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




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