Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cruising with Norwegian Cruise Lines


It has been 25 years since we had been on an extended Cruise Ship voyage, the reason being was that the last trip (Wanda won from work) was in a cramped cabin with a small bed, the shower and toilet were merged, the food was reception quality, and the entertainment highlight may have been a stand-up routine I performed for Talent Show Night.  (Yes, that bad).  We had just spent a month in Barcelona for Christmas and were trying to decide our plans for the next few months of our journey.  I came across a Norwegian Cruise Line Internet ad for a 10 day Cruise from Barcelona to Morocco, Madeira and the Canary Islands and back to Barcelona by way of Malaga.  The cost, with unlimited beverage (booze) and food and a ship-board credit for WiFi in a balcony room came to about $120 a day.  When you add up what a flight to Morocco and the other Islands would cost, plus food and lodging, this was fantastic, plus a safer way to visit Morocco.  It was also nice to stop in for a quick once-over of several locations-Islands-Ports of Call.


Yay - Let's go!!!!!......

...Heading out for a 10 day tour on a calm Mediterranean Sea...

...and a beautiful day for a January cruise!

...Finding our way around the ship - the lobby pictured above with Rich avoiding the paparazzi (they were always after him) ...

....We had no trouble finding all 10 of the lounges and bars - after all, we had the "unlimited beverages" pack!

Captain Lars is busy, so he sends his first mates to meet Rich to explain what keeps a heavy ship afloat...

A sunset from Galaxy Bar in the front (or bow) of the ship 

Back to Rich:  
Ok, this sounds like an Ad for Norwegian Cruise Lines, BUT- what about the food and bed etc??  What a change a few years has made.  The bed was incredibly comfortable, queen size, and the room was well equipped and the towels and supplies were boutique.  Also, the Jacuzzi and steam/sauna rooms were very therapeutic and nicely done.  So far so good....

Wanda again:  
From the title of the post, I thought this was supposed to be an ad for Norwegian Cruise Line!  Let's get back to our commercial.....

On Board Entertainment:

Waiting for the show to begin...

Rich keeping the cruisers entertained, at least he picked an age-appropriate song - I heard a few people in the audience went to school with Mick Jagger...

....OK, Now For The Real Entertainment:

Beautiful Broadway voices and dancing kept us entertained...

The wonderful singers and dancers hanging with us on their night off...

Pablo singing all our favorites in the Irish Pub!

Our entertainment crew "The Fun Bunch" that kept things lively throughout the cruise...


As far as the entertainment, the shows were using many actors with West End credentials, the show band and various lounge acts were of a very high quality, and only once did I experience a "cruise ship cringe" over a performer.  The Torch singer of "Trio Royale" had a beautiful voice and Guitarist Pablo Rodriguez was incredibly gifted.

Back to Wanda:

The Port Stops

....Casablanca, Morocco - view of the The Hassan II Mosque

Shopping in Rabat Morocco for the "All White" Party....Rich skillfully bought 2  Caftans called Djellabas for 300 Moroccan Dirham!

....Of course you can't miss eating the street food in Morocco!

Santa Cruz the capital of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
Pictured above is "The Market of Our Lady of Africa".  We spent the day wandering the city...

On the  island of Madeira we went for a "Tobaggan" ride on the street (no snow here!)...

  ..."Sledges" were used for 100's of years transporting people to Funchal (the town below)  from the steep mountain top (now it's done for the tourists!)

Riding camels on a Wednesday (humpday!) in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands - one of our favorite excursions...

A trip through Timanfayo National Park and the Montanas del Fuego or the Fire Mountains with more than 100 volcanic craters - amazing tour!

I guess its called the Fire Mountains for a reason - those volcanoes can erupt at any time, I felt safe since the last eruption was in 1824...

One of the park rangers poured water into the ground and a  strong geyser of steam came spouting up - showing how hot the surface temperature is.

Grapevines grown in the volcanic earth- each vine is cultivated separately and surrounded by rocks to protect them from the wind.  The result is a sweet dessert wine we all know as Muscatel! 

And finally a stop in Malaga  Spain, we spent the day walking the city (pictured above is the Roman Theater) ....

.... and eating my favorite 
Marcona almonds (grown almost exclusively in Spain)  sold on street corners...


Though interesting in many ways I believe we would not go to Morocco or Lanzarote again, our trip to Rabat Morocco was a great experience and included a couple of caftans and some incredible street food.  We would like another shot at Funchal in Madeira for a longer stay. The tours you can take from the ship will vary from educational and interesting to rushed and fluff.  It is hard to determine which to take, sometimes the tours are interesting, (such as Lanzarote) and sometimes it is better to explore on your own.

Back to Wanda.....

How we gained 5 Kilos (sounds so much better than pounds):

There are 14 dining options on board - and we went to every one of them!!

On a nice day there are Barbecues outside - this one just happens to be paella!

Playing with food is OK on NCL...

Attentive waiters like Mohammad!  Everyone of them made sure Rich never went hungry!
 A shout out to Christian -not pictured (from the Philippines), who read Richard's mind (or maybe belly) and brought him out seconds, sometimes thirds... 


The dining concept on Norwegian Cruise line has advanced, "Freestyle Dining" is a chance to eat when you want and what you want with either a restaurant quality or a buffet line efficiency, plus room service.  You can eat pretty much 24/7!  (Please note the tight jeans and bulging sweaters, arggh)  They have restaurants in the theme of French Bistro, Chicago Steak House, Teppan style Sushi, and Italian.  We found the service and food to reach a very high level of professionalism in nearly all variations we experienced.  Is it the best food we have ever eaten?  Well, of course not, but in 10 days of eating we had only a couple of disappointments, and then we just ordered another dish and it tasted great.  It is odd to order 3 starters and 2 entrees and have the waiter ask if you would like more grilled shrimp, but I adapt well :-).  We also found they will let you order different items and put them together as you wish, so a Caesar salad becomes a grilled shrimp Caesar!

OK, funny story, I am ordering at a late-night food place - The Blue Lagoon.  I start to order - chicken wings, fish & chips, Sliders, Artichoke Dip, etc.. when I notice the waiter not writing anything down.  "Did you get all that?" I asked, and he replied, "Oh no, I'm sorry, I thought you were just reading the menu."  Wanda has laughed for days on that remark.

Back to Wanda...

We made wonderful new friends:

Lenny and Charles from the UK - the father and son team that could actually keep up with us - we spent many a night closing all the bars down.

Steve and Jan from Bakersfield CA- fellow bingo winners!
(Small world - Steve probably sold Rich's Dad a Chevy in 1974 in Porterville) 

Rich's  karaoke competition, Malcolm from Scotland and his lovely wife Angela - Malcolm sounds and looks like Rod Stewart!  Both he and Rich were finalists in the Karaoke competition...

Mary and Craig (isn't he handsome?)  from Pennsylvania USA - these 2 people travel the world doing volunteer work, so inspirational!

Special Thank You To Our favorite Crew Members!!

Charming and engaging Anastasia from New Zealand...

Gary from Nicaragua our favorite maitre'd - he always made sure we got window seats at the Windows Restaurant!

Yay Christine!  (from the UK) the ship's acupuncturist.  If you start feeling a little woozy, she is the one to go to!

Thank You Francisco! (from Nicaragua ) Francisco kept our stateroom clean and tidy twice a day and from a couple of messy people!

Sebastian (from St Lucia) the best waiter in the Galaxy Lounge....

...and of course Karen from Germany, the most caring and professional concierge that we could ask for! 

Even your photographers made us look good!!!

 The entire crew is made up like a mini United Nations, but they work together in a much nicer way!


Some negatives? 

The Wifi is charged by the minute, not a flat fee or by the megabyte as it should be. 
But really, it should be a good time to get off the electronics grid completely, and we did fairly well, but when you use the Internet for research and to blog, it is still a burr in the saddle to monitor your usage. So there!

Will we do it again?  Probably.  The age of the guests (on a January sail) were a few years older than us, but we found inspiration in many of our new friends energy and enthusiasm. We were quite surprised at the food presentations. As for the ship motion sickness, Wanda did get a little woozy, but in January that can be expected.  I was fine and actually enjoyed the rocking motion of the ship.  As for other Cruise Ships?  I am almost worried to try another Cruise Line after our positive experience.  Some Cruise ships these days are enormous, I will say we were on a medium size ship The Spirit, with about 2,000 passengers, yet we never felt crowded, (OK, perhaps at 3-4 pm with so many English on board the Tea Time Buffet experienced a crush as if Manchester United were playing).  However, if the price and place is right, we would go on another one.  I think the Cruise Ship can be an excellent way to "taste" a few places to see if you want to go back for a longer visit.

 Bon Voyage!... now back to the "Road".


Rich, hmm - that was only 1 negative is that I did not use the on-board treadmill to walk off all those calories I consumed and drank - oh well, as Scarlett O'Hara said, "I can't think about that right now.  If I do, I'll go crazy.  I'll think about that tomorrow."

Cheers- a trip to remember!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Our Favorite Catalunya Art and Architecture


Is it the water?  Maybe the wine? Or perhaps a combination of Mediterranean air mixed with vermouth, olives and jamon?  In any case, whatever it is that gives Spanish architects and artists their unique perspective and vision, it is wonderful.  Whether it be the curvy Modernist lines and sand castle aesthetic of Antonio Gaudi, the surrealism of Dali, or the iconic artistry of Picasso, Miro and countless other artists of Catalunya, they captivate you. Even from 30 years ago the buildings and streets stay in your memory as a city that you can simply take walks and be completely exhilarated.  Love this city!

Mesmerized by the narrow curving sidewalks of the Gothic (Barri Gotic) and Born Quarters, we sit in small cafes and bars loving the vibrancy of romantic plazas.

"La Rambla" 
Continuing a nearly 400 year tradition of promenading with your loved one down a 1.2 km tree-lined boulevard of  architecture, shops, flower stalls,"pick-pockets," assorted artists, and musicians. Incredible!

Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia,
otherwise known as the Barcelona Cathedral, this 15th century Gothic beauty with it's gargoyles and animals must have influenced several artists over the years.


Walking the streets of Barcelona, you see the impact that Antoni Gaudi has had on the city and continues to have.  All of Nature seemed to be the primary inspiration of his creativity, and though he is an architect, he seems more of an artist to me.  I have to admit, we didn't get to all of his work,  (a reason to come back) but what we did see are stunning examples of imaginative creative genius:

Gaudi's Casa Batllo.   
 This building was built in 1904 and is called by the locals the "House of Bones".  The balconies look like skulls and the roof is arched like the back of a dragon.  Inside everything seems to flow like water - even the staircase appears to move like undulating waves.  There are no sharp edges anywhere, including all the furniture and accessories he  designed - beautiful!

Another of Gaudi's buildings, Casa Mila or La Pedrera - like his Casa Batllo the building is all rolling curves inside and outside...

Gaudi's unfinished cathedral The Sagrada Familia (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), is the most unique piece of architecture that you either love or hate.  It was started in 1882 and  unfortunately, Gaudi was hit by a tram and died before it was completed.  Supposedly, it will be completed in 2026...

Views from the top of Sagrada Familia and walking down a very narrow staircase with Renata - Rich was smarter and opted for the elevator and is a tiny dot pictured bottom right!

Pictured above is the opposite side of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia - personally, I do not think it is really Gaudi, and he would be rolling over in his grave if he could see the work today...

Park Guell was originally a real estate development that was given to Gaudi to draw up plans for in 1900.  There was supposed to be 60 plots with views of the sea - only 2 homes were built  (1 that Gaudi lived in) and all that land became a very large private garden designed by Gaudi.  The site  went from a private estate to a public park and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Most imaginative and incredible park I have ever been to!

We go from Antoni Gaudi an architect who loves curves, to Picasso an artist who loves straight lines and geometric forms:

Waiting in line outside the Museu Picasso (note Rich with a bag of churros in hand).  Picasso spent time in Barcelona and as a youth went to the School of Fine Arts.   The museum has an extensive collection of over 4,200  pieces of his artwork.  
I was drawn to the room that showed his early work and the first major works he did as a 14 and 15 year old...

Picasso painted The Communion when he was 14 years old - (I was pretty good at drawing stick people at that age).   He was a prodigy and his early years showed his extraordinary talent, but we all know he was part of the Cubist movement and spent most of his later life breaking from the traditional figurative paintings he was trained on early in life.

Leaving the Museu Picasso - we came out more enlightened about the art and life of this extraordinary artist...

As a teenager, Picasso hung out with all the young avant-garde artists, writers and radicals at the Els Quatre Gats (The 4 Cats) - in fact, he had an exhibition of his drawings here.  
A cool place in the early 1900's!  
We went in for coffee and for me, it had the feel of a tourist hangout (just look at those 3 guys posing in front) - I guess the artists and radicals of today are hanging out somewhere else...

Salvador Dali the famous Surrealist Painter was born 23 years after Picasso:
I fell in love with Dali when we were in St. Petersburg, Florida and visited the Dali Museum there - so of course, we were not going to miss his hometown museum!

...We rented a car and drove north to Figueres where Salvador Dali was born.  The visit to his  museum was indeed surreal - the outside of the museum is decorated with giant eggs and bread buns (sorry for the bad photo)

The Persistence of Memory (The original oil painting is in New York) is Dali's most famous work..."time is meaningless"...

...The highlight for me is furniture that is arranged to look like the face of Mae West, as viewed from a giant magnifying glass 0n a ladder...

...We stopped for lunch in Cadaques, a beautiful fishing village where Dali and other notable artists spent time - a very special village in art history!  Maybe the water or the wine as Rich mentioned earlier - so we thought we would at least give the wine a try...

...after the wine, Eric and I both are feeling the spirit of Dali, hoping for some spark of creative genius...

...I think we had too much wine... and since Renata,  just had the water - she was better able to channel that creative genius and thus came up with our new 
 "Two Pigs & A Suitcase" business card! 

Adios for now! 
(a gratuitous selfie into a Dali like mirror ball) - we leave the Catalunya and head to southern Spain!