Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday, December 3 – Go West, Young Man

We were up earlier than usual this morning.  Although we had stayed up late, we regained one of our lost hours and had an extra hour’s sleep.  We are now three hours ahead of the East Coast and the NYT finally arrived before we went to breakfast.  For most of the cruise, we have been getting our 2 papers when we go to breakfast and finding “our” paper at the room after lunch.

When we returned from breakfast, “the boys” were still at work cleaning the cabin.  A supervisor was there [for reasons we do not know] and asked when we had taken the Grand World Voyage.  He had spotted the Bluetooth speaker on the headboard and recognized it.

For the first time in about three weeks, we have a blank space in the NYT crossword.  They get harder as the week progresses and we were getting smug about solving them.  We are about 2 letters shy today, but we have until Monday, when the solution appears, to figure it.

Today was another Mariner Luncheon for the 4 and 5 Star Mariners; the ones, twos and threes had theirs yesterday.  This one was an Indonesian rijstaffel and included prawn crackers; Bumbu Gado-Gado [steamed vegetables]; Soto Ayam [soup]; and Nasi Goreng [fried rice accompanied by spicy shrimp, pork cubes, chicken satay, beef rendang, spiced green beans, banana fritters and a meatball].  It was spicy to the palettes of the old people, but we knew just how watered down the heat had been.  Had HAL served authentic Indonesian fare, the flower locker would have been overflowing.

The captain told us in his daily update that he was heading to a more westerly course, so we don’t have to worry about Brazilian visas.  The seas were much calmer today and the wind died down; even so, one of our luncheon tablemates complained about the bumpy ride during the meal.  Ironically, we were seated by the rear window and could see just how calm everything was.  It made us wonder how some of these people reached 200 days aboard cruise ships.

Otherwise, it was “just” a sea day and there are too few of them left.

TOMORROW – More of the Same and the Sunday Puzzle


 Friday, December 2 – Still Heading Brazil

It was the usual sea day comprising too much food; too few correct answers; and lots of SCANs.  We hid more eyes from the towel animals on the adjacent table at dinner and are still waiting for a response.  It doesn’t take much to keep us happy.

The cabin stewards skipped our room tonight, but it was our own fault.  We had forgotten to change the sign on the door from “privacy please” to “service please.”  The only loss was the bedtime chocolates and we have a trove of those [and stroopwaffels] already.

We stayed up late [for us] to see the Indonesian crew show.  Our waiter, Roy, took part and we recognized several other crew members.  It was almost midnight when the lights went out.

TOMORROW – Rolling Home


Thursday, December 1 – Next Stop, Brazil

The ship has been rocking and rolling, just as the captain promised.  He has chosen a heading more southwest than he had hoped for and if he does not correct it in time, we will be in Recife, Brazil.

Since it was a sea day [again!], there was little to report.  The big excitement in our day occurred early when MA had her nails done at 9:00.  We skipped breakfast in the MDR so we would not be late.  We continued to play trivia with Stan and Renee with middling success.  Although we are using the HAL 9000 team name, first introduced in 2001, we should probably call ourselves Close But No Cigar.  It is hard to win when other teams are turning in perfect papers.  We are having more fun than anyone else; we laugh constantly whereas we hear nothing but serious mumblings elsewhere in the room.  Don’t even ask about our discussion of which part of the body a cow uses to sweat [For the record, we said ‘tongue.].  Ah well, Scarlett, tomorrow is another day. 

We discovered today that Renee write “romantic mysteries.”  We are not sure what that means but will check to library when we get home; we have already tried to find her on our free e-book source to no avail.

We attended the evening show tonight which featured Vox Futura, a group of 4 young black men singing as a group and individually.  They had been semi-finalists on Britain’s Got Talent and they did.  We are anxious to see them again on Monday.

TOMORROW -- Another Day

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tuesday, November 29 – Making for Madeira

It was just another day on the medium seas.  The high seas will come later in the week when we have a seven-day stretch of sea days.

The only change from the usual sea day our going to see The Man Who Knew Too Much, an Alfred Hitchcock f from 1956.  It was a spy story starring James Stewart and Doris Day.  The first part of the film – which set up the rest of the plot [again, pun intended] – was set in Marrakech.  We enjoyed watching scenes in the El Fnaa  and elsewhere, reliving our visit in 2001.

TOMORROW – Magnificent Madeira


Wednesday, November 30 – Have Some Madeira, M’Dear

The last little rock between us and home was Madeira, another Portuguese outpost in the middle of nowhere.  We have visited here several times and always been impressed by the abundance of fresh flowers on display throughout the capital, Funchal.  In past visits, we have taken the shuttle from the port to the center of town and then just wandered around.  We are especially fond of the local market with its displays of local fruits and vegetables, flowers and crafts and fresh caught fish.

We are headed for several days of stormy weather and not-so-smooth seas.  We did some bouncing tonight and on occasion thought we had hit potholes in the Atlantic.

TOMORROW – Let the Crossing Begin!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday, November 28 – Ecumenism in Casablanca

We set the clocks back another hour last night, so we were only 5 hours ahead of the East Coast now.  We took advantage of the extra hour of sleep so we could be ready to leave the ship for our 9:00 a.m. tour.  This was our only real shore excursion [not counting our abortive lunch in Florence].

There were only the 2 of us.  D made no effort to find people on Cruise Critic to share the expenses.  That decision made the tour much more expensive but meant we did not to worry about what other people wanted to do; we have had too many tours derailed by other, selfish travelers.  Sadly, they do not even know that they have done it. 

Today’s tour was a Jewish Heritage Tour of Casablanca and it delivered everything it promised and then some.  We have been here twice before but never toured the city itself.  In the Fall of 2001, we took a HAL tour to Marrakech.  In 2011, we saw the Hassan II mosque from the outside and briefly visited a synagogue on our way to Rabat.  Today was all Casablanca, all the time.

We met our guide, Abdel, just after 9:00 and luxuriated in being the only in a six-passenger minivan. The crown jewel in the Casablanca skyline is the Hassan II mosque, named for its benefactor.  Although the French architect was not Muslim, he had studied Arab and Moroccan design elements and created the third largest mosque in the world [after Mecca and Medina].  The interior can accommodate 25000 worshippers at one time with men on the first floor and women in the balcony.  The courtyard can hold even more, perhaps another 50000 or more, for Ramadan.

Because the building has no air-conditioning, the ceiling of the main sanctuary is designed to retract to let in fresh air.  So many thousands of people can generate a lot of heat and sweat in closed environment.  For cooler weather, the floors both inside and out can be heated by pumping warm water through built-in pipes.  By the same token, cool water can be used in hot weather to make the men on their prayer rugs more comfortable.

The mosque complex is really a small city.  It includes not only the mosque itself but also offices, classrooms and nearby buildings as well.  The interior of the sanctuary is approximately 200 meters long and 100 meters wide which makes it more than 4 acres under one roof.  The retractable ceiling was almost 70 meters high [if memory serves correctly].  It is really big.

Abdel parked the car and walked us to the Hassan II mosque and then into its bowels to purchase our tickets [which were included in the price of our tour].  However, he did not accompany us on the tour; instead, we had to wait for a group of English speakers to gather before the mosque’s own guide showed us around.  Because talking to any group of tourists is like herding cats, there were some gaps in our presentation because the guide would talk before everyone had caught up with her.

If we heard her correctly, the wood used for the women’s balcony and other structures was cedar because it resists the effects of salt water.  For the same reason, titanium is used throughout the complex because in addition to being light and strong, it does not corrode.  This is important because the mosque is built partly over the incoming Atlantic Ocean.  There was a Quranic verse Hassan II liked which referred to God and water, so the architect incorporated the water in the design.  The esplanade around the mosque offers a magnificent view of the ocean.

The tour was not easy on the knees.  First we climbed up stairs to get from the street to the grounds of the mosque.  Then we went down stairs to purchase the tickets and back up for the tour.  After we finished in the sanctuary, we went down again to see the men’s ablution room before struggling up more steps to leave the mosque.

The ablution room was a tremendous facility with rows and rows of circular washing stations.  Muslims must wash before praying and the place to do that at Hassan II [the ablution room] must be able to accommodate thousands of people.  Although the stations were stone, the room had an industrial feel to it.  We have been to other mosques which had much more modest – and often outdoor – facilities.

Naturally, we had to remove our shoes before we could walk on the carpets of the mosque.  In other places, we left our shoes in a rack and retrieved them when we left.  Here, however, we were issued plastic bags so we could carry them with us.  As we left the sanctuary, we put our shows back on and deposited the bags for recycling.

And after all the worry about the scarf, MA did not have to cover her head!  It’s a good thing she likes the scarf she bought yesterday.

Since this was supposed to be a JEWISH Heritage tour, and we had already spent over an hour at Hassan II, we continued onward with Abdel to the Beth El Synagogue.  This particular synagogue is best known for its 10 stained glass windows which added visual warmth to the sanctuary.  This is a typical older synagogue with the bima [the altar] in the center of the sanctuary.  The Ark containing the Old Testament scrolls is on the far side of the room opposite the entry with the bima in between.  It was a lovely little building and D put money in a slot marked “for the synagogue.”  There was one marked “for the poor,” but they are on their own this time.

Abdel then proceeded to give us a driving tour of Casablanca including neighborhoods both rich and not.  The largest population of Jews lives in the Bordeaux area, but it is a mixture of Arabs, Moroccans, Christians and Jews.  It is by no means a ghetto.  The old Jewish section, the mellah, was more of a segregated area but there has been no interference or prejudice against Morocco’s Jews.  In the old days, the mellah [a word meaning salt because many of the Jews were salt merchants] sat on one side of the king’s palace and the Muslims sat on the other.  As Abdel said, the Jews and the Muslims have so much in common including dietary laws that there is no reason for them not to get along.

Abdel is extremely proud of his country and king.  He brags about the religious tolerance shown in all levels of Moroccan society from the royals on down.  As evidence, there are still about a dozen active, but small, Jewish congregations in Casablanca where 4000 of Morocco’s 4500 remaining Jews live.

In 2001, Jon and Briton told us to skip Casablanca because it was just a big European city.  Today, we saw the proof of that statement.  Casablanca is a city of neighborhoods each of which has its own identity.  We saw great mid-century homes surrounded by walls topped with bougainvillea in at least 4 colors.   There were apartment blocks, both mid-century and more recent; luxury hotels; slums; and everything in between.  There is a portion of the Corniche which has private beaches and another section with public beaches; the access points on the public beach are numbered to make it easier to find friends.  Each section of the public beach has a different vendor for beach furniture and food.

Speaking of food, all of the usual players are here although their numbers are not as great as elsewhere.  Pizza Hut and KFC are not hard to find and McDonald’s is all over, too.  Abdel told us that McDonald’s observes all of the halal dietary restrictions in preparing its food.  The others may as well, but the laws are not as strict on their menu items.

Many Casablancans still buy their groceries the traditional way by going from vendor to vendor for different food types such as cheese, fish, meat and vegetables.  Only recently has the concept of the supermarket begun to take hold.  Since we did not see any, we had to take Abdel’s word for it.  We did see a modern shopping center past the public beaches.  We were told there is another one farther out.  Again, malls are a new concept in an ancient country.

Back to the tour.  Our last stop was at the Jewish Museum.  It is housed in a former home for orphans and still bears the name of its benefactor on the exterior wall.  Like Beth El, it is small but houses several old synagogues or, at least, their bimas.  There were relics from Moroccan synagogues, candelabra, jewelry and a whole display of hamsas.  Clothing from the early 1900s was on display along with dolls dressed as Jewish women would have been in various cities in the 1930s.  It was all interesting but there was no docent to put it into context and Abdel just turned us loose and waited for us.  We had had the same experience at Beth El.  Even so, the museum was worth visiting and we were able to get some good, if illegal, photos.

When we returned to the car from the museum, we told Abdel that it was time for lunch.  He offered halal, kosher or anything else we wanted.  We told him to choose something he liked because we had no restrictions.  He decided on fish.  We thought we would be going to a restaurant or café that specialized in fish, but, instead, he took us to the fish area of a local market.  The journey was not without its tense moments as he tried to find parking.  Finally, he found a spot but had to pay [i.e., bribe] someone to get the spot and guarantee the car’s safety.  We had earlier discussed the Arab tradition of baksheesh and laughed at the fact that, despite his protestations that it didn’t exist anymore, he had had to use it to park.

The market had vegetable sellers, fish mongers, poultry vendors and others.  He took us to his favorite fish stall and asked if we liked sardines.  Well, these were not in a tin can but on ice.  Since he seemed to want them, D agreed to share some of the small herring with him.  Alas, there was no sour cream and onions to go with them.  MA did not want sardines in any form, so Abdel and the vendor picked a nice fish – perhaps haddock, perhaps halibut, perhaps something else – and we were done with this part of the transaction.  We were surprised to see many of the fish vendors selling prawns and oysters since they are not kosher, but we never really asked about this seeming dichotomy.

We walked out of the market and across an alleyway to a series of tables where we sat down.  Soon, we were brought plates of salad with fresh tomatoes, onions and cucumber.  Then we discovered bowls of lentils in front of us and delicious local bread.  Next came the sardines grilled with salt [too much of it for D].  Abdel ate with his hands, but D tried to eat them with a knife and fork.  While we were eating the sardines, roasted green peppers dusted with cumin were put on the table.  Around the time we had all had enough to eat, MA’s fish arrived.  It had been split in halve and cooked to perfection.  We were so stuffed with all of this food [and our standard-issue Cokes] that we sent half of the fish and a small loaf of the bread home with Abdel.  He paid in dirham, the Moroccan currency and told us that it was the equivalent of $25US.  We had no reason not to accept this and paid this and a handsome tip when we returned to the pier.

We finally waddled out of the café and through more of the market.  We saw flower arrangements and Abdel told us that it has been only recently that people have begun to give flowers as gifts.  Prior to this, people brought salt, bread and even money as presents when visiting.  We wound around the exterior of the market, retrieved the car [and paid the baksheesh] and decided to call it a day.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sunday, November 27 – Cadiz, Spain

We are really on the way home now.  Cadiz lies on a peninsula on the western coast of Spain, so we have only the crossing ahead of us [notwithstanding two more ports]. 

For some reason, we were literally up before dawn.  Of course, in our window-less interior cabin, we did not realize this at first.  However, it was a few minutes before 8 and sunrise was 8:15.  Imagine the greeting we got when we arrived at the MDR!  Not only had we actually shown up today, but also we were much earlier than usual.  We were so early [how early were you?] that we could have made it to 9:30 trivia had we so desired.  We didn’t.  We already told Stan and Renee that we do not do morning trivia or anything else.

We were a bit concerned because the weather forecast, as noted yesterday, called for rain.  Skies looked threatening as we ate breakfast, but we tried to attribute that to the nascent sunrise.  When we left the ship around 11:30, there was actually a bit of sun mixed in with the wind; as we returned several hours later, we had a bit of rain.  At least the weather did not ruin our day.

Cadiz is one of our favorite ports.  Cruise ships dock in front of a pedestrian area full of shops and cafes [and pigeons].  There is a park which runs parallel to the one street passengers must cross to get into town.  The side streets which branch off of the pedestrian plaza are narrow, overhung by tiny wrought-iron balconies which reminded us of New Orleans.

Because the town is on this peninsula, one is never far from water.  On previous visits, we have taken the HoHo which follows a good portion of the coastline before going inland to the El Cortes Ingles store.  Last year, we rode the bus “for old times’ sake” and got off right behind the cathedral yet we were still on the coast road.  We then walked downhill to the cathedral plaza [where we checked in on FB today] and shopped for tchotchkes before getting lunch.

Today, we simply crossed the road and walked into town.  We wandered through the main plaza on the way to the cathedral, passing several tour groups outside.  Once again, we skipped the church and went shopping.  We found little to inspire us but still managed to spend 10 euros.  It was time for lunch.

We must have had big Xs on our bodies because lunch became a quest rather than a meal.  We looked at the café near the cathedral where we think we ate last year but saw nothing on the menu or in the display case which appealed to us.  The next café, on the main plaza, had outdoor seating shielded from the wind and with gas heaters a la the café in Barcelona.  We took seats and were given menus and then were either forgotten or ignored.  The only action we got was when the pigeon swooped over D’s head; at least he did not leave a tip.  The paella we saw advertised was not to be.  We looked at another café on the plaza but saw nothing awe-inspiring.

We debated finding a bakery and taking goodies back to the ship but decided to try one of the side streets where we could see tables by the sidewalk.  We found one which boasted of wraps, quiche and “empanadillas” which we presumed meant “little empanadas.”  There were no seats left inside, but one of the employees gestured to a table outside.  D had to go back inside to get the menu.  We settled on the “special” of 6 empanadillas for 10 euros as well as the ever-popular Cokes.  When no one came to inquire, D went back inside to place our order.  Again, through pantomime, he was told that the food would be brought to us.  When our food did not arrive after what we considered a reasonable time, we left, still hungry.  No one chased after us.

A few doors closer to the plaza, we found a coffee shop which had yummy pastries in the display case, so, once again, lunch was pastry and cappuccino.  While it was not the paella or even empanadilas we sought, it was a good alternative and cost only 7 euros, cheapest meal so far.

We shopped [successfully] before returning to the ship.  When we passed a Chinese restaurant, D went in and retrieved a carry-out menu in Spanish] for Roy who is always looking for Chinese when we are in port.  It’s too bad that he is going home when we do and may never return.

With a visit to the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca scheduled for tomorrow, MA had just about run out of time to buy a scarf as a head covering.  She passed by scarves when the ship’s shops had them on display because she thought she could find one on shore.  There were none to be found in Katakolon or Cadiz, our main search areas.  On the way to dinner tonight, she inquired at the shops.  Of course, all of theirs were back in storage.  But wait!  One of the clerks remembered on hiding under the register!  It was perfect and only $10, the regular price.  Now MA is all set.

As mentioned before, the cabin stewards, who have been less than perfect, leave towel animals on the bed each night we have been saving them.  We colluded with Roy to place 2 on the plate of one of the neighbors at dinner who, in her turn, left them on our table.  Tonight, we left an apple with 2 eyes and a nose and lips painted on in lip gloss.  Since we wanted it on the table before she arrived, D took the apple to the MDR during the early seating to give to Roy.  Sudi took it in his stead and when we came to dinner tonight, they had hidden it in a napkin.  Of course the lip gloss smeared making the apple look like a cheap floozy, but it did not matter because our victim did not come to the dining room.  After supper, we upgraded the apple with a nose and mouth made from dried apricots.  We are eating elsewhere tomorrow [details to follow] so she will wonder where it came from.  We can only wait to see what’s next.

TOMMOROW – Our One Real Shore Excursion

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday, November 26 – The Rock

We slept in this morning, the second day in a row that we missed breakfast in the MDR.  We heard about it, too, from everyone in the dining room when we went to lunch.  The weather forecast called for rain and temperatures peaking at 58F.  Neither was obvious to us as we ate lunch at the rearmost point of the MDR.  MA could not see as we approached the Rock of Gibraltar and D could only see things after we had passed them.  It was a far cry from the cruise we took when we passed the Rock while eating breakfast in the Lido, the passage accompanied by the opening of Thus Spake Zarathrustra [better known as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey]. 

With such an unpleasant prediction, we decided to wait until after lunch to venture forth.  There was the barest hint of rain drops when we left the ship, but soon we had to put up the hoods on our jackets and zip them up to ward off the wind.  About a half-mile from the ship [probably less], we decided that there was nothing in town that we had not seen several times before; we hustled in slow-motion back to the Rotterdam.

When we first visited Gibraltar in 2001, we took a HAL tour which drove us all around and let us visit the famous Barbary Apes “up close and personal.”  Our guide warned us not to have any kind of food for the apes as they were rather excitable and curious.  He had brought snacks enough to occupy the apes while we watched.  Even so, several used MA as a springboard as they jumped from person to person.  When we spoke to people about the apes this week, we warned them not to bring food; to leave jewelry at home; and purses on the bus.  Even so, we heard of at least one incident in which an ape went into a passenger’s backpack, took out an envelope and scattered its contents to the winds.  Some people never learn.

When we returned from our abbreviated walk, we went to the Ocean Bar for sodas, then back to the room for the SCAN.  We stopped in the casino again on the way from dinner; MA increased her winnings and D did not.

The forecast for tomorrow is more of the same – rain.  Temps are supposed to be warmer, in the mid-60s.  We are hopeful since this next port is one of our favorites.

TOMORROW – Cadiz, Spain

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday, November 25 – Going to Gibraltar

We are heading toward Gibraltar today and will exit the Mediterranean early tomorrow morning.  We will not witness that milestone.  It is significant, though, because it means we are on the downhill side of the cruise. [Actually, we have been since we left Piraeus/Athens a week ago.] We will be home and back to reality in 2 weeks.  Between unpacking, doctor dates, Christmas plans and travel, and New Year’s guests, we will be busy from the first day.

Emily and HJ called us this evening around 7 [1 in the afternoon in Baltimore] to make up for yesterday’s non-call.  We spent about 15 minutes talking about nothing significant.  With Emily’s help, Harper told us about seeing Christmas trees, dancing, riding a train and eating chocolate.  She also wanted to know why we were dressed up.  HJ was in rare form, but Emily told her we had to go to dinner, so the call was terminated before she could get antsy.

We had the penultimate formal night tonight. [MA – escargots/ D – king crab legs] The last one is schedule for our last sea.  We think it was set for then so there will not be enough time to send the formal wear to the laundry/dry cleaner.  That just means that D’s tuxedo and shirt will be sent out on the first day of our next cruise.

We stopped again in the casino on the way to the room.  The less said the better.

TOMMORROW --  Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean

Thursday, November 24 – Sicilian Showers

The Weather Gods caught up with us today bigly.  Pennants on boats next to the Rotterdam were flying straight out, parallel to the ground with not fluttering at all.  Add the pouring rain and the weather was brutal.  Once again, we had no definite plans other than to wander around and find a café for lunch, so we did not miss too much.  Having found the BNP in Palermo, there was no reason to leave the ship even when the wind and rain slacked off later in the day. 

At trivia, we overheard someone talk about finding a market full of cheeses and hams.  We would have liked that but not enough to get soaked.  Speaking of trivia, we scored 16/17 today and still came in second.  We fear we have peaked.  Stan and Renee are fun to talk to, but Stan doesn’t bring much to the game; Renee is the one who contributes when we let her.

Our Skype call with Emily and Harper was a little more successful than yesterday’s with Jon and The Boys.  The video was clear but we had no sound.  Apparently HJ could hear us but we could not hear them.  We will try again tomorrow and hope for a better connection.

Rich and Donna [the couple from Cleveland] sat with us at dinner again.  Although the conversation was lively, especially MA’s recounting of our adventure in Florence, we talked an awful lot about medical maladies and matters, a sign, no doubt, of our age.

MA cashed out her $157 casino winnings from last night so she wouldn’t spend all of it and return to her old ways, losing $15 of it.  D is about even for the trip.

TOMORROW -- A Sea Day on the Way to Gibraltar

Wednesday, November 23 – Perfectly Fine in Palermo

First, corrections and recollections.  We did not go to the movie last night because it started at 9 and we figured [correctly] that we would still be in the MDR.  Even if we had hurried, we would have been there until almost 11 and it would have been midnight before we got to bed.  Instead, we played penny slots until we had reached our pre-determined limit and went “home” to read.  The lights were off by 10:30.

As for Valletta and Magrr, they are starkly beautiful.  Malta is an island fortress.  The walls of Valletta go straight down to the water.  It is beautiful and historic [as the home of the Knights of Malta] but impregnable, and amazing to see.  The architecture is straight out of the Crusades, all beige stone and high walls.  To honor its military history, ceremonial cannons are set off every day at noon and 4 p.m.  We were buying our lift tickets at noon and were startled, to say the least, because we were practically under the cannons.  By 4, though, we were back aboard and did not hear them in the cabin.

Magrr is completely different.  Granted, the cliffs on the island come straight to the water’s edge, there are no palisades or battlements and no ceremonial fusillades. Like many Mid-East nations, the buildings were the same beige color as the landscape.  If we had not known better, we could have been looking at Israel, Oman or Egypt.  Agriculture seems to be the major industry and the arable land is terraced to make the best use of it.  There is only a small harbor which can handle small ferry boats, so we anchored off the city and people used tenders to go ashore.  Valletta, by contrast, has a large commercial harbor, apparently the largest natural harbor on the Mediterranean.  Situated as it is in the middle of the Med, it is a good transit point to go anywhere; we saw overnight ferries going in every direction and to practically any country from France to Greece.

Palermo, too, is a commercial center and has no cruise terminal at all.  We walked off the ship and past a half-dozen vendors trying to entice us to take HoHo or taxi tours, horse-drawn carriages and even tuk-tuks reminiscent of Southeast Asia.  We bypassed them all politely and walked toward the center of town.

D was trying once again to find a BNP bank in order to withdraw euros from our checking account.  In theory, BNP is a cooperating bank with Bank of America and we will have no additional transaction fees. The exchange rate for the euro is lower than when D bought some before the trip, and we are “banking” on the rate going up [pun intended] before our cruise next Spring.  If it does, we will be a little ahead, but if the rate stays low, we will just be losing currency traders.

We found a square in front of what we presumed was a theater.  MA sat on a backless bench while D scouted out the territory, so to speak.  He thought we were near the sought-after bank and inquired at a men’s store, writing the name down so there was no confusion.  The clerk pointed him down the street we were on and said the bank was about 2 minutes away on the right-hand side, the same side MA was already on.  D followed the directions, found the bank and withdrew 250 euros.  We will find out how much they really cost in USD when we get home.

Mission accomplished, we headed back toward the ship looking for a bakery/café we had seen on the way up the street.  We were almost at the ship when we found it; we had become a little worried that somehow we had passed its window full of pastries and cheesecakes.  Relieved, we went in, looked at the cases of calories and sat down.  D asked a young girl who was behind the counter for 2 cannoli and a cappuccino, but, we discovered later, she did not speak English.  Still, how many ways are there to say cappuccino?  D approached someone else after a while, was told the girl did not understand and gave his order adding a Coke Zero for himself.  Eventually everything arrived at our table and we had one of our best lunches to date.  The cannoli were scrumptious, MA’s cappuccino was beautiful to look at and the Coke was the drink of the gods.

We took our time eating because Bristro [not a typo] had free wi-fi.  After several false starts with the password, we were both on line downloading mail, Facebook and even Spotify [in an effort to play some of the music offline].  We finally forced ourselves to leave without any carryout goodies to return to the ship and our books and blog.

We had arranged with Jon to Skype with The Boys this afternoon.  Our 4 p.m. was 9 a.m. in Wisconsin where they had gone for the Thanksgiving holiday.  We had to try several times because they were late signing on but eventually made contact.  The connection was not good.  We both disconnected our video but, even then, the audio was sketchy at best, so we gave it up.  We are due to Skype with Emily and Harper tomorrow; maybe we will have better luck.

Dinner note [for Jon] – MA had tempeh and rice with a curry sauce.  She said it was good but not as good as the fried tempeh we had in Jakarta.

Once again, we skipped the show and spent time in the casino on the penny slots.  MA’s luck finally turned and her $20 start ended with $157 on her account.  Now she can have the operation.

TOMMOROW – Cagliari, Sicily




Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tuesday, November 22 – Catching Up

The past few days have been relatively quiet.  No one seemed to notice that the blog was not posted which makes one wonder if anybody is actually reading it.  No matter, it serves as a journal for us for when we forget what we did.

Sunday was a sea day and the one-week anniversary of D’s Italian escapade.  We steamed across the Med toward the port of Valletta, Malta, where we will spend a day before going to the neighboring island [Gozo?] and the town of Magrr.

Monday was beautiful and warm.  Skies were clear and the temperature was about 70F.  We had no exotic plans for our day in Valletta because we had a rather extensive and fascinating tour in 2009.  At that time, we saw mostly remnants of early Malta including Hagar Qim, stone monoliths reminiscent of Stonehenge.  We also visited a complex of pre-historic caves and a subterranean hand-hewn complex under a house in the city.  The latter was discovered by accident when workers were doing renovations to the house.  Anyway…

We expected to go ashore and wander around before finding someplace for lunch.  We did that but with a twist.  Roger and Barbara joined us [how could we say “no?”], so we did not do the walking and exploring we had anticipated.  Barbara uses a walker which limited our range because the streets are not level or especially smooth.  After leaving the ship and making our way through the terminal, we followed the road for perhaps a half-mile before coming to the elevator [1 euro] which took us up to street level.  We walked through a park and then stalled.  No one knew where to go and Barbara thought it was time to eat [12:15].  The group dithered about where to eat until D selected the Italian café we had just passed.  We sat outside, of course, and watched the tourists while we ate and talked.  When we were done, we retraced our steps and returned to the ship. Our big adventure in Valletta.

We stayed in Valletta’s harbor until 6:30 this morning when we started for Mgarr [Muh-jar].  We were at anchor before 10 a.m. when tender service began for those going ashore.  MA doesn’t do tenders anymore and D is not allowed out on his own since Florence, so we spent a quiet day reading and watching the water.  After dinner, we went to the theater to see Bad Moms.

TOMORROW – Palermo, Italy