Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Day 57: Barcelona

So much to report about today...so darn tired. I will get this post started, but may need to finish it tomorrow morning. Luckily, this is a rare instance where I can be a little lazy; tomorrow is another sea day!  Yay!!

Backing up a little...we spent part of yesterday remembering past visits to Barcelona, like the year we were here for several days at the end of a cruise and the Formula 1 Grand Prix was in a nearby town at the Circuit de Catalunya. On a whim, we took a taxi to the course and spent the day watching Michael Schumacher race and win (a bittersweet memory, to be sure). Then there was the time we were taking a public bus back to our hotel around midnight and we had to change buses along the way. We were dropped off at what looked like a business park on a Saturday night and waited an hour, wondering what the heck we were going to do next. We had not seen a single car or bus or motorbike go by.  I think that's the closest we've ever felt to being in over our heads while traveling. Then, out of the darkness, came a bus. We were so happy to see it, I could have kissed the driver. And visiting the monestary at Monserrat was a deeply moving experience (and one I highly recommend). But mostly, G said, he remembered me in Nice on October 15 saying over and over again, "We are not going to Barcelona. We have no flight home from Barcelona. We have no reason to go to Barcelona,". Yeah, I guess I was rather emphatic about that. But we realized today that our greatest loss from the Nice incident was not missing Sarande, Albania or not having an extra day in Santorini; rather it was the 2 1/2 days, including two overnights, we lost in Barcelona. We love this city!  Well...shoot.  

Since the Pacific Princess was not scheduled to arrive in Barcelona until noon today, we allowed ourselves a bit of a lie in, and many of the passengers seemed to do the same. We didn't arrive in the Panorama Buffet for breakfast until after 8am, and it still wasn't very busy. We shared a table with Leah and Dick, who, it turns out, are blog readers. They took up scuba diving at 50 and are both master divers and are still going strong and I've decided that I want to be them when I grow up. :-)

We returned to the cabin and G actually napped for about an hour while I pushed Bill Bryson to move faster along that Road to Little Dribbling (he's now 41% of the way there). I looked out our cabin window shortly after 11am and saw a freighter right outside and knew we were approaching the port of Barcelona. Unlike on October 15, when the Pacific Princess was scheduled to dock at the World Trade Centeer (which would have been perfect; it's just a short walk from there to the Columbus Monument at the end of Las Ramblas), we were docking today out in the main port, requiring the purchase of an $8 per person round trip transfer, chargeable to our on board accounts, just to get out of this large port. I do wish Princess would simply roll this into our port fees, where it would never be noticed. 

I stopped by the Shore Excursions Desk on the way to meet G at the British Pub Lunch, which began today at 11am, and purchased the transfers. We grabbed a quick fish and chips lunch (which I seldom eat but I didn't want to take extra time after G finished his to go the the buffet) and left the ship shortly after it was docked and cleared by the local authorities around noon. It was a gloriously beautiful day, with no clouds in the sky and about 61F. The port terminal is very new and ultra modern and looked like an airport terminal (in reality, it looked much nicer than most airport terminals). We boarded the waiting bus and were driven about 10 minutes to outside the port area. From here, G and I started to walk toward Las Ramblas, the main tourist street (actually, a series of streets) that leads from the port to Plaça de Catalunya. We have done this walk several times in the past, both during the day and after sunset, when it is part carnival, part freak show and completely Barcelona. 

We had a change of plans for today, and decided to walk in search of Barcelona's miles-long beach. We had never seen it during prior visits and we had read good things about it. It was probably about a mile from where the bus dropped us off, and all along the way there was much to see. We had forgotten how beautiful the Barcelona waterfront is (or maybe it didn't used to be so nice) and we enjoyed the yacht harbor with hundreds of sailboats and several mega yachts, and there was a large circus setting up and a local food festival that we passed by on our way to the beach, intending to view it on our return. The beach area reminded me a great deal of the area around Waikiki Beach, with small grocery stores and souvenir shops and even before we reached the beach we could see stand-up paddleboarders wearing wetsuits and carrying their boards walking down the street.

The beach itself was quite impressive and- oh- it was so good to see a beach again!!!! We had walked along the beach in Nice but that beach was all stones. Barcelona's beach is dark brown sand and very nice for a Mediterranean beach. We walked for a long time along the water's edge and enjoyed the crashing waves (we have missed that a lot) and large sand sculptures and mostly the feeling of familiarity despite the fact that it was the first time we'd ever been there. We are definitely beach people at heart!

Eventually we walked back to the boardwalk lining the beach with its many pedestrians and occasional bikes and roller blades and Segways and made our way back to the local food festival. We gathered a few items- bread and cheese and nuts and a liter of Sangria and sat at a table along the waterfront, people watching and enjoying the view. We eventually started back but the sun was at such an angle that we were nearly blinded looking into it. G saw a booth selling 40 minute harbor tours that would bring us back just before sunset and we bought tickets and hopped on the boat as it was leaving. This gave us a close up view of all the new developments in the harbor (it's a bourgeoning area) and especially the beautiful yachts. 

It was the perfect diversion, and, once we returned, it was much easier to walk into the setting sun back to the shuttle bus. We waited just a short time for one and were back on the ship around 5:30pm, having walked another bazillion steps today. We had purchased more Sangria  and took it up to the Panorama Buffet where we added a few more things (garlic shrimp for me) and our first persimmon ever (they just put them out in the buffet today) and called it dinner. Dinner in the Club Restaurant was open seating tonight; the Pacific Princess is not sailing until 11pm. 

There is a flamenco folkloric show at 7:45pm (actually, right now) but we are too tired to even attend it. Finally, G is admitting to being worn out (he's already asleep) and it's a good thing that our ports at this point are separated by at least one day at sea. We need that buffer to keep going. 

And, finally, I've been watching and waiting for Christmas to arrive on the Pacific Princess. I kind of expected that we'd see Chrusmtas decorations beginning in Civitavecchia last turnaround day, but we didn't. However, this morning when I walked through the Atrium on the way to breakfast, I saw several large cardboard boxes sitting there and knew exactly what that meant. Sure enough, as soon the the ship docked, two decorators came on board and started decking the halls with boughs of holly. We were told that the decorations had come on board in Civitavecchia but were simply stored until the decorators arrived today. This is the same company that decorates the ships in Fort Lauderdale so I guess they flew to Barcelona just for this one day. 

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and I didn't have to lift a finger. Plus, I've finished this blog post before falling asleep and gettin hit in the nose by my falling iPad. Life is good!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Day 56: At Sea

It must have been the prospect of an entire day with almost no obligations that had us bounding out of bed well before 7am today. Over breakfast in the Panorama Buffet (the Club Restaurant hadn't even opened yet) I looked at the Patter and couldn't decide what not to do first. Nope, I was definitely not feeling the participative thing today. There was plenty to choose from, of course, and we even have an enrichment lecturer on board. Today he (she?  I'm not sure...) was speaking about banana rot (really) and I sure (s)he gave a riveting lecture but unless someone had come on board toting the fountain of youth and letting me drink from it, I was not interested.  I wanted to do some hand laundry and apply anther coat of nail strengthener and give G a haircut and eat lunch in the Club Restaurant. But mostly I wanted to see Bill Bryson get more than 31% along that darn Road to Little Dribbling. And I wanted some serious solitude time. 

One of the Patter's offerings was the start of a book club. Today the chosen book was going to be distributed. I know that eight years of higher education have ruined me for forced reading, but there are few things I am less interested in than book clubs, on land or at sea. They come far too close to the 50+ page case studies we had to read daily and analyze and be prepared to discuss in my business strategy classes. No, thank you, I want to read what I want to read, and not be forced to publicly discuss my thoughts and reactions. I do enough of that right here. ;-)

But G was in dire need of a significant haircut so we took care of that first, before he showered and went to a veterans get together at 10:15am. While he was gone, I did hand laundry and hung it up to dry and generally straightened and organized the cabin (these are just two of my favorite things!). Before I had time to really settle in with Mr. Bryson, I needed to meet G in the Cabaret Lounge for this cruise's BIG!!!!!! $500 Treasure Hunt Drawing*!!! (*must be present to win). Of course, we won NOTHING at all, but we have one more opportunity to win big next cruise. I'd love a repeat of my luck two years ago when I won a massage on a Pacific Princess Christmas cruise. Merry Christmas to me!

I had already checked the lunch menu posted outside the Club Restaurant and it contained a few favorites, so we went there shortly after noon and I had chicken tortilla soup and a Greek salad (and no dessert because I will not allow myself to have dessert at lunch on most sea days, unless it's Dessert Extravaganza Day in the Panorama Buffet or MTP luncheon day or any day I really, really want to have dessert with lunch). 

Only then did I turn my attention to reading. I had almost two hours before I had to start getting ready for formal night, especially early today as pianist Chris Hamilton was offering a special matinee performance, one show only at 4:15pm. G had gone to the banana rot lecture and was already in the Cabaret Lounge and I joined him and we both stayed for Chris Hamilton's performance. What a talent!  What a showman!  We loved it, and apparently so did everyone else who gave him a standing O at the end.

We did a very quick change to formalwear and went to the Club Restaurant for a truly wonderful dinner. I only have beef one time each cruise and tonight was the night. Food and Beverage Director Andrea has told us that the beef we're currently eating is from Italy and it is delicious. I had onion soup (broth only; I skipped the cheese) and salad and one beef tenderloin but asked Marco to add a couple of garlic shrimp (another entree option). Paired with merlot, and finished with pink grapefruit sorbet, it was a perfect formal night dinner. Even more gladness:  tonight's production show of Motor City followed by a few songs with Jere Ring in the Casino Lounge. What a great evening at sea!

We don't arrive in Barcelona until noon tomorrow, giving us one more opportunity to attempt to sleep in. Our departure tomorrow night is not until 11pm but I doubt we'll stay out that late. We've been to Barcelona several times in the past and will likely just spend the afternoon rambling on Las Ramblas. Rick Steves mentions a candy store just east of Las Ramblas in the Barri Gòtic. Arrive at noon, walk awhile and eat candy. It took us eight weeks but I think we've finally got the hang of this cruising thing. ;-)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Day 55: Messina (actually Taormina), Sicily

We had such a fantastic day today, and tonight I'm as giddy as a school kid on a Friday night with Spring Break just three days away and summer vacation just a day after that. Not to imply that this cruising season has been a drudge, because we've enjoyed every minute of it (well, maybe not every minute of that rough day last week, and Nice wasn't exactly nice, but aside from those rare occasions we've had a series of unbelievably wonderful experiences). But, good grief, we are tired. At least I am. G claims he's not, but as soon as his head hits a pillow- day, night, it makes no difference, he is out like a light. These upcoming sea days, at least the first few of them, will be very much enjoyed. 

Today was our only visit to the city of Messina this season; it was a port stop on the cruise that wasn't, but we obviously hadn't gotten here. We went to breakfast in the Panorama Buffet and did a quick assessment of the weather:  mostly sunny and mild. It was a good day to go to Taormina, about 30-40 miles south of Messina on the eastern coast of Sicily, and not quite midway between Messina and Catania (so it can be reached as a day excursion from either port). Paul and Marlene joined us for breakfast and we did a quick Google search for some travel information. There was a 9:15am Trenitalia train from the Messina Centrale station just a 10-15 minute walk from the port, so we left the ship and headed that direction. 

It was easy to buy tickets (4,30€ per person) and the station signage was very clear. We knew exactly which platform to go to and our train was waiting when we arrived. We read that there are only six express trains daily between Messina and Taormina and we must have gotten on one of these this morning. The train traveled quickly along the coastline, with limited stops and beautiful views of the sea on one side and the mountains on the other. We arrived at the Taormina-Giardina station in just over 30 minutes. Once there, the bus schedule to Taormina, which sits high on a mountain above the coast, was clearly posted, but a local lady also waiting told us it would be there in just a couple of minutes and that we could buy tickets on the bus. (We frequently rely on the kindness of strangers and did so several times today). 

The bus cost 3€ per person round trip, making this an 11,60€ day per person. A taxi wanted 300€ make the round trip drive and the cheapest ship excursion (Taormina on your own) was 60€ per person. The bus wound its way back and forth over several switchbacks, climbing 700 feet above the Bay of Naxos to the bus station on the east side of very walkable Taormina. The views over the coast were spectacular and the town itself, a resort town for centuries, reminded us very much of the Cinque Terre but without all the steps. We saw Roman ruins dating back 2000 years and St. Catarina Cathedral, fairly modest by Italian standards but still far more opulent than most in the US. 

We walked to the ancient Greek Theater that dates from 3000 BC(!!) but the admission price of 10€ per person seemed a little high after seeing all the artifacts of Pompeii and Herculaneum for free just yesterday. So we backtracked to the main pedestrian street of Corso Umberto where G spotted a very cute cafe selling gelato and cannolis and he asked them to make us gelato cannolis and they obliged and filled each half with a different flavor of gelato so we could share one and each have our favorite. We sat an outdoor table enjoying them and people watching. 

We had to make a decision about which bus and train to take back. The bus leaves Taormina at 1:30pm and 1:45pm, but then not again until 3:30pm. The trains to Messina left at roughly 2pm, 3pm and 4pm. We decided to play it safe and take the 1:45pm bus and are glad we did.  By the time we bought tickets at a machine (you should have seen the four of us figuring out how to do that!) the 2:02pm train was arriving and it was packed with high school kids and was not an express. It took about 75 minutes to get back to Messina, but we were kept highly entertained by watching the high school kids (very well behaved but demonstrating typical teen behavior). Marlene and Paul had both taught high school in Toledo and they said it brought back memories. 

We arrived on the ship just after 3:30pm, well before the on board time of 5:30pm, but showered and met up for hors doerves in the PES Lounge at 5pm. Tonight's special was chips and salsa and, of course, all the usual cheeses and veggies and dips and nibbles and breadsticks were also offered. I had a blended margarita and it went great with the chips and salsa. We had skipped lunch, and the cannoli, as good as it was, didn't go far. We were hungry when we went to dinner and I had a salad and seafood stew (slightly different from cioppino) and watermelon sorbet for dessert.

Comedian Tony Daro performed at 7:45pm and I laughed myself into an asthma attack, something I haven't done since I was a kid. We were walking out of the Cabaret Lounge and I overheard a fellow passenger say she laughed so hard her back hurt. Tony Daro is a funny, funny guy. I so wanted to go to the Casino Lounge to listen to Jere Ring on the piano but was just too tired and hadn't even started this post yet. I will have plenty of relaxing evenings coming up to enjoy Jere's antics. 

Today was our final day in Italy this season, and we are leaving with definite mixed feelings. We will miss the exciting ports, the depth of the history and culture, the wonderful food and wine, St. Peter's Basilica and Venice and especially the less populated cities we've visited. We will not miss the traffic and the small motorbikes and scooters and the smokers, trash and graffiti. And, hand to heart, I will especially not miss the toilets. Italian bathrooms aren't as bad as some I experienced in China, but that really shouldn't be considered a point of pride. I had started really limiting liquids just to cut down on having to 1.) find toilets; 2.) pay for toilets; and 3.) use toilets.  No, that I won't miss at all. 

But memories of Venice, the Cinque Terre, Portofino and Taormina will have us looking for opportunities to return. 

Life is good. :-)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Day 54: Naples, Italy

Today was another of those 'bestest best' days of our cruising season. We had a perfect storm of good fortune, perfect weather and (drum roll, please)...the best mattress to sleep on and ergo the least lower back pain I've had since we left home. 

It simply doesn't get any better than that. 

We set our cabin TV to the front of the ship channel (the same view as the ship's webcam online) as soon as we awoke and spotted an incredible sunrise over Mt. Vesuvius right off the bow of the Pacific Princess as it docked in Naples. G grabbed my camera and ran up to Deck 10 for photos while I dressed and inserted contacts. We met up in the Panorama Buffet and went out on the Panorama Terrace (that's how warm it already was this morning) and viewed the yellow glow of Napoli in the morning light. Gorgeous! While we were there, we met up with Marlene and Paul and once again planned a day together. 

Our intention all along was to visit the Naples Archeological Museum today, just two days after visiting Pompeii. Most of the relics unearthed at Pompeii and Herculaneum (similar but smaller in size and buried in lava flow, unlike Pompeii which was  buried in 30 feet of dust) have been moved to the archeological museum and it is one of the best ones in the world. Even better, the first Sunday of each month features free admission to many of Italy's cultural and archeological sites. Pompeii and Herculaneum would also have been free today but we wanted to get an early start at the closest site (the meuseum) and conclude our visit before the inevitable 'free day' crowds built. 

In the interest of time, we shared a taxi (15€ total) to the archeological museum and were there just after the opening time of 9am. After getting our free ticket, we took an elevator to the top floor with the intention of working our way backwards through the museum. In fact, the top floor (the 4th floor in US terms) houses the administrative offices but before we went down a floor to the museum's top floor, we discovered the holy grail of Italian bathrooms near the administrative area:  spotlessly clean with toilet seats and TP and soap to wash hands (oh my!). We didn't need them right then but took note of them. We knew we'd be back!

The museum is housed in a former university from the 17th and 18th centuries that became a royal museum in 1777 to house the best artifacts being unearthed at Pompeii. The great hall on the top floor houses a mechanical timepiece and a diagonal layout of zodiac on the tile floor. A pin hole of light strikes the sundial each day at noon and show the time of the year on the zodiac layout. Very cool!  The remainder of the top floor is home to frescoes, statues and a 1:100 scale model of a Pompeii as it was excavated in 1879 that nearly fills another big hall. This fascinated us, having just been at Pompeii, and we debated exactly which streets we had walked down and where the various major sites were on the model. On the wall is a second model shoring the excavations in 2004. 

There were eight rooms of frescoes from the walls of Pompeii villas. Though not every item was labelled in English, each section contained a descriptive sign board in Italian and English and it was not difficult to discern what we were looking at. Many of the frescoes and statues depicted scenes from mythology. I was particularly taken with a statue of Charles Atlas holding up the earth (I remember seeing a photo of this as a child and was fascinated by it then, too), and loved seeing the hairstyles and sandals intricately carved on the statues. 

The second floor housed artifacts from the holiday home of Julius Caesar's father in law, excavated from Herculaneum. He was a fan of Epicurian philosophy and had a 2000 scroll library supporting his views. These half burned scrolls were painstakingly unrolled in the beginning of the 20th century on a traction device invented by Father Antonio Piaggio. Amazing!

The 'Secret Room' on the second floor contained frescoes of the sort found in the brothel at Pompeii and statues that were even more descriptive (and anotomically correct) leading me to believe that there is nothing new under the sun...except perhaps for that half-goat man and goat statue. I suspect that was meant to be amusing but it was probably pretty bizarre even back then. There are also documents in a case there that are are basically permission slips. When the sexy frescoes were first moved to the museum in 1839, they could only be viewed with the permission of the king and the permission was given in the letters that still exist there today. 

By the time we reached the ground floor, we had found the crowds. We moved quickly through this floor, hitting the highlights as pointed out in Rick Steves' walking tour of the museum. The ground floor has nothing to do with Pompeii or Herculaneum but instead features the Farnese Collection, restored statues excavated from Rome’s Baths of Caracalla. This floor reminded me a great deal of the Vatican Museum. In fact, the ceilings in some of the rooms rivaled the ceilings at the Vatican Museum. We were in the museum for three to four hours and I took hundreds of photos. I'll pick a few favorites and post them here once we return home.

We decided to walk back to the ship (just between 1 and 2 miles) but by then it was mid-afternoon and the sidewalks were packed and the traffic horrendous. Not for the first time I realized that there is no way I could live in a city the size of Naples (Italy's third largest city). Our walk was made easier because it was all downhill to the waterfront. We stopped into a well stocked grocery store and bought a few things and a bottle of sangria wine to take back to the ship. Once back on the Pacific Princess, we washed our hands before and after using the bathroom, at least 10 times. I am definitely a germaphobe!

We met up with Marlene and Paul again on the Panorama Terrace and got orange sections and lemons from the Panorama Buffet and enjoyed the sangria and the sunshine on the best and warmest day we've had since we first arrived in Italy on October 4. This is the weather we'd thought we'd have then, but better late than never. After a light snack, G went to a hot tub while I showered and dressed for dinner. We met up in the PES Lounge and watched a beautiful sunset, then went to dinner in the Club Restaurant (garden salad and seafood skewer). We were in the Cabaret Lounge for the 7:45pm performance by piano showman Chris Hamilton (we saw him a cruise or two ago, but he is highly entertaining). Afterward, G listened to Jere Ring in the Casino Lounge but I returned to the cabin to start this post. 

Speaking of  cabins, we've had a couple of things straightened out here (outside clanging noise and slow sink drain) but the most important thing is that the mattress is so perfect for my back. I hadn't really realized how much back pain I've been dealing with until I woke up today with none, after just one night's sleep. Holy hallelujah! It's going to be a great month...perfect cabin location and comfortable beds and, relatively speaking, a lot of down time. I told Greg that, in the event of rising or falling water, if I need to evacuate, forget the jewelry, forget the iPad, I will not leave this cabin without this mattress!

Life is very good tonight!  :-)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Day 53: Civitavecchia, Italy

Today was made much easier for us because of our decision not to try to get to Rome, about an hour away. As it turned out, it would have been nearly impossible for us to do so; the new cabin into which we were moving was not vacated until 8:30am and it was 9:30am before it was readied for us. As quickly as we tried to move our things (and they were already packed in bags), it was still 10:30pm by the time we were settled with everything put away. It helped a great deal that we are now only about 20 steps from our old cabin, with no elevators required during the move. 

Once settled, we took the port shuttle to the Civitavecchia port entrance (this is a HUGE port) and then walked a short distance to a cafe with WiFi. We were experiencing another issue with our Comcast internet at home which affected our ability to monitor anything remotely. I think this is the straw that breaks the camel's back, and when we return home, our Comcast voice service will be dropped and our multipurpose Comcast voice and data router replaced with a more reliable one providing data only. This will mean that we will no longer get transcripts of voice messages left on our home phone emailed to us immediately but we will join most of the rest of the world in cutting our land line and simply using our cell phones. In the mean time, it took some doing, but G again remotely reset the router and got us up and running...until the next time. 

We were back on the Pacific Princess and in the Club Restaurant enjoying the wonderful embarkation day lunch by 1pm. I wanted to stay on board to attend the 3pm performance of the Corrado Duo (you might recall how much we enjoyed this piano/tenor duo when they were on board on October 28, the day we re-boarded the Pacific Princess in Civitavecchia). G opted instead to go back into town to check on things at home one more time (to make sure they had stayed working for at least three hours!) so we temporarily parted ways. 

The Corrado Duo was just as wonderful as last time and I immensely enjoyed their nearly hour long performance. Once back in the cabin, I decided to take advantage of the time and space and do some hand laundry and get showered for the evening during the 4:30pm muster drill for newly embarking passengers. That's kind of a tradition with me, regardless of ship. ;-)  G returned, having run from the cafe to the ship just for a workout, and we were at dinner in the Club Restaurant (same table, same waiters -Magnificent Marco and Terrific Taufik) by 5:45pm. The special Mediterranean menu items have disappeared on this transatlantic cruise; I had egg rolls as starters, then a garden salad and the conchiglie something something, a pasta in tomato sauce with broccoli as an entree. Yum!

This cruise's Welcome Aboard show was held at 7:45pm in the Cabaret Lounge. The singers and dancers did their usual kick off and then Cruise Director Frank introduced them and the rest of the cruise staff and then comedian Tony Daro did a short show. It was a tough audience (everyone is tired from either flying in for the cruise or, for many of the almost 300 passengers who stayed on from last cruise, all day visits to Rome) but Tony won them over and was truly harious without picking on or poking fun at any passengers. I like that in a comedian!

We knew that today was the day piano entertainer Jere Ring was joining the Pacific Princess until January 3. Jere was on board with us in French Polynesia two winters ago and we loved his sense of humor and the way that he fully involved himself in all the activities on the ship. We were returning to the ship just before lunch today when G spotted Jere and his partner Johnny in the terminal waiting to come on board. Unfortunately, I didn't see them until I was through security so it was a case where I could see him but not get close enough to talk. So when he started performing in the Casino Lounge at 8:30pm tonight, we were there and it was hug time. We had so much fun with him in French Polynesia, and he told several French Polynesia stories tonight. We listened to him perform until 9:30pm, but we are still busy with ports for another couple of days and can't stay out later than that on school nights. ;-)

The cabin we had last cruise had a decent WiFi signal, but we are not so lucky this time around. I will begin to again publish posts the next morning when I can't get a signal at night. On a positive note, this is the best mattress I've had to date on the Pacific Princess (now that my back is already wrecked). Another downside is the clanging taking place on the outside of the ship right outside our cabin. We sat with a couple in the Cabaret Lounge tonight who had been in the next cabin last cruise and asked to be moved or they were going to fly home. They said their toilet was constantly blocked and the clanging drove them nuts. They accepted a downgrade to Deck 3 just to escape the issues. Well, we have earplugs and enjoy the plumbing perks that toilet issues bring. Fingers crossed that this new cabin works out. 

Cruise #5: Renaissance Passage

Finally, homeward bound!



Friday, December 2, 2016

Day 52: Naples, Italy

Today was mild with no wind but was largely overcast all day. No matter; it was a perfect day to go to Pompeii, about 30 minutes from Naples at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that erupted in 79AD and wiped out the once thriving town. 

Once again, the thrusters woke us up (they are quite a reliable alarm clock) and we headed up to the Panorama Buffet for coffee and breakfast. Paul and Marlene eventually joined us and we planned our day. I had researched how to get to Pompeii by the Circumvesuviana train but made the mistake of talking with the attendant at the Traveler Information booth in the port terminal, where I was told that the bus is the best way to go (though I knew Captain JP and his fiancé and baby daughter had made the trip by train just over a month ago). We were told how to get to the bus- kind of- but when we exited the terminal we were besieged by taxi drivers all wanting to take us. Finally G negotiated one with a roomy van down to 25€ per person to take us, wait for us and bring us back and that seemed the easiest route to go. Sometimes it pays to pay extra. We raced down the expressway at about 80mph and were in Pompeii in record time. We had negotiated a three hour stay into the fare, so we had until 1pm to tour the site. 

Entry tickets were 11€ per person (credit card accepted) and we started out following Rick Steves' walking tour for Pompeii but ended up using a combination of the walking tour and the map we were given when we purchased our tickets. Frankly, I was shocked by the size of Pompeii; I had imagined it to be a single archeological site with a pile of ruins but, actually what remains (mosty walls and streets and amphitheater) proves it was a sizable town by any standards. At its peak 2000 years ago, Pompeii was a port city with 20,000 residents. When Vesuvius blew, Pompeii was covered under 30 feet of ash and lay undetected until it was discovered in 1599. Excavations of the site did not begin until 1748 and work is still going on. Hovering ominously over the entire town is Mt. Vesuvius, still active and smoldering with almost constant cloud cover at its peak. It last erupted in 1944.

At first we were taking pictures of every building and every arch but soon learned that we'd be there all week if that continued. We became a bit choosier then, and mapped out those specific sites that were absolute 'must sees' for the four of us. My two favorite sites were the baths and the brothel. During its heyday, Pompeii offered six public baths and thirty brothels. Each public bath had men's and women's sections. The male section offered a dressing room with stone cubicle 'lockers'. A steam room had a heated stone floor that steamed the water flowing out of a large fountain. Lettering on the fountain (I have photos of all of this that I'll post when I return home) reminded those enjoying the room which politicians paid for it and how much they had paid. 

My other favorite site was one of the brothels. This one was a hoot from start to finish. There were several small rooms with stone beds and pillows (ouch!). On the walls were frescoes depicting some of the various sexual services offered. The women shown were always white and the men were dark, which was considered sexy. I remarked that the frescoes were a bit like the photo menu board at a fast food restaurant. "I'll take #3, and supersize it". ;-)

The streets were something to see. They were stone streets flooded daily from the city's aqueducts to keep them clean. During the flooded times, there were large flat rocks that allowed the residents to cross the street but that were spaced exactly to allow chariots to pass each other in either direction. It was an amazing thing to see the ruts in the stones left by years of chariot traffic. And the water cisterns had indentations where people would have held on to the edge when they leaned over to the faucet to get a drink of water. And that was the best part of Pompeii. We were free to walk almost everywhere, touch almost everything and wander the streets imagining life as it was 2000 years ago. It wasn't fenced off and protected and in any way separated from the people who were visiting it, as are so many other historical and archaeological sites. 

After three hours of walking on cobblestones, we exited Pompeii near the amphitheater and walked along the sidewalks of modern Pompeii back to the Porta Marina entrance where our driver was waiting. We drove back to Naples and he dropped us at a favorite local (not touristy) restaurant where we scarfed down huge plates of absolutely incredible antipasto and then individual Napoli pizzas and some local beers. It was a perfect way to end the day and when we were finished we walked about 20 minutes past the Royal Palace and the Castel Nuovo back to the maritime port and the Pacific Princess, arriving on the ship about 4pm. We.were.pooped. 

We had just enough time for a short rest before we needed to get cleaned up for the evening. Though we had no reason to, we went to the Club Restaurant for dinner where I just had two starters (one seafood and one watermelon with feta cheese), though G did manage to eat part of a steak. He went to the 6:45pm mentalist performance but I returned to the cabin to attend to evening ablutions and start preparing this post. We will have a very early morning tomorrow with the Pacific Princess scheduled to arrive in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, at 5am.

We have given our plans for tomorrow a lot of thought but have decided, especially since we have to move cabins once again, and already spent time in Rome before we boarded the Pacific Princess on October 28, that we will stay in Civitavecchia and see what there is to see there...and find some high speed WiFi. We are falling behind on checking on things at home and with several sea days coming up on the transatlantic cruise, won't have many more opportunities to stay in touch. The prospect of a leisurely day outweighs a few hours in Rome (a sure sign that we are past the point of wearing down and are well and truly tired).  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Day 51: Catania, Sicily

What a difference today was from our last visit to Catania. It helped tremendously that we had a bright sun in a cloudless blue sky and not a bit of wind, though the day was, just as Captain D had promised, quite chilly. Who cared?  The earth did not move beneath our feet; all was well in our world. 

I'll back up just a few hours, though, to last night after I published yesterday's blog post. Just as predicted, we had extremely rough seas until around 11pm and then things started to quiet. But in the meantime, we laid in our cabin and listened to the things crashing around us on the ship. We had to move everything off the vanity in our room...wine bottles, wine glasses, plastic baskets filled with G's small items. They had all slid to the floor while I was at dinner. Around 8pm we heard a crash so loud that we imagined a life boat had fallen to the Promenade Deck (that wasn't actually the case), and we looked out the window (the over the side lights were turned on) and saw spray blowing sideways, totally obliterating the view of anything else. It was exactly like being in a blizzard.

Still, when we opened our eyes after over ten hours of sleep (we had moved clocks back an hour from Greek time for the final time this season) and saw a beautiful sunrise over mirror smooth water and a view of the snow covered peak of nearby Mount Etna, we felt like survivors. It was a brand new day. Yay!

G was starving and even I was hungry, having not eaten a great deal yesterday, and we went to the Panorama Buffet for breakfast (peanut butter on six grain toast and a Bosc pear). We met up with Marlene and Paul who decided to join us for the day. Our only firm plan was to visit the Allied landing Museum in Catania and we were open to whatever else the day brought. We walked off the ship together at 9:30am and I was immediately struck with the feeling of mal de debarquement, which is quite interesting because I was one of the few people we know who hadn't gotten seasick yesterday.  Mal de debarquement (French for disembarkation sickness) is a real illness and affects some people every time they cruise. I've only had it once before, on a transatlantic cruise after five days at sea. Fortunately, today I only felt the vertigo that accompanies the illness for a couple of hours and was then fine. 

We were approached by vendors selling a Hop On Hop Off bus for just 10€ per person and it would get us to and from the Allied Landing Museum and also give us an audio tour of Catania. When we boarded the bus and left the port, we were especially glad that we had dressed for the day in our warmest clothing; the bus had an open top. We started by taking the roughly 70 minute tour of the city, heading north along the beautiful Sicilian coastline. We could see waves crashing on the large black lava rocks along the way. 

After about 20 minutes of driving along the coast, the bus turned around and headed back through the heart of Catania.  We were amazed by the ornate architecture of at least 1/3 of the buildings, many of which had been rebuilt multiple times due to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the Allied bombing of Sicily in the summer of 1943. We were left off at the Piazza del Duomo, the site of the Cathedral or Sant Agat (Saint Agatha), the patron saint of the city. Today was the festival of Saint Elizabeth, who must be the patron saint of the military, because there was a large service taking place in the cathedral with several service members, particularly of the Italian Navy and Coast Guard, in full dress uniforms standing outside.

We walked through the Piazza to the market area and Marlene and I could easily have spent the rest of the day there.  We loved seeing the bags of spices and nuts and all the gorgeous locally grown fruits and vegetables and the refrigerated cases filled with meat. The prices were astonishingly low and the quality appeared very high and it made us wish we had similar open air markets to shop at every day in the States. We made our way back to the bus stop to get the next HOHO bus and were sitting on it right next to the cathedral when the noon bells rang. And rang. And rang. G said there were three different sizes of bells and they were a wonder to listen to. 

We stayed on the bus back to the Allied Landing Museum which is part of a large complex that also houses a movie museum and concert hall. The price to get in was just 4€ per person (2€ for over 65) and it was a steal for what we saw. First we watched a 10-minute video (subtitled in English) explaining the war up to the point where the Allies invaded Sicily. It was obvious that dictator Mussolini was attempting to keep Italy from being overrun by Germany and wanted to retain some power in the new order by joining forces with Hitler. As a result, Sicily became a gateway to the rest of Italy for the Allied troops and they invaded the island in July 1943.

The first floor of the museum recreated what life was like in Catania with people going about their lives and then we entered a mock up of an air raid shelter and sat there while we heard Allied planes approaching and beginning to drop bombs and the air raid shelter actually shook and moved. We emerged from that into a mock up of the same street we had just seen, but after the bombing. We all remarked that it isn't often we've seen WW II from a non-Allied perspective. 

The second and third floors focused on actual historical video and photos and the military strategy (it was termed Operation Husky) with large maps showing where the British and the US simultaneously attacked. And correspondence between Hitler and Mussolini showing Hitler's frustration with the Italians inability to resist the Allied troops. And though Mussolini knew his country lacked the resources to resist the Allies, he kept this fact hidden from Hitler. In fact, he invaded Poland and Greece and North Africa without notifying Hitler in an attempt to surprise Hitler the way that Hitler continued to keep things hidden from Mussolini. It was a partnership that was doomed to failure. 

The museum visit was a few hours well spent and we went back to the bus stop to get the HOHO bus back to the ship. We were all dragging a bit when we returned to the Pacific Princess about 4pm. G and I showered and were up in the PES Lounge for sailaway after dark, with the beautiful lights of the Sicilian coastline in the not-far distance. From our dinner table in the Club Restaurant we could see the lights of the island going up the mountainsides and they were just spectacular. We went to the 7:45pm performance of production show Do You Wanna Dance (loved it!) and when I returned to the cabin, our window was filled with the same view of the lights of the coastline.

Captain D said we'd pass through the Messina Strait between Sicily and mainland Italy about midnight tonight (think of Italy as a boot and Sicily as a deflated football at its toe, separated by the Messina Strait). We have another busy day tomorrow in Napoli, and I will be asleep soon. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Day 50: A rough day at sea

Oy, what a day this has been (and not in a "Wow- what a day this has been!" sense). This was a rough day, possibly the worst we've seen apart from the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. We've twice sailed that section of water, but on much larger ships. Relatively speaking, today felt just as bad. Very probably even worse. 

Despite the strong hints that Captain D was making (when he could still talk...he and many of the ship's company have the same sore throat- coughing thing going on that we've been dealing with), hope springs eternal and we were still counting on getting into Katakolon today (which, you might recall, was a substitute for Khios). We had booked a ship's excursion to the original Olympic site and set two alarms for 6am to make sure we didn't miss our excursion meeting time. As a result, we were in the Panorama Buffet well before sunrise, drinking coffee and eating breakfast and willing ourselves to wake up (we had plenty of company in that regard). About 6:45am, Captain D started an announcement, telling us he had something so important to tell us that he was going to hand the message he had prepared over to the Staff Captain to read, because Captain D barely had a voice. 

We knew what we were about to hear, of course, that Katakolon would be a miss, but Staff went on to tell us that we were in for some wild weather today (though he explained it in terms of cold fronts and depressions) after a night of wild weather last night. By 7am we were crawling back into bed. We didn't know how we would spend the day but were certain that ours wouldn't start again until at least 9am. We saw it all this morning:  clouds and rain and constant bounciness. A revised Patter full of activities was quickly published, but walking down our corridor on Deck 4, I saw that most were still in the mail slots and many doors had 'Do Not Disturb' cards in the locks. 

Thankfully, we have hours of videos on iDevices and and a Lightning/HDMI adapter and had plenty to keep us entertained while mostly staying down. However, by 12:30pm, I was getting a little hungry...after all, it had been 6 hours since a light breakfast. In the spirit of companionship, G accompanied me to the Panorama Buffet but before he even had selected any food looked at me with a slightly glassy-eyed gaze and told me he was returning to the cabin. 

Amazingly, I was unaffected through all this, and chose items such as rice and steamed veggies and chicken breast from the buffet, thinking they would be safest. As soon as I found a place to sit, a man running toward a bathroom made it to about six feet from me and threw up. Even plain rice kind of lost its appeal after that. The area was cordoned off and a hazmat team called and those of us seated nearby were moved to another area and I ended up settling for mint tea and a soft roll. I took some crackers back to G; I knew he had Sprite in the minibar. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent alternately sleeping and reading in the cabin. About 5:15pm, Captain D made an announcement (with a voice that was still gravelly but ever so slightly improved) that the next four hours would be the worst, with swells of about 17 feet and Force-something huge gales. But then, he promised, they would all be behind us, these three major storms that have made life fairly miserable of late. 17 feet swells to this little ship are not insignificant and my only hope is that we do not encounter a repeat of them during our transatlantic crossing. 

G opted to skip dinner but I was still not seasick and, in fact, was getting pretty hungry. I decided to give dinner a try, but wore the same clothes I'd worn all day and didn't do my usual dinner dress up. Simply getting to our table in the Club Restaurant was a bit of a trick...shuffle three steps backward and then rush five steps forward as the ship rolled side to side. Dear Marco spotted me coming and ran to lend an arm as assistance. And while I had offers to join other tables with people we've met, I opted to dine alone and very quickly and had just one course (scallops) and a baked potato and then scooted out in that same backward-forward way I'd arrived.

Though not everyone felt the same way, of course, the general consensus at dinner seemed to be "Just get us to solid ground, ASAP!"  And after being the dining room I had to conclude that this really was the worst combination of seas and small ship that we've ever experienced. Trays of plates were crashing to the floor, bowls on top of charger plates slid from side to side and at times I had to simultaneously hold on to my water glass and the table to keep everything together. This was one of those days when the dining room staff are all heroes. And the medical staff (our cabin is close to the medical center and we can see they have been inundated). But land awaits tomorrow morning, and Captain D has promised us that on the other side of this hell lay calm seas and sunny skies...and very cold temps. We'll take it, all of it. 

I could easily have made it to vocalist Philip Brown's 6:45pm show in the Cabaret Lounge but that is not where I needed to be tonight. Instead I returned to the cabin to commiserate with my dear husband and simply nod my head when he repeatedly said, "We are NOT doing this next year!!"

He'll feel differently when we get to the Caribbean. This I know for sure.

Even this rough and rocky life is good. :-)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Day 49: At Sea

We were awakened by the sun shining in our room around 7:30am today, and with nothing to rush to, enjoyed breakfast in the Club Restaurant for the first time in days (orange segments and peanut butter toast). I had just dropped my clothes from last night on the chair in our cabin and they landed on top of G's clothes, also lying on the chair, so apparently he had done the same. We returned to the cabin to make sense of it all and re-organize and then I went to the Latin dance session (it's Zumba without licensing fees and certified instructors) with dancer Michael, held in the Pacific Lounge. 

I watched while G and several others played goofy golf in the Atrium, starting on Deck 5 and putting down the 'pretty stairs' to Deck 4 and then over to a literal cup on the starboard side of the Atrium. This is always good fun and provides guaranteed laughs. G ended up tied for third place but, honestly, there were golf balls ricocheting off the back of the Passenger Services Desk. And the movement of the ship made putting from the tiled Atrium floor a bit of a tackle sport. 

Surprisingly, the seas weren't anywhere near as bouncy as they had been last evening, but, in his noon announcement, Captain D explained why, and also said that the worst was yet to come. Apparently, there are currently three different cold fronts converging over the eastern Mediterranean area. We had made it through one, and then last night through the second one and at noon we were in between two of the fronts. Captain D said that what was in store for us this evening and overnight would be even worse than last night. He also made it sound like Katakolon tomorrow might be at risk (oh nos!!) but that once we reached Sicily the next day, the worst- at least of this storm- would be behind us. 

So we will have a port day tomorrow. Or possibly a rough sea day. Either one is okay by us. 

We went to the British Pub Lunch in The Grill and I had the chicken curry and it was delicious.  I love it when they offer that along with the fish and chips because both G and I find something to enjoy.  But we went to the Panorama Buffet for dessert; today featured the pastry extravaganza and I definitely hit the sugar wall after two of them (pavlova and tiramisu). G also had several items dipped in the fountain of melted dark chocolate. It was warm and pleasant enough on the Panaroma Terrace to enjoy the desserts out there, and you know that hasn't often been the case on these cruises. Still, we cast a wary eye toward the sky, looking to spot the leading edge of that next (and final) cold front. 

Today was the qualifying round for this cruise's slot tournament and you may recall that I received an entry this cruise because last cruise's tournament had been cancelled due to lack of participation. G cheered me on...but I didn't score in the top 5 and won't be advancing to the final round even if there is one. My glory days are over. ;-)

G decided to take advantage of the last of the decent weather and adjourned to a hot tub: I started this post and began to get ready for this evening's formal night about 3:15pm. There are enough Captains Circle members on board this cruise to warrant two Captains Circle parties, and we were being met at 4:45pm to be escorted into the first one. We had asked Company Performance Manager Heather's parents, who are onboard this cruise, to be our guests and were honored to be recognized as this cruise's second most traveled couple. 

Dinner followed (no lobster for me; I had just salmon and broccoli. I felt like all I'd done since yesterday was eat), and then production show Stardust was performed. We sat with Heather's parents and it was fun to see them watch their very talented daughter doing something she loves to do. At 10pm we are in bed with an alarm set for 6am. Tomorrow is the first of five port days in a row; our last long string of port days until we arrive in the Caribbean.  We are feeling recovered and rested and ready for this last hurrah.