.
In a nutshell,
one year earlier Marla and I had both
felt rushed on our 2008 visit to Rome.
Marla expressed a desire to visit the Roman
Forum, but we were simply too pressed for time. It was one or the
other – the Forum or the Colosseum. With
opportunity in mind, one year later we decided to make the
Roman Forum the focus of our 2009
Only one problem.
The Evil Map
tricked me again. Yes,
that would be
the same evil map that had tricked me the year before. So, knowing how Evil
the map was from 2008, why
did I use the damn thing again?
Well, it was the only map of Rome I had
at the time. As I stared at the
didn’t see any problem. We were
going to walk 5 miles
from the train station all the way to the Roman Forum.
Then I noticed by taking a
short-cut through a beautiful nature park, the distance would
be reduced to 4 miles.
Only one problem.
When we got the
we couldn’t find any entrance!Study
the Evil Map above. The map had
not indicated there was an
8 foot wall around the
We learned the hard way the only entrance
park is from the front, not the
back. Now we were stuck.
Oh great, now what? It was either
backtrack and lose an hour in the process or risk a
very dangerous walk forward. We
didn't have an hour to lose! Pressed for time, we took our
chances. We were forced to walk
for a mile
on a one-way highway
with only 3 feet of clearance. We were scared out of our wits
as cars blasted past
us at 60 miles an hour.
A couple cars missed us by at most
a couple feet. One car honked its horn
and I nearly died on the spot from fright. If you think I am exaggerating, I am not.
I was so scared that
I began flattening
my back to the
wall each time a car shot past me.
Mind you, none of these pictures are scary for a reason - I
was too busy dodging cars to take a photo when they were
In addition, we got lost on the way
back AGAIN thanks to the Evil Map.
We barely made it to the train
station on time. The drama was intense. That’s one walk I
will never forget. Marla was so angry at me for getting us
into that fix that she still brings it up any time I have
another bright idea.
To this day, Marla still doesn't
believe I know how to read a map, a source of never-ending
aggravation for me. We
argue all the time, but somehow we always manage to get
where we are going.
the Via Fornacci. It is a highway. The human
body is about 2 feet wide. That walkway is 3 feet
wide. Although obviously cars had room to pass us,
any idiot on a cell phone rounding a curve could take us out in an instant.
a car passed, I flattened my back to the wall.
Two Journeys to the Top of the
The Isle of Capri and the Lofty
Town of Eze (Barcelona 2009)
Fortunately, not all of our walks
are as scary as
being pinned against a wall on a one-way street while cars
Most of our walks have been sheer delight.
on that same
Barcelona 2009 trip, Marla and I took a long walk on the
Isle of Capri.
Capri is a magical island about 20 miles south of Naples, a
coastal city in southern Italy.
Boy, talk about
tough choices! Some of our group took a trip along the
visually stunningly coastline of Amalfi near Naples.
Thanks to rugged mountains hugging the waters of the
sea, anyone traveling the Amalfi Coast are treated to amazing views of the
landscape and the Mediterranean Sea.
Others in our
group visited the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient city famous
for its devastating destruction during the eruption of
nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
and I chose the Isle of Capri. Good choice... what a place! We
made it all the way to top of the mountain. Wow!
I could see the entire coastline of Naples up there as well
as Vesuvius 22 miles away. What a magnificent view.
In addition, I
learned some very interesting history while I was up there.
Apparently Tiberius, the man who became Roman Emperor after
the death his stepfather Augustus Caesar, spent most of his
time at Capri rather than in Rome. Why?
a lot of people had to die in order for him to become
Emperor. Tiberius was about fifth or sixth in
succession, but amazingly one heir after another died a mysterious death. Surrounded by all these deaths,
Tiberius was understandably terrified of being assassinated
moved to a mountaintop retreat high up in the clouds on the
Isle of Capri and conducted orgies up there.
Want to know
something else interesting? If you ever get the chance
to watch the mini-series I, Claudius, you will be
shocked to discover the person responsible for those
mysterious deaths was none other than Livia, Tiberius'
mother by a marriage prior to her union with Augustus
Unbeknownst to Tiberius, his own mother had systematically
poisoned all the people ahead of her son just so he could be
the last man standing. And now Tiberius lived his
entire remaining life in terror because he assumed he would
Now you know
another reason why these long walks can be so fascinating!
I learn some of the most incredible things.
Three days later
on the same
Barcelona Cruise, we visited the enchanting
Village of Eze. Built
high above at the pinnacle of a towering mountain, Èze has been described as an “eagle's nest”
due to its
location on a high cliff overlooking the sea.
No kidding! My gosh, I was shocked to discover I could
see the entire world up there! At an elevation of 1,400 feet, this
tiny little village has the whole world at its feet.
As one might
gather, not very many people can fit up there. The
population is said to be at most 3,000 people, but someone
told me most of the "citizens" have their real homes
down below in the
Why would that
be? Why not just live up there?
It turns out
that the constant flow of tourists through Èze is
phenomenal. Considering this small medieval village
has immense beauty and charm, that comes as no surprise to
most of those structures have been converted into shops, art
galleries, hotels and restaurants to take advantage of the
large number of tourists and honeymooners. In other words,
Èze has become a "museum village".
views of the entire French Riviera were simply
overwhelming. It took a long climb to get up there...
no elevator, no escalator... just an arduous climb up many
steps... but it was all worth it. What a privilege it
was to visit this exquisite village and spend a day on top
of the world.
Magical Mystical Isle of Capri
easily see Vesuvius off in the distance from Capri
Medieval Town of Eze, France. See if you can spot
our cruise ship in the distant waters of the Mediterranean.
Halifax, Canada (New
England 2006, Titanic 2012)
2006 New England Cruise,
Marla and I took an extensive walk through Halifax, Nova
Halifax has a terrific walkway right
on the waterfront. You can't miss it as you exit the
cruise ship. Marla and I were instantly hooked.
To our surprise, about half a mile into our walk we noticed
a Maritime Museum.
I just had to
To my surprise, there was an extensive
exhibit on the Titanic. Apparently Halifax is the
nearest port to the site of the tragedy. Many Titanic
victims are buried here. That museum exhibit did a
great job making me feel like I knew these poor victims. I fell in
love with the story of the Titanic.
Six years later, in 2012 Marla and
I got an invitation to be the guest dance instructors on
Titanic 2012 Cruise.
the hundred year anniversary of
the Titanic disaster. Given the
chance to visit the exact spot where the Titanic sank, we did not hesitate for a moment to
Naturally we enjoyed walking the lovely town of
Halifax for a second time. Not only
do they have an incredible fortress to see high atop a hill
visible from anywhere in the city, be sure to check out their beautiful city park
right next to the fort.
And don't forget to stop and have a beer on the
way back to the ship. Every good walk deserves a reward.
like my model of the Titanic?
Atlantis (Bahamas 2010,
How can I forget our visit to the
Garden of Eden? I realize it is somewhat blasphemous to
refer to a man-made paradise as the “Garden of Eden”, but
the beauty of the Atlantis resort was so
absolutely overwhelming I can’t think of any other place
to compare it to.
Marla and I
visited Atlantis for the first time during our
2010 Bahamas Cruise.
I have never before seen such a magnificent landscape as I
did at Atlantis.
We were so amazed that we
didn’t hesitate to visit again two years later on our
2012 Magic Cruise.
Sometimes when you go back a
second time, there is a let-down. Not Atlantis. It was
just as good the second time as it was the first.
should confess… we didn’t walk the entire time we were
there. We spent at least two hours in a tube coasting along
the best “Lazy River” I have ever experienced.
You should read the story to understand why it was so great.
Atlantis is the closest thing to sheer
bliss that I can think of. I run out of superlatives
describing the place.
Waikoloa Resort (Hawaii
That picture above is Waikoloa
Hawaii. The reader probably would have assumed it was
"Atlantis" if I had not made the distinction obvious.
Waikoloa and Atlantis have much in common. They are
both man-made paradises, although in the case of Waikoloa,
the designers had the immense beauty of an ocean inlet to
make their work easier.
When Shari Clark, a friend of mine,
read my Newsletter story about Atlantis, she recommended
I visit Waikoloa, a much-landscaped resort on the
Big Island of Hawaii near Kona.
Shari told me
my pictures of
Atlantis reminded her very much of Waikoloa. So, with
Shari’s recommendation in mind, Marla and I did indeed visit
Waikoloa during our Hawaii 2013 Cruise.
And yes, Waikoloa
turned out to be just as beautiful as advertised
complete with dolphins, small sharks and sea turtles.
We spent an entire day walking the grounds in
total awe at how wonderful the place is. In particular
I was very intrigued at how the design of the
resort wrapped itself around that ocean inlet. Very
(Note: this will be the featured story
in the next Newsletter after Thanksgiving 2013)
La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain
think of another city in the world with a venue like La Ramblas.
Before I forget,
I must mention our marvelous walks along
Las Ramblas in Barcelona during our
2009 Cruise and then again on our Egypt
Ramblas is a
very unusual tree-lined corridor that cuts right through the
heart of Barcelona. I have never seen anything like
it! This mile-long walkway links the sea to a square
in mid-town where they hold concerts.
No car can cross
this corridor. It is open only to pedestrians. I felt
totally safe other than pickpockets.
There are sidewalk
cafes, street performers, art for sale, birds for sale, flowers for sale,
and charming people in costume wherever one goes.
The course of Las Ramblas was originally a sewage-filled streambed.
days, this gully stayed dry. However it was an important drain for
heavy rainwater flowing from the nearby hills during spring
Dancers, mimes, jugglers, you name it!!
And if you like
to people watch, the long walkway has hundreds.
In the year 1377, construction started on an extension of
the city walls to include Las Ramblas. In 1440, the stream was
diverted to run outside the new walls. At this point, they
began to fill in the former ditch and gradually turn it into a street. In 1703, the first
of the many beautiful trees lining Ramblas were planted.
Due to its perfect
placement at the center of everything, over the next few centuries,
Las Ramblas became established as the main focus of Barcelona city
life. The long thoroughfare was used for festivals, markets, and
sports. As the corridor grew in importance, several churches were built along the street during this
period. And just to the side of Ramblas is the famous Gothic
Section complete with art museums, more churches
and amazing architecture.
When Marla read about
Ramblas, she deliberately found a hotel within easy walking distance. Since
a walk along Las Ramblas is never boring at any
time of day, Marla and I have made 5 separate trips up and down the
two-mile round trip during our two visits.
I haven't even begun to
describe the many other virtues of Barcelona. For example, the
Fountain is a wonderful experience at night. The nearby
Spanish Village complete with Flamenco dancers is also quite a
treat. Another fun thing to do is ride the Hop On-Hop Off bus. And don't get
me started on my hero Gaudi and the Segrada Cathedral!
Wow! What a place! There is so much to do
and see here. I think Barcelona is the most beautiful
city in the world!
Edinburgh, Scotland (Oslo
You have read my
stories about Atlantis, Waikoloa, Rome, Mardi Gras and
Juneau. These have not been our only walks.
We had a wonderful 2010
Edinburgh, Scotland. First there
was an amazing castle to wander
Then there was a
fabulous city park. It
rested in the valley
directly below that magnificent volcanic rock upon which the
castle sits. Marla had an ice cream cone in that
park that she still dreams about to this day.
What a lovely
Oslo, Norway (Oslo
On the same
as Edinburgh, Marla and
I took two wonderful long
walks in Oslo.
Our first walk preceded our cruise. We covered 2 miles exploring areas
around the hotel.
At the end of the trip, we had an
entire day to spend in Oslo.
That day we took a ten mile round
trip stroll through the city.
Starting from our hotel,
we walked west two miles to see Frogner Park, home to
the work of sculptor Gustav Vigeland. It took this
genius 41 years (1906-1947) to design 60 separate statues depicting
the "Human Condition".
There are statues of babies, children,
adults, and the elderly.
The various statues show people in
all stages of their lives complete with emotions of
happiness, sadness, and anger.
Then we walked three more miles to see
the Viking Museum complete with a restored vessel in
surprisingly good shape.
On our five mile return trip back to
the hotel, we passed the lovely grounds of the Royal Palace.
Interestingly, our entire walk took place in the rain, but
it didn't bother us.
unbelievably green thanks to this near-constant mist and drizzle.
It was also a bit chilly at 55 degrees. Marla was
a bit uncomfortable, but I loved it. While Marla prefers
tropical venues, I was right at home in this Nordic climate.
This turned out to be our longest walk ever. Very
amazing statues of Gustav Vigeland
Stockholm, Sweden (Russia 2012)
was a very attractive city.
Melissa and Jan Davis joined me for
Believe it or not, I actually got to walk on the rooftops of
the buildings right next to the tall orange church steeple.
Later the three of us took a 5 mile walk.
Estonia (Russia 2012)
On the same Russia
2012 trip that we visited
Stockholm, two days later we visited
Now that was a fun day!
Tallinn has a perfectly preserved old city. It felt
like I was walking through a town from back in the days of
medieval Europe. If you like our
Texas Renaissance Festival, you would really dig this place.
To our delight, the
Old Town is only a mile or so from the cruise ship.
Marla and I had no trouble walking to and back.
The very best
part of the day was running into our friends. Here is
a picture of Marla and I sharing lunch in a German bierhof
with Velma, Marsha, and Sandy.
charm on top of charm. I felt like I was visiting a
Grimm's Fairy Tale all day long. Where's the Pied
If you ever get
a chance to visit this place, don't hesitate!
Tallinn is very cool.
Paris, France (Oslo 2012)
Another cosmic long walk took place in
Paris during our
Oslo 2010 Cruise. I
would rank our walk in Paris right along with Rome. I
just wish we had had a little more time, but we were able to
cram an amazing amount of activity into just four hours.
What Marla and I have discovered thanks
to our marathon treks over the years is that ‘Walking’ is a
great way to see a city. Most people don’t think about
walking since we assume all cities are as hopeless as
Although walking here in Houston for sightseeing
purposes is nearly unthinkable due to the heat and the great
distances, many cities in the world such as Paris and Rome
can be seen and appreciated on foot. Obviously we might
need to skip walking to the suburbs of Rome and Paris, but
the most interesting parts of the city are often quite
accessible by foot.
In Paris, for example, the famous
Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower are only a couple miles
apart. All one has to do is follow the romantic
River with its stunning scenery and lovely bridges. Right
next to the Louvre are the beautiful
Tuleries Gardens complete
with fabulous statues.
Furthermore, halfway between these
two icons marks the intersection of the Champs-Élysées and
the Place de la Concorde, the
public square where King Louis XVI
and Marie Antoinette met their unfortunate end. Then if one
takes a look from that spot, one can see the Arc de Triomphe
a mile away down the Champs-Élysées.
Over the years, we have learned that “Walking” is a
very effective and highly inexpensive way to get a close
view of many highlights in a short period of time.
As I have explained, not
only do Rome and Paris pack an amazing
amount of history and beauty packed into a very compact
area, but many cities can say the same -
Barcelona, Stockholm, Halifax, Oslo, San Juan, Athens, and
Copenhagen to name a few. I can't wait for the chance
to tackle London!
As one can gather, Marla and I have been
deeply enriched by our Walking Tradition. I can
definitely say that many of our best memories took place on
these grand adventures.
These long walks have truly enriched our
The Decision to Walk
Puerto Rico's Cathedral of San Juan Bautista serves
as the background for this picture
As Marla and I meandered through the
balmy streets of Old San Juan in during
our Dominica 2012 Cruise, we were
reminded how much we love to walk on cruise trips.
However, adding to the misery of clothes
that fit a bit too snuggly, we noticed
our walk that we were somewhat
out of shape
as well. Something clearly needed to be done.
As we plodded along, we both came to
the same conclusion. Thanks in large part to the joy we
had received from our Cruise Trip Walking Tradition, Marla
and I decided at the end of the Dominica 2012 Cruise to
begin walking daily in Houston.
I made a solemn vow I would be back in
those too-tight khaki pants for my next cruise trip… and I
succeeded! Marla made a similar vow for Hawaii… and
There are other benefits to walking
they don’t talk about on Dr. Oz. Ever since we began our
Walking Project in April 2012, not only do we stay
healthy… knock on wood… but our
relationship has improved. We leave the
cell phone, computer and TV at home and count the turtles,
cardinals, and squirrels that cross our path instead.
Thanks to the chance to chat
uninterrupted for an entire hour once a day,
we talk about issues important to us.
Along the way we find that there
some magical about the forest that helps us discuss
things that trouble us and look for solutions.
Thanks in large part to our daily trek,
we stay healthy, sharp, and happy.
Not once do we ever lose
sight of the fact that the three-way combination of walking,
dancing, and cruise trips is a pretty wonderful way to enjoy
our later years.
My Favorite Walk of All Time
So one might ask what was my favorite
walk of all-time?? Well,
it depends. Sometimes it is history and sometimes it is beauty.
If it is "history", then I would be forced
to choose between Paris and Rome.
I give the nod to Rome.
With places like the Trevi Fountain, the
Borghese Gallery and the Colosseum, it was
incredible to see all those
special places at one
reincarnation does exist, then I
am certain I lived in ancient Rome at some
point. I had goose bumps all day long.
Magic of that first
walk through Rome in 2008 simply can’t be topped.
Furthermore, that walk actually changed the direction of my
life. That was the walk that started our Walking
beauty, our first visit to Atlantis in 2010
definitely comes to mind. I was
completely blown away.
lush landscaping of the
place complete with waterfalls,
streams and lagoons
is simply exquisite.
Is it legal to
use the words "man-made" and "natural" in the same
If so, then I give the
award for "man-made" natural beauty to Atlantis hands down.
This place definitely gives Mother Nature a run for her
My award for
"natural beauty" goes
to the Isle of Capri in Italy,
site of a long walk on
Barcelona 2009 (without a doubt my
all-time favorite cruise). When
I reached the top of Mount Solari on Capri, I felt like I
was on top of the world. I could see the whole world
from up there.
The beauty of the island below and the surrounding sea were indescribable.
I named Capri the "Magic
Island". Capri definitely deserves the award for the
most beautiful place I have ever visited.
Rick's Sentimental Favorite Walk
Capri. Atlantis. Rome. All
incredible. However, I have a personal favorite
that no one knows about but Marla. Why not?
Oddly enough, I have never written
about this place. After we returned home from our 2010 Oslo Trip…
my second favorite cruise out of 28 so far… I
felt compelled to write about my visit to
Omaha Beach, site of the bloodiest fighting at
I threw my heart and soul into that story.
I came up
with a fascinating 8-chapter retelling of that incredible
day. I cannot begin to
say how proud I was to share such an
about D-Day was a lot of work. It took me four
months to complete the tale. By the time I was finished, it
was time for our next cruise, Bahamas 2010.
I saw Atlantis, my
attention immediately shifted. I moved on to talk about
the events of this man-made
paradise. Meanwhile the stories of Oslo 2010
faded into distant memory.
By chance, the spark was relit three
in a very curious way.
During our 2013 Hawaii Cruise, one
morning I picked up the New York Times at a hotel in
To my surprise,
there was an article on a new development in the Loch Ness Monster
story. I began to think about Loch Ness again. Marla and I had visited Loch Ness during
our Oslo 2010 trip, but I had never written about our stop
Now I became so intrigued by the new
development that I decided
to write about the Loch Ness Monster.
What a great story! If you don't
know the inside story behind how the legend began,
definitely read my article. You will grin from head to
toe at how crazy this story really is.
While I was writing
about Loch Ness in October 2013, I was reminded of
paradise I had seen on that same
Oslo 2010 trip. Two days before our visit to Loch Ness in 2010,
Marla and I had taken a walk through
a very special
forest in Ireland.
Now thanks to the Loch Ness Monster, the memory of that forest came
roaring back to life in my mind. I couldn't get that visit
out of my thoughts. I decided the time had come
to go back and tell the tale of the day we visited a
monastery near Dublin, Ireland.
turned out this monastery was
hidden deep within a
valley surrounded by tall, steep hills.
had not planned for a walk during
that excursion. Instead we were supposed to
the history of the monastery. However,
our hearts leaped the moment we
saw the beauty of that forest. Marla and I were both
powerfully drawn to it. However, we
didn't move. Decorum dictated we politely listen to
The spark came when our guide
mentioned there was a path through the nearby forest
that led to two spectacular lakes. Instantly our ears
perked up. I casually asked how far that lake was. The
guide wasn’t sure. Maybe a mile, maybe two miles.
Marla looked at me and I looked at
her. The lake was in walking distance! Only one problem –
we only had about 45 minutes and the guide had lots to talk
about. We can cover 3 miles in 45 minutes, but what if the
lake was two miles away, not one? We
would be cutting it close. We had no time to spare.
So we snuck away… or at least we tried
to. But some of our companions noticed our furtive ways and
looked at us suspiciously. What are Rick and Marla up to
We froze. Caught in the act! But we
still wanted to see that lake in the worst way. What to
do? We resorted to a trick to spring us free. And what
was the trick?
Hey, I’m not going to tell you. Go
read the story! You will surely
incredible beauty of Ireland and the
forest area surrounding the monastery.
We had a wonderful walk indeed. In
fact, this walk had so much magic to it that I concluded I
had discovered a paradise on earth. This place is
wonderful that the reader will see clearly why our long
walks have become so important to Marla and me.
The Wild Mountains of Wild Wicklow.