Dr Jack goes to Europe

    Dr Jack Sternberg is the chairman of the local Garland County  Tea Party organization.  He is a retired physician,part time raccoon trapper and long time resident of Garland County,AR. You can hear his comments as guest on the local Dick Antoine radio show on KZNG,1340 am radio each Tuesday morning from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m.,or at the local Tea Party meetings at 11:45 at The Hibachi Sushi Grill 4334 Central Ave  each Wednesday morning.  –admin  

    I’m flying home on Friday,June 5th at 30,000 feet on a Boeing 777-300 as I type my weekly “Reflection” piece.  My wife and I are returning from a ten day,Jews for Jesus Board Retreat,where we visited with our European missionary staff and saw the work they are doing in Eastern Europe.  We spent time in Budapest,Hungary,Vienna,Austria and finally,Prague,the Czech Republic. It’s like we’ve been to another world.
    coffee-euro     What didn’t I like?  Coffee,served in cups as big as my thumb and then only half filled. I think they call it Cappuccino. Getting a full size cup,filled to the top with plain old American-type coffee,was at times,like pulling teeth (but worth it).

    Otherwise,I loved it all.  So,what are just a few things we did that we loved and what did I learn?
    I learned it is good to get away,once in a while,and just relax. Leave the world of political frustration and intrigue behind and just enjoy life. How wonderful it was to spend time with great and interesting friends,enjoying good food and drink and just the beautiful world that surrounds us. I watched people just sitting around,whether it was outside a restaurant under an umbrella,slowly sipping something or sitting on the grass in a park,just enjoying life. I can’t remember the last time I did anything like that in Hot Springs,Arkansas. I’m always too busy trying to “fix the world” and not enough time to do it.
    The countryside’s of the three countries were beautiful and reminiscent of parts of Arkansas. There were enormous and expansive functioning electrical wind turbine farms (wish I knew more about how much electricity was being generated and at what cost). The cities we visited were large,vibrant,exciting and full of activity,people and visitors. The roads were narrow,the cars were small and everyone drove like maniacs.  The main highways were excellent. To my surprise,when you drove from country to country,there were no actual border stops or checking passports. As easy as driving from state to state in America.
    I learned that the United States isn’t the only important place on earth. I marveled at hearing the stories of these European “foreign” countries,of their kings,queens and wars that go back over thousands of years. Viewing buildings and bridges that are hundreds of years old,huge and architecturally beautiful. How could “medieval” people accomplish such feats?
    I heard stories of just the last century of the upheavals in these countries.  World War I,then World War II with the Nazi occupation and extermination camps. This was followed,after the war,by being ruled by Communist dictatorships until the people gained freedom again in the last twenty-five or so years. It was wonderful to see and hear how their countries became alive again and prosperous after receiving freedom and capitalism. We in America have been so blessed to never have suffered as these countries have suffered. Yet,they have once again survived and are flourishing.
    During our ten day trip,we didn’t get to read newspapers or watch much television. When we did turn on the TV before retiring,there wasn’t much to see in English. Only CNN International,the BBC and Skynews. BUT NO FOX NEWS!  We literally went into withdrawal. Only liberal news and mostly international;everything wasn’t about America. The world doesn’t care about O’Reilly,Hannity or Greta. If it wasn’t for our iPhones,Wi-Fi and the Internet,we would have totally lost touch with “our world.”

    Well,we will soon land in Dallas,Texas. It will be 90 degrees and humid after temperatures in the seventies and low humidity. Short flight to Little Rock and drive to Hot Springs. We’ll be back to our routines and back to our friends,church,newspapers,television shows,politics,conservative issues and the Garland County Tea Party.  It was wonderful to get away,to experience “another world,” but it is also great to be home.
    Time to get back to,“Truth,Justice and the American Way.”  I just hope I don’t have to leap any tall buildings in a single bound with my knee hurting from all the walking.
    We’ll see y’all Wednesday. We’ve missed you.

    Jack Sternberg,MD

    Chairman,Garland County Tea Party

    Sailing the Caribbean

    Just got back from a week in the Caribbean aboard the NCL Spirit out of New Orleans.  Four buffets a day for a week!  I will wear that trip for a while.  Left New Orleans Sunday a week ago about 5:00 p.m. and proceeded down the Mississippi until we popped out at the end of the river channel into the gulf and then high tailed it to the Mexican Riviera at bout 24 knots.

    NCL Spriit

    NCL Spirit Parked beside another NCL ship in Cozumel

    Weather was beautiful for most of the trip and the accommodations on the ship were great.  They had folks with spritz bottles all over the ship to spray your hands in an effort to keep down the “creeping crud”which runs rampant among highly massed concentrations of humanity.  They tried,but in spite of that three of us in our eight person group came down with it before getting back.  I picked it up on the fifth day of the trip and am finally getting better now after I started on antibiotic when I arrived home last night. Yep every one of those errant microbes is being chased all around my body by a host of units of Z-PAK!

    First stop on the trip was “Riviera Maya”  just south west of Cancun.  Not exactly a fabulous port of call,but the beach was nice and they had a lot of tours available for those that chose to visit nearby Mayan Ruins,zip linning,dune buggy rides and the like.

    Following that we proceeded to Belize City where the ship parked about five miles out in the water and we had to go in by tender.  Once again they had lots of tours available for a price but in Belize City they insisted that visiting the local countryside was very hazardous.  Apparently there has been a number of violent things occurring to tourists there recently.  We found a cabby that gave us a tour of the high points of the City from the safety of a 14 passenger van.  Interesting tour of squalor and bare subsistence lifestyles that would make the poorest of the poor in this country feel filthy rich by comparison.  He showed us a number of the foreign embassys there and even they were nothing particularly spectacular.  Even the churches had burglar grates over their windows.  Not that there are not

    Belize Hovel

    All too common home in Belize City

    lovely places there,but it is definitely not a great place to plan for the trip of a lifetime.  There are other places in Belize such as  Ambergris Caye and other of the northern islands of Belize are fabulous vacation spots,but Belize city sucks,big time.

    Roatan's West Bay Beach

    A couple buffets later we arrived in Roatan.  Just off the coast of Honduras,Roatan is a nice little island that offers the traveler a lot of really neat experiences.  Since our group had never been there before I insisted they spend the day at West Bay Beach and at the end of the cruise they indicated it had indeed been the high point of the trip.  Roatan’s West Bay Beach is,according to the Travel Channel,one of the ten best beaches in the world and it surely fits the bill to me.  Last time we visited,about four years ago it was a beautiful little beach with a half dozen hotels and small resorts along the shore.  Today those are now solidly packed along the whole length of the beach.  However,the beach itself is still open to all and is just as beautiful as ever.  Now you just get to share it with a few thousand more of the rapidly sun-burning European tourists than before.

    West Bay beach has one area at the end that the reef extends almost all the way up to the shore itself.  You can wade out to where it starts then float above the most beautiful display of reef life imaginable.  Here scuba is fun,but totally not required to view the spectacular displays.  We saw a huge variety of colorful parrot fish,gold and black striped sergeant majors,French angel fish,blue doctor fish and others too numerous to list.  An absolutely fabulous experience before returning to the ship to enjoy more great NCL buffets.  The local town of Coxen Hole in Roatan is nothing to write home about.

    We have spent several weeks there in years past and would definitely rate Roatan a “two thumbs up”place to visit.  Especially if you love scuba diving or snorkeling as they are the prime attractions here.  You have a choice of fancy resorts or tiny little inexpensive hotels to chose from if you are interested in an affordable longer stay.  There are a number of inexpensive ones located in the community of West End where we stayed previously.  We enjoyed watching two young ladies helping their dad to bury a friend here on the beach at West Bay. How nice that they placed a cup of “adult beverage”there with a straw that he could reach but sitting atop his buried body did seem a bit tacky.  Oh well,it was all in fun and after all they did dig him out later.  (Didn’t they?)

    Our last port of call was Cozumel.  Perhaps the Mecca of the Mexican fun,  shopping,scuba and tourist destinations.  Unlike much of Mexico that has a really bad reputation for violence due to the drug wars these days,Cozumel is a small island located about 20 miles from the mainland.  The only access is by boat or by air.  The local population is small and they know most everybody on the island.  As a result,the likelihood of violent-minded folks getting caught plying their craft is high so Cozumel is pretty well left along by the cartels.

    Cozumel is number one on my list of fun Mexican places to visit. If you want to find a fun spot where you can rent a scooter and drive about the island with the locals,and their pets,Cozumel is a good place to start.  There is great places there to visit,good food and adult beverages and the people love Americans.  I had one local tell me there that they love the cruise ships.  He said,“They come in and spend money in the shops and restaurants,and then at 4:30 they go back to the ship and we have our town back. They don’t even use our toilets.”  Apparently the word is out.  There were five ships in dock when we were in Cozumel and I think we met most of their passengers in town that day.

    Vista Del Mar hotel and mall

    Right across from the cruise ship docks is a little hotel that we stayed in on a previous visit.  The “Vista Del Mar”(View of the Sea).  It has a mall downstairs and nice rooms on the upper floors.  When we stayed there there was a birds nest of electrical wires outside our window that would give a lineman nightmares for a month.  I took a picture of it here to show that has all disappeared with the upgrades to the street since the last hurricane.

    Cozumel is by far the most popular place for shoppers and that’s what we did on this trip.  My wife searched all around to find a replacement for a little hematite dolphin to replace the one on her earrings that she broke recently.  Took a bit of trying,but she found it after asking several locals to help her track it down.  A bad hurricane hit Cozumel a few years ago and as they rebuilt,they improved the waterfront area significantly.  It is now really beautiful.  They have smoothed the rough sidewalks and added beautiful statuary  along the street by the sea.  Really lovely.

    Along the front street

    Scuba diving in Cozumel is fabulous and is the most favorite place in the Caribbean to a lot of divers.  Due to the strong currents along the edge of the reef you go out by boat and then drop down and just drift along while a continuous array of sights passes by.  Many scuba divers who frequent the Caribbean think it is the greatest single spot for their hobby and for really good reason.  Snorkelers on the other hand are better off on Roatan,but both are great places for a visit,or a day trip from a cruise ship. Our friends took a submarine ride in Cozumel that took them to 120 feet depth on the outer reef and had a ball!

    Cozumel Waterfront

    After leaving the beautiful paradise island of Cozumel the boat proceeded around the end of the Yucatan and into the Gulf for the trip home.  By wake up time the next morning we noticed the boat was rolling more than usual. Imagine my surprise when I checked the on-board TV to see that the wind across the deck was 63 mph!  Boat was doing about 20 and the rest was a 40+ mph direct headwind,and it was COLD!  Bummer.  Oh well,it was only one day and the wind was only a problem getting into and out of the hot tub on the upper deck in between fabulous buffets.

    Arriving back in New Orleans on Sunday morning we were greeted with cold and windy conditions that I was totally unprepared for.  While driving home the couple stops for fuel and potty breaks were really unpleasant.  In a fit of stupidity I brought only  short sleeved shirts and an insulated vest.  That was more than needed on the trip down,but totally inappropriate on the way back,especially since I had caught a bad cold and that cold wind left me shivering uncontrollably waiting for the gas to fill the tank.

    Back home now we have been welcomed with a mixture of snow,ice,and freezing rain.  Whoopee!  I am more than content to remain inside and watch the birds fight over the feeders from the warmth of my perch on the couch in front of the TV.  My conclusion,if you get a chance to take a Caribbean cruise in February,take a freaking jacket!  Never can tell what kind of craziness might greet you a week later when you get back.

    Confessions of a Branson Groopie

    Over the last several months I have spent some eight weeks in Branson at the behest of my wife who likes to be somewhere else more than at home. Initially I was a bit apprehensive and wondered what in the world will I ever do to maintain my sanity for so long a time living in a 5th wheel in a strange town,but what the heck. If my wife was so set on it I figured it would at least give me some brownie points to go along and keep my grumbling to a minimum. Besides we are retired so I didn’t have any really good argument to allow me to get out of it anyway.

    For years we have purchased season passes to Silver Dollar City and always have a good time there. The “Homestead Pickers”over the years have become like close friends,and there are lots of other shows and things to do in “The City”so I knew it was at least good for one day a week without boredom. I wasn’t sure about the other six. TV where we were parked was rather poor,but I could at least get a good weather channel to help us plan our days. It turned out that we had little time for TV anyway. What I found in Branson was really a very pleasant surprise.

    Since we are members there we stayed in our RV at Treasure Lakes park. Our lodging cost was more than paid for by what we saved in the electric bill at home! Almost every week they had one or more free or reduced price ticket offers for theater shows in the area. Then there were a number of local performers that had free shows at the RV park during our stay. The park includes both indoor and outdoor swimming pools,a lodge area for card playing,a couple dances a week,miniature golf,a Frisbee golf course and lots of wildlife to view. A friend at the park took us to a number of places in town that she liked to shop including thrift shops which I discovered can actually be fun. We enjoyed meals at various buffets around town,were serenaded while we ate at the “Hard Luck Diner”,and enjoyed a number of free shows at the Branson Mall and other locations.

    Almost every day there was a different entertainment opportunity and many of them were either free (for tips/donations) or at very modest cost. The Branson Mall is fantastic. There are free shows going on in the center of the mall from about 10:00am til 9:00pm daily. These performers give great shows for tips and sell their CDs or DVDs as the only admission charge. At many of them I purchased CDs of the music I enjoyed and transferred the songs to my MP3 player to enjoy later. These are not the fabulous productions of the various theater shows,but the talent of these performers is really great. Likewise the servers at “Mels Hard Luck Diner”sing to you between serving tables and taking orders,and these folks are really good!! Food there is reasonable,ample servings,and we never had anything that wasn’t great.

    There are many Theater Shows in Branson costing anywhere from $15 to $50. Just a few of the theater shows we really enjoyed were,“Noah”,“Hamner-Barber Show”,“Buck Trent Show”,and “The Allen Edwards Show”. There were several benefit performances that we also attended that requested only a donation for entrance. These had short performances by a number of the well-known Branson performers such as,Barbara Fairchild,Allen Edwards,Mike Walker,Martin Short,and others. One of the benefit shows we attended was actually a bit over four hours long and all of it was top notch. There were performances from about thirty different entertainers,many of them top name performers in Branson.

    We were treated to some of the finest examples of Rock and Roll,Country,Bluegrass,and Comedy routines around. Elvis,John Denver,and Jerry Lee Lewis make daily appearances around town along with many of the other long gone entertainers via the talents of their modern impersonators. Some of these have improved on the originals,at least in my opinion. Likewise many of the current living music legends are assisted by a small Branson army of imitators that do a great job on their own.

    The local convention center hosts a number of events that sometimes include shows that are open to the general public. A gospel music convention held there last month was a fabulous three day opportunity to view a number of the best gospel musical groups from around the country. There are also several golf courses,lakes,and other attractions to fit most any taste. Family oriented activities such as go carts,boats,and water parks and rides of various types are available to fill the time for kids of all ages.

    The local senior citizen’s group has lunch five days a week and is a good place to visit with other seniors and enjoy an inexpensive luncheon. Branson’s choices of dining spots offers a variety that will match most any hunger. Choices go from the standard fast food places to country buffets to fine dining places. In general,the prices that are quite competitive with most anyplace I have visited. Lodging is readily available and relatively inexpensive throughout town. Whether you are three or eighty three there are fun and exciting things to do there and many of them are at very little actual cost.

    No I am not an employee of the Branson Chamber of Commerce,nor do I have any investment there at all. Just seriously enjoyed the time I spent there and thought I would share my perspective a bit. The folks of the town of Branson treated my wife and I very nicely and I am sure will do the same for you and yours. If you are looking for a fun family get-away,you could do a lot worse than Branson,MO.

    Camp Branson!

    Branson has got to be one of the funest places around.  Just spent two weeks there and looking forward to going back for a couple more after I take a week to get the yard mowed,bills paid,and chores done at home.

    Spent time at Treasure Lakes RV park.  It’s right next to the I-Max Theater and across the street from the Golden Corral.  Unfortunately that location was not the greatest influence on my “figure”.  I tended to blimp out a bit,but it sure was fun.  Treasure Lake has a couple jam sessions a week along with week-end breakfasts at the club house,and indoor swimming pool.  On Friday and Saturday evenings there was a free dance in the lodge.  If you don’t mind sharing the dance floor with a bunch of us “old dudes”it is a great scene.

    There is also fun things for the kids/grandkids if you have some to bring along.  Arcade games,pool tables,mini-golf,frisbee golf,and a number of other activities to keep the kids entertained in the park.  They told us that they will soon have two stocked ponds for the junior anglers as well. There are also ball fields and a large pavilion if you have an organized group event coming up.

    For RV’ers this is an almost ideal park.  There are lots of full hook-up RV sites divided into 4 areas on the park.  Most have 50 amp service available.  Propane is available in the park and they maintain a supply of commonly needed RV supplies if you have a need.  The park is surrounded by wooded areas and you will see deer and turkey crossings marked on the roads.  The signs are for real,in the evenings it is common to see deer and wild turkey wandering around the park.

    Just down the road a piece is Silver Dollar City.  There for one price you can have a day of fun with lots of shows,rides,and entertainment options for the family as well as an evening show that is really great.  Don’t miss the “Homestead Pickers”over at the McAffee homestead.  They have five shows daily and are a great music/comedy attraction.  The more adventurous will find the roller coasters and other rides exciting while we more sedentary folk enjoy the train ride and watch the shows.

    Near Treasure Lake is the Hamner/Barber theater.  We saw their act,and it was absolutely fabulous.  Hamner’s magic acts are nothing short of amazing and Barber’s ventriloquist skills are hard to believe.  Not every one can come out on the stage with the dummy carrying the ventriloquist!   How he does that without ending up collaposing on the floor is beyond me.  In addition to being a great illusionist,Dave Hamner is an ordained minister.  On Sundays the theater is transformed into a church with a regular 10:00 service.  Pastor Dave Hamner trades his illusionist’s costumes weekly for the less flashy garb of a preacher.   We found the service to be uplifting.

    Also had a great time at Buck Trent’s show down at the Branson Grand Country mall.  If you like great banjo picking and are looking for a fun show it is a good choice.  The buffet right in the mall there is a good bet as well.

    There are now more than 100 shows appearing regularly in Branson.  Some are included with various packages.  There are numerous booths around town that offer special show packages and tickets and you can likely find a free offer if you are willing to spend a hour or so in a sales presentation.

    Branson is a hard place to beat for clean family-oriented fun.  No wonder so many entertainers like to locate there.

    Mountain View,AR a fun destination

    Mountian View has been one of our favorite places to visit for years.  It is a sleepy little town near the White River in north central Arkansas.  Some of the things that set it apart as a fun destination are,the Ozark Folk Center state park just north of town and the musicians that gather around the town square on warm evenings.  Add this to the Jimmy Driftwood Barn and several local music shows,several annual festivals,and the quaint surroundings and you have the makings for a great getaway anytime from early Spring through late Fall.  There are a number of other music theaters and “pickin barns”scattered around to add more variety to your stay.

    This is a unique place where you can bring your chair and sit down around the square to good  musical entertainment most any summer evening.  If one group does not play your choice of venue,just move over a ways for another.  Or if you brought your favorite instrument with you,just find a group you feel comfortable with and join in.  Most welcome additional players in their circles and they are not too pickey wheather you bring a guitar,dobro,banjo,dulcimer,flute,fiddle,spoons,bouzouki or whatever.  As long as it is acoustic it is normally welcome.   Electric instruments are a no-no on the Mountain View square.

    There are a number of nice RV parks around and we have visited most of them over the years.   In recent years we have usually stayed at “Fiddler’s Valley”which is within easy walking distance from the square.  The welcoming atmosphere there along with their frequent breakfasts,and musical offerings have made them our favorite.

    The main festivals in Mountain View are the Folk Festival –April 17th –19th and the Bean Fest October 29th –31st.  If you plan to stay in the town for these events you had best have reservations long in advance.  The population of the town may swell from a few thousand friendly souls to 100,000 or more.  Many folks reserve their spots a year in advance.

    On week days there is likely an inexpensive meal available at the senior citizens center,or you can cho0se from a number of local restaurants that offer good Ozark country cookin’that will make you want to go back for more.   Free beans and corn bread are available on Saturday during the bean fest,but there’s so much more fun to be had.

    Fishing on the White River is just a few minutes away from town,or you can just drift down the river if you prefer.  A visit to Blanchard Springs  Caverns just north of town is a great way to spend a hot summer day.  Add that to fishing and hunting in the many streams and the Ozark national forest nearby,horseback riding and hiking trails are readily available.  The Ozark Folk Center has interesting exhibits depicting pioneer life in the Ozarks that makes for a great outing.

    If you decide to make a trip to Mountain View,look around.  You might find us sitting around the square licking one of those great ice cream cones from the shops in town or playing with one of the local groups.  See ya there!

    January Cruise from New Orleans

    Had a great time taking a couple cruises out of New Orleans this month.  Drove to N.O. on Jan 10 and spent the night at LaQuinta Inn in Metairie and then took a taxi to the dock on the 11th.   Went to Deanie’s Seafood in Metairie or dinner the night before the cruise and “Wow”what an experience that was!  They have a seafood platter for 1/2/4 that is fabulous.  Mix of shrimp,catfish,oysters and softshelled crabs that makes me drool just remembering it.

    Spent a wonderful week on NCL’s “Spirit” visiting Casa Maya,Belize,Guatemala,and Cozumel before returning to N.O. on the 18th. Spent another night at LaQuinta and back to the dock on the 19th for another cruise aboard the Carnival Fantasy to Cozumel and Progresso,MX.  LaQuinta allowed us to leave our vehicle there during our cruises which was a great plus.  They were very helpful and we will definitely use them again next time we visit New Orleans.

    The NCL Spirit was a super nice ship and everything was top notch.  Food was great and plentiful as was a variety of activities on board.  We didn’t go ashore in Guatemala and should have,but certainly enjoyed  the other shore visits as well as the on-board activities.  Took a snorkeling excursion to Ambergris Caye where we swam with stingrays and viewed the beautiful tropicals on the reef.  Not quite like scuba diving,but definitely a fun experience anyway.

    The Carnival Fantasy is a bit older ship,but lacked little for age.  Their beds were just about like the comfort of home and on-board activities and food were great.  Had never visited Progresso,MX and the trip ashore down the five mile pier was a neat experience.  Especially enjoyed the Karaoke every night and of course the food.  Surprisingly I only gained 5 lbs which I have since managed to shed.

    I would highly recommend either of these cruise opportunities.  Lots of fun and lots of opportunity to relax in a great atmosphere.