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

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday, November 19 – Doing Nothing in Athens

We first visited Athens in 2009.  We pre-arranged for Nick, a driver but not a guide, to take us to all of the tourist highlights which he did.  When we met him in the parking lot by the cruise terminal, he “suggested” that we begin our day at the Acropolis, the hill overlooking Athens containing the Parthenon.  He said we would beat the heat and the crowds, and he was right.  We also spent time at the National Archeological Museum [best remembered for the Hall of Naked Men], Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Zeus and more modern sites.  The latter included the stadium where the modern Olympic games were introduced; a statue of Lord Byron; the changing of the guard in front of the President’s home; and the highest point in the city from which we could look down on the Acropolis.

When we returned in 2011, we hired Nick again.  D and a friend went to Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus and elsewhere.  MA stayed on board the ship as she under the weather.  Although Nick was not as outgoing as he had been, it was still a good tour.

Since we’ve “done Athens”, we stayed aboard the Rotterdam in Piraeus today.  Piraeus serves as the port for Athens just as Civitavecchia [literally the “old city”] is the port for Rome.  Both Rome and Athens are about an hour’s ride from their respective ports.

We wandered into the cruise terminal in search of free wi-fi but could not connect with the internet.  Our tablets swore they were connected to the terminal’s server, but that was as far as we got.  Others were similarly frustrated and those from the crew who did get on had more patience than we did.  They said it was slow and certainly were not exaggerating.  We went back to the ship.

The rest of the day was similarly quiet.  Trivia, lunch, etc.  The big excitement was another boat drill.  Cruise ships are required to have emergency drills for passengers every 30 days.  The folks who boarded Monday in Rome had theirs that afternoon, but those of us who boarded in Canada or the US had ours today.

TOMORROW – Heading to Malta

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday, November 18 – Cute Katakalon

We love Katakolon.  Period.  It is a three-block town that appears only when there is a ship in port and then closes until the next ship.  It’s sort of like the old musical Brigadoon in which the town appeared every hundred years.  And we may be the last ship of the season, so everyone will go away on vacation or tend their gardens tomorrow.

The three blocks comprise tchotchke stores, clothing stores, jewelry stores, a drug store and about a half-dozen outdoor cafes; these may have indoor seating, but we have never looked for it.  Today was, perhaps, the warmest day we have had, a good 10 degrees warmer than Florence at about 65F.  Not only did we not need coats, we were comfortable eating outside in “our” café.

The walk from the ship to the town is about 2 inches.  Okay, it’s a block.  The most noticeable feature of the walk is the stench of sulphur where the dock meets the land.  It’s been this way at least since we first visited in 2009.  Once around the corner, though, it dissipates quickly.  We looked in souvenir stores just to see what we could see and, as always, bought some items which will go unspecified.  We walked past the jewelers and the clothing stores and went to the end of the third block, rounded the corner and walked into the café we go to every time we are here.  Although it advertises itself as a fish-centric restaurant, we avoided the fish and got moussaka [MA] and a gyro platter [D] along with 2 Diet Cokes.  Other passengers wandered in while we were there and quite a number of crew were there as well.  We watched as they ordered extra rice which the waiter brought along with soy sauce, ketchup and mayo.  When we finished, we paid our 27 euro tab and went for the real shopping.

MA was wearing a “Trojan wall” bracelet which she bought here last year.  We looked in several stores before finding one which had a similar necklace.  The necklace was too short, however, but the staff offered to add 3 links [more if needed] to bring it the length she wanted.  There was no additional charge most likely because of the huge markup already in place.  The price was allegedly 92 euros but “for you, only 80 including the extra links.”  Maybe we could have found it at a better price at the next/last store, where we bought it originally, but maybe not, so MA walked out of the store wearing the necklace.  We looked for souvenir polo-style shirts for D but found nothing; the one shirt he liked wasn’t available in the right size.  Another possibility was dismissed when we heard the price.

Having eaten lunch and used most of our available euros, we returned to the ship where we read until trivia.  The “new people” showed up again and we now know his name is Stan; we still are not sure of hers.  We chatted until game time, scored 14 points again [nowhere near the perennial winners] and then chatted some more.  Stan told us yesterday that he had brought the wrong power cord for his laptop and had borrowed one from one of the tech people but the plug was the wrong size.  D took ours to trivia today and told him to try it.  When we returned from dinner tonight, there was a note in the door saying that the cord had worked and to call them.  D did and then went to their room to retrieve the cord so he could use our laptop.  We will probably be passing this cord back and forth for the next three weeks.

As most cruisers know, the cabin stewards place towel animals on the beds when the do the evening turn-down service.  We have been saving the eyes and tonight at dinner we made little faces on our butter plates – two eyes with a butter nose.  The waiter, the wine steward and Stephanie, the assistant manager, were all caught by surprise and are now convinced that we have escaped from the asylum.

TOMORROW – Nothing Doing in Athens

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thursday, November 17 – Kekira, Corfu, Greece

Lest you worry, there was no entry for yesterday.  It was a sea day with little to distinguish it from all the others.  We did, however, add a new member to our trivia team.  He asked to join us Tuesday and was brave enough to return yesterday.  He and his wife, who are from western North Carolina, joined the cruise Monday in Rome.  She has been under the weather, apparently from jet lag, so we have yet to meet her.  While we all introduced ourselves, we cannot remember his name.  As an aside, we continue to be also-rans with 14 of 18 points, but we are having fun and it is good to have someone else to talk to.

Last night was also Formal Night #4.  We invited speaker George and his wife Jan to share our table while they could because they depart on Saturday when we reach Athens.  We had a pleasant evening talking about our families and travel experiences, two safe topics.  Even though they are Canadian, we did not even tiptoe toward politics.  George and Jen sat next to us on the World, so it was like talking to old friends again.

We planned to explore Corfu more than we did Naples but still intended to find someplace for lunch while ashore.  Once again, we missed our goal.  MA was not feeling up to wandering the old town and she would not let D go alone lest he have another “spell,” so we stayed on board, read and relaxed.  The old town here sounded interesting and very walkable.  There is an old synagogue as well as more than 30 churches in an area that looks to be about 8 blocks square.  Throw in shops and cafes, and it is probably a lively place to walk.  Maybe next time.

We chatted with our anonymous trivia partner by the Lido pool after lunch.  His wife was with him and we made very small talk.  She looked rather wan and appeared to have had tea and crackers for lunch.  We wished her a speedy recovery.  Surprisingly, she joined us at trivia this afternoon.  We played well as a team [14/17] and spent an hour in conversation once the contest was over.  As noted earlier, we have missed the social aspect of trivia and hope we don’t drive them off before we return to Florida.

TOMORROW – Katakolon, Greece

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tuesday, November 15 – Neopolitan Delight

We have visited Naples twice before.  In 2009, we organized a tour for 6 to the Amalfi Coast where we visited Positano and Sorrento where he had “real” pizza.  We also spent time wandering the ruins of Pompeii.  Last year, MA’s back bothered her so much that we got as far as the terminal before she returned to the ship; D wandered around Naples looking for a BNP bank so he could use his ATM card at a cooperating bank without a service charge.  We got a little farther today.

We had hoped to follow up on advice from the World cruise’s port lecturer who said that there was a pizza place literally under the cruise terminal.  The terminal is built like a big H with a roadway running under the crosspiece.  When we finally put down our e-readers and went looking, we found not one but two little cafes selling pizza and other goodies. 

We picked one and realized we were the only non-Italians there which we took as a good sign.  While sitting in a covered enclosure outside, ordered a pepperoni pizza and 2 Cokes. It was a bit chilly but too bad and the walls surrounding this “patio” offered protection from the wind. The pizza and soda hit the spot and, we thought, was quite affordable at 12.5 euros.  By European standards, it was a bargain.

And that was our big adventure for today.

TOMORROW  --  Gunning for Greece

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday, November 14 – Resting in Rome

As Rogers and Hammerstein wrote in Oklahoma, when Judd Frye would die, “the flowers in the dell will out a different smell….”  For those who did not already know, passengers who reach their final destination before the ship does have the flower locker as their new cabin; hence, yesterday’s title.

Also, despite her best efforts, MA was not able to find any eligible sailors when she went for a drink and dinner last night.  We thought you would want to know.

The doctor in Florence told D to take it easy and rest for a few days and not to drink any alcohol.  Since he does not drink and is naturally lazy, these were easy instructions to follow.  We stayed in bed until 8:30 despite having turned out the light at 9:00 last night.  After a quiet breakfast in the MDR, during which a half-dozen or so staff members asked after his health, we returned to the room to read for a bit.  With the prospect of sleeping all day ahead of us, we left the room so the stewards could straighten it.  We think they were behind schedule this morning because Rome is the end of/beginning of a segment and they had to prepare the rooms for the new people [all 50 of them].  We took our tablets and the laptop to the Ocean Bar where D was able to find an outlet.  Once the laptop was plugged in, he worked on the blog while MA read.  When he was finished, she proofread and offered suggestions and corrections which he duly followed.  The entry was finished but not posted around 12:15, so we toted our HAL bag to the MDR for our first lunch there. Normally, the MDR is closed on port days but was open today for the newly arrived Mariners.  Apparently it was open the day we boarded, too, but we did not know it.

We returned to the room where D posted the blog and deleted email.  The lights were turned off around 1:30 and the alarm set for 6:00[!]  We didn’t sleep that late, but let’s say that this SCAN was a lot more fun than yesterday’s.

We ate dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, Holland America’s extra-charge steak house.  The add-on charge is now $35 per person, but we remember when it was only $10.  However, as 5-Star Mariners, we each receive 2 free dinners at the Pineapple [as we call it], so dinner was free and we will go again in early December as we cross the Atlantic on the way home.

TOMORROW – Nothing in Naples

Sunday, November 13 – Florence or Flower Locker?

When we booked this cruise, we especially liked that there was no pressure to race off the ship at every port since we had been to most of them.  We made arrangements for only two excursions, one in Casablanca and one in Florence where we had lunch reservations at Ristorante ZaZa.  We ate there in 2001 on our first visit.

Well, the “best laid plans of mice and men” and all that means that we did not get to ZaZa for lunch.  In fact, we never got to lunch anywhere, but we did have an adventure unlike anyone else on the Good Ship Lollipop.  Here’s what happened:

We were up way too early by our standards and had a light breakfast in the room.  By 7:30, we were in the theater where we waited about 2 minutes before being called to board our bus to Florence.  We hate The Big Bus, but it had become our only viable transport after our original group of six dwindled to the two of us; the private escort we had contracted was simply too expensive for just us. 

The ride to Florence [Firenze to the locals] was uneventful.  We were dressed for brisk weather because the forecast called for a high of 55, quite a change from last week’s temps of 80 in Tuscany.  About 15 minutes out from the city center and our “disem-bus-kation,” D began to feel warm and clammy as well as a wee bit dizzy.  Blaming it on the heat on the bus and his multiple layers of clothing, he assumed that the cold air outside the bus would revive him.  Wrong.

Once outside, as the group began walking toward Santa Croce church, he actually felt worse.  He was having trouble walking and told MA that he was, as he said, “staggering.”  Granted, the street and sidewalks were cobblestone, his problem was from the dizziness.  Thing were spinning so much that he sat on the steps of Santa Croce while the tour guide gave her speech about when and where to meet and what to do in an emergency.  When the group dispersed to enrich the Florentine economy, D sat on the steps in front of a storm drain in case he threw up.

We moved to a table at a nearby café, but D feared he would fall off the chair because things were really spinning.  MA went into the café to ask someone to call our local trip coordinator [the aforementioned emergency procedure] and D moved back to the curb in front of the café.  Within 2 minutes of the phone call, Debora, the coordinator, was there.  She and MA hovered and huddled behind D discussing options while he threw up in a plastic shopping bag.  Finally, D agreed an ambulance would be in everyone’s best interests.  It should be noted that several shopkeepers were concerned enough to offer help of one sort or another; D did not want to make a mess in the leather store if he didn’t make it as far as the proffered toilet nor was he keen on the lemon offered by the barista.

The ambulance arrived in about 5 minutes.  He declined the crew’s efforts to help him stand up, but needed assistance walking to and climbing into the ambulance.  Stretched out on the gurney, he had his sweater and shirt pushed up and out of the way while electrodes were attached.  It must have looked like a scene from a TV show.  When it was time to speed off to the hospital, which is behind the Duomo, D asked if MA was coming and was assured she was in the front seat.  Off we went, MA in the shotgun seat, siren blaring, until we reached the hospital.

During most of this, D had his eyes closed to assuage the spinning.  Assorted people pushed the ambulance gurney through the Minotaur’s Labyrinth before settling into a curtained treatment area.  The staff removed the rest of his clothing thoroughly if not gently.  Now our hero was reduced to black socks and matching Jockey shorts, an adult movie in the making.  The socks were pushed down [although the shorts weren’t, thank God], and leads were added to those already covering his body like freckles.  When the almost-English-speaking doctor arrived, he checked peripheral vision, had blood drawn and sent D for a head CT.

And then we waited.  And waited.  All the while, MA and Debora were in the waiting room with no information.  Apparently, we were all waiting for the results of the blood work and for a specialist to review the CT films.  MA couldn’t get anything to eat because D’s wallet was in his pants pocket and the pants were in a bag under the gurney.  Debora offered to take her somewhere and lend her money, but, in the end, they waited together.  Debora finally left to run another tour errand, but returned when MA called later [see below].

Almost 4 hours after we arrived at the hospital, MA was brought the treatment area where the doctor said that all of the tests had been negative; D had had neither a stroke nor a coronary.  In fact, the head CT showed nothing [snickering is allowed here] although there was the possibility of a benign cyst which would not have had any connection to the symptoms.  With that, we were given copies of all of the tests [in Italian, of course], CDs of the scans and a bill for 121 euros.

We were escorted to the front of the ER where we were able to pay by credit card despite having been told we would have to pay in cash.  The gentleman who took our credit card called Debora for us and she was at the hospital in less than 5 minutes.  She called a cab to take us to the bus and called the bus to let the driver know we were coming ahead of the group.  We were on the bus almost an hour before everyone else arrived and we returned to the ship without further incident.  It should be noted that throughout this adventure, the people of Florence were wonderfully kind, concerned and helpful; if you have to go to a foreign hospital, Florence is the place to do it.

Back in the room, D stripped out of his sweat-soaked and still-wet clothing and went straight to bed where he stayed, waking briefly to talk to MA.  She, meanwhile, was not about to miss Indonesian Night in the MDR, so she went alone and garnered everyone’s sympathy while enjoying bami goring.  She was exhausted, too, and the light, and we, were out by 9:00.

And that’s how we spent our day in Florence.

TOMORROW – Resting in Rome


Saturday, November 12 – Fabulous Florence

Well, here we are with yet another sea day, so there isn’t much to report that hasn’t been written before or won’t be written again.  True, we had another formal night [chilled New England lobsters for appetizers!], but the highlight of the day was a Skype chat with Jon and The Boys.  The connection was not good, but we don’t know if that was because of the satellite connection or broadband overload caused by too many passengers using the system simultaneously.  Despite the often-frozen screen, it was good to see and talk with ey

TOMORROW – Florence and our first excursion


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Friday, November 11 – Talking to the children

Stardate 1112.16 – Our communications systems are down.  We are either in a dead zone for radio reception or the Klingons are jamming our signals.  We have not been able to contact Starfleet Command not have we received updates from them.  We will try again.

The Rotterdam is in Barcelona, so, by extension, are we even though we never went ashore.  We had scheduled a Skype conversation with Harper Jane and Emily for 8 a.m. Baltimore time which was 2 p.m. for us.  Going into town and returning in time to make the call would have been too rushed.  We slept in and loafed around the ship until it was time to call.

Conversations with HJ are not really conversations; they are shouting festivals.  The girl has yet to develop an “inside voice” and exhibits a great deal of enthusiasm.  Mostly, she told us she had a surprise to tell us which was that we were an assortment animals.  It was fun and funny and we are sure that she stayed excited all the way to school.  We hope to talk to The Boys tomorrow.

We invited a new couple to dinner tonight.  They sit practically beside us in the MDR and we have seen and spoken with them often in the past 2 weeks.  They are from Cleveland, so we gave them grief over yesterday’s loss to the Ravens.  Other than that, we swapped stories about cruising before heading back to the cabin to read and write.

TOMMOROW – On the Way to Florence