The Walking Tradition

Rick and Marla's Walking Tradition

Written by Rick Archer
November 2013

I am a man with three careers and a hobby. 

My careers are dance, travel, and writing.

My hobby is walking. 

This is the story of how they all connect.


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 Perfect".

It 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.

Don't 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 practice!  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.

What I 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.

Celebration 2001 turned out to be quite a cruise.  In addition to meeting Marla and falling in love, I 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 22.

They have all the time in the world to dance the night away... and of course the setting at sea is intoxicatingly romantic. 

The 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.

The 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.

Along 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

Of 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.

November 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 home.  

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!!

I 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 targets 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 website.

But I realized I needed more material.  That same year I wrote my first cruise report 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! 

This 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 a pier. 

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.

Earlier I 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 answer, I gave up hope.

Consequently 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 tale - Stroke of Midnight

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.


The Walking Era Begins

Marla and I effortlessly moved into our separate roles at SSQQ Travel.  I would help publicize Marla's cruise 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 another lease.  The Last Waltz

Fortunately, my 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. 

There’s an interesting story behind my walking project.  You might be surprised to learn I owe my new-found walking habit to our cruise trips!

I have 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 I spent at Gary’s store were the dozens of women who passed by his store en masse every day.  Now that was weird!

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 utterly silly.  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.

I 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 weight.   

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 trying.

A recent visit to the doctor for my annual checkup confirmed my weight is about 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 6 pounds. 

It turned out that those 6 pounds were the inspiration for our daily walking project.  Here's the story.

Origin of the Cruise Trip Walking Tradition


San Juan, Puerto Rico (Eastern Caribbean 2011, Dominica 2012)

One day in April 2012 I was packing for the Dominica 2012 cruise.  When I tried on my khaki pants, I was stunned.  Not only did the pants not fit, it was not even close.  Holy smokes!This was completely unexpected.  I 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 fat. 

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 WhipSoon we had a huge audience cheering for us complete with wolf whistles for Marla.  So what was that all about?

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. 

Oh boy!  Judging from the smiles, the guys definitely liked what they saw.  Sometimes women can be sexy with their clothes on.  Imagine that!


Juneau (Alaska 2005)

Our second big walk was totally unexpected.  It came out of nowhere.

On our 2005 Alaska 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 overlooking 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 walking trails. 

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.

I 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 Holy Trinity 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 timeConsidering how pooped we were, that subway ride was an exquisite pleasure indeed.

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.

The distance from the Borghese Gallery at the top to
the Roman Colosseum was about five miles long.

Rick, 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 the 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! 

In fact, this beach walk was so much fun that we have repeated this adventure two more times since - Conquest 2009 and Conquest 2011Plus we will do it again on Navigator 2014.

If we could walk 5 miles in Rome, could we walk 7 miles in Cayman?


Rome  (Barcelona 2009)

The surprising "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 2009 walk as 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 this missed opportunity in mind, one year later we decided to make the Roman Forum the focus of our 2009 walk.

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 map, I 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 park, we couldn’t find any entrance!Study the Evil Map above. The map had not indicated there was an 8 foot wall around the entire area!  We learned the hard way the only entrance to the 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 close!

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.

This is 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.

Every time a car passed, I flattened my back to the wall.


Two Journeys to the Top of the World!

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 rocket past.  Most of our walks have been sheer delight.  For example,
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.

However, Marla 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? 

Well, basically, 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 as well.

So Tiberius 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 Caesar.

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 be next!!

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 surrounding countryside.

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 me.

Consequently 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".

The fabulous 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.

The Magical Mystical Isle of Capri

One can easily see Vesuvius off in the distance from Capri

The Lofty 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)

uring our
2006 New England Cruise, Marla and I took an extensive walk through Halifax, Nova Scotia.  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 look.

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 the Titanic 2012 CruiseThis trip marked 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 sign on.   

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. 

Do you like my model of the Titanic?


Atlantis  (Bahamas 2010, Magic 2012)

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.  

Maybe I 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.  Ultimately, Atlantis is the closest thing to sheer bliss that I can think of.  I run out of superlatives describing the place. 


Waikoloa Resort  (Hawaii 2013)

That picture above is Waikoloa Resort in 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 turtlesWe 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 creative!

(Note: this will be the featured story in the next Newsletter after Thanksgiving 2013)


La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain (Barcelona 2009)

I can't think of another city in the world with a venue like La Ramblas.  Very unique

Before I forget, I must mention our marvelous walks along Las Ramblas in Barcelona during our 2009 Cruise and then again on our Egypt 2010 Cruise.

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.

On most days, this gully stayed dry. However it was an important drain for the heavy rainwater flowing from the nearby hills during spring and autumn.

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 Magic 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 2010)

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 walk through Edinburgh, Scotland.  First there was an amazing castle to wander through. 

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 city.


Oslo, Norway (Oslo 2010)

On the same 2010 trip 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. 

Oslo stays 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 interesting day.

The amazing statues of Gustav Vigeland


Stockholm, Sweden (Russia 2012)

Stockholm was a very attractive city.

Melissa and Jan Davis joined me for Roof Hopping!

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.


Tallinn, Estonia (Russia 2012)

On the same Russia 2012 trip that we visited Stockholm, two days later we visited Tallinn, Estonia

Now that was a fun day!  Tallinn has a perfectly preserved old city.  It felt to me 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.  

Tallinn has charm on top of charm.  I felt like I was visiting a Grimm's Fairy Tale all day long.  Where's the Pied Piper? 

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 Houston. 

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 Seine 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 lives.


The Decision to Walk Year-Round

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 during 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 succeeded. 

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 time.  

If indeed reincarnation does exist, then I am certain I lived in ancient Rome at some point.  I had goose bumps all day long.   

The 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 Tradition.

For sheer beauty, our first visit to Atlantis in 2010 definitely comes to mind.  I was completely blown away. 

The incredible 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 description?

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 money.

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 D-Day. 

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 important story. 

However, writing 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.

The moment 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 years later in a very curious way.  During our 2013 Hawaii Cruise, one morning I picked up the New York Times at a hotel in Honolulu. 

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 there. 

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 another 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.

It turned out this monastery was hidden deep within a heavily forested valley surrounded by tall, steep hills.  We had not planned for a walk during that excursion.  Instead we were supposed to hear about 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 our guide.

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 this time?

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 appreciate the 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 so 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.

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