We found an interesting looking 27 day cruise of three continents offered by Holland America. We liked the itinerary which, for us, only duplicated Cadiz, Barcelona, Rome, and Athens on the ports list, so we signed on. We decided to add a three day front-end package in Rio de Janeiro, the embarkation port for the cruise. We were to fly out of Philadelphia, so we decided to visit with Alex, Phil, Erin, and Bridget for the weekend in Glen Mills. We left our house on Saturday, March 30 and drove to Alex and Phil's. After an enjoyable weekend, we parked our XTerra in the Stoops' garage.
Day 1 (Monday, April 2)
Alex went off to work while we made last minute adjustments to our eight bags of luggage and loaded Phil's Jeep with the bags. We dropped Bridget at her daycare on the way to the airport. Because we were flying Delta, we didn't have a long wait before we were in our gate area. We read, ate lunch, and watched planes take off and land and finally loaded our 757 for Atlanta.The plane was full and cramped, but we landed early so the suffering was minimal. In Atlanta we had over a 4 hour delay, so we read, ate dinner, and watched planes take off and land and finally loaded our 767 for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The plane was slightly more spacious and had quite a few of our fellow cruise passengers. The flight was long, but we both slept for a while on the plane.
Day 2 (Tuesday, April 3)
We arrived at the Rio airport a bit after 7:00 AM. We had the usual waits for immigration, baggage claim, and customs and then we had another wait for our bus to the hotel. The ride to the hotel Intercontinental Rio took over 45 minutes, but our guide on the bus gave us a lot of history and pointed out many things on the way. We found out about the couple of million people who live in the shanty towns under unbelievably bad conditions, but for free.When we arrived at the hotel, we had a very smooth check-in and were in our room by a bit after 10:00 AM (one hour later than Eastern Daylight Time). We got settled in and then found that the hotel is in a lovely location, across the street from a beach (1,2,3,4,5). We had a nice lunch at poolside. Then we went for a walk along the beach, where Bill found a good example of the Brazilian Thong. We also watched hang gliding among the Frigate Birds. We also walked around an upscale mall near the hotel before returning to our room to chill out until dinnertime. The sun went down at 6:00 PM which surprised us. We headed down to the lobby bar for a drink (Bill had a Red Bull on the rocks) and then went to one of the hotel restaurants for pizza. We could hear the giant waves crashing on the beach from our room when we retired for the night.
Day 3 (Wednesday, April 4)
We slept in until 7:00 AM. We wanted to go to the hotel's veranda restaurant for a light breakfast. We entered and waited for a nice window table, but when no waiter approached we started to leave and asked the host if we could order off of the menu, since everyone else was eating from the buffet. The host looked at us strangely and shook his head. So, we walked to the mall, but it didn't open until 10:00 AM. We headed back into the hotel restaurant and were seated again by an almost smirking host. After we ate a light breakfast from the buffet, we found that it was free. It felt familiar: clueless in another country. After breakfast, we walked a mile or so up the beach and inland a block to a nice supermarket for some supplies (wine). We walked along the beach after dropping off our purchases and watched some body boarder cavorting in the waves. We lunched again near the poolside bar. This was the day of two tours. The afternoon tour was a bus trip to the huge statue of Jesus overlooking the city. The bus took us along the coast, through some new sections of the city, past the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana to the foot of the mountain. We took a cog-train to the summit. The views (1,2,3,4) were spectacular. We got back to the hotel around 5:30 PM. We cleaned up and changed for our next activity.In the evening, we had a trip to an all-you-can-eat meat restaurant, right up Bill's alley. Luckily, there was a big salad bar that Bill used for his dinner. Later, we traveled to a samba show, Plataforma. The stage was T-shaped, so Bill sat in one of the two corners of the T, about 2 feet from the stage. The show was spectacular. It was a combination of a Mummer's Parade, strip tease, and wild dancing. The women mostly sported thongs on the bottom, which allowed Bill to do his job researching Brazilian wax jobs. The edges of the stage had a narrow, slightly elevated footer that provided a path for the women to descend and gyrate up front and personal with those lucky enough to be seated right there, including Bill of course. Bill had quite a night for himself and almost ripped his face apart from grinning. The show gave an indication of what the Carnival in Rio is like on Fat Tuesday. We returned to the hotel around midnight. On the two bus trips for the day, the local guides in the buses provided a running commentary on the history of Rio and all of the sights that we passed by. We felt that the city had more of a European feel (1,2) than the cities we've visited in Mexico. The people are a mix of Europeans, indigenous people, and Africans. Bill noticed a number of blonde women who looked Germanic or Russian and wondered about that connection. More hands-on research might be needed.
Day 4 (Thursday, April 5)
We had to hustle in the morning to get our 4 bags repacked and out in the hall by 7:30 AM. Then, we enjoyed a light breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant, slightly ahead of the biggest crowd. Next was checkout and boarding buses again for the final tour. We toured more parts of the city and learned more history. We stopped at the famous Sugarloaf Mountain to ascend it in a 2 stage gondola system. The top of Sugarloaf provided more spectacular views (1,2,3). Back on the buses, we stopped at the modernistic cathedral, inspired by Chichen Itza in Mexico (see our visit in 2004). It was very impressive inside with huge stained glass windows. We finally arrived at the dock at around 1:00 PM. We had the usual long line at check-in and made it onto the Rotterdam at around 2:00 PM.We checked out our table in the dining room. We had requested a table for 2 and were assigned to a table for 8. We waited in another line to appeal and received our table for 2 at the last seating at 8:30 PM. Bill managed to get a cappuccino during the process. Then we went topside for some lunch. The day continued with the lifeboat drill. Bill went to the Internet Cafe to sign up for a plan: 500 minutes for $175. Bill had concluded after our last cruise that the high prices kept the hordes away from the Internet Cafe and that was a good thing. The ship sailed at 5:00 PM, so we went to the upper deck for a while. We changed for the evening (casual dress) and headed to the Ocean Bar for some pre-dinner dancing. We liked our new table in the dining room and enjoyed our dinner and our waitstaff: wine steward Archie from Manila in the Philippines, maitre d' hotel Wahyu from Indonesia, dining steward Asep from Indonesia, and waiter Chandra from Indonesia. Earlier in the day we had met our room steward, Rudy from Indonesia. After dinner we headed up to the Crow's Nest Bar where we danced for a short time. We went out on the upper deck and enjoyed the balmy breeze and looking at the Southern Cross and the lit up coast of Brazil north of Rio.
Day 5 (Friday, April 6)
Bill arose around 6:00 AM and headed for the Internet Cafe to process pictures. He discovered that there was a problem uploading photos, so only the text narrative could be uploaded. This was an "at sea" day, so after breakfast we walked for an hour, did weights in the gym, and walked for another hour. After lunch, we played a group trivia game with a couple, Rick and Sandra, from Michigan. We called our team "Big Ten", but we only finished in about 5th place. Afterward, Bill powered walked another hour. The air temperature was 90 degrees, so it was tough to walk fast. During the day we also watched "City of God" on DVD. This is a story about a "favela" (slum or shantytown) in Rio. The best part of the DVD is an extra feature documentary about the plight of the people who dwell in the favelas. It is very illuminating and very sad. Here's the summary: there are 2 million people in Rio who the police try to keep away from the middle and upper classes, except when there are lowest level jobs to do. We dressed in our formal outfits and headed to the classical music lounge before heading for dinner. We attended a very nice show afterwards and fell into bed.
Day 6 (Saturday, April 7)
Bill got up at 6:00 AM to take some photos of our arriving at our port for the day, Salvador do Bahia (1,2,3,4,5). The city of around 4 million people is 80% of African descent. After breakfast, Bill took a walking tour of Salvador. Cathy wasn't feeling up to snuff and remained behind. The air temperature rose to 95 degrees. A bus carried the tour to the "upper city", which is quite European (1,2,3,4,5). We entered the most beautiful church (1,2) of St. Francis. Inside (no photos allowed, but here is a copy of an Internet photo) we found a stunning nave whose walls were covered with intricate guilded wood carvings. A courtyard of the church was tiled with allegorical scenes donated by the king of Portugal. Outside, we were given a half hour to browse the souvenir stands. Bill walked down a narrow street and then took a photo of some non-American tourists to illustrate that Americans did not make up the majority of tourists. There was a very conspicuous police presence to protect tourists. We found that Salvador has favelas similar to Rio. We arrived back at the boat around noon, just in time for lunch. Cathy felt better and enjoyed lunch on the deck with Bill. After lunch, Bill headed to the Internet Cafe for photo processing. He still had the file upload problem with his photos. He talked with the Internet manager and she indicated that there were no restrictions on their end. We went on deck and watched our departure from Salvador; it was a beautiful scene on a balmy night (1,2). After dinner we were in bed by 10:30 PM.
Day 7 (Easter Sunday)
Bill got up at 5:00 AM, determined to solve his problem with uploading photos. He went to the Internet Cafe and logged on. After several diagnostic tests, he was convinced that the problem lay with his ftp software, Internet Neighborhood, so he went into "raw" ftp mode in a command window and uploaded pictures that way. It was an acceptable work-around for the cruise. We ate breakfast in the dining room with two other couples. Then Bill walked and went to the gym. Cathy sat on a deck chair, still not feeling well. We lunched on the aft portion of the upper deck, watching the beautiful calm ocean. Then we went to team trivia. Afterward, we took a tango lesson. Bill took some photos just after the sun went down (1,2). We cleaned up and dressed and went to see a comedian in an early show. We had Easter dinner with a special dessert built around half of a chocolate egg. We went to the promenade deck for a short time before heading back to our cabin.
Day 8 (Monday, April 9)
Bill got up at 6:00 AM to take a few photos of our arrival at Recife, Brazil (1,2,3). Then he walked for 45 minutes. It was very humid and Bill saw his first humidity rainbow. After breakfast we took a free shuttle to the downtown. We walked around the market area and stopped at a mercado for a couple of bottles of wine to take us to Africa (1,2,3). We ate lunch back on the ship. We met a couple, the Yonges, who wrote "Companion Guide to the Great Circle Route", a handbook for boating from Mobile, AL and back via the Atlantic Ocean and various rivers and lakes. They made the trip in 30 day increments in a 28 foot power boat over a 2 year period. We four decided that we were the only ones on board in standard cabins that thought they were luxurious, since they are used to living in the cuddy cabin of a 28 foot boat and we are used to living in a 21 foot RV. In early afternoon we took a combination bus/catamaran excursion to tour "The Venice of Brazil". After driving by some famous buildings and parks (1,2) and seeing a 100 year old African Baobab tree, we stopped for an hour at the "Cultural Center", an old jail converted into shops (1,2,3,4,5). Bill worked on his bargaining skills as we made a few purchases. Next, we drove to a dock and boarded a catamaran for a tour of the rivers of Recife. Some of the scenery was pretty (1,2,3,4,5), but some of it was ugly. The smells were not pretty. All in all, it was a good tour. We got back on board at 5:15 PM. We were supposed to sail away at 6:00 PM, but the Brazilian Immigration folks decided to harass the ship, as proxies for America, and didn't let us get away until 9:00 PM. Bill sat topside and watched the receding coastline until it almost disappeared. Our crossing had begun. We had to set our watches forward one hour at 2:00 AM.
Day 9 (Tuesday, April 10)
Bill got up shortly after 6:00 AM and walked the promenade deck for an hour. Cathy had a long sleep-in, as she still wasn't feeling well. Bill waited until 8:30 AM and then ate a solo breakfast topside where he saw another "humidity rainbow". Afterward, Bill walked for another 40 minutes. Finally, Cathy showed up and we both went topside for Cathy's breakfast and a cappuccino for Bill. Bill checked his GPS and found that we were at around 6 degrees south latitude. Bill figured late morning on Wednesday for the crossing of the equator and whatever King Neptune might bring on. ("Bring it on", as Erin and W say.) The wind was blowing about 30 mph, so the sea had whitecaps and moderate swells. We were accompanied by sea birds, some of which might have been Gannets and some of which might have been Masked Boobies. We and the birds saw lots of Flying Fish. We also saw a lone Frigate Bird which tried to steal food from some of the other birds. We ate lunch topside as usual. We did team trivia, since this was a "sea day". We watched one of the shipboard lectures, on coffee, on our cabin TV, while Bill did the NY Times crossword puzzle. Bill took some sunset photos before we went up to the Explorers Lounge and dinner.
Day 10 (Wednesday, April 11)
Bill got up at 6:00 AM and was power walking on Deck 3 by 6:05 AM. He did an hour of power walking and a half hour of walking and then went down to our cabin to wake Cathy. As we ate breakfast topside, we saw the Jolly Roger being raised. We figured that it had something to do with the King Neptune ceremony later in the morning. After breakfast, we lifted weights in the gym. Then we walked for half and hour before going topside for the King Neptune Ceremony (1,2,3,4), where we had quite good viewing positions due to our New Jersey street smarts. We crossed the Equator at about 12:35 PM and posed for the requisite photos, one with our trivia team and one by ourselves. We received certificates for the crossing, our first in a ship, although we've crossed 5 times in airplanes. After lunch, we did team trivia, followed by a nap and computer processing. The evening was one of the formal ones, the "Black and White Dinner". We went to a great show by the ship cast before dinner. We got our waiter, Asep, to pose with Cathy at our table. After dinner, Bill chose a biography of Jack Kerouac as his next read.
Day 11 (Thursday, April 12)
It got a bit rough overnight. At around 2:15 AM, Bill started to think about the fact that we were as far from the nearest point of land as we would be on this trip (probably 900 miles) and began imagining what it would be like in a lifeboat. He fell back to sleep with those happy thoughts and slept-in until 7:00 AM. Bill power walked for an hour on the Promenade Deck and then woke Cathy for breakfast. Later in the morning, we played our first games of Bingo, trying to win a cruise. It cost us $10 each and, of course, we didn't win. We both walked for a half hour before lunch. After lunch, we played team trivia and then walked for an hour. It was windy on the deck with a 20 mph wind added onto our 19 mph ship speed. We saw no birds today, although Bill saw a single Flying Fish. We figured that we'd see some African birds on Friday. This was a semi-formal dining night with a special dinner event called "Master Chefs". The servers and the guests wore funny hats and danced through the meal. We got a photo of our waiter, Chandra, in his garb. We also shot a photo of Bert and Barb from Palo Alto, whom we often chatted with before and after dinner, as their table was close to ours. The menu was specially designed for the evening, with 5 courses including a fabulous dessert. We went to the late show, featuring Bettine Clemen, the flautist who produced a PBS special showing her playing around the world interacting with children and animals. We set our watches ahead one hour before bedtime.
Day 12 (Friday, April 13)
Bill started to get Cathy's cold and slept-in until almost 8:00 AM. When he went out on the deck he saw two white birds flying low to the water in the distance and one flying fish. We ate a leisurely late breakfast and Bill decided to chill out for the day. Bill skipped lunch, but surfaced for the team trivia contest. We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting and sitting around the Internet Cafe. Bill used two cappuccinos and two Aleves to make it out and around. Again we set our watches ahead one hour before bedtime.
Day 13 (Saturday, April 14)
We both arose at 6:40 AM. Bill went out to take photos of the ship entering the harbor at Dakar, Senegal (1,2). We had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Africa, another new continent for us. We ate a quick breakfast. As we ate we noticed a hawk-like bird acting more like a crow; it might be a variation of the Caracara. We also saw a gull which was all black except for a white band circling its body just below its head. We noticed the merchants and buses waiting for the passengers. We had an 8:30 tour which took an hour on the bus to reach a resort near a pink lake. Words can't express what we saw on the way (1,2,3,4,5,6). The better highlights of the drive were the mosques (1,2) and fancily clad women (1,2) dressing up for market day. We loaded in open trucks and headed out around the lake. We saw some wading birds at the lake's edge, so some life must still be there in the highly saline water. The local people dredge the lake to get salt. Each time we stopped, we were surrounding by people trying to sell something. One boy gave us his address and asked for Nikes and a shirt. We paid a very young woman a dollar to take a picture of her and her baby. We did some pretty serious off-roading in the dunes of the Sahara Desert. Our truck wasn't in the best of shape and needed to be jump started in the middle of the ride. We went by an oasis and then by the beautiful coast. This was a fabulous tour! When we got back to the ship, we ate a late lunch and went down to the merchant area and looked at the wares. The ship sailed at 6:00 PM, passed by the infamous Ile de Goree, a major slave trading outpost, and headed north toward Casablanca. After dinner we went to the show and, even later, we viewed the Indonesian Crew Show, where Cathy bought a flashy drink.
Day 14 (Sunday, April 15)
We enjoyed breakfast in our room because we participated in a walk for breast cancer cure starting at 8:15 AM. We walked with Barb among a small crowd of about 50 participants. We were still suffering from our colds, so we were satisfied with a slow pace during the 5K walk. The wind was blowing and it was choppy. We hung around outside looking for whales. Bill saw one black whale and 3 spouts. It was hard to see the spouts because of the amount of whitecaps. After lunch, we did team trivia and then Bill worked on the Sunday NY Times Crossword puzzle while Cathy chilled out in our cabin. After dinner we went to the show featuring a comedian/magician. Cathy played a big part in the routine by acting as a foil on stage. The comedian starting referring to her as "Cathy who likes wine". We set our watches ahead an hour before bedtime.
Day 15 (Monday, April 16)
We both slept-in until 7:45 AM. Bill stuffed an amazing amount of clothing into our bulk laundry bag which we submitted before going up to breakfast. We both felt better and walked for two hours and put in some time in the gym before lunch. The water was very flat so we were easily able to see the spouts of a group of whales that passed by in the opposite direction from ours. We also noticed a lot of fishing boats, so we must have been fairly close to shore, although we couldn't see the shoreline. We did team trivia and then stayed for a short Spanish refresher. Bill emailed our children to check on their status. We started to get reports about the horrific mass murder at Katie's alma mater, Virginia Tech. Our son Bill was the first to bring it to our attention via email and then we heard about it on CNN International in our cabin. When we were listening to music in the Explorers Lounge before dinner we heard the announcement from the ship's captain that we were skipping Casablanca due to recent terrorism and heading to Gibraltar instead. We remembered how much fun we had last time in Gibraltar with Katie and Tom, but didn't feel as though we had much more to do there this time. We pondered about whether to take an excursion or just wander on our own. After dinner, we went to see a comedian at the show. Cathy didn't have to perform.
Day 16 (Tuesday, April 17)
This "at sea" day was mostly cloudy and windy without much in the way of scenery. We managed to bundle up and spend a couple of hours of deck walking during the day, but it wasn't too comfortable. We had our last cumulative team trivia contest and finished around halfway overall. At one point on the deck, Bill saw some splashing and breaching of some sea animal. One full breach reminded him of the Spinner Dolphins that he had seen in Hawaii. We had a free lunch at the Pinnacle Restaurant, thanks to our travel agency. Because it was free, it was very worthwhile. This was another formal night. At the show, as we sat in our usual front row seat, Bill got invited up on the stage as part of a production number by the ship's cast. He enjoyed being up there and feeling the energy of the cast members.
Day 17 (Wednesday, April 18)
Bill got up at 7:00 AM and looked around on Deck 3. Although it was dark, distant lights on both sides of the ship indicated that we were approaching the Straits of Gibraltar. After breakfast, the Rock came into clear view. We did some "scenic cruising" while we waited for dock space (1,2,3). We finally docked a bit after noon. Bill disembarked and walked to a supermarket where he bought wine, razors, and gum to replenish our supplies. It remained overcast and chilly throughout the day. Bill spent part of his time working through the NY Times crossword puzzle. We skipped the show after dinner and read instead.
Day 18 (Thursday, April 19)
We had breakfast in our cabin because of an early tour in the port of Cadiz, Spain. We had been in Cadiz back in 2003, so we were already familiar with the old town. We opted for a tour to Jerez de la Frontera, the Sherry capital of the world. The bus did a quick circuit of old town Cadiz before heading for Jerez. We did a short walking tour past the cathedral (1,2) and the alcazar on our way to the Tio Pepe Bodega, where the sherry is processed (1,2,3). We learned about the making of sherry as we toured the facility. We also saw the world's biggest weathervane. Penultimately, we were served two different kinds of sherry. Bill dabbed some behind his ears. We also learned that Amontillado (as in the Poe story) is a type of sherry. Finally, we had the opportunity to visit the "sacred gift shop" where we purchased a couple of items. After riding back to the ship, we had a quick snack and walked around old town (1,2,3,4,5), enjoying the warm afternoon sun. We had to board by 4:00 PM, since the ship had a long sail to Lisbon overnight. We went to a variety show and enjoyed dinner while it was still daylight. We set our watches back an hour before bed.
Day 19 (Friday, April 20)
Bill got up before 6:00 AM and went up on Deck 3. The ship was just docking in Lisbon, Portugal and it was completely dark outside. Bill got to see Lisbon's copy of the Golden Gate Bridge while it was lit for the night. The statue of Christ on the other side of the bridge was not lit but barely visible. Bill walked for an hour and then joined Cathy for breakfast. We went to the gym for weightlifting afterwards. Since many people were ending their cruise in Lisbon, there were suitcases all around the ship and the pier. We went to the gathering place for our tour of Lisbon and discovered that it was raining quite hard. We toured Lisbon in a bus and learned a lot about the city in spite of the rain (1,2,3,4,5). The city is build on seven hills and is quite beautiful. We made a stop at the Maritime Museum, which celebrates Portugal's seafaring past (1,2,3). We enjoyed a cafe con leche after viewing the exhibits. We got back on the bus and drove to St. Jeronimo's Church, built during the 16th century (1,2,3). We saw the coffin of Vasco de Gama inside the church. We drove by the Tower of Belem, Lisbon's most recognizable landmark, so they say. The tower is on the bank of the Tagus River, which we last saw as it flowed around Toledo, Spain. We stopped for a photo of a mariners monument and got a good photo of the bridge and statue of Christ. We returned to the ship around 1:00 PM and had to wait in a long queue to get back aboard along with a lot of newbies who joined us in Lisbon. After lunch we watched the rain for a while and then went down to the cabin to chill out before the mandatory fire drill. After the drill, we went to Deck 3 to get a last look at Lisbon as we sailed away (1,2,3,4). Later, Bill went to the Internet cafe. We found another couple at our table when we showed up for dinner at 8:30 PM, but our Maitre d' Hotel, Wahyu, soon cleared up the confusion and we enjoyed dinner. We headed to our cabin after dinner, read for a while, and set our watches ahead an hour before turning in.
Day 20 (Saturday, April 21)
Bill started this "sea day" with an hour's power walk at 6:45 AM in the dark, mostly alone. It was gloomy and rainy most of the day. We got a bit of a glimpse at the Pillars of Hercules (1,2) before the clouds, rain, and mist obscured the coast. We spent a hour in the gym for weightlifting and an hour walking in the chilly wind before lunch. After lunch, we played team trivia and then bundled up and did a windier walk for an hour. By now, we had a Force 9 wind (full gale), and the ship was slamming into some big waves. We posed for a formal portrait before going to the Piano Bar before dinner. After dinner, we enjoyed the comedian/impersonator at the show.
Day 21 (Sunday, April 22)
We awoke at a bit before 7:00 AM. Bill went out on deck and found that the rain that we expected was not happening and it looked as though this would be a good day in Valencia, Spain. We ate breakfast as the ship backed into its berth near the area where the 32nd Americas Cup was being held. At 9:00 AM we began a wonderful bus tour of this wonderful city. We began with a walking tour of the Americas Cup area (1,2,3,4,5) before any of the crowds arrived. We could see where the city beach and Paseo del Mar (1,2,3) began just north of the marina area.As we toured around the city, we passed through the old fishing village area near the beach, where the buildings are small and have the traditional tiles and wrought iron balconies.We visited areas filled with beautiful buildings from different centuries (1,2,3,4,5). One of the features that Bill had remembered reading about Valencia, while we were living in Spain in 2003, was that many people liked to enjoy chocolate and churros after a long night of carousing and before heading to work for the day. We had our chance to try the thick, sweet treat on a stop in the center of the city. The Sunday crowds had picked up in the city as we continued our tour. We stopped by the Faller Museum, where the single "Falla" from each year is saved after the March 19 conflagration of thousands of these imaginative proxies for people's shortcomings during the year. We also dropped by the outside of the science complex (1,2,3,4) where the new, biggest aquarium in Europe is located. While we were eating lunch on the ship after the tour, we saw that the Americas Cup races were active. Around 2:30 PM we exited the ship and walked for a couple of hours. We walked past the Americas Cup complex and down the paseo along the beach. We could see the Americas Cup action out in front of the beach. We passed a most beautiful fountain in the shape of the boat as we walked along. When we returned to the ship, we headed to our cabin to chill out for a while. Then Bill worked on the 129 photos that he'd taken during the day and headed to the Internet Cafe to upload photos and writeup and to do email processing. We were sure that we should make an extensive return visit to Valencia in the future. We skipped the show after dinner, since we saw it a couple of weeks ago.
Day 22 (Monday, April 23)
Bill got up at 6:50 AM and watched the ship come into Barcelona harbor. Since we had visited Barcelona back in 2003, everything looked familiar. We took our time getting breakfast and weightlifting at the gym before taking a shuttle bus to the base of the Ramblas. This was Saint Jorge's Day, which is similar to our Valentine's Day. There were school kids everywhere. It is also called the Day of the Book, because men are supposed to give women roses and women are supposed to give men books. There were books for sale up and down the Ramblas. It was a nice warm and sunny day, so our crowded stroll up the Ramblas was very pleasant. Once we reach Plaza Catalonia at the top of the Ramblas, we went into Corte de Inglis and went up to the top floor to use their bathrooms. We shopped our way back down the Ramblas and then headed over to Barceloneta to enjoy a Paella lunch similar to a lunch that we had back in 2003. We ate this time at El Rey de la Gamba Restaurante. Once lunch was over, we walked back along the beach and caught a shuttle bus to get back to the ship. We arrived at the ship around 3:20 PM; curfew was set at 4:00 PM. We got on the Internet and tried to reserve tickets for the Uffizi Museum in Florence for Wednesday and to arrange a Vatican Museum tour for Thursday. We had some foul-up on the website and emailed the reservation agency, but hadn't heard from them by early evening. After dinner we went to the show, which featured a ventriloquist and his duck. The duck decided to pick on Bill and had a long, insulting conversation with him. It was a very funny show, and even Bill enjoyed it.
Day 23 (Tuesday, April 24)
The ship arrived at Monaco around 7:30 AM and anchored offshore. We were in Monaco back in 1985 on a bus trip to England and France with our kids and Cathy's French class. We found the place somewhat boring back then and figured on just doing some walking on this visit. Ironically, this stop was the longest of the whole cruise, from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM. We took our time getting going and finally caught a tender around 10:00 AM from ship to shore. We started our private tour by ascending to Monaco-Ville where the Oceanographic Museum/Aquarium, the Cathedral, and the Palace are located. We toured the Aquarium first and saw some interesting fish (1,2,3). Then we went into the museum and looked at the many exhibits dealing with exploration and science. We went into the cathedral (1,2,3) after Bill said he'd rather eat nails, and slowly walked through with several busloads of people on other tours. We stayed on the outside of the palace and then walked down a long ramp that reminded us of Salzburg, Austria. We walked around one of the marinas and then ate a cheap lunch in the Hip Hop Cafe. We had a very nice young French waiter who told us about a restaurant in Cap d' Ail, France, Le Cabanon, which he said had a great view. We walked into Cap d' Ail, France and found a wonderful path along the water (1,2) that equaled or bettered other such paths that we have trod. We eventually reached the restaurant and a nearby scenic overlook. We found an interesting (click here ONLY if you are willing to see what Bill thinks is interesting on a French beach) beach (1,2). We walked back toward Italy and passed the site of the upcoming Monaco Grand Prix race (1,2,3). We continued to walk to the vicinity of the Monte Carlo Casino, the Hotel Paris, and the Opera House. Then we walked the long way back to the wharf to catch a tender back to the ship. We finally got back to the ship at 4:50 PM. We had a very good tour! Bill does not lead tours for the walking impaired. After relaxing a bit, Bill worked on his writeup. We enjoyed the lights of Monaco as we ate dinner in the dining room. The ship began to sail away at close to 10:00 PM. We enjoyed the Filipino Crew Show at 10:30 PM before putting out a breakfast menu and falling into bed.
Day 24 (Wednesday, April 25)
We had requested a 6:30 AM breakfast in our cabin due to an early excursion. The ship pulled in Livorno, Italy bright and early. The harbor wasn't much to look at unless one liked piles of containers. Cathy had visited Florence on her 1964 "Grand Tour" with a couple of friends, so we decided to do an excursion that just dropped us off in Florence and let us wander around for five hours on our own. We had a 1.5 hour bus ride through the Tuscan countryside accompanied by a running commentary by our guide. We were dropped off on the right bank of the Arno River, where we saw a crew team practicing. From there we walked as a group to the Santa Croce Plaza. Our guide had deals with various shops and arranged for a restroom stop in a leather shop before we went our separate ways. The weather had become sunny and warm as we walked to the nexus (1,2) of Palazzo Vecchio, Orcagna's Loggia, and Uffizi Gallery, where we had hoped we had a reservation, but were fouled up by the www.weekendafirenze.com website, which we don't recommend using. We wandered back down to the Arno and had a good look at the Ponte Vecchio which we reached by walking through some neat looking arches. We crossed (1,2) the bridge to the Left Bank and then headed up the street to the Pitti Palace. We enjoyed a couple of hours of wandering through rooms filled with art in the palace. There were paintings by Titian, Rafael, Rubens, Von Dyk, and Botticelli among many other artists represented. We thought that the comparison of two paintings was of particular interest: Titian, "The Magdalen", 1555 and Perugino, "Mary Magdalen", 1496. It's worth a Google to see these works and compare them. Which one did Bill like the best? The ceilings in all of the rooms were painted or sculpted works of art in their own right. It was a very worthwhile visit that definitely satisfied our hunger for art for the day. We worked up quite a hunger with all of our art viewing in the palace and headed to eat in a restaurant, Open Bar, recommended by Katie and Tom from their trip to Florence. Without even having to mention Katie or Tom by name, we were given the best table in the house, a corner table for two which provided this view out of an open window at the table. The food was just as good. We enjoyed a plate of olives, a Caprese Salad, and a pizza-like Foccacia with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. After lunch, we headed back to the Right Bank and the Cathedral (1,2,3,4). The interior of the Cathedral was very impressive (1,2). Although entrance to the Cathedral was free, when we followed a knowledgeable-looking group down a set of stairs, we found ourselves paying 3 Euros each to explore an enigmatic basement. Bill finally coughed up another Euro to listen to an audio explanation that told the story of the excavation of old Cathedrals (1,2) under the newer building. We headed back to the Basilica of Santa Croce and paid a few Euros to enter the old church (1,2,3). We were most impressed by the tombs of Michelangelo, Dante, and Galileo inside. We met with our group again, found our bus by the river, and motored back to the ship, where we arrived at 5:30 PM. We really enjoyed the tour. We skipped the show after dinner to catch up on our photos, review some Florence information, and preview some Rome information.
Day 25 (Thursday, April 26)
The ship pulled into Civitaecchia, Italy as we enjoyed an early breakfast in our cabin again and loaded onto a bus heading for Rome. The last time we were there, we did "Rome in a day" and felt pretty good about our coverage. After a 90 minute bus ride, we were dropped off on Via Veneto very close to where we stayed in Rome in 2001. It was 10:00 AM and we were due to meet the bus again at 5:00 PM. The day was sunny and warm and Rome was busy as usual. We had prepared with a bit of reading in one of Rick Steve's books and had decided on a tentative itinerary. Cathy wanted to go over to Trevi Fountain to throw in coins. Bill dug out a couple of one centavo pieces and gave them to Cathy to hold until we needed them for the throw. Bill sent Cathy down to the rail for her throw, thinking that he'd get a photo and then go down to throw his own coin. Cathy threw both coins in the fountain. Bill worried all day on how to interpret the effect (only Cathy would go back to Rome; both would go back, but Cathy would plan the trip; Cathy would go back with a man of her choice; we would go back, and Bill would get his chance to throw a coin). We headed to a department store for a potty stop, and then walked over to the area of the Pantheon. We had read about a nearby Gothic church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, which contained the remains of the torso of St. Catherine of Siena (her head is in Siena), so we went in to investigate. We found a beautiful ancient church! We saw the altar of St. Catherine which is her tomb. Close by was an interesting Michelangelo statue of a buff Christ. Our big find was in a side chapel. We read the fine print and found that Michelangelo had painted the ceiling which was hardly visible in the dimmed light of the chapel. For half a Euro, there was a machine to illuminate the ceiling, so we went to the small sacred gift shop and bought a postcard for a half a Euro and took the change back to get a few seconds of light for a photograph. Interestingly, no one else in the church had any idea about the ceiling. We knew we wouldn't be going into the Sistine Chapel because of the long queue, so this was our chance for a similar, albeit much smaller, sight. When we exited the church, we walked the few steps to the impressive Pantheon (1,2,3). We went in to take a look at the dome, which was converted to a basilica. So far, we had done three major sights for a half Euro, and we had a free pee to boot. Next, we walked toward the Tiber River and crossed over one of the many bridges. We had a good view of St. Peter's down the river. At the other end of our bridge was an impressive palace which we translated to be the "Palace of eating". We walked down the other side of the river, past the Castel Sant'Angelo. We took a look at Ponte Sant'Angelo, built by Hadrian. Then we walked the road to St. Peter's Square. We had a modest plan of trying to get into the basilica for a look around. We got into a long line of people heading for the front of the church. Bill spotted a yellow sign about 15 minutes ahead that had two arrows. He used his extensive knowledge of Latin to interpret: left side for tombs of the popes, right side for the basilica (the actual term was Cupola). While we waited in the hour long right side line, we noticed how many young, fit looking people were in that line with us. Finally, we came to a cashier where we could choose to pay 4 Euros and walk 551 steps up to the dome, or pay 7 Euros and take an elevator and walk 320 steps up to the dome. Here we were in our long running series, this episode called "Clueless in Rome". Bill was silently elated about the adventure, Cathy was scared and said "I'm going to faint". We took the elevator to the top of the nave and then ascended steep claustrophobic stairways and ended up on a narrow walkway inside the dome, looking far down into St. Peter's. What a view! We weren't done climbing by any means. We had to ascend even narrower, more claustrophobic stairways to the outside at the top of the dome. The view was great, but high up, the details seem to disappear. Bill noticed some dark clouds coming and knew that we'd have rain soon. Cathy said "I'm not even winded". We descended all 551 steps and ended up inside the basilica. We wandered around a bit and then headed out, looking for lunch. The rain started as we walked outside. Luckily, some street vendors appeared and we bought two umbrellas for 5 Euros each. We walked across the river and sat down in a covered outside area of a small restaurant. We enjoyed a Caprese Salad and a pizza, followed by an espresso for Bill and a cappuccino for Cathy (one of the few she's ever had). By the time we were finished with a very relaxing lunch, the rain had stopped. We walked along the river for a while and then cut over to the Spanish Steps, covered with people. We took another free pee at Italy's first McDonalds and headed to Via Veneto to catch our bus. We had a great day in Rome! We arrived back at the ship around 7:00 PM. We skipped the show after dinner again to get a reasonably early bedtime.
Day 26 (Friday, April 27)
We pulled into Naples, Italy around daybreak. We had ordered breakfast in the room and then went out to the bus for our tour of the Amalfi Coast. Bill had always thought that this spectacular coastline, seen by him only in travelogues, was a most fabulous scene. He was not disappointed on this day. Our tour lasted for 8.5 hours and entailed some thrilling bus driving on the most precipitous roads imaginable. We left the Naples harbor at 8:10 AM accompanied by our feisty guide, Marilu. We drove by Mt. Vesuvius on our way around Naples Bay to Sorrento where we stopped for an hour. We walked around to see the great views (1,2,3,4,5). From Sorrento, the bus drove over the mountain to Salermo Bay and the Amalfi Coast. The road was extremely narrow with a long drop to the bay on the right side (1,2,3,4,5). It would be hard to drive any size vehicle on the road, but amazing to try to drive a bus there. Our driver performed miracles. The views were spectacular (1,2,3,4,5). Some of the high altitude villages reminded us of the village of Deia on Majorca. We made a lunch stop in the village of Amalfi. This is a tourist-ridden town such as New Hope, PA, but still keeps its charm. Some on our bus were grousing about not having promised box lunches. We rejoiced that we didn't and headed to an open air restaurant for big slices of pizza, fizzy water, and a big dish of gelato. After we ate, we explored the historic Cathedral of Amalfi, which contains the remains of the Apostle Andrew. The outside was Moorish in appearance (1,2), but the inside of several elements of the complex were very Christian looking (1,2,3,4,5). We got back on the bus and then the bus drove up the mountain on an even worse road full of switchbacks. It was good fun to watch the driver work. At one point our bus had to back up for a while to allow a cement mixer to pass. Finally, we reached the top of the mountain and over to the Bay of Naples side again. On the way back to Naples, we had to stop at a cameo factory. We reached the ship at 4:30 PM. After dinner we went to a disappointing show, put out our menu for the morning, and went to bed.
Day 27 (Saturday, April 28)
We awoke at 6:00 AM. Bill went out on deck to watch the ship come into the Strait of Messina and move toward the city of Messina. He could see the Italian mainland as well as Sicily and, dimly, Mt. Etna. We ate breakfast in our room and then moved to the bus to take us on our "In the Footsteps of the Godfather" tour of a few spots used in the filming of the Godfather movies I, II, and III. We moved south along the Sicilian coast from Messina. The rugged, dry mountains and dry riverbeds reminded us of Malaga, Spain when we were near the water and reminded us of "El Campo" in Spain when we were up in the mountains. After traveling through several tunnels, we started to climb into the mountains to visit the village of Savoca. For a second day in a row, we found ourselves on a bus traversing steep, windy, precipitous roads. The village was the site chosen to represent the village of Corleone for Godfather. We saw the bar (see clips: 1,2) used for the meeting of Michael Corleone with his future bride, Apollonia, and had a cappuccino there. Next we walked up to two churches. The second one was where Michael and Apollonia were married in the movie with the walk (see clip) where the wedding procession came out from the ceremony. The village was very pretty and very quiet. Ours was the only bus in town. Later we drove down and through a beach resort town and then up on a winding road to another village, Forza D'Agro. In this village, the outside of one of the churches was used in Godfather (see clip). We had another cappuccino in order to use the bathroom in a small bar. In the distance, we could see the famous Sicilian resort town of Taormina nestled on a mountain. When we returned to Messina, we walked up to the cathedral square and ate another pizza lunch in a nearly empty restaurant. Afterward, we went into the beautiful cathedral and listened to an organist practicing. The sound was awesome. Afterward, we walked around the city for a while before heading back into the ship. Bill worked on photos and writeup and an issue causing the domain CapeMayBeach.net to become inactive. We went out on a top deck to watch the ship sail away as the sun set. We went to the Crow's Nest Bar for a drink and some dancing before dinner. After dinner we went to a great show featuring a juggler/comedian who picked on both of us among others in the audience. We set our watches ahead an hour before bedtime.
Day 28 (Sunday, April 29)
We welcomed a "sea day" after a string of busy days in ports. We took our time getting to breakfast. Afterward we lifted weights in the gym. Then we went to the front office to ask about a couple of charges from the earlier segment of the cruise. We went out on Deck 3 for an hour's walk. The sea was smooth and it was mostly sunny and comfortable on deck. We ate lunch at the Lido Buffet. Afterward, we did the last team trivia with Rick and Sondra. We paid some bills online during the late afternoon and Bill sent out a couple of emails complaining about the unavailability of CapeMayBeach.net After cleaning up and donning our formal attire, we went up to Deck 8 for a drink and watched the best sunset of the cruise (1,2,3). We enjoyed the "Farewell Dinner" with the subsequent Baked Alaska Ceremony. For dessert, we had Baked Alaska and cookies. The show after dinner was fabulous, lots of energy. We put out our breakfast menu before heading to bed.
Day 29 (Monday, April 30)
The ship approached Santorini Island, Greece at a bit after 6:00 AM. We had an early breakfast in our cabin. Then we headed for one of the island's tenders to bring us to our bus for our tour of Santorini. This was our 6th Greek island; we saw the other 5 in 1990. Santorini was one of the islands that resulted from a huge volcanic explosion in ancient times. The resulting islands form the incomplete rim of the caldera. A couple of hundred years ago a lava island came up in the middle. The bus wound its way up the steep cliff to the rim. Then we went to the highest point on the island for some photos (1,2,3). Then we walked around the village of Oia (1,2,3) for a while. As we drove the countryside, we could see the low grape vines clinging to the volcanic earth. These vines are unirrigated and receive rain on only 20 days a year. They draw the majority of their moisture from the humid night air. We visited a wine shop for tasting, purchasing, and some views (1,2,3). Finally, Cathy and Bill and a few other passengers were dropped off in the village of Fira (1,2,3). We walked around looking at some of the souvenir shops. Then we had lunch with a view at the Farina Restaurant. We had a Greek Salad, a plate of olives, and chopped tomatoes and cheese on bread. It was a refreshing meal. After lunch, we walked down the "donkey path" which is a long, winding set of steps for pedestrians and donkeys, some of which have riders. It was very scenic and quite fragrant as well. We arrived back at the ship in the middle of the afternoon. We worked on our photos and writeup for a while and went to the Internet Cafe. We got ready for the evening early and went topside to enjoy the great view and to be on deck as the ship sailed away (1,2,3). The ship threaded among several islands as the sun was setting (1,2,3,4) and the moon was rising. At one time we could see 8 islands; it was quite a sight. After dinner, we returned to the cabin to read for a while before bedtime.
Day 30 (Tuesday, May 1)
We awoke shortly after 6:00 AM as the ship was docking in Kusadasi, Turkey. We were a little nervous because of the recent unrest in Turkey over the election coming up on May 2. We ate breakfast in the cabin again and showed up at 7:20 AM for our tour of Ephesus and the Virgin Mary's House. Our guide gave us an excellent introduction to Turkey and the region that we were in as we traveled toward Ephesus. Bill fondly remembered St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians 5 for its advice to married women; the epistle was read at our wedding, not that it did much good. We were told that the Apostle John, the Virgin Mary, and St. Paul were all residents or frequent visitors to Ephesus. There were several cruise ships in the harbor and dozens of tour buses in the Ephesus area. On the way to the house is an historic statue of Mary. Mary's house was reconstructed on a foundation below a painted red line. We walked through the house and lit a candle. The huge crowd of tourists was amazingly respectful. After having an opportunity to purchase souvenirs, we were bused to Ancient Ephesus, the incredible site of the old city (1,2,3). St. Paul wanted to preach in the theater, but wasn't allowed and was detained for a while at the ancient lighthouse. In those days, Ephesus was a port; now it is 6 kilometers inland. We loved the Red Poppies and Hazelnut Trees that we saw all around the area. We had another opportunity to purchase souvenirs before reboarding our bus. Our last stop was at a rug merchant. We were given a weaving show, some beverages to drink (we had Turkish coffee), and a hard sell. Cathy almost bought a $1900 rug (something like: 1,2,3), but Bill pulled the salesman off by lighting a match and burning his backside until he released. We walked back to the ship through a lethal gauntlet of jewelry and other merchants. We ate lunch at the Lido buffet and filled out our cruise evaluation forms. The weather changed from a beautiful morning to a gloomy, rainy afternoon. We caught up with our photos and writeup and headed to the Internet cafe for a final upload. We went to the evening show at 6:45 PM, got a drink, and went to dinner. We completed our packing of check-in luggage by early evening. Our bags needed to be in the hallway by 1:00 AM and we beat that deadline by far.
Day 31 (Wednesday, May 2)
The ship docked in Athens by 6:00 AM. We were up by then and ate breakfast at the Lido buffet. We picked up our passports at 7:45 AM in the Ambassador Lounge. We hung around in the library until our departure group were called to depart the ship and head for the airport. The bus trip took 45 minutes. We arrived at the airport in time to watch some goons on a couple of trucks toss all of our luggage into a huge randomly arranged pile in front of the terminal. Whatever we all felt about our cruise with Holland America would be soured by this confusion. Our flight 3389 on Lufthansa departed from Athens at 12:35 PM and landed in Munich, Germany at 2:05 PM. Our Lufthansa flight 424 left Munich at 3:40 PM and landed in Boston at 6:05 PM. We fell in love with Lufthansa. The plane and the service were excellent. The service crew continually prowled the aisles offering free drinks (wine, beer, cognac, soda, mineral water, tea, coffee). Also we enjoyed three hot meals on the two flights and several hot towels. In Boston, we had to fetch our luggage and go through customs. We found that transferring the luggage to Philadelphia was a snap via the Transfer Desk. Our U.S. Airways flight 1097 was late coming into Boston and late leaving. Bill thought the flight lasted 5 minutes because he was mostly asleep. It landed in Philadelphia at around 10:00 PM. We thought that we had lost one of our bags, but Cathy found it when she went to report missing luggage. Our son-in-law Phil picked us up at the airport. When we reached their home in Glen Mills, we had a chance to chat with the very pregnant Alex for a while before we had to head for bed. We were happy to be back in the USA.
We had good adventures on the cruise, but we won't need to go on a long cruise again for a few years, since we enjoy other means of travel also.
Bill and Cathy McArthur