Sunday, August 23, 2009

Curacao Vacation

Friends have known where I disappeared to the other week, vacation, glorious quiet, cell phone free vacation. I was so impressed by the place we stayed, that I wanted to share the experience so that other folks on the internet can get to know about this place. If you love clear blue water, warm temperatures, the beach, shopping and friendly people, then I highly recommend Curacao. Specifically, if you're looking to take a few people, I will give a resounding recommendation for Flamingo Villa ( , a family owned rental on the country side of the island. We found them through home-away ( but they are also on VRBO (vacation rentals by owner). Let me start off with there are lots of internet scams out there. I was initially concerned, but several well known news shows have covered VRBO and HomeAway, so those fears were somewhat calmed, but I really wasn't sure exactly what we were going to show up to. Let me tell you, it far exceeded expectations. The house was exactly as shown in the pictures. Even as a rental, it showed no wear an tear. The family that owns this property really takes care of the home. Emails exchanged indicate that they are as much regular users as their renters.

Following are a few photos, and notes on our trip. If you ever go on a trip like this, hopefully you will find the property manager as friendly as Don - Don called us on Sunday giving us the inside story on places to go such as a Landhuis where local artists display there goods once a month, along with a steel drum band and local foods.

Curacao has a flamingo sanctuary at the salt ponds.

This was the view that greeted us on all the beaches. Clear blue water, unspoiled reef systems, dramatic coastline.

The Punda area of Willemstad was a beutiful Netherlands inspired city. The streets offered a variety of shops and food, along with friendly locals that would help you in any way needed.

This is the pontoon bridge, which is open to foot traffic when it's not moving out of the way of shipping traffic. Here it was being moved out of the way for a large containership.

This alley led to the Nena Sanchez gallery. No fear of street art here!

By Thursday, there were a few spots that needed relief from the sun. (Curacao is only 12 degrees off the equator and results in sunburns just about anywhere you don't regularly reapply sunblock.) So it was off to the other side of the island to visit the Aloe Vera farm. We didn't make it to the Ostrich farm or the herb farm nearby, but I hear they are also popular places.

On the way back into town, we searched out the practially hidden Curacao factory. We weren't looking for a place this small. It's amazing that a facility this small can produce all of the Curacao liquer. They were happy to let us taste several varieties, as well as mix a few samples to come up with combination flavors. And here is a tidbit of trivia - the Curacao factory has NO orange groves, they get all of the product from locals that bring in the indiginous fruits.

And of course this type of vacation wouldn't have been complete without being able to get below the surface. We went with friends, one of which is a dive master, so the two of us snuck out for a few days of compressed air intake. The shore diving was incredible. We were able to explore Cas Abou near our rental, then went with friends-of-friends that were local to The Tugboat near the southernmost point of the island. On Friday we hooked up with Neils at for boat dives at Watamula and Mushroom forest off the northernmost point of the island. As you can see in the slideshow below, the coral around Curacao was pristine. I've never been on a reef where you stop to look around and don't see sand somewhere. Macro fans will love these reefs.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

8 Things I Will Miss From the DC Commute

After beating up on VRE yesterday, I was getting coffee this morning thinking about the things I will miss about going to Crystal City every day.

1. Having Mocha Mo's on speed dial for the best Vanilla Skim Latte for the train ride
2. Catching the sunrise over the Potomac
3. The Tue afternoon street market with real farms in Crystal City
4. For that matter, I will miss Crystal City and the active BID, arts, music, parks and vibrant life
5. My afternoon nap on the long "heat restrictions" ride home (VRE reference for the non commuter)
6. The beauty in a designed city: skyscrapers, 2500 car underground lots, the ability to stroll inside from one end to the other.
7. Buses that run every 10 min
8. Having time to blog and twitter every morning and afternoon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Symbolism and VRE

I shot this picture in the Fredericksburg city VRE parking lot wondering if it is symbolic of where VRE has been or where it is headed. The tagger probably doesn't even ride VRE, yet I find it interesting anyway. For three years I have hopped on the big grey train to dc. This is my last regular week (hooray!).

This picture pretty accurately describes my opinion of where VRE is headed. I won't miss the nanny PA announcements about queuing in the isles, or the conductors saying the are requires to write x summons in a day. I surely won't miss the broken down engines pulling brand new cars nowhere. VRE's excuses and sorry's will be a thing of the past.

Over the years I have witnessed the reality of little viable competition allow VRE to use their monopoly position to their favor. It really is a case study in a captive customer base. Management doesn't use the service, at least not like commuters do every day, and the government board is substantially made up of representatives that don't use the service. Using the service is just different than listening to our complaints. It would give each decision maker an appreciation for the issues. The biggest of which is communication. Communication between VRE and customers, CSX, NS, elected officials and even their own employees!

I say all of this because VA rail has the potential to be a great service! New locomotives are on the way, several stations are getting makeovers and new platforms. Fredericksburg is even supposed to get a station fix, with concrete repairs to the underpasses. VRE has yet to make a statement on the impacts from the fredericksburg station repairs. This reflects the perceived history of keeping the customer in the dark as long as possible (much like the dark status boards at all the stations).

I wish I could say 'wake up' to VRE management, but it doesn't matter because people keep riding no matter what changes they make. So I guess I should just say thank you VRE for the 75% good job! Way to go.

OK, after writing this, I envision at least one person asking - well what would you do? So here it is:
Monthly what's coming next statements on the web, in the seat letters, on the station screens
When things start going wrong, an immediate continuous comm link with CSX
A backbone in negotiating the next Amtrak and CSX agreements
An renewed emphasis on cutting costs across the network
Accountability of paid management to the city/county governments and customers, perhaps its time for a management change.

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