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 ;-)