Saturday, December 22, 2007
We have been eating out most meals since we got back from Galapagos. But...today, we are cooking tacos. As always, the simmering meat is creating a nice odor in the house. Nothing quite like the smell of garlic and spices in the air. We have Xmas music playing. The snow has mostly melted; but, that's OK by me.
Tomorrow, we will shop for groceries for Xmas eve. As always, we are doing lots of bite-sized stuff. Cucumber sandwiches, small wieners in sauce, crab salad, etc. Over the years, that has become our Xmas eve tradition. We will exchange gifts on Xmas eve since nobody really wants to get up early on Xmas day anymore.
It has really been rather hectic since before Thanksgiving. With travel for the holidays, entertaining for cards, travel to Galapagos, dealing with Xmas decorating and everything else, it seems that a little downtime will be nice. I have a 4-day weekend and hope to do as little as possible.
Medically, my feet are finally starting to feel a little better. They still feel like they are asleep. But, much of the pain is subsiding. It has been a bit difficult - especially with the walking in the Galapagos. Hopefully, I have weathered that storm and my feet will be better for a while.
I saw Dr Forkin this week. She is still not happy with my cholesterol level - thought it is only slightly high. She has changed my med and we'll see how that does. Other than that, I am in a holding pattern. I see Dr Einhorn after the New Year.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Considering that the Galapogas trip was a last minute trip, it sure turned out to be pretty fantastic. In all of our trips, we have never seen so much wildlife. We've never seen wildlife so abundant and so casual about human visitors. The need to walk around and step over the sea lions, iguanas and birds was amazing. I would have never expected to walk within inches of wildlife.
Quito, Ecuador was an interesting city - even if I hadn't had my blackberry stolen and recovered. It is not in the developed class of many larger cities we have visited. But, it is a city that is developing rapidly.
Development on the Galapogas islands is minimal and strictly controlled. In fact, many current inhabitants are being asked to leave the islands if they are not what Ecuador has classified as natives. With only four significant towns, residential population is minimal. One city around 20,000 and the rest in the range of 4,000 to 6,000.
The geology of the islands is also amazing. We observed clear examples of the development of volcanic islands. Each island was different based upon the age of the island. In many cases, erosion allowed us to see various layers of geologic age.
In the end, this was perhaps one of our most interesting trips. It certainly wasn't relaxing - Jill and I are literally worn out. This trip can't be beat for the wildlife, nature, geology and natural history. Fabulous, wonderful, amazing and without comparison.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
For our final day, we returned to Santa Cruz Island to the largest city in the Galapogas - Puerto Ayora. This is the hub for tourists. The Charles Darwin Research Station and the National Park Service offices are here. A large portion of the 20,000 population is involved in tourism.
In the morning, we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station and observed their efforts to conserve and restore giant tortoise populations. We saw baby tortoises around 6 inches and adult tortoises around 500 lbs. We also saw Lonesome George - the last member of the Pinta Island race of tortoises.
In the afternoon, we took a bus to the highlands to find and observe giant tortoises in the wild. During our hike, we saw perhaps 30 or more tortoises. Hopefully, I got some great pictures.
Unfortunately, this is our last day. Tonight, we pack our bags and, tomorrow, we fly back to Quito, Ecuador. Monday morning we leave for home.
I will ponder how to do a proper final wrap-up for this trip. It has been something truly special.
Friday, December 14, 2007
We began early this morning with a zodiac ride at Puerto Egas on San Salvador Island. Our short ride took us along the coast where we observed fur seals, marine iguanas, sea lions, blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. The rest of the day will likely be restful since we are not taking and afternoon excursion. The low intensity excursion is simply an afternoon at the beach - which is not for us.
After lunch, we listened to one of the naturalists/guides talk about growing up in Galapogas. It was quite interesting to hear how the residents of the islands have been gradually educated to understand ecology and conservation. Right now, Jill is at a presentation by the chef. This afternoon and tonight we have to videos/movies about Galapogas and migration.
It is hard to believe that we are already almost done. We have become so accustomed to longer cruises. Being done in just a week seems like a blink of an eye. But, it has been very busy. We will definitely need to relax after this trip.
Today we visited Isabela and Fernandina Islands. Isabela is by far the largest island. It is composed of five volcanoes - all of which are still considered active. The last eruption was October, 2006. Here we visited Elizabeth Bay by zodiac. We slowly floated through wonderful mangroves to small inlets filled with green sea turtles.
In the afternoon, we visited did a zodiac trip around part of Fernandina Island and visited Punta Espanoza. During the float, we saw sea lions that literally came up to our zodiac, blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, and large marine iguanas. Due to the available nutrients, the largest marine iguanas are here - up to four feet long. We also had a glimpse of a spotted sting ray. On Punta Espinoza we saw huge marine iguana colonies - perhaps as many as 100 in each colony.
Tonight was an outdoor bbq.
We started today with a wet landing at Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz for a hike and flamingo search. During the hike our guide told us more about sea turtles. Again, we feel like we are in the middle of a live Discovery Channel show. He showed us the location of many sea turtle nests and we observed the tracks of the mother's path in the sand. In one case, the guide said that the paths were made just this past night and this morning. The paths were so clear that you could easily distinguish the path taken from the ocean up to the nesting area and the separate return path.
We visited two different brackish lagoons. At the first, there were no flamingos. At the second, there were two. We also saw other birds - black necked stilts, white cheeked pintail ducks, and sandpipers. Back at the beach, we watched a couple large great blue herons. We chose not to swim and returned to the ship for lunch and naps.
In the afternoon, we took an hour-plus long zodiac ride to view Bartolome Island. Oh my gosh!!! Right away we saw Galapogas penguins. These are the most northern residing penguins. In total throughout the zodiac ride, we viewed about 20 penguins.
The geology here is quite unique. We observed many volcanic cones which have been exposed by erosion - allowing us to see the central solidified lava flow. We saw cinder cones and small lava tunnels. It was very interesting to be able to see the various levels in the formation of the island.
We then floated out to a small island loaded with blue-footed boobies. It is great fun watching them dive for food. The boobie will soar high in the air scouting the water for food - small fish. Then, the bird will tuck its wings and become like a bullet diving straight into the water. Definitely a high score for diving form and no splash. One after another - splash, splash, splash - we watched as the birds dived - sometimes only a few feet from our zodiac.
In addition, there are schools of some kind of green fish - I didn't get the name of the fish. The schools of the 20 to 24 inch fish number around 50 to 100 each - and we are surrounded by schools of the fish. They are coming to the surface with the mouths open - so I assume they are eating some kind of insect or fly at the water surface.
After watching this for a while, we begin our return ride. Upon entering a small cove where some will climb out to swim or snorkel, our sailor notices a commotion and moves closer. Wow! There is a white-tipped shark half on the beach. Apparently the shark literally throws itself onto the beach in an attempt to grab prey. In this case, we assume the shark had been after a sea lion just beyond its reach. The shark wiggles its body until it gets back into the water. We watch as it swims back and forth - apparently contemplating another attempt. But, it seems to give up and swims away.
This afternoon has been fabulous. Penguins, diving blue-footed boobies, a shark trying to take prey on the beach - wow. We also saw more sea lions, crabs and marine iguanas - but, believe it or not, they have become so commonplace that we hardly notice.
We have been so many places where the goal is to see wildlife but where it takes good eyes and hard work to spot something. Here, the wildlife if literally just sitting there to be seen.
We can't believe that our trip is already half over. But, we have perhaps already seen as much wildlife in a few days as most of our other wildlife trips combined. Can't wait so see what tomorrow will bring. I hear that we may see four-foot long marine iguanas.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Today started early with an 8AM morning excursion. We anchored off Floreana Island and did our first wet landing - meaning that the zodiac simply pulled as close to the beach as possible, everyone climbed out into the shallow water and walked the rest of the way to the dry sand. Floreana is the sixth largest of the islands and is one of the four islands visited by Darwin.
Along the beach we again observed quite a few sea lions - all just ignored us and it was fun to watch a few play in the shallow waters where they would jump, spin and splash.
The naturalist explained more history of the islands and told a little about when he was growing up in the Galapogas in Santa Cruz - a town we will visit later in the trip.
Then we began the hike to a brackish pond where we saw flamingos and white cheeked pintail ducks. While hiking further, we also saw flycatchers, a lava heron and Darwin finches.
The hike was a bit rough. Though mostly sand and small pebbles, it included pretty long stretches of perhaps 30 to 45 degree climbs. We hiked around half a mile to another sandy beach.
At this beach, we saw sea turtles in the water around 15 to 20 feet off shore. We also saw tracks from sea turtles pulling themselves onto shore. This is a sea turtle nesting area but we were not able to observe where eggs had need laid. On black lava rock on the beach, we saw young black and mature red crabs. We also saw a dead spotted sting ray which had not been there long - so we had a chance to see the detail of the body.
The return hike was, again, a challenge for some of us. In total, it was about a one mile hike with considerable inclines. When we returned to the original beach, some took time to swim or snorkel. We climbed into a zodiac and headed back to the ship for naps and lunch.
On our afternoon excursion, we took a zodiac ride back to another site on Floreana and saw quite a few critters - sea lions, sea turtles, and various birds. After maybe 25 or 30 minutes, we did a wet landing on a beach at Baroness Lookout and climbed up a relatively steep incline to a overlook deck to see the panoramic view. Our guide also told us a local story about a supposed baroness and her lovers.
Jill stayed with Brenda and one of the guides in the zodiac - probably good since I'm not sure either could have made the climb. For me, it wasn't too bad since it was more climbing than aerobic. They saw quite a few sea turtles while waiting for us.
After the excursion, we had another typical evening - dinner and a talk about next day excursions. Finally, about 10:45, the ship anchored and put out bright lights to attract wildlife. In the dark by the bright lights, we saw pelicans, sharks, sea lions, jelly fish and loads of small fish.
That's all for today.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Today started early with a visit to Kicker's Boot - a rock island so named because it looks like a boot. This was, apparently, one of the first islands seen by Darwin since it is southeast. Zodiac's went out at 7AM - hah, not us. We sat on our balconies in our robes as the captain circled what is basically a really big rock. Talking to others who took the Zodiac ride, they didn't see anything we hadn't seen already.
Then, breakfast. Typical breakfast buffet foods. With the very small group, we aren't as worried about the buffet spread of germs as on a 2,000+ passenger ship. All meals are in the one small dining room with open seating.
Then, we visited San Cristobal. The town has a population of about 5,000 and is the governmental seat of the Galapogas. Here we visited a museum about the history of the islands. After the museum, we visited the town for souvenir shopping - all five blocks of it. Back to the ship for lunch and a nap - finally.
About 3PM we attended a lecture re the geological history of the Galapogas. We learned how the islands were formed. The trip leans heavily on learning about, seeing and respecting the wildlife and natural history of the islands.
At 4:15, we headed to Espanola. This island has no human population. But...there sure is wildlife. We came foot to foot, eyeball to eyeball with marine iguanas, lava lizards, sea lions, blue footed boobies, a Galapogas hawk, Galapogas doves, and Galapogas mockingbirds. We saw a few waved albatross and frigate birds from a distance.
It continues to amaze is that we are literally within feet, and sometimes inches, from the wildlife and they simply don't move or even pay attention to us. Without any question, this is the ultimate paradise for those wanting to see wildlife closeup.
Not much for tonight except dinner, hearing the talk about tomorrow's excursions and relaxing. From the schedule, it looks like we may have a chance for two excursions tomorrow. If this is what we can expect every day, we will really need every chance to rest and relax.
That's all for now.
The Celebrity Xpedition is small - only about 92 passengers and around 60 crew. We were introduced to 7 naturalists who will lead our excursions. Most cabins are small - about 160 sf and no balcony. We visited our travel agent's cabin and it is tiny. We chose to take the penthouse suite and it is much more comfortable. We have two single beds - side by side, two bathrooms - of course, I took the small one, a seating area with two love-seats and a full balcony.
It doesn't take long to learn the ship. There is the one restaurant, the one lounge/bar, the one outdoor "grill" serving burgers & hot dogs, a small top deck with one got tub (no pool), some exercise equipment and seating. The attraction here is definitely not the ship or the ship activities. There are 13 primary islands and we will visit 10.
North Seymour Island is less than one sq mile. But, it was jam-packed with wildlife. Just think, this is only the beginning!!
Today, we made the trip from Quito to Baltra in Galapogas. The islands are actually quite a ways off Ecuador - a 2-hour flight or about 600 miles.
When we were landing, I first noticed just how dry this island is. Very much a desert. The two landing strips on Baltra were originally built during WWII by the US Air Force who maintained a base here.
After a very short bus ride, we literally climbed on a Zodiac - an inflatable, roughly 16-passenger raft for the short ride to the Celebrity Xpedition. Basically, the Zodiac pulls up to the back of our cruise ship and we carefully climb onto the ship. This will be our method of transport to and from the various islands this week.
Checking in, receiving a short orientation and getting to our cabin was the quickest we have ever experienced. And, we quickly learn that they intend to get is immersed in the Galapogas experience almost immediately.
After lunch, we learn that we will already be having an excursion this afternoon. The cruise director - who is a naturalist - explains our excursion choices. All excursions are included in the package - so all we do is select between easy, medium and challenging. We pick medium.
So...lickety-split we are back on the Zodiac. Our excursion begins with a short float along the coast of North Seymour Island. Our guide/naturalist Ivan explains that it is call Seymour because we will "see more" than we expected. Sure enough we are almost immediately seeing loads of sea lions (in fact, a beach covered with them) and various birds. After the short float, we landed on the island - by landed I mean that the Zodiac kinda pulled up to a group of rocks and we carefully climbed out.
Once on the island, we were literally visually assaulted by an abundance of wildlife. During the float and hour-long hike, we saw hundreds of sea lions, frigate birds, marine iguanas, lava lizards, lava gulls, blue-footed boobies, an American oyster catcher, a fur seal, and a giant manta ray. We are stunned by how close we get. Many of the animals/birds are literally just a few feet away - and, I mean around 2, 4 and 6 feet away.
As we walked toward what I think was the west side of the island, we begin to see huge waves pounding into the island. As the waves curl into a tube, the throw off spray that looks like white ghosts riding the top of the waves. The waves seem to be at least 15 to 20 feet high but I have nothing to guage their size. To us they appear huge - and they must be because even Ivan seems pretty impressed.
Besides the sheer abundance of wildlife, there are individual amazing experiences along the way. The wave that flew into our raft and took Jill about a foot off her seat. Countless baby sea lions nursing on mom. Blue-footed boonies doing this rather bizarre mating dance. Male great frigate birds inflating the bright red pouch under his throat to attract females. Frigate birds soaring just a few feet overhead with a wingspan around 5 to 6 feet. Large bull sea lions barking loadly to warn if someone is too close. Literally hundreds of bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs sunning themselves on rocks.
Since there are no large land predators, none of the wildlife seems to have any fear. After all our wildlife sightseeing throughout the world, we are amazed at what we are seeing. And, this is just the first 2-hour excursion on the first day of the trip. At first, we couldn't imagine how quickly they were pushing us through our boarding and checkin. But, after this first experience, it is obvious that there is so much to see. Tonight, they have already outlined our choices for tomorrow and we have, once again, chosen the medium option. It appears that we will end each day worn out from our excursions and that it is unlikely that we will miss the typical evening hoopla and entertainment of the big ships. Here, the entertainment is all-natural and only in front of us to see.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Well...today was quite a day in Ecuador and I am lucky to be able to write this update. But...more about that later.
Our travel to Ecuador was pretty uneventful. It had snowed the night before our departure - but, Pat was able to get is picked up and delivered to the airport OK. Our flight boarded and departed pretty close to on-time despite the weather.
We had a four hour layover in Houston - but, that wasn't too bad since we were able to use the Continental's President's Club. Jill didn't feel well right after our Houston landing - but, was mostly better by the time we were scheduled to fly again. Not sure if it was something she ate or the rough ride landing since we were on a kinda small plane. She seems to be OK now.
The flight to Ecuador was a little over five hours and we landed about 10:24PM. Finally got to the hotel about 11:30-ish. Went right to bed after cleaning up a little.
Our morning today started with a nice buffet breakfast in the JW Marriott - not bad. Brenda was able to arrange for our entire Indy group to be on one bus for the day. We began our tour of Quito.
Quito is a very high city - about a mile and a half. Denver is only one mile. Therefore, the air is thin. It is a long city between mountains/volcanoes - about 24 km long and 6 to 12 km wide. Much of the building construction is similar to what you would see in Mexico. There are some newer, substantial construction building - like the Marriott - but most is two and three level simple wood construction. When we got to the Old Towne area, it was very similar to the Baroque architecture of Barcelona. Lots and lots of churches, museums, plazas, govt buildings.
Our troubles started about 10AM at a gallery. We were looking at paintings when four boys surrounded me - like the boys in Mexico selling chicklets. Poking and constantly asking me to buy. Suddenly, I heard the click of the magnet on my blackberry case. I immediately knew someone had stolen my BB and felt down to confirm it was gone. I stepped back and yelled that they had stolen my phone - over and over loudly. The four boys were still right by me. Two were only about 5 or 6 and two were about 8 or 9. So...there was never any real danger - just a pain in the butt.
Right away security guards were by me. The boys tried to walk out of the museum area - but we caught them with security guard help. City police showed up and began to check the four boys for the phone. After lots of back and forth between the boys, the security guards, the city police and our tour guide, I even offered the boys money to just return the BB - no luck. Our guide, Alejandra, stuck by me the whole time and pushed the boys to return the phone.
Finally, the Ecuador National Police showed up. And...they clearly meant business. They made it very clear that this type of treatment of tourists was unacceptable. They took the entire group to a small maybe 10 X 10 room - this included the four boys, me, security guards, city police, our tour guide, and our travel agent who speaks Spanish. The national policeman really started grilling the boys.
Then...another man entered the room. Turns out he was a local who had also just had his cell phone stolen. Now the national policeman really got hot. After, the boys kept denying everything, the national policeman finally had the security guards and city policemen start taking everything from the kids and started taking off the sweatshirts, shirts, etc. Rather than a simple pat-down, they were now going through everything in detail - not quite but close to a strip search. The national police were obviously determined to solve this.
First, they found the local guy's cell phone - he was really mad. Then, they found my BB on one of the younger boys. Through the travel agent, I learned that the boys were being told that they cannot put up with against tourists to their country. Selling chicklets, small paintings, etc - OK. Stealing - absolutely not OK in their country. The boys were going to be sent to a kind of reform school where they will take classes and learn how to behave.
Later in the day, Alejandra told us that she learned from others milling around during the commotion that the boys parents are in prison for the same kind of thing. She also said that it was good that I stuck with it and was so persistent. She said that, unfortunately, few tourists would have yelled and remained firm the way I did. Everyone agreed that nobody really thought that I would ever see the BB again.
Anyway, after the fuss, we continued our tour. We visited another very beautiful church/monastary. The inside really reminded me of churches we had seen in Barcelona. Filled with beautiful wood carvings.
Then, they fed us lunch and, finally, took us to a sort of museum for the equator. There was the expected place to take a picture with one foot in the north hemisphere and one in the south hemisphere. A funny comment, though, that our guide told us - with new GPS technology, they have determined that the equator is really slightly north - about 10 minutes which is apparently maybe 100 yards or so. Actually, they were pretty close considering that they did the original calculation in the 1700's.
After returning to the hotel, where we took a short nap, we re-gathered and went to dinner as a group. Both the lunch and dinner were so-so. During dinner, there was a singer who provided nice background music - when he wasn't singing opera.
And so, that's it. We are back at the hotel. Tomorrow we travel to Galapogas. Sounds like a bit of a long day. Luggage outside our room by 8AM - breakfast - flight check-in at the hotel - bus to airport - 2 hour flight to Galapogas - bus to the dock - zodiac to the ship. It sounds like we will be settled by mid-afternoon into our cabin.
We don't know yet whether we will have cell/data service in the islands. If not, I will do updates and just send them when we have service.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
The peripheral neuropathy in my feet continues; but, he still thinks it will go away. I found out this past weekend that cold has a severe negative effect on my feet. Did some outdoor chores and it was quite cold. What a mistake!!
Anyway, got my Avastin infusion today and all seems to continue OK. We talked about after the first year. He said that there are 3rd, 4th, and even 5th choices for other non-chemo treatments. Apparently, this is the area where there is the most current research and development of new potential treatments.
He also said that, if we get at least a year remission from the chemo, it might make sense to go back to it. Apparently, the next possible round of chemo would be expect to bring a reduced time for remission; but, given that it has worked, it would be worth trying again. It is kind of a wait & see situation.
We leave Friday for Ecuador and Sunday we fly to the Galapogas Islands. This should be a very interesting trip.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Today I had an Xray, saw Dr Einhorn and had an Avastin infusion. The really good news is that Dr E says my Xray continues to show improvement.
Basically, that small speckles in my right lung (hyper-metabolic spots which could develop into tumors) are less than my last Xray - which was less the the Xray before that. And, my left lung remains clear. He seems happy with the progress and said that we will continue on the current course of treatment for now - unless a physical symptom indicates that we should change.
The pain and slight swelling in my feet is better today. It had become pretty rough over the weekend. Dr E says that we should be able to control the pain with a drug called neurontin but the numbness will probably remain for quite a while - perhaps until late December.
Other than that, all is well. Dr E said there is no issue with me going on the Galopagas trip in December. So...we will hope that Jill's news is similar tomorrow.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Well...the pain from peripheral neuropathy has really escalated during the past few days. Yesterday, it got really tough. Today, the numbness and pain has included my ankles. I am still able to walk - but with lots of pain. A little over a week ago Dr Einhorn have me a drug called neuronton that often helps with nerve pain - it worked for Jill when she had shingles. But, after more than a week, it hasn't helped me yet. For now, I suppose I will just wait until I see Dr Einhorn on Wednesday.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Well...our last couple days have been at sea and today we were at the HAL private island. Days at sea were more of the same - including Jill winning at the slots.
She did have one time when she lost - and she lost more than her $20 cuz she kept thinking her luck would turn. Why wouldn't it with her history? But, the next day, she made up for her only losing round.
For the last few mornings, the weather has been nice enough to have a nice lazy breakfast on our verandah. In fact, was a bit warm this morning in the Bahamas.
We didn't bother getting off the ship at the private island. Instead, we did a spa day. Jill got a facial and I got a massage. If there is anything better than a lazy day, it is a lazy day with a massage or spa treatment.
Can never accept that the cruises are ending. We could just keep going for another few weeks. But, back to the real world on Monday.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
OK...so I wasn't going to do an update today. Nothing much different from yesterday. Just another day in paradise - at sea, on a ship, our every need taken care of.
But...then Jill went and started winning on the slots. It started last night when she got a $10 credit for slots from the ship. She parlayed that free money into $160. Then, this morning she won $305 after putting just $13 into the machine. Not a bad 2-day haul - and she has more than offset everything she has lost so far - which hasn't been much since she hasn't played every day.
So...Jill is a happy girl and is at the slots again tonight. Keep your fingers crossed.
Otherwise, re-read yesterday's update and it is about the same for today. Ain't life grand!!!
Monday, October 15, 2007
Well...another day in paradise - a day at sea doing basically nothing. We slept in and had our breakfast delivered to our cabin. No breakfast on the verandah today since it is raining a bit and the seas have kicked up a bit.
I haven't even stepped outside since it doesn't look very inviting. Nice to just sit and watch the whitecaps from inside. I sat around working crossword puzzles while Jill read for a while.
We did mediocre at trivia today. And...that is about all we did. Jill went to the casino and played the penny slots for a while. She lost her $5 but played for quite a while. I watched a little TV and napped.
Tonight is another of the formal nights - so we're getting ready in our dress up duds. Lobster tail and filet mignon for dinner tonight.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
We spent the day today at Ponta Delgada, Azores. This archipelago of islands is 740 miles from Portugal - but is part of Portugal. There are nine islands in the group. The Azores were discovered in 1427 by Portugal. There was no trace of human habitation or visitation from before then. All 9 islands are inhabited. In 1957, one of the volcanoes erupted and enlarged one of the islands.
We went on a whale & dolphins excursion. We saw sperm whales for the first time as well as 3 kinds of dolphins - Atlantic spotted, common and bottle-nosed. Sperm whales are pretty big. We saw a mother and calf. Mom was at least as big as our boat. They stay on the surface much longer than humpbacks. Our skipper said that sperm whales dive the deepest and the longest of the whales.
Didn't have time to get into the town but it seems nice. Photos from our verandah attached.
Since the last update, we have been at sea for two days. Pretty much just kicked back and relaxed. Of course, played trivia and won once more - 3 times so far. Our weather and the seas have been about as good as we could ask for. Only very minor swells and no real waves or whitecaps like the N Atlantic. Today is the coldest day with a high of just 69. Mostly, we have had in the low 70's.
We sail early today - around 2PM. Then, we will have 5 glorious days at sea. No telling what kind of weather we might encounter over that distance but I'm sure it will be fine for us since we have nothing planned other than relaxing and naps.
Next land stop will be the HAL private island - which we will skip since we aren't beach people anymore.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Today we are in Almeria, Spain. Nice small city on the southern coast of Spain. I have attached photos of the fortress overlooking the city. This area is very much a desert.
We went on an excursion to Cabo De Gata & Nijar. Cabo De Gata is a national park. We visited a unique lighthouse and an area where they fill ponds with sea water, evaporate the water and "harvest" sea salt. There were flamingos feeding in the area. Next we visited the small village of Nijar which is known for its handicrafts. Jill got a ceramic spoon rest and a bowl.
After a short nap, we won trivia again today!!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Today was Valencia, Spain. We took a tour to historic Sagunto and the caves of San Jose. Sagunto is an ancient settlement that dates back about 2000 years. Pretty interesting gothic cathedral. Besides the existing town, ruins are scattered around from Roman times. Once again, quite a bit of uphill walking and we skipped portions.
The caves were quite cool. Kinds like Meremac Caverns - but we were in a small boat much of the time. Was unusual floating a subterranean river.
After the excursion locations, our guide took our bus through parts of Valencia. The city has some very interesting, very modern architectural buildings. It looks like a place where a hop-on & hop-off bus tour would be interesting.
We are winding down. One more bus tour tomorrow in Almeria and we have some time at sea. 2 sea days before we arrive in the Azores where we will be doing a whale-watching trip.
Tied for 1st in trivia today - but we lost the tie-breaker this time.
Both of us are feeling well. Jill's coughing has been hanging on but seems to be lessening. My cough is very sporadic - but I did take the cough med today. Otherwise, our main complaint is the need for more rest - which we plan on getting very soon with the upcoming sea days.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Barcelona is a good as we remember. Too bad we are a bit worn out. So...we bought tickets to the on & off city tour bus - but we didn't get off.
We spent about two hours on the bus - the red line that focuses on south Barcelona. It was a great way to see lots of the city without loads of walking. The tour bus had a narrated headphone program that was very informative.
That was enough for us. We relaxed for the rest of the day.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Yesterday, we docked in Monaco. Took a bus tour to Nice & Eze. Nice had a wonderful flower market that sold lots of stuff - not just flowers. There was everything from fresh fruits & veggies to jams & preserves to belts to other handmade items. We had about an hour or so to wander and shop. Then we toured the city and saw most of the key buildings. A very interesting place.
Afterward, our bus went to a medieval city high on a hill overlooking the Med Sea. Eze was quite interesting but Jill and I were not able to see all of it - couldn't make much of the very long steep walk. But, we took the chance to have a nice snack below.
We didn't bother going into Monte Carlo when we returned to the ship - and from comments by both other couples at our table, I don't think we missed much. Gambling isn't a big deal for us and the others said "Is that all there is?" after they had seen the Grand Casino. One couple thought they may have missed it since they weren't impressed but figured out they had seen it - just wasn't such a big deal.
In the afternoon, I spent some time fussing and checking & canceling credit cards and stuff. Seems that I have lost my wallet some time between yesterday in Florence and today. My own fault for being a bit careless. Turns out there have been no charges on the cards so perhaps all I have really lost is the cash that was in the wallet. Oh well.
Today, we docked in Marseilles. We took another bus tour - this time to the village of Bandol and Le Castellet. Bandol is a nice small coastal village with a good sized harbor marina. We wandered a little and had a chocolate croissant. Le Castellet is another small medieval town on a hill - this one at a level that I could make the walk but Jill still couldn't. Nice small narrow streets - much like old Quebec City but with only a few small handcraft shops.
On a very important note, we won trivia today. Yesterday was so-so. But, today we had 18 of 20, tied for first and won the tie-breaker.
Tomorrow we are in Barcelona. Hooray!!!
Sunday, October 7, 2007
We spent much of today in Florence. Luigi Massimilla, a friend through work, picked us up at the dock in Livorno and took us to Florence - just over an hour drive from the coast.
In Florence, we visited much of the old city historical area. This included most of the best known statues, the cathedral and some of the most popular piazzas (public squares) in Florence. I won't list them specifically by name because I don't remember their names, don't have the info sheets handy, it's dark because it is the middle of the night - take your pick.
Once again, quite a bit of walking was involved. When Jill got too tired, Luigi suggested that we hire a horse-drawn carriage to see old Florence in the way it might be seen in the 14th and 15th centuries - by horse. This was a great idea. On an hour-long carriage ride, we saw virtually the entire old town area.
After the carriage ride, we ate lunch in the area at one of the most recommended restaurants - Ristorante Toto. Our lunch was great. We all shared potato-filled ravioli with an excellent meat sauce. And, Luigi and I shared a local Florentine-style steak - again, I don't remember the exact local name of the steak but it sure was good! Both the ravioli and the steak were excellent - but there was so much food! Luigi and I finished off the meal with esspresso.
Having walked all we could again today, Luigi drove us to Leonardo da Vinci Square/Place/or something like that. It was high on a hill and overlooked the entire city - photos are attached. This location offered perhaps the most stunning view of what I consider to be one of the most visually beautiful cities we have visited. In the photos, you can see the Duomo, the Cathedral dome, the bell tower and river. Oh, and you can see Luigi in his Indiana Pacers T-shirt!
After the hour-long drive back to the ship, we thanked Luigi for a great day. He suggested that we come back to Tuscany - but stay a couple weeks rather than one day by cruise ship. Might not be a bad idea. There seems to be a lot we could see from one central location.
One note about our evening - the ship's entertainment group of singers & dancers is one of the best we have seen in quite a while. Tonight they did a show of various well-known songs from countries around the world. Quite frankly, we have gotten to the point where many of the ship's group shows are an OK time-filler activity. But, this show was the most professional and entertaining in a while.
Tonight we sail for Monte Carlo where we have an excursion scheduled to visit Nice. Never been there and have no idea what to expect. Hopefully, we can limit our walking - we really need a bit of a break but we don't have our string of desirable days at sea for a while.
Friday, October 5, 2007
Well...I can certainly say that Rome is an incredibly unique place. The weather has been incredibly nice during our entire visit.
After two visits, we have now seen most of the significant sites - St Peters Basillica, the Vatican Museums, the Colloseum, the Forum & the Appian Way, Trevi Fountain and much more. Visiting again helps me to remember just how ancient things can be. 3,200+ year old Egyptian art from 1250 BC puts the 230 year old US into perspective.
And, how will I ever forget the traffic, motorcycles and absolutely crazy driving here? NY, LA, Chicago and other bad US traffic is nothing compared to Rome. But, they seem to manage somehow without traffic lanes, crosswalks, stop signs and other controls. Our entire time here with all the craziness, we have only seen one accident.
Motorcycles - Copenhagen had its bicycles. But, Rome definitely has it motorcycles. They are everywhere. Both men and women in casual or suits (all with helmets) are riding motorcycles of all sizes and types. Parking areas are filled with more than 50 motorcycles per block.
Walking - let's just say that people walk here more than most places in the US. A "10 minute walk" here doesn't really mean 10 minutes. It really means something less than 30 minutes.
English - fewer people seem to speak English here than most countries we have visited. But, most people try their best to communicate and to help.
Returning to Rome - who knows? We will probably be back on another cruise in the Mediterranean. But we will likely limit ourselves to whatever tours are offered from the ship. This trip really wore us out and I'm not sure we could handle it again.
Today we will board the Westerdam and begin our cruise. I know it will be mostly relaxing - though we do have some excursions booked. And, tomorrow, Saturday, we see our friend Luigi who will take us to Florence. Should be another good visit since we really enjoyed Florence the last time we were there.
That's it. One more breakfast and we take the ride to the port and board our ship.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Well...shopping today in Rome proved to be interesting. First, let's just be clear that I don't think we have ever been anywhere with the kind of absolutely crazy driving that we see here. You gotta be brave and nuts to drive in Rome. We were in a taxi today and Jill was constantly grabbing my arm with fear. The roads don't have lane markings - not that the drivers would pay attention anyway. How many lanes on a road? As many as the drivers think will fit - plus one or two more for motorcycles. I have never seen so many motorcycles. And, if the drivers don't like how others are driving in lanes, they just cut across and make their own new lane. It is absolutely bizarre.
Anyway, we walked to what the hotel manager says is the best shopping on Via Del Corso. Only "about 10 minutes walk" - really closer to 20, but who's counting. Dodging traffic to cross streets was an adventure. It would appear that whoever just goes has the right of way here. At intersections without traffic lights, there seem to rarely be stop signs. Between cars coming from 2 and sometimes more directions and pedestrians crossing without crosswalks, there seems to be people and cars coming together like a literal logjam. Somehow, everyone seems to nudge and push through - with horns blowing and people holding up their hands at the cars. Some pay attention and some down. It is a wonder that people aren't constantly crashing into each other.
Anyway, back to the shopping. It turns out that this is really a shopping area - not just one street. But that didn't matter much to us. This didn't seem to be our type of shopping. How many extreme mini-skirts, ornate handbags, skinny-guy jeans, and other apparent "hooker-look clothes" can we really use? There were a few fancy stores selling virtually all black clothes for both men and women. Certainly, we recognized places like Nike, Puma, Addidas and Footlocker that we recognized. But we don't shop those stores at home either. Oh, within a few blocks there were 2 McDonalds. It did prove to be a very interesting and daring walk - but we didn't come away with many purchases. But we will certainly remember Via Del Corso as a highlight of Rome!
We made it to Trevi Fountain which was just two blocks from Via Del Corso. Quite nice once you looked past the 200 to 300 people circling the fountain and throwing in coins. I did get photos of the fountain which are attached to this email. I have also attached a photo of the north entrance to Via Del Corso.
A definite highlight was the taxi ride back to the hotel. We must have had the only taxi driver in Rome who didn't really know Via Giulio Cesare - that's Julius Caesar Drive if you haven't figured that out. It's strange when we could tell him he had gone too far and we directed him to the hotel. Poor guy was trying his best to use the GPS device but was having trouble entering the address and driving here at the same time. When we told him where/when to turn, he kept pointing to the GPS as if it knew better than us after being here two days! But, we got back to the hotel safely without walking the "10 minute walk" again.
After our about half-day little shopping excursion, we decided to hang around and relax for the rest of the day - that's code for "we went to sleep". And that was it for today.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Today we spent much of the day at the Musei Vaticani. We started with our first use of the Rome subway - the Metro. Was pretty simple even for non-public transportation people like us. The Vatican Museums are only two stops from our hotel. For someone up to the added walking, it is probably about a 15 to 20 minute walk.
Once at the museums, we located the line for non-reserved-tour individuals. Oh my gosh, it is down an entire long block, turn right down another entire block, turn left and down a little more. It looked absolutely daunting. Turned out to be about a 45 minute wait as the line moved pretty well. By the way, there were many tour groups trekking the line with us - so not all tours include priority entrance. If you don't get priority entrance, there really isn't a reason to book through a tour. Museum entrance is 13 euros and a self-guided tour listening device is 6 euros.
Once inside the museums, we began our art-viewing trek. It turns out the Vatican has a huge, very extensive and awe-inspiring collection of art. There are about two dozen different galleries and period room as well as the Sistine Chapel. The literature claimed that it can take several days to see everything - and they were right. We touched on as much as possible for us - but our limited capabilities meant that we certainly missed lots of stuff. The museums include sculpture and art from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. We saw items from earlier than 1250 BC. Other significant art included works by Raphael, Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse and Rodin - not to mention Michelangelo and the other artists who did the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel. It was truly amazing just how many sculptures, busts, paintings and frescoes are included in the museums. The Sistine Chapel is magnificent. The frescoes on the walls and, of course, ceiling are pretty phenominal. It is hard to fathom the Michelangelo did the entire ceiling!
We would have loved to have had the energy and stamina to see everything at the Vatican Museums - but that would be unlikely for us. After spending about 3 hours walking at the museums (not counting the wait), we were wiped out. We didn't even attempt to take the Metro back to our hotel - just got a cab to take us there without any more walking. (For info, the Metro cost was 1 euro each and the cab to the hotel was 5 euros + tip). Once back at the hotel, we passed out for a few hours - nap would not qualify in this case!
Re food, I think it is safe to say that we have been OK but we really haven't focused on the Italian cuisine. Our hotel includes breakfast which is quite satisfactory - lots of breads, cakes, cold cereal, scrambled eggs, fried panchetta, juices and freshly brewed cappucino. For dinner, we got a recommendation for an Italian restaurant from the hotel but we learned that they don't open until 7:30PM, it was just after 6 and we were quite hungry. We wandered on the route back to the hotel and found a small cafe. They served very good sandwiches (heated like a panini). We had a turkey with spinach - not something we would have assembled but very good. The sandwich with two Sprites was 8.5 euros - about $12 - certainly lots cheaper than Copenhagen.
That pretty much filled our day. Really haven't given much thought to what we will do tomorrow. Since we have seen the Colloseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, the Appian Way and many of the other traditional sites, we might just shop or otherwise relax.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
The travel to Rome went pretty well considering how long we had to travel. Short flight to Chicago but over 9 hours to Rome.
American Airlines had pretty comfortable seats in biz class - the plane was brand new. I watched the latest Die Hard movie and they fed is well. But, unfortunately both of us only got short catnaps. Arrived in Rome very tired.
Took forever to get our luggage. Luggage from both our flight and a flight from NY came on the same carousel at the same time. At least 45 minutes to get the luggage. Minor glitch hooking up with our driver - my fault.
About an hour to our hotel and what a zoo of traffic all the way. I absolutely, definitely would not want to drive here. Even when we got to the hotel, the driver basically just stopped in the street to unload us - what little parking that existed was overfull.
When we got into the hotel lobby - well, that was another story. I will first say that our room is very nice. But, the lobby was pretty unimpressive. And, when we arrived at around 10, we were simply told that checkin is 2. She gave us a map, marked various sites, told us to leave our luggage and to come back after 2.
Well, since we were dead-tired, that wasn't going to work. We sat down and told her we would just wait. When she realized we weren't leaving, she offered us breakfast. But, Jill was about to fall asleep - and did - and we had just had breakfast on the plane - so I took her up on coffee - which was excellent. Finally, after about 45 minutes - maybe an hour - she realized we weren't moving and she came to tell me that our room was ready for us. When we got to our room, a guy was hustling to finish cleaning. He finished while the bellman brought our bags. Oh, I forgot, the elevator is so small that it would fit only Jill, me and our small carryon bags. The bellman put us in, closed the doors and ran up the stairs to open the doors for us. Well, finally in our room, we went to sleep for a very long time.
As I said, our room is quite nice. Nice queen bed that is comfortable. Big whirlpool tub. No phone. No radio. On the TV I have found CNN in English so far. It will be quite adequate for a few days.
Will begin to update re sites and other things in Rome when we get out tomorrow. For now, it is about 9:30PM and I have slept more than enough. We'll see what the evening brings if Jill wakes up any time soon.
Chow - or however you spell it ;-)
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Today, I visited Dr. Einhorn and he indicated that today's X-ray is the best he has seen of my chest. He feels that I continue to make great progress. We will continue with the Avastin infusion every three weeks and will keep everything else as-is. I no longer have any headaches now that my blood pressure is under control. I have started to have some minor spots of very dry skin similar to what Jill has experienced - but they are simply a matter of using some cream. I am back to the office pretty much full days - when I don't have doctor appts or other follow up stuff.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Well...this is it - the last night. We've had all the fun, seen all the places, done all the things on this cruise. It has been another great cruise.
The last two sea days have been very relaxing. We've done basically nothing other than eat, sleep, play trivia, and watch entertainment.
Unlike many onboard who have commented that they are ready to get home, we could stay on for another cruise. But, I guess we must return home and I must do at least a little work.
Tomorrow AM we sail into NY and should get to see the Statue of Liberty if the sun is up and if we are awake. And, then if all goes well, we will fly home and be in Indy by mid-afternoon.
I can't wait for the next cruise and the next trip updates. Take care.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Very nice day in St Johns, Newfoundland. In the morning we walked into town - only a few hundred yards. Found a nice shop with Newfoundland-made sweaters. Jill got three - one very nice cardigan made of spun wool. All are wool and should be nice and warm for her.
In the afternoon, we took a tour of the Memorial University Botanical Gardens. Again, very nice and we had quite informative guides. Hopefully, I got a few good pictures. And, they served us yes and scones.
Upon departure, the ships in the harbor did an interesting "harbor concert" with all the boat sounding there horns to say goodbye. In signal hill (where Marconi received the first wireless radio signal) there was a Canadian Mounty during a three-shot goodbye signal to our ship. Obviously, they make quite a to-do about this here. They even held a ceremony to award our Capt the key to the city. Apparently, this is the first time for the Veendam to visit St Johns. Someone at the knout shop told me they only get a dozen or so ships per year.
St Johns was definitely one of the nicer stops on this cruise - and, unfortunately, it is our last port. Now that we have sailed, we have two full days at sea before we arrive in NY on Sunday.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Today we anchored off St Anthony, Newfoundland. Another very small town.
We were to do out whale watching but we cancelled. We've had enough of small boats on the bouncy waters and cold temps. Apparently, the people on the tour that we cancelled saw whales and seals - but they said they froze and the boat they were on only had a very small inside protected area. That wouldn't have been good for us. It would have been nice to see the whales - but not at the expense of freezing.
Instead, we just took a tender into the port and walked and shopped a little. Jill got a locally knotted wool headband/ear cover and hand-knitted, wool/lined socks.
The Capt has announced that he expects the wind to pick up this afternoon and the seas will likely get choppy by the time we depart at around 2:30ish.
We have been invited to a dinner with the Capt and the Hotel Mgr tonight and we plan to attend. We went to a special luncheon a few days ago just for suite guests and the food was great. Expect the same tonight at this dinner.
Tonight we sail to St Johns, Newfoundland.
Monday, September 3, 2007
Today we stepped onto land in Greenland. We anchored off Qaqortoq (ha-har-tock) and took tenders into the dock. Once there, we walked across the street to the store - and I really mean "the" store.
The attached pics show the entire town. Don't know if it shows up in the pics but the houses are mostly very colorfully painted in bright colors - bright blue, yellow, red, etc. Total population of 3500 in Qaqortoq. The town is on the southern end of Greenland.
After a few minutes walking around, most people turned around and returned to the ship. Lots of people bought souvenirs at the store - so I imagine our visit provided a nice boost to there economy. Jill got a mug and small reindeer - so we made our contribution.
There certainly isn't much to do - but most people just wanted to say they had been to Greenland. And one guy claims he saw a tree!!
Oh and of course, Jill won at the slots again last night!
Sunday, September 2, 2007
The wind has really kicked up as we go thru this narrow passage. Very high waterfalls with the water blowing in the strong wind.
A iceberg just passed that that was about 3X the size of one of our lifeboats. Sure wouldn't want to do a "Titanic" by hitting one of those.
Just got back from lunch. The passage has widened and has a few more icebergs. The misty rain has increased - so I am not sure how many more pics I can get. But, I'll give it a try if something good comes along.
High mountain peaks, fog islands - that's what we're seeing now. Still just about all grey rock. Haven't seen a glacier in a while but we still see the occassional waterfall. Haven't seen wildlife of any kind all day.
We've finished our scenic cruising through the fjord. I have included a photo of the white caps and waves as we re-enter the open ocean. The Capt says we should expect lots of rolling tonight. And, we'll see what the seas are like to determine if we are able to get into our Greenland port tomorrow.
We are now entering Prince Christian Sund. Only about 20% of the ships are able to do so - due to problems with wind and waves. Luckily, we have only light wind and pretty smooth water. It is kinda foggy - but at least we're here.
It is cold - maybe low 40's. Light rain right now. The entrance to the fjord is all rock - grey rock. Some green - I imagine it is lichen.
The iceberg pic attached is the first within the fjord. This iceberg is about 70 feet above the water. Only about 10% of an iceberg is above the water.
Info tidbit - almost all of Greenland is covered by an ice cap that is up to two miles thick.
Brrrr, it feels like it is getting colder. We are observing from our verandah and I can only stay out for a few minutes - I am wearing a heavy Shetland wool sweater. They are reminding everyone to watch their hats because there are winds gusts of up to 40 knots.
Right now we are passing through a narrow passage. The Capt had said that he would need to make a decision as we got closer. Had to determine if there was too much ice blocking our way - he decided to continue.
Another tidbit, the rock here is apparently the oldest on earth. Glacier coming. I'll try to get a pic to attach.
Yesterday was a simple day at sea. No real news. Don't remember if I let you know that we finally won trivia on Friday night.
We will be cruising fjords in Greenland today. WOW!! We haven't gotten there yet - but the captain woke is at 7:45 to let us know that we were passing icebergs. Two so far and both are as big as our ship. Capt estimated the bigger one as at least 300 meters long and taller than our ship. We are passing the icebergs at about a half mile away but they still look huge. If I have figured it out, pictures should be attached.
To keep the emails smaller, I will send multiple updates today.
Friday, August 31, 2007
OK, so I won't spend more time bad-mouthing Reykjavik since I've done that so much in the past. We stayed onboard and relaxed. Jill got a facial and I got a massage. Othewise, a kick back and do nothing day. Tonight we have dinner reservations in the special restaurant - the Pinnacle Grill. Entertainment tonight is a singer - George Solomon. We've seen him a couple times before and he is very good. Sea day tomorrow. Time to sit back and read.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Today we spent the day in Isafjord, Iceland. This small town of 3,000 is in the northwest corner of Iceland.
In general, the weather is kinda crummy - maybe high 40's and rainy. However, it worked out OK for us.
We had a boat excursion that took us to Vigur island - about a 40 minute boat ride. There, it wasn't raining and we had a nice walk around the island which is 2 kilometers long and 500 meters wide.
We saw eider ducks, seals and the dairy cows owned by the single family that inhabits the little island. We saw how the clean up the eider down for use in comforters and sleeping bags.
They also served us cakes/breads and tea in their home. The walk was a little tough for both of us - but we made it without too much difficulty. Perhaps one of the more interesting excursions so far.
The rest of the day we just rested. Ugh - second at trivia again - this time by just 1/2 point. Tonight's entertainment includes two performers who weren't very good the first time around - so we'll probably skip the show and maybe catch a movie on TV.
Today was roughly the halfway point in our cruise. So far, so good.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Hey, believe it or not, there are actually trees, grass and mountains/hills in Iceland. Today we arrived in Akureyri, Iceland and did a short tour. It is pronounce ah-coo-rare-ee.
We visited (or wisited, as our guide said) Santa's House (Xmas gift shop), a botanical garden, Nonni Museum (he was a children's book author) and their Lutheran church. Lutheran is the official religion here.
We couldn't believe the number of trees or the green grass. It's hard to believe that this is the same Iceland that we have visited 3 times before. This area is much more reminiscent of Ireland and Scotland. Akureyri only has a poulation of 17,000 - so it is obviously not a big place. But it is still the 2nd largest city in Iceland.
The botanical gardens were beautiful with lots of flowers still in bloom. Even though it was chilly and was sprinkling just a little, it was a nice walk through the gardens. Right now they still have pretty long days. Which is good for the plants. But, by late October through late January, they will only have about 2 to 3 hours of daylight - if it isn't cloudy.
We got back to the ship in time for lunch and Jill is taking a nap before trivia.
We crossed the Arctic Circle last night and will remain north for our port tomorrow. Apparently, there is a chance that we may see whales this afternoon as we leave the fjord and enter the ocean. And, there is a chance we could see the Northern Lights if the clouds clear up.
It's around the high 40's today and quite cloudy right now. Fog is blocking much of our view of the mountains/hills. But, even with this weather, it has been nice to see such a part of Iceland that is actually green.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Well...today was supposed to be an very uneventful sea day. However, apparently a crew member become critically ill. Earlier this morning the captain changed our course to head straight west toward Iceland rather than north to our next port on the north side of Iceland. He needed to get the ship as close to Iceland as quickly as possible so that the crew member could be evacuated ASAP. A few minutes ago a helicopter came to the ship for the evacuation. The ship does not have a landing area - so the helicopter hovered, lowered two personnel to the ship and lifted the crew member by cable in a basket to the helicopter. This all happened within view of our verandah. Quite an operation. They closed off the entire front third of the ship for obvious safety reasons during the evac. Now, the captain and turned the ship back to a northern heading and we are on our way to our next port which we reach tomorrow morning.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Well, yesterday was a relaxing day at sea. Didn't really do too much. We attended a cooking demonstration by a guest chef - really good chocolate cake. We once again did mediocre at trivia - 2nd place again. I read a James Patterson book. Otherwise, a nice "do nothing" day at sea.
Today, we visited Torshavn, Faroe Islands which is a Danish territory. Took a boat excursion to see the 500 to 700 ft cliffs on the western side of the island. Saw loads of birds - seagulls and related birds. We are too late for the puffins who have already migrated. The bus ride to and from the boat was pretty interesting. The terrain is very rocky with many cliffs and steep grassy areas where sheep are grazing. Like Iceland, there are very, very few trees here. The Faroe Islands are a bit of a sleepy little place with total population of just 48,000 on 16 islands. One island only has two inhabitants - a husband and wife. So, I hope they get along! Within the past few years, they have completed a auto tunnel between two of the larger islands - it is about 150 meters below sea level. This has eliminated the need for boat/ferry sevice between the two island - one of which has the capitol city and the other has the only airport.
The temperature has taken a quick turn the past couple days. The high today was just 51. But, at least it was sunny. The seas have provided a very nice rocking while sailing - very nice for sleeping.
Tomorrow is another day at sea.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Not much to report today. We slept in again and had a late breakfast in our cabin.
We had planned on taking a local tour bus into town since the onboard port person had said it picked up at the port. Well...it doesn't. In fact, we would need to make a 15 to 20 minute walk into town to catch the bus there. Go figure.
A local helping the ship staff said "Welcome to Norway. We walk a lot." Jill & I told him that we don't and we turned around to reboard the ship. We walked quite a bit yesterday and certainly weren't up to it again today. I guess they just don't want the shopping money from us if they can't make it convenient.
So...we just relaxed onboard. Played pictionary with a few others. Trivia is soon this afternoon.
In general, my opinion of Norway after 3 ports is about the same as the last time we were here - not a big deal. You do see nice scenic fjords but they all start to look the same and they're not as good as scenic cruising in Alaska. The glassblowing was interesting - but otherwise, I wouldn't go out of my way to come back.
So, Denmark was worth seeing. Norway is a so-so place for my taste.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Today was a nice quiet day for us. We slept in a bit and had a late breakfast. Afterward, we walked around Kristiansand a little. Town was only a few blocks from the ship. No overly interesting shopping but it was good to get out for a while.
We wore ourselves out and made the walk back to the ship in time for lunch. After lunch, we finished second in trivia.
Otherwise, we mainly just sat around on our verandah and didn't do too much. Tonight is the first, formal dress night so we must get all dressed up and force ourselves to have surf & turf for dinner!
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Well...yesterday we boarded the Veendam in Copenhagen. We had the same driver from the hotel who picked us up at the airport and he gave us a little more of a driving your of some parts of Copenhagen.
Boarding was very smooth and quick. We had our luggage quite early and were able to unpack before dinner - we have early seating at 5:45. So far it seems like we have a nice group at our table.
We arrived in Oslo, Norway and did a tour that visited the Hadeland Glassworks where we watched glassblowers make bowls and wine glasses. Quite interesting. Then, we visited the Viking Ship Museum where there were 3 almost complete Viking ships on display. The ships were from around 800 to 900 AD. Two were almost complete, intact ships.
We got back to the ship around 3PM - which was tough on us since we hadn't had lunch. Thank goodness for the snacks in the Concierge Lounge on our floor so we could get something light to hold us over for dinner.
Also, played trivia after we got back. But, we only did so-so. It looks like we will have tough competition.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Another overcast, cool day in Copenhagen. We got out in the late AM. Took a taxi to one end of what they call the "walking street" - Stroget. This concentrated shopping area is about 12 blocks long - starting at the Town Hall and ending at the Nyhavn - New Harbor. Mostly pedestrian only. Many names that you would recognize in the US - McDonalds, KFC, Footlocker, Rolex, Gucci, Chanel, 7-11, Burger King, H&M. Many others are obviously either local or European only retailers.
At Nyhavn, we joined a canal boat tour. The tour was about an hour and took us around many of the canals of Copenhagen. The guide pointed out the important sights visible from the canals. The new national theater building, the opera house, the "little mermaid", and several important castles and churches are on the tour.
After the canal tour, we walked part of Nyhavn which is a large collection of bars and restaurants. Once again, we ate outside - it seems that is pretty standard here and, for those who know me, this is already the third meal I have eaten outside.
One thing I haven't noted in previous updates is the amount of walking and bicycling they do here. It seems that there are literally hundreds of bicycles in the city and people use them to get around probably more than cars. Every street has a bicycle lane that is heavily used. When crossing streets, you absolutely must watch for bicycles as much as for cars - they might ring a bell, whistle or yell but they don't stop for walkers.
Also, when getting directions, it seems that everything is a "10 or 15 minute walk away". We quickly learned that their estimate was for a 20 year old in good shape and walking fast - not for people our age with health problems! Didn't take long for us to start taking taxis for these 10 minute walks.
For the curious, Jill and I see both doing well. Jill has been bothered just a little by a couple foods with too much salt - but she is handling it well. Once we get onboard the ship, they have instructions to prepare her food low salt/sodium. And, just before we left, my hypertension specialist had me drop one of my meds. So far so good. My BP was pretty much normal the past few days even without that med.
That's about it for Copenhagen. Tomorrow we will board the ship - so we won't try to do any further touring here. It will be interesting to perhaps get back to Copenhagen in the future since there are quite a few things we could not see on this trip.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Today we did tourist stuff in Copenhagen. First, we went to Tivoli Gardens - which is actually more like a small amusement park. Weather was kinda cool with some light rain. Then, we went to Rosenburg Castle. This castle and grounds are actually pretty much in the middle of the city. We saw lots of "old" paintings, artwork, weapons, etc. This is also one location of many of the royal crown jewels - particularly items used by the Danish queen. Quite ornate stuff.
By the time we visited these two places, we were both getting tired - so we headed back to the hotel. For naps and relaxing.
Didn't feel like going out again so we decided to try the restaurant in the hotel. They are quite "proud" of their food - and the prices showed it. We thought London was expensive. But, much of the food here seems to be about 2X the prices in London.
Yesterday, we paid 149DK - about $27 - for one beef burger that we split and two soft drinks. Today, it was 385DK - about $72 - for a grilled chicken breast with rice for Jill and a simple salad bar for me with just water for both of us. Some things, like taxis, don't seem too high.
They also seem to be a little creative with some foods. Fried egg on club sandwiches and curry sauce on club sandwishes. (Connie - no cheese on the club sandwiches.) Cucumbers and tomatoes with everything. Some very heavy breads filled with bits and other seeds.
We plan to try to find some kind of local restaurant for lunch and dinner tomorrow. Don't know yet what we will do - but there seem to be several options.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Saturday/Sunday travel wasn't too bad. Our trip started with me being an airhead. We were almost halfway to the airport when I realized that I had left my sportcoat at home. That certainly wouldn't have been good on the formal nights of the cruise. Luckily, both kids were home and Brett was able to bring it to me at the airport.
Then, as we checked in with United, they initially couldn't find our reservation. I had a brief bit of stress but they finally found the reservation. Then, when we tried to exchange dollars to Danish Krones, the currency exchange had no krones. We were beginning to worry that we were jinxed.
But things started to go better. In Chicago, they didn't have the amount of krones we had planned - but they had enough for now. The security line in the internatonal terminal was huge - but it kept crawling along in a bit of a mess. Once we got thru security, we finally settled into a long wait in the Scandinavian Airlines lounge.
Our SAS plane boarded and we were off for our 8 hour flight to Copenhagen. Very nice plane, pretty good food, excellent service, and seats that extended flat enough that we could get some sleep.
Arrival, pickup by our driver, luggage claim all went incredibly well. The Marriott is very nice - particularly since we used points for the stay. I was wrong to assume that they would have US type electric plugs - so we are waiting for a converter for which we must provide a hefty deposit. And they are short on foam pillows.
For lunch/dinner, we got a suggestion from the bellman. Went to a bar and grill type place. Everything on the menu was in Danish but they were very helpful and we ordered a beef burger. It turned out to be very good - probably close to a half pound so we were glad we ordered just one to share. And, rather than french fries, they served roasted potatoes with ketchup and Mayo. The ketchup & Mayo were served together side by side in the same small cup. We both got plenty to eat.
Oh by the way, Julie, the hotel restaurant serves a club sandwich that has a fried egg on the sandwich.
For now, it is time to relax a little and probably get to sleep very early. Our combined Saturday/Sunday has been very tiring - but it seems like we are off to a good start. Tomorrow, we will get our bearings and begin to see the sights of Copenhagen.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
I won't be doing any blog posts while we travel unless I figure out how to do it from my blackberry. We'll see. In any case, it will be nice to get away and relax.