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John and Diane's 125-day Adventure at Sea


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Thursday, April 6, 2017 - Day 92

Iraklion, Greece (on the island of Crete)

Last evening we again discovered one of the joys of sailing. We were reading out on the verandah, wrapped up well against the cold, when John pointed and said, “Look - dolphins!” We watched a few jump up out of the water and thought what a lovely sight it was, but then the real fun began. We’re not traveling very fast, about 12.8 knots, and producing a lovely wake alongside the ship. I guess that that is dolphin heaven, because suddenly there were dozens of them “surfing the wake.” In two’s and three’s they would jump across the waves of the wake and then just keep doing it. By the time others along our view line were outside watching, the numbers must have exceeded a hundred and they just jumped with joy, beautifully and continually. What a treat! We do love being at sea.

Crete , the largest Greek island, was the center of the Minoan civilization which was centered in the Palace of Knossos, built in approximately 1700 B. C. Its labyrinth was reputed to be the birthplace of the Minotaur, half man and half bull, born to the queen of King Minos. It was also the place where Zeus was hidden to protect him from his enemies. Since we were here a few years ago and visited the ancient ruins, on this trip we decided we wanted to just visit the city center to see how the Cretans live; although I hate to use that term, it is the correct one for the residents of this island.

Today we visited the busy and charming city of Iraklion on the island of Crete. The shuttle took us to the port’s gate, and then it was about a 15-minute walk along the “yellow line” which guided us to the center of town. Actually, it took us to the bottom of the hill on which the town is built where the shopping streets begin. We found the first shop, bought our postcard and stamp, and posted it in the box on the corner. Coincidentally, that corner also housed a Starbucks, so Ginni and I were very happy to go in and order our regular drinks. While we love small coffee shops all over the world, it’s at Starbucks that the drink tastes exactly like it does at home. Ginni had ordered a frappucino and asked for some cream on top when an impolite woman from the States began lecturing the barista that “You really ought to know how people from other places like their drinks.” She was a true Ugly American, and we loved hearing the barista put her in her place by telling her that she’d been working there for six years and this is how Starbucks trained her. We almost applauded!

We continued up the street, spending time in St. Tito’s beautiful church, named for the patron saint of Crete, and square after square where people sat in the sun, enjoying a coffee or just people watching. We found the lengthy street market with stalls selling all kinds of things, from clothes and shoes to cheese, jewelry, and pastries. Our walk continued on past the archeological museum and some tennis courts, where John and Rich almost salivated at the idea of playing a match. Lunch was at an outdoor cafe and then we headed back the way we started. Ginni found some “ballet shoes” at Clark’s shoe store and we just enjoyed watching people shop and enjoy themselves.

At the bottom of the hill, our friends headed to the Venetian fort on the harbor while we just walked back to the ship, since John’s knees were about to give out after our 3-4 mile walk. Nevertheless it was a great time in a lovely city, but a much larger one than Nafplion; it must have been larger, since it even had a Starbucks!

Tomorrow is Mykonos, home of windmills and a truly charming Greek island. We’re really looking forward to it for its beauty and for the fact that our friend George Geary, the guest chef, is coming aboard. At this point, we’re also looking forward to a sea day, which we get the day after tomorrow.

 

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Friday, April 7, 2017 - Day 93

Mykonos, Greece

What a beautiful little island Mykonos is. We arrived here shortly before 8:00 this morning to a view of whitewashed buildings dotting the hillsides and a village which was already buzzing with activity. We didn’t disembark until about 9:30, ready to take the shuttle the half mile or so into town. When we arrived there, we realized that we could have taken a great little shuttle boat for only 2 euros each, and we decided that that would be our return means of transport.

Mykonos is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Mediterranean, but we arrived a couple of weeks before “the season” began, so we and our shipmates were pretty much the majority of visitors for the day. The island is only 33 square miles and has 10,000 permanent residents, which explodes by thousands during the high season in late spring, summer, and early fall. I’m really glad we came at this time of the year, even though I would have enjoyed a little more warmth in the air than the 60 degrees which we had today.

Since the island is famous for its windmills, we wandered small streets and up the hill to see them - all five of them, none of them actually working. Instead, the buildings which support the structures which used to contain sails are little houses, occupied by local folks. We took the necessary photos and then continued wandering the small streets of Little Venice. I have no idea why it’s called that, except that it has buildings which are built on the edge of the sea with balconies overhanging the water.

After wandering small crooked lanes and looking into shops for a while, we headed back to the main area of town for a bit of a sit-down and a cappuccino. Several of our friends wandered by so we could catch up on who was there and what they were doing. We easily found a cute postcard of the island showing the windmills, ignoring the more graphic ones which seem to be found at every Greek port, and put it in the mail to Jessica.

When we spotted Will and Nancy, they told us that they had become separated from Rich and Ginni, so we hung out by the water for awhile. Fortunately, there were benches along a small chapel which blocked the wind while allowing us to soak up some sun. John had decided he didn’t need a jacket, and this interlude helped warm him up.

At one point we looked over and saw an enormous white pelican wandering next to the restaurant nearest us. He had no fear and promptly headed into that restaurant, making the clients there grab their cameras and begin taking photos. I shot over with my I-Phone and, when I was “up close and personal,” I realized that the bird wasn’t white but a pale pink. Apparently he is an albino pelican and the official mascot of the town. He is allowed to wander freely and the tourists are fascinated by him. Jeff and his returning overland group were having lunch in that restaurant and I’ve never seen him grab his camera so fast. He should have some great photos in his blog tomorrow.

Everyone at that restaurant had good things to say about it, so we found a table and ordered a variety of dishes: calamari, tsatziki and bread, tapenade, and fries. There’s nothing like health food! It was delicious and we were able to sit in the sun and enjoy it for quite some time. Afterward, however, we noticed that the shuttle boat was getting ready to depart, so a few of us rushed over, bought our tickets, and the deckhand was nice enough to put the gangplank back down to wait for us. It was a short but enjoyable ride back to the “new port” where we’re docked, and we were on board by 2:00, even though all-aboard isn’t until 5:30.

We’ve loved all of our Greek ports and are sad to see them end. Tomorrow is a much-needed sea day, and then we arrive at Malta, one of our favorite ports. The captain has announced that the seas will be difficult in the next couple of days, with 50 mph winds and 12-15 foot seas. Even so, life continues to be good, no, excellent, and we’re really enjoying these last three weeks of our worldwide adventure.

 

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Saturday, April 8, 2017 - Day 94

At Sea en route to Valetta, Malta

Ahhhhhhh! After six straight port days, I think most passengers are ready to just hang out and rest up before the second half of our Mediterranean odyssey. The gym was more crowded than usual this morning, partly because we set our clocks back another hour last night and partly because many people don’t use the gym on port days but try to catch up on exercise on sea days. Heck, we walk more on port days than we ever would in the gym, so I guess it works out either way.

It was really nice to have all eight of us back at the table last night. Bill and Jane were back from their Turkey overland with Jeff, Cathy and Ann, and couldn’t have been more pleased with it, especially the balloon ride over Cappadocia. Although there’s a State Department warning about Turkey, it is primarily about Istanbul, and the tour was out in the countryside, with only one night spent at an Istanbul airport hotel. They arrived in Mykonos a day before we did and enjoyed their free time there.

Last evening’s entertainment was a Greek classical guitarist, and he was excellent. Even watching carefully, I still don’t know how he can make all of those sounds on the guitar at the same time. Lorraine Brown, the singer from the evening before, was sitting in front of us. It’s nice to see how many of the entertainers support one another by attending others’ shows.

This evening is one of the last three gala nights of the cruise. It’s a “Medieval Dinner,” but I don’t know what that means as far as guests are concerned. I do know that the poor waiters will have heavy costumes and heat-retaining headwear of some sort, and we always feel sorry for them. The next gala night is the “Fiesta Espana” night, so I guess I’d better get out my castanets. Four days before the end of the cruise is the “Mariner’s Appreciation” final gala night, which will include pre-dinner cocktails in the Queen’s Lounge, masks for everyone at the table, and a masked ball afterwards.

It’s funny how different people feel about the end of the cruise approaching. Some are sad, some are “oh well,” and some, like me, are feeling, for the first time ever, that it will be nice to get home, even though I’ve loved every minute of it. I do remember that in 2008 I was almost in a depression about the end of the cruise, thinking that it was the end of our “once in a lifetime” experience. Well, we were wrong about that, weren’t we?

Our friend George Geary boarded yesterday and will be on until Funchal, Madeira. However, his luggage did NOT board, so George will be in jeans and a variety of borrowed shirts until it catches up with him. He’s putting on a demo in the Culinary Arts Center at 11:00, so I’ll go to that until it’s time to get to Trivia. John and I are both signed up for George’s cooking class on April 10, and we’re really looking forward to it.

Even though there are only 17 days left, we intend to take full advantage of every one of them.

 

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Sunday, April 9, 2017 - Day 95

Valletta, Malta

Here we are, in the middle of the Mediterranean, on the beautiful island of Malta. Two thousand years ago, St. Paul, being taken to Rome as a prisoner, was on a ship that wrecked here, and there’s even a St. Paul’s Beach near town. The sermon at the 5:00 interdenominational service was even based on Acts 27 and 28, which tell the story of that adventure. Our approach was much more peaceful this morning, and we woke to the high, honey-colored walls of the beautiful city of Valletta.

Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but suffered great destruction during WWII air raids. Many of the buildings have been restored, and because cars are restricted in much of the city, it’s a great place to discover on foot.

This is a city surrounded by walls that rise hundreds of feet from the sea, and, while we used to take cute little buses from the ship up to the town, there’s now an elevator which costs two euros (round trip) to rise from sea level to the city’s street level. Before heading up there, however, we decided it was best to begin with a HOHO (Hop-On, Hop-Off) bus tour, which took us across the middle of the island to the historic city of Mdina (yes, that’s how they spell it), where we spent an hour or so wandering the medieval streets and admiring the widespread glass art for which this city is famous. If you like Venetian glass, you’ll love the glass here. It was pretty chilly, especially because the cloudy weather was made much colder by the winds that blew through the narrow streets.

After our time in Mdina, the HOHO bus took us back to Valletta, we took the elevator, and found ourselves in the middle of the city, where the sun had made an appearance and the wind had pretty much disappeared. As we wandered through the pedestrian streets, past little shops and the Co-Cathedral of St. John, we saw several fellow passengers and crew members enjoying the outdoor cafes and restaurants and realized it was time for us to find some food. There were small cafes (our favorites) so we had to read about a dozen posted menus before we decided on “Str-eat” (that’s how they spell it), a restaurant which had an upstairs, a downstairs, and an outdoor cafe. The food was good, and because it took waaaay too long to deliver our food, two drinks were brought to make us feel better. (We did)

After our two-hour lunch, it was time to head back to the ship, so we walked to the elevator, ended up at sea level, made our way back to the ship and almost immediately fell asleep. Fortunately, the captain came on over the PA system to tell us that we were about to sail, which woke us up in time to get to 5:00 services - the standard time for Sunday services on port days.

 

Tomorrow’s another sea day, and I don’t hear anyone complaining. John and I have a cooking class with George Geary, so that should be a great deal of fun. Tomorrow night we’re signed up for a Mediterranean dinner in The Pinnacle, so even though it’s a sea day, we’re going to keep ourselves very busy.

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I am so glad your 2008 once in a lifetime world cruise wasn't your last one, as your thread brings so much pleasure to many people, like myself. Interesting that this is the first time you are happy to be going home, as this current world cruise comes to an end. Even though it is obvious that you are still enjoying yourself and making the most of every minute.

 

Had to smile at 17 days left, which is longer than most people cruise.

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Monday, April 10, 2017 - Day 96

At Sea en route to Palma, Mallorca

As we get ever closer to the culmination of our 125-day adventure, we seem to enjoy each port just a little more. That goes for Palma, which we visited on the Koningsdam in October and thoroughly enjoyed. We’ve talked about what to do there, and John and Rich have come up with somewhat of a plan. First we hope to book a taxi to take the four of us to an underground cave which contains the largest underground lake in the world, and then we find out the location of the tennis club where Rafael Nadal trains and beg our way inside to see what it looks like. Talk about two tennis fanatics!

Today was George Geary’s cooking class, and it was ever so much fun. The twelve people in the class divide up the courses so that two or three people make each of the dishes. Today’s courses were mushroom toasts, roasted red pepper tomato cream soup, garlic mashed potatoes, grilled five-spice lamb chops, chocolate pots de creme and butter cookies. Oh my, was everything wonderful.

The rules have changed for the cooking classes. In the “old days,” we made the food and then carried it across the hall to the Pinnacle where we ate everything for lunch. Now, because of new food rules, we make everything (and sample, even though we’re not supposed to) and then everything is thrown out and the Pinnacle staff cooks the same items for our lunch, which is still served in the Pinnacle along with red and white wine. Susie and I made the red pepper/tomato soup and, if I do say so myself, it was pretty darned good. The team that made the cookies accidentally used twice the amount of butter, but everyone who tasted them thought they were even better that way, if a bit thin from melting during baking.

Lunch lasted quite a while, and seemed to continue as long as Oliver kept pouring the wine. People seemed to leave one at a time, and as two glasses of wine is my absolute maximum, that seemed to be the best time to leave. I saved my cookie and pot de creme for John, and there wasn’t much left when he was done.

* * * * *

This evening was the Mediterranean Dinner in The Pinnacle, and since we’re in the Med right now, it seemed fairly appropriate. We attended with our friends Bill and Jane, and the company was excellent. We do like the dinners which combine excellent cuisine and matched wines, and this was another one. We began with an antipasto of cheese, asparagus, prosciutto, salami and olives which didn’t take long to consume. Then there was a course called “panzanella” which I didn’t really understand, but it was a combination of chunks of brioche, mozzarella, and onion, drizzled with balsamic reduction. That one was pretty darned good. Next was a bowl with an enormous shrimp (I know, it’s an oxymoron) with small chunks of chorizo - yummm! The “palate cleanser” was limoncello sorbet, which was a nice tart sorbet in a wedge of lemon. Since I love anything lemon, this was excellent. The main course was red snapper on a bed of saffron risotto, and although I didn’t finish the fish, the risotto was history very quickly. Dessert was tiramisu, and everyone at our table finished it very quickly, but because of Lent, I’d have to wait another week before enjoying it.

The first wine was a Marques De Caceres Verdejo white from Spain, and it was excellent. Afterward, we enjoyed a Mellini Chianti from Italy, which was even better. The wines were a good match for the various courses, and we really enjoyed them.

It was an extremely relaxing day, even with a two-hour class and an evening of eating and drinking some excellent wines. Again, life is good.

 

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - Day 97

Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Had a great day in Palma, Mallorca, seeing far more of it than we did last fall on the Koningsdam. When we met Rich and Ginni and Will and Nancy at the gangplank at 9:00, we decided that perhaps a taxi tour might be a good idea. After a bit of negotiating, we settled upon two taxis, since they didn’t have a single one that would hold six people.

The main goal was to visit Cuevas del Drac, or the caves of the dragon, clear on the other side of the island. It’s a famous site because not only are there two kilometers of subterranean caves to hike through, but it has one of the largest underground lakes in the world. A secondary goal was to see Rafael Nadal’s tennis center, since he’s a Mallorca native, living in Manacor, not too far from the caves.

We enjoyed the one-hour drive across the island, seeing that it looked so much like our California landscape that we could have been at home. When we arrived at the caves, we bought our 15 euro tickets and joined a large queue to go down, down, down into the earth. The caves are amazing. There are stalactites and stalagmites of all sizes - and I finally learned the difference (“mites” grow up from the ground, like those little bugs). The caves are dramatically lighted and provide photo op after photo op as we walked along, seeing parts of the underground lake.

We finally arrived at a vast subterranean amphitheater surrounded by that enormous lake. There are seats for about two hundred people, and after we were seated and the lights went down, we saw three lighted boats being rowed around a bend and toward us. We knew to expect a classical concert, but we didn’t know it would be live, performed by four musicians aboard a boat. When the boat first appeared, the quartet was playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D, my single favorite classical piece. After that they played a couple more pieces while being gracefully rowed around the lake. I guess the other two boats were just for effect, but it was really a beautiful scene.

Finally, still playing, the three boats disappeared around the bend, the lights went up, and we were ready to climb about a hundred steps to exit the caves. It was possible to board one of the two small boats to take a short ride across the lake (free, of all things), but we wanted to be on our way.

Our next stop was in Manacor, at Rafael Nadal’s Tennis Academy. It is an enormous facility, used both as a boarding school/tennis instruction facility (for $60,000 a year), and as a hotel for fitness and sports. As we were getting out of our taxis to take a look around, we saw a crowd of students looking like they had just been let out for lunch, but then realized they were all holding cell phones to use as cameras. There, in the middle of the kids was Mr. Nadal himself, who then proceeded to get into his Aston Martin sports car and speed off past us. John and Rich were suitably impressed that they’d had a look at the man himself.

Our next stop was in Petra, but not the one in Jordan. This is a small medieval town in the middle of the island and the birthplace of Father Junipero Serra, known to all California school children as the man who founded those missions which they study in fourth grade. We walked to the house where he was born and then down the street named after him, where there are plaques showing each of the California missions. Will took a photo of us under the plaque for Mission San Luis Obispo, and then it was time to return to Palma.

We had a very short drive around the town and then our drivers let us off next to the absolutely magnificent Palma Cathedral, begun in the 1100’s but not finished until the 1400’s. It was, by then, about 3:00, and we were ready to find some food, so we walked a bit, found a sidewalk restaurant, had a fairly mediocre meal (our shared paella was the best), and then jumped on the shuttle back to the ship.

 

It was a wonderful day, filled to the brim with new experiences, but instead of having a restful sea day tomorrow to digest everything, we’re landing in Barcelona for an overnight stay. It’s a beautiful city, though, so we’re looking forward to it.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - Day 98

Barcelona, Spain

It’s easy to see why Barcelona is the number one tourist attraction in Spain. The weather is usually temperate, the buildings are beautiful, especially many by Antonio

Gaudi, and it’s ever so much fun to wander up and down La Rambla, the heart of the tourist area, even though it’s home to lots and lots of pickpockets.

We tied up a little late, and even though we were supposed to be able to disembark at 8:00, it was closer to 8:45, so there were several passengers who were just chomping at the bit, especially those who were leaving the ship for short overland jaunts. We were in no hurry, though, so it was 10:00 before we managed to get ourselves down to the ship’s shuttle to head into town. One negative thing I’ve noticed on this cruise is that the number of complimentary shuttles, previously a “sure thing” on the world cruise, has been reduced. Usually they are provided, but not always, and here in Barcelona it’s five euros for a day’s transport.

Once let off near the Columbus statue at the foot of La Rambla (often referred to incorrectly as Las Ramblas), we headed up the street to the Starbucks we know and love - except that we remembered it as nearer the foot of the street, when in fact it was probably a half mile away. We did finally arrive and had a chance to catch up with a good cappuccino and free internet.

Afterward, we decided to find a good restaurant in the Porto Olympic area, the part of Barcelona that had been renovated for the 1992 Olympics. Once, while here with a group of high school students (part of our previous life), we went out to the yacht harbor there and had an enjoyable evening sitting on a deck overlooking the water. Since several of us had agreed to meet for dinner, we thought it would be a good idea to see if we could locate the place we’d been before. John insisted on walking (“It can’t be THAT far”) and after about two miles (yes, it was THAT far), we came upon the restaurant which was ranked highest on TripAdvisor for the area. It wasn’t the same, but sitting on their upstairs terrace overlooking the ocean and partaking of some excellent paella made it a great lunch break.

We weren’t about to walk all the way back to the shuttle bus, so we grabbed a taxi, deciding that the six euros it cost was well worth the effort saved. Then it was time to head back to the ship for a much-needed break. Unfortunately, we came upon our friend Susie who had just discovered that she left her wallet on the back seat of a taxi. It contained a moderate amount of cash as well as her credit cards and her ship card, so she was headed back to her cabin to get her husband’s cards to call and cancel hers. It’s always a bummer when that happens, and it brought back memories of being pick-pocketed in London and Paris several years ago. It truly is an awful feeling, but hopefully everything will work out.

* * * *

This evening we had a great outing. Last evening at dinner we decided that we’d all like to go out for dinner and we’d meet at the Columbus statue at 8:00 tonight. What happened instead was that we met at the shuttle at 7:30, drove to town and went to a restaurant John and I had been to before. Unfortunately, we were very unhappy with the restaurant, as it was now mostly a bar and the food menu was extremely limited. I checked my phone and found that Rossini, a restaurant that was ranked #30 out of 8,000 was just two doors away. We had just drinks in the first place and went down to Rossini where they found a table for nine, and we were very happy. That may have had to do with four liters of Sangria made with cava, but the food was really excellent. We had several tapas, including garlic shrimp, spicy sausage, and calamari. Then the main courses were margarita pizza and paella, both of which were excellent. All in all, it was a wonderful meal, with good food, good company, and good sangria. Our friend George Geary had joined us, and he added to the camaraderie too. We were never sure if he were laughing with us or at us, but either was OK.

 

Finally, with the aid of three taxis, we arrived back at the ship at 11:00, only to look forward to tomorrow in Barcelona. What a wonderful city.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017 - Day 99

Barcelona, Spain

There is so much to do in Barcelona that even guidebooks can’t list everything, but we’ve experienced a couple of things on this trip that we haven’t before - in about ten visits here.

After getting to bed at about midnight last night, we managed to “sleep in” until 7:30 this morning and then kept to our usual morning routine before boarding the shuttle bus at 10:00. However, during that interval, we did manage to plan some sightseeing. A long time ago, with a student group, we had a walking tour of Barcelona that took us past the Picasso Museum. We didn’t have time to visit then, but I’ve wanted to see it ever since.

Today was to be the day, so I got online, ordered two “senior” tickets (at half price, mind you), received the return email with the funny little square that only computers can read, and we headed off to the center of town.

Now I know that the tempting thing to do in town is to spend all of one’s time on La Rambla, where you can find overpriced, tacky souvenirs, bad (but expensive) paella, and go into one of the most amazing food markets in Europe. However, since we were going to be walking to the museum, we took a right off that famous thoroughfare and headed into the old quarter of the city. It is really amazing, with some Roman buildings going back to the First Century AD. The streets are narrow and crooked, the shops are adorable, the cafes and restaurants have wonderful food - and everything is a whole lot cheaper. The next time you’re in Barcelona, go for a walk through that area - you’ll be glad you did. We just walked and walked toward our goal, asking for directions along the way (that would be me, of course, not John). My favorite find was a small glass shop that had wine glasses to match our Champagne flutes at home. They look like miniature stained glass windows, but there’s only a little color on them. I took their card and I think I’ll order some when we get home. I really don’t want to carry something so breakable on the plane from Ft. Lauderdale to San Luis Obispo, so I’ll just order online and have them shipped.

We finally arrived at our destination, where we joined a line of about 150 people waiting to get in. John suggested I show one of the guides my downloaded PDF, and she said, “Oh, just go in that door (pointing) and go up the stairs.” It’s good to skip the queue. We were inside the museum in less than a minute and ready to explore rooms and rooms of Picasso masterpieces.

The display is organized chronologically, beginning with portraits that he painted when he was only 14 years old. Oh my! I believe that was my “early stick figure” stage, but his look like something painted by an artist three times his age. The exhibit showed his evolution from very realistic art to his blue period to his rose period to his cubism and incredibly abstract works. His obvious early talent led him to study classical techniques at a series of academies, from Malaga to Barcelona to Paris. People who say that Picasso painted those funny-looking people because he couldn’t do anything else really have not seen his early portraits. The guy could really paint!

After enough time to wander through each of the about ten rooms of exhibits, it was time to say goodbye to Pablo. It was then that we realized that the building itself was a medieval work of art, with beautiful honey-colored sandstone, arches, and incredibly artistic touches. When we asked, the guide told us that the museum was originally three palaces that had been put together to house the collection.

I believe that this museum houses one of the most complete collection of Picasso works in the world, with more than 4,300 works, including 42 ceramic pieces contributed by his widow. The vast majority of the pieces on display were contributed by Picasso himself, when his life-long friend Jaume Sabartes created the museum in the mid-50’s.

After taking in all that culture, we were ready for something to eat, so instead of going to a sit-down restaurant and eating too much (although we were tempted), we went into a bakery/sandwich shop, bought two different kinds of sandwiches and a beer, and shared all three. Then it was time to walked back to the shuttle bus, head to the ship, and appreciate not only the Amsterdam but the Rotterdam docked bow to bow. You certainly can tell that they are twins.

 

Now we’re looking forward to our sea day tomorrow en route to Cadiz , Casablanca, and Funchal. Time to rest up for energetic visits to our last three ports.

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Since we are leaving shortly, we would love to that you for

all the wonderful post. We have enjoyed your insights into

a world cruise. We do hope that you will post your thoughts at the end of the cruise. We shall be passing you on our way

to Europe on your third day at sea. Safe travel home and

again thanks.

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Next time you are in Barcelona you should try El Casal for lunch. It is a small French/Spanish bar/restaurant in the gothic area. There are long communal tables, but they have great food at a very reasonable price. About 12 Euros for a three course lunch with a small glass of wine. It is not very far (maybe a 10 minute walk) from the Picasso museum. It was a great find. There is also outdoor seating, but at an additional cost.

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I was tempted to visit the Picasso museum yesterday but thought it might be too much since I already had a ticket for going inside the Sagrada Familia and one of the towers and knew I would spend a good amount of time there. Good to read your wonderful and positive review about Picasso. I will make it a definite must do on my next visit to wonderful Barcelona.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Friday, April 14, 2017 - Day 100 (Can you believe it?)

At Sea en route to Cadiz, Spain

Here’s our rest day - er . . . sea day, and since we have three almost consecutive ports to go, it seems rather welcome. In fact, neither the “Good Morning with Jessica” nor George Geary’s demo were full, something that usually happens when many of the passengers are tired from too much activity, especially from an overnight port, as Barcelona was.

George Geary did a demonstration in the Wajang Theatre this morning, making three of his favorite recipes. He says that his single favorite recipe is Quadruple Chocolate Cookies, and people just salivate over them. They contain cocoa powder, white chocolate, dark chocolate and milk chocolate. Our friend Ginni, who is deathly allergic to chocolate, jokingly accusing George of trying to kill her. His response was, “Yes, four ways.”

George is the chef who was responsible for making all the cheesecakes for “The Golden Girls” on television, so his second demo today was “The Golden Girls’ Cheesecake.” That was also the sample distributed and everyone seemed to love it. The third recipe was a date nut loaf, but I had to leave for Trivia before that one was done. As a long-time friend, we do love George, and Jessica, the culinary arts lady, said that she had more requests for his one hands-on class than any other class she’s ever organized. Not only is he a good teacher, but he’s funny as heck. Unfortunately, he’s disembarking at Casablanca, so we won’t see him until and unless he comes up to our house for a visit.

It’s easy to tell that the end of the cruise is coming up since we’re receiving information almost every day. Today we found “Disembarkation Options” and “Holland America Line Luggage Shipping Program” material in our mailbox, so we have some decisions to make. For the first, we have to fill out information on our flight home so that we can get off the ship early enough to make an 11:30 flight (changed from 11:50). That usually isn’t too much of a problem, so we can only hope that everything goes smoothly this time.

Regarding luggage, we have some decisions to make. We have six pieces of luggage, four large and two which can be “carry ons.” We now have to decide how to divide them up between letting FedEx ship them home (for $125 a large bag) or take them along to the airport and let United Airlines (oh no, United Airlines!) charge us for them. I guess I’ll just have to check UAL’s baggage policy and see how much they charge for extra bags. We could check two of the large bags, ship two, and carry on the two small ones, or we could check all four, pay the extra baggage fees, and still do the carry ons. Who knows? If we had booked early we would have had two free bags each, but that didn’t work out for us, so decisions still await us.

As it is Good Friday, a “Good Friday Service” was announced in the Daily Navigator, to be held in the Queen’s Lounge. Since it didn’t specify denomination, we figured that it was an ecumenical service, so at 4:30, it was time to go to church. Well, that turned out to be incorrect; it was a Catholic service, but I figured it was a Christian service and it was Good Friday, so I stayed. Father Gold announced that there would be a vigil service tomorrow afternoon, but I’ll skip that one and wait for Easter Sunrise Service at 6:00 AM on Sunday.

This is the next to last formal night, so Dr. Dave will be joining us. We don’t know yet if he’ll be bringing a friend, but since Georgia disembarked in Athens, we rather doubt it.

It’s always a good time when Dave comes and buys the wine, so we’re really looking forward to it.

 

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Saturday, April 13, 2017 - Day 101

Cadiz, Spain

We were to arrive in Cadiz at 8:00, so when I awoke at 7:00 I thought I’d look out the window to see if I could see the city’s lights. All I could see was a solid bank of fog. I couldn’t even see the ocean six decks down, so I just closed the windows and got dressed for the gym. Obviously we weren’t going to arrive on time. In fact, it was about an hour later that the announcement was made that we were able to disembark the ship, and the captain said that we’d stay an extra hour to make up for our late arrival, so all aboard is now 6:30, with sailing at 7:00.

We’ve been to Cadiz several times, including twice last fall on the Koningsdam, and we really enjoy the city. I think if I were to live in Spain it would be here. However, we wanted to see more than the city, so we hired a taxi to take the four of us (Rich and Ginni) to two of the famous “white cities” of Andalusia. A half hour’s drive took us to Vejer de la Frontera, a hilltop town which is famous for its beauty as well as its Moorish architecture from the first millennium. The only problem with visiting it today is that most of the city center streets were closed to traffic in preparation for the Holy Week procession to take place this evening. We wandered around on foot to appreciate the ancient buildings and the cute little shops lining the streets.

After seeing what we could in Vejer, we drove to Conil de la Frontera, a beautiful beach town built down a hillside. I wondered at the “de la Frontera” label, knowing that there wasn’t a border anywhere near. When I looked further, however, I found that this name was given to towns that helped defend against the Moors in the early second millennium. This town was very different from Vejer, in that it’s definitely a beach town and this is definitely Easter week vacation. There were hundreds and hundreds of visitors in town, most of them Spanish and headed to the long white beach at the foot of the hillside. After checking out the town, we found a small cafe where we ordered several tapas to share for lunch and then found our driver who returned us to the ship.

I don’t know how ship “parking places” are assigned, but we won the jackpot this time. Our ship is docked right across from the main street of town, a five-minute walk into the large plaza. We found a cute postcard to mail to Jessica, and then headed to the square in front of the cathedral, where we found an enormous set-up for this afternoon’s procession. There we found Will and Nancy, who were at a table in front of a cafe we’ve visited before, so we joined them for the 3:00 procession. At 3:20, I saw three uniformed band members near us, so I asked them what time the procession would begin. When told 3:00, I tapped my watch and, in reply, they just shrugged. I think it’s called “Spanish time.”

At about 3:40, we heard drums and, sure enough, the procession was on its way. I’ve seen these on TV, but it was a unique experience for us. First came the drum corps, followed by about two dozen people carrying enormous candles and dressed completely in black, topped by pointed KKK-type headdresses covering their entire faces except for the eyes. They were followed by another group similarly dressed, but in white. There was a regular band, many people dressed in bright colors, and then came the solid silver casket carrying the plastic effigy of the crucified Jesus. All of these participants went very slowly into the cathedral, and then came the even larger solid silver structure with a statue of The Virgin Mary on top.

By then we decided it was time to leave, but it was a sight to be remembered. The Spaniards, like many Italians, take their religion very seriously, and these types of religious events are very important. We had been warned to be very careful of pickpockets in these crowds, since not everyone is there to worship, but the four of us got back to the ship with all our possessions.

 

It was a wonderful day in and near Cadiz, and we’ll be glad to go back any time.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017 - Day 102

(Yesterday was April 15, NOT 13 - sorry)

HAPPY EASTER!

Casablanca, Morocco

The way I look at it, any day that begins with a sunrise service in the pitch dark just has to be a good one. One of my favorite parts of the WC is the Easter Sunrise Service, always held at 6:00 AM, regardless of the time of actual sunrise, which today was at 6:58. I set my I-Phone to 5:30 so we’d have enough time to get dressed, get coffee, and be on time for the service, but I was foiled again. Last night was a “set your clocks back an hour” evening, but since Apple had not caught up with Moroccan time, the alarm went off at 4:30 ship time, even though my phone said 5:30. Of course that was after a text came in at 3:45 from Verizon saying, “Welcome to Morocco; your international plan costs . . . “ and so on. I reset the phone for 6:30 to make Apple Corporation happy, but it went off at ship time of 5:20 - another text from Verizon!

At least we got to the service on time. You’ll be happy to know that my phone finally matches ship time.

The service, held on the midships Lido deck, was lovely, or as lovely as it can be in the dark. It was really well attended and conducted by Pastor Al, the interdenominational minister, and Father Gold, the Roman Catholic priest. The singing was robust, the choir a nice addition, and a solo of “Were You There?” sung beautifully by a bass, made it a lovely service.

The tours today are many and varied. Some are of the city itself, a couple to Rabat, the capital, an hour away, one (12-1/2 hours!) to Marrakesh, and one to five Portuguese villages. We decided too late that while we’d like to go to Marrakesh, we didn’t want to be on a bus for three hours each way. Our alternate was Rabat, but we dithered around about that decision until it was too late to join a tour, so it looks like we’ll take the shuttle into the town center of Casablanca and spend some time wandering around what we’re told is a charming downtown. Who knows? We may even spend a bit of time in Rick’s Cafe, a reconstruction of the set from Casablanca.

* * * * *

Well, we’ve had our day in Casablanca, and it wasn’t disappointing in the least. We’d had people tell us that it was necessary to visit Rabat or Marrakesh since our port city was dead boring, but we found it anything but. We took the shuttle to the middle of town and then headed to the Hassan II mosque, reportedly the third largest in the world. It turned out to be farther than we’d thought, so we looked for a taxi, having heard that they were very inexpensive. It turned out that they operate a little differently than we’re used to. A taxi which already had a passenger stopped to pick us up, saying that we could share the taxi, even though the other man was going in the opposite direction. Once we dropped him off, the driver made a 180 and we headed to the mosque. When we asked what the bill was, he said, “Whatever you think.” When have you ever had a taxi driver tell you to pay what you thought the ride was worth? John’s smallest bill was 100 dirham, worth about $11.00. He handed it to the driver, who said, “Thank you very much.” John then told him that he needed change, so the ride ended up costing us about $6.00, which included a ride around the entire downtown of Casablanca.

The mosque was absolutely wonderful. It is one of the few that allows visitors, and we were handed plastic bags as we entered, so as to have a container in which to carry our shoes. There is enough marble to choke a whole herd of horses, beautiful chandeliers, and carpeted areas on which the faithful may pray. John took a few steps onto one of the carpeted areas and was yelled at for walking where others should be praying. After wandering throughout the main part of the building, we went down steps into the lower level, which reminded me of a maze of beautifully designed tiles and places to carry out ablutions before going upstairs to worship. It was a truly elegant place to visit and I highly recommend it.

After about a half hour of walking, we finally arrived at Rick’s Cafe, a fairly recent addition to Casablanca. Although the Rick’s that one sees in the movie was on a soundstage in Burbank, this one is patterned after it. An American woman decided that if there was a real Casablanca, there should be a real Rick’s, and she did a wonderful job of recreating the place. Although there was a line outside, we offered to go sit at the bar, but before we had even ordered drinks, we were offered a table for lunch. In the line outside, we began talking to Ben, the ship’s resident artist and drawing teacher, and he joined us for lunch. The restaurant is truly elegant, with white arches, ceiling fans, and Sam’s piano up against the wall. It’s rather expensive, but we enjoyed it anyway and would probably return if we came back to Casablanca.

 

As you can tell, we had a great day here, much more than we had expected. We were led to believe that it was boring and/or dangerous, but we discovered it was neither. Our future goal is a driving tour around Morocco, with visits to Marrakesh, Fez, and Rabat, along with a return trip to Rick’s old stomping ground.

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Monday, April 17, 2017 - Day 103

At Sea en route to Funchal, Madeira

It’s been a lovely, restful day at sea to prepare for the last port on this amazing 111-day adventure. We’ve been to Funchal on several of our world cruises, and it’s a beautiful city which we’ve enjoyed on every visit.

Today I had a challenge: to read to page 250 in our last Book Club selection: The Rocks, by Peter Nichols. It takes place primarily on Mallorca, but spends some time in Morocco, too. When it was distributed last week, John “hijacked” it and read from cover to cover, but that only left me two port days and half a sea day to catch up to halfway in the book for today’s meeting. I guess I was overly optimistic and only got to page 125 before I was interrupted by Trivia (only fourth place today) and a quick lunch with friends. It turned out, however, that this was the first book all year when absolutely no one came to the first meeting having finished the book, and at least half the group hadn’t even reached the assigned number of pages. I’m pretty sure we’ll all be finished by April 23, the second and final meeting, since we all want to find out what the heck is going on in this “good beach read” of a book.

The other interruption today was the annual art (and other things) silent auction which had my attention because our friend Ginni, who is an amazing artist, had done a watercolor of a pair of cowboy boots topped by a cowboy hat - and I really wanted it. Now I’m not a boots and hat person myself, but my good friend Jan is an enthusiastic cowgirl and her birthday was March 5. I haven’t chosen anything to bring home for her, so this watercolor, framed and beautiful, will take care of both situations. I’m absolutely sure that she’ll love it for her western-themed home. The auction went from 11:00 to 2:00, and I had to get there at 1:55 to make sure I made the last bid - and I did. Now all I have to do is find a good frame when I get home. Fortunately, Jan doesn’t read my blog, so this should be quite a surprise for her.

The big problem at this point in the cruise is getting everything done in the remaining nine days, including social arrangements. We’ve been trying to get together with Maddy and Oliver, two of the Amsterdam singers whom we know fairly well, but everything is making it difficult. We wanted to have dinner with them in the Pinnacle, but the days they’re available, the Pinnacle is full. The days we aren’t available, they are. Finally we arranged for them just to join our table for our last formal night next Saturday, when Dr. Dave comes to join us. Ollie and Dave are great friends, so it seemed a good solution to the problem. In the meantime, we’re having Jessica, the Culinary Arts person, come to our table on the 20th, and then Erin, the current Cruise Director, on the 23rd. We do miss Gene, but we have come to like Erin a lot. It looks like we’ll just be social butterflies for the rest of the cruise.

We’re certainly looking forward to Funchal tomorrow. On our first visit there, in 2008, it was the time of the year for the flower festival. For most places, that would mean flower displays in tents or in gardens, but in Funchal it means flowers arranged in beautiful designs on the streets and sidewalks. It’s amazing how pictures can be created just with blossoms and leaves. It reminds me a bit of a horizontal Rose Parade. I have no idea if we’ll hit that celebration again, but one can only hope. We’ll no doubt walk a lot, perhaps take the cable car to the top of the hill and then the “basket ride” down (check it out on Google), and then find a place for lunch. We may even join Jacques, our cellarmaster, for a little dry rose in the afternoon - a tradition begun a few years ago in another Portuguese port. No matter what it brings, we’re sure to enjoy Funchal.

 

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - Day 104

Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

I don’t think we’ve ever had a port stop in Madeira that we haven’t enjoyed. Today was no exception and we had an excellent visit. One of the things I love about Grand Voyages is that we usually have shuttles included from the port to the center of town, and although it’s only about a 15 or 20 minute walk, it’s nice to have a shuttle, especially after you’ve walked and walked all day.

The shuttle let us off across from one of the most beautiful city center parks you’ll ever see, with so many tropical botanical specimens you’d think you should have to pay to walk around it. We wandered past the park and then along the streets, just looking to see if everything was the same as it was on November 1 when we were here last. If you’ve ever been to Portugal or its colonies or even a place that was owned by the Portuguese (like Brazil), you’d recognize the beautiful patterns they use for their sidewalks and plazas. It’s always black and white, sometimes just long lines in those two colors but more often an intricate design, especially in the city squares.

After a while we found a coffee shop/bakery in a little side street and ordered cappuccinos with more whipped cream than I thought you could fit in a mug. They were wonderful! Two of those and a chocolate croissant cost 4.70 euros. After than, we kept walking until we took a (free) internet break next to the beginning of the Funchal cable car where we ran into some friends who were taking the cable up to the top of the mountain. The most popular thing to do, once you’re up there, is to ride in one of the wooden sleds that costumed men push down the hill. It sounds strange, but it is ever so much fun.

After getting our internet needs met (including me posting the same photos twice on Facebook by accident), we kept walking along the streets that paralleled the ocean, going between side by side by side restaurants where “hosts” kept trying to entice us to come and eat. We almost never go to restaurants where they have to beg you to come in, so we just kept walking until we came to a street we’d never noticed before which went up the hill with a gorgeous view of the ocean. We noticed a small restaurant (or we thought it was small) which called itself a “risottoreia,” a term which we’d never heard before. I do love risotto, and this restaurant had a downstairs terrace overlooking the sea, so we decided it was the place for lunch. Neither of us had risotto, since we still weren’t hungry after those coffees, but John’s shrimp and mango salad and my grilled ham and cheese were great.

After lunch we headed slowly back toward the center of town, stopped for gelato (I have no idea why I’m gaining weight), and took another tour of the gardens. Then it was time for the shuttle back to the ship.

Last night at dinner a discussion began about how many free Pinnacle dinners each couple had. As 5-star Mariners, we get two each (or four per couple), and each couple had at least two left, so we decided that tonight we’d go to the Pinnacle to use some. Woody and Susie had already used all of theirs, so they decided to just eat at the Lido, but the remaining six of us met at the Pinnacle at 6:00. It turned out to be a four-course, three-hour dinner, and was just way too much fun. Since we finished just before 9:00, we didn’t want to wait an hour for the 10:00 show, so it will be reading and just taking it easy until bedtime.

 

Tomorrow begins our seven-day transatlantic odyssey, and some people are already ordering their luggage back from storage so they can begin packing. I really don’t get that, since when the suitcases are full, you have to keep them in your room. John always likes to begin before I do, but I think the 24th will be a good time to start for our debarkation on the 26th. In the meantime, it’s just taking it easy and trying to fit in all the things we’ve been meaning to do for four months.

P. S. Forgot to mention that our planned rose wine outing with Jacques had to be cancelled because he's quarantined with the flu. Poor guy!

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