Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book It: A Holiday at Home!

When we aren’t living out of a suitcase we are armchair travelers. It’s the easiest of getaways requiring no more preparation and planning than opening a book’s cover (or flipping a switch and downloading, for those techie’s out there).

We’ve often found that our favorite books are not those we we’ve selected, but those that have been recommended to us by friends.  So I’ve asked a few blogosphere friends to make some recommendations. . .novels, guidebooks, essays, poetry. . .whatever they think would  make for an armchair getaway in 2012. Here’s what they suggest:

Outdoor Adventure Travel

TITLE: DSCF0066“Lost Angel Walkabout: One Traveler’s Tales” (CreateSpace, 2010)

AUTHOR: Linda Ballou

Recommended by: Dick Jordan, San Anselmo, California.

About this collection of travel narratives, Dick wrote,  “Linda’s travels have taken her on a wide path across much of the globe.  One of the reasons I enjoyed her book so much is that I have actually ventured – albeit as a less adventurous traveler – to several of the places she writes about in Alaska, Arizona, the British Virgin Islands, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana and Wyoming.”

Freelance travel writer Dick Jordan, when not on the road, makes his home in Northern California. He writes one of our favorite travel blogs, Tales Told From the Road.

                                            #####  #####

TITLE: “The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Mount Everest,” (Simon and Schuster, 2001)

AUTHORS: Conrad Anker and David Roberts

Recommended by:  Niki Sepsas, Birmingham, Alabama and the High Seas

George Leigh Mallory was last seen alive on Mt. Everest in June, 1924.  In 1999 professional mountaineer and co-author Anker discovered Mallory’s  mummified remains.  “Interesting read on Mallory, his adventures, and his death on Everest. Authors are still trying to determine if he actually reached the summit. Lots of vivid descriptions, theories on his death, etc.” Niki said.

Birmingham, Alabama is home to freelance writer, travel guide and cruise ship speaker Niki Sepsas, who has among his writing credits, a novel,“Song of the Gypsy.”

The Greek Connection

0006100-R1-005-1TITLE: "Greece on My Wheels” (Summersdale Publishers, Ltd., 2003)

AUTHOR: Edward Enfield

Recommended by:  Bill Kitson, North Yorkshire, England 
Enfield, in this lighthearted and entertaining book, tells of his adventures biking through the Peloponnese in the footsteps of romantic poet Lord Byron.

“This book could only have been written by an Englishman. . .for two reasons,” Bill wrote, “One that the humour is archetypal English and two, I doubt whether any other nationality but the English would be daft enough to have undertaken this adventure.”

North Yorkshire, England is home-base for Bill Kitson who has brought detective Mike Nash to life in a series of nail-biter crime novels; but he and his wife/editor, Val, hold Loutro, Crete close to their hearts as well.

                            #######                 ######

By coincidence, another blogosphere friend, Jeffrey Siger, shares the Kitson’s love of Greece and by further coincidence, writes about murder as well.   He shares a blog with seven other mystery writers around the world so he was unable to suggest only one book - he says head around the world with the books of those with whom he shares the blog, Murder is Everywhere:

“If you are interested in a trip to Thailand, read Tim Hallinan; France, Cara Black; Brazil, Leighton Gage; Iceland, Yrsa Sigurdardottir; England, Dan Waddell; or South Africa, Michael Stanley,” he recommends. And if you are interested in Greece. . .

 Jeffrey Siger gave up a New York law practice to move to the island of Mykonos, Greece where he has given life to Inspector Andreas Kaldis in a series of murder mysteries set in Greece.

Afghanistan from the Armchair

TITLE: Born Under A Million Shadows (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010)

AUTHOR: Andrea Busfield

RECOMMENDED BY: Suzi Butcher, London

Suzi said, “Sometimes books take us to places we are unlikely to be able to travel to ourselves - like Afghanistan! I especially like this novel as it is filled with gentle humour, despite the obvious tragedy of the current situation. It is the story of an Afghan boy whose mother works for three Westerners, and his perception of what they get up to is often hilarious as well as extremely moving.”

Suzi Butcher is the editor of Packabook Travel Novels a great website to both browse and buy books and a related blog that showcases novels and novel destinations. She also has a fabulous on-line book club that you can join for free!

And Just One More. . .

By now your armchair suitcase should be full, but if not, let us add a final recommendation:

0911800-R1-007-2TITLE:  Book Lust To Go Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds and Dreamers. (Sasquatch Books, 2010)

AUTHOR: Nancy Pearl

Nancy Pearl was the librarian at Seattle’s Public Library; famous for her love of books and reading. She gave rise to the program, “If All Seattle Read the Same Book” which caught on in cities throughout the United States.

Since her retirement from that post, she continues to do what she did best as a librarian – find great reads and  recommend them. She has three “Book Lust” titles to her credit, but this one is perfect for armchair travelers.  And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a list of books, it is a book about books from A – Z; beginning with A is for Adventure and ending with Zipping through Zimbabwe – a great read on its own.

Note:  I’ve added links on the titles which will take you to Amazon for each of the books recommended. There you'll find more description and reviews. If you purchase from one of these links we make a few cents, but that isn't our intent.  This post is meant to provide new armchair itineraries. Thanks to those who contributed suggestions - may you all have safe and satisfying journeys in 2012.

YOUR TURN! What armchair itinerary do you want to add to this list?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

TP Thursday: Osuna, Spain The Land of Olives

The air in Osuna, Spain was so thick with the scent of olive oil that we’d often pause stop during our walks through town to take deep breaths just to savor the invisible delicacy.


Osuna, the Andalucian town 90 minutes from Seville, is in the midst of The Land of Olives. Lucky for us that our November visit was during harvest.  (This tree at the Santa Teresa Company’s 1881 Olive Oil plant is more than 100 years old.)

Spain is the world’s leading olive oil producer with more than 300 million olive trees and groves that cover more than five million acres - 80% of the total crop is grown in Andalucia.


Trucks stacked high with branches laden with olives rumbled along the city’s narrow streets as they made their way to one of several olive oil processing plants.

DSCF1614In Osuna  more than 250,000 kilograms of olives are refined every day and 30 million liters of oil are bottled each year.

There were simply enormous amounts of  olive oil. . .as evidenced by these storage tanks  and the tanker trucks at Coreysa’s olive oil plant an easy walk from our hotel. 


Coreysa was founded in 1917 by Daniel Espuny Aleixendri, whose  family in the 14th Century owned oil mills in Northern Spain’s Catalonia region.  He worked his way to Osuna and started what today continues to be a family operation, today it is run by his grandchildren and their children.
Across town at another processing plant, the entry gate displays the generations who’ve carried on the family’s oil production since it was begun by Daniel Espuny Aleixendri.

We often buy a couple of bottles of wine to bring back from our travels but this trip the wine was left behind to make room in the suitcases for the olive oil.

DSCF1690 These bottles now have a place of honor on our kitchen counter. Not only is the oil superb for eating, but its taste – and smell – are great reminders of our short stay in The Land of Olives. 

For those of you cooks out there: the larger 500ml bottle cost a bit over $4US in Osuna (back home at our neighborhood grocery similar Spanish oil sells for $28). The smaller bottle was a gift from the fellows  I wrote about in an earlier post who introduced us to gourmet tapas.

Note: Today is Travel Photo Thursday so head to Budget Traveler’s Sandbox for more photos from bloggers around the world.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Planning to Head “Down Under” in 2012

You know you are hooked on travel when you are making airline reservations before opening gifts on Christmas morning. 

But then, at our house, we think travel is the best gift we give ourselves. . .so in a way, we were opening a gift.

Our plans are to head “Down Under”  in 2012 to explore areas we’ve never been and along the way we will visit an old favorite, Singapore, a place where we celebrated New Year's Eve 28 years ago. 

It’s a trip that will guarantee we won’t  be home for Thanksgiving and will barely be back and over jet lag by Christmas. (Note to friends: the cards and gifts will be late).
DSCF2235It’s a long way off, or so it sounds right now, but it was even more futuristic back when we set the trip in motion eight months ago. It began with a $200 deposit on a future cruise, paid while we were sailing across the Atlantic in May on Celebrity’s Solstice. 
Frequent Flyer Seats

The reason we were making airline reservations on Christmas Day is because we are using frequent flyer (FF) miles to get us to Singapore and back home from Bali, Indonesia.  As those of you who use FF miles know, you can’t sit back and wait if you want to nab those precious seats – especially for flights around the holidays.

DSCF2366Thanks to Joel’s diligence  (it took calls made over a three-day time span to book the flights because of  time changes we’ll experience on our return flight)  we will fly to San Francisco on Alaska Air and there connect with Cathay Pacific which will take us to Asia. That airline will also return us to Vancouver, B.C. and we will fly Alaska Air home.   The Asia flight is some 14 hours so we’ve each used 100,000 Alaska Air miles to secure Business Class seats. . .which will make the flight almost fun.
Money Saving tip: we spent 100,000 air miles each and about $100 in taxes and fees.  To put that in perspective, a Business Class round-trip ticket from San Francisco to Singapore costs $6,018.75 per person! We got a good deal to our way of thinking.

The Cruise

The cruise will depart Singapore and over the course of 17 days will take us to Sydney, with several  ports of call along the way. We’ll spend a few days in Sydney then head to Bali. It’s a six hour flight between those two cities. . .somehow I thought it was closer. 

Money Saving Tip: We’d made reservations for a cabin in Concierge Class – the one that offers a some special amenities on board – but a recent cruise sale email from our travel agency caught Joel’s eye . . .with a quick phone call, he got us  moved to a regular cabin – same size  as Concierge Class – saving us $1,800 on the price of the cruise. (We can buy a lot of ‘amenities’ with that savings!)

We know ‘life happens’ and plans can change – final payment for the cruise isn’t due until next September which means changes can still be made until then. The airline seats can be cancelled (for a fee) and the FF miles returned to our accounts.  But for now our gift is open: the planning, reading, research and dreaming begins. 

So blogosphere friends, do you have some recommendations for us as we begin to plan? If so, please send us an email, or jot a comment below.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

DSCF2364 The languages and words may differ, but the wish they carry is the same the world over:

Gut Yontiff!
Zalig kerstfeest!
Mele Kalikimaka!
Kalá hristúyenna!
Schöni Wienachte!
God jul og gdt nyttår!
lyi Noeller ve Mutlu Yillar!
Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee!
Buon Natale e felice Anno Nuovo!
Glaed Geol and Gesaelig Niw Gear!
Crăciun fericit şi un An Nou Fericit!
¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!
Wesołych świąt i szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!
Frohlich Weihnachten und ein gutes neues Jahr
Veselé vánoce a šťastný nový rok!
En frehlicher Grischtdaag!
Рождеством Христовым!

We add our wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happiest of Holidays to you. . .
. . .where ever you are and whatever you are celebrating this wonderful season.        
~Joel and Jackie, TravelnWrite

Note:  The photo was taken in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel at Doral, Florida. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

TP Thursday: Holiday Trees

As the holiday season wraps itself around our chilly Pacific Northwest, we start thinking about our holiday trees.

Not the holiday kind under which gifts are placed, but those trees that bring memories of holidays, or vacations, we’ve taken during the past year.  Instead of ornaments, our trees are decorated with wonderful memories of time spent together, adventures shared, new friends made and destinations discovered. 

There’s  Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach on Hawaii’s island of O’ahu.


And Hollywood, Florida. . .

And Marbella, Spain. . .


And Tenerife, Canary Islands. . .

We are hoping your tree is decorated with wonderful holiday memories as well!

It is Travel Photo Thursday!  Take a trip around the world by visiting Budget Traveler’s Sandbox, the blog where the project began.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays

Or is there?

We celebrated Thanksgiving in a most untraditional way this year a couple of hundred miles off the coast of northwestern Africa aboard the Celebrity Constellation.  

And you know what? We had a feast and ‘family’ and football. . .so did we really need to be home?
Thanksgiving dawned a blue sky sea day during which we traveled between Gibraltar and the Canary Islands. It was easy to leave our Pacific Northwest traditional celebrations.

Food and Football

DSCF2144But when it came to the food and football fest usually associated with Thanksgiving, I can assure you, we had both. Just not in their usual trappings.

Turkey with stuffing and giblet gravy, glazed ham, seared ahi,  and penne pasta were among the entrée's on the dining room menu.

Jamie Petts, the ship’s Hotel Director, explained during my later interview with him, that because the ship’s roster is made up weeks in advance of the sailing, the passengers’ ages and nationalities are known and staff can plan on-board celebrations and special meals accordingly.

In our case, there were many Americans on board, so Thanksgiving menus were in order.  (Similar consideration is given to other holidays and national events in other countries, such as Canada Day and their Stanley Cup games, or even world-wide events like America’s Super Bowl.)

DSCF2217Food orders for our sailing had been made eight weeks in advance and shipped to the Constellation by container from Florida.

The ship’s staff made sure we had televised American football. But time zones put those games at the end of the day instead of the start, so kick-off for the last of the games was after midnight.

And  our ‘Family’


We had opted for ‘select seating’ on this voyage which allowed us to chose the time we ate dinner. Each night we sat with different folks who’d also selected this independent dining option. 

On Thanksgiving we were seated at a table for six. . .a group that hit it off so well, we dubbed ourselves ‘the family’ and made plans to meet again during the cruise to continue our conversations. (The ‘family photo’ above was taken during our second, more casual, get-together).

Our Thanksgiving family was made up of a couple who split their time between the United States and Ukraine and a generational trio of ladies from California, whose family’s roots are in Jordan. Our conversations covered world history, politics, culture, travel, food and was mixed with plenty of laughter.  I hope we keep our vows to keep in touch.

DSCF2276And we had two bloggers in its midst! Galyna Tate, (pictured here with her husband, William,) writes about her homeland, Ukraine.  I’ve been following her blog since our return – it’s entertaining and informative.  Just click this link and see for yourself: Galyna's Ukraine

We don't feel the need to be home for holidays. How about you? Where have you found yourself celebrating holidays?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Beyond the Podium–Speakers at Sea

DSCF2338We basked in those unstructured, don’t-need-to-be-anywhere-or-do-anything days at sea on our recent transatlantic repositioning cruise, spending much of our time as the photo reflects.

We didn’t carry the daily program with us, as did many, to assure that no  activity or event would be missed.

We were so laid back  that sometimes we didn’t make it to the few we planned to attend. We had one exception to our lackadaisical lifestyle . . .


Niki Sepsas,  a Smithsonian Journeys lecturer and one of the three speakers on board the Constellation.

In 2011 Smithsonian Journeys expanded its presence on Celebrity ships with speakers presenting enrichment lectures on 99 cruises traveling in Bermuda, the Holy Land,  the Mediterranean, the Panama Canal, the Antarctica and crossing the Atlantic.

Cruise ship lecturers generally fall into two categories. Those like Niki; destination speakers whose topics are travel focused on regions the ship is visiting, its history, politics, culture and arts or those related to cruising, and maritime history, including pirates, Vikings, Phoenicians, or Christopher Columbus and other early day mariners.
Our other two speakers focused on aviation and cloth; those Enrichment or special interest speakers who talk about topics passengers may find interesting.  Needless to say, our interest was in travel.

Entertainment and Enrichment

In introducing Niki Sepsas, a 31-year-veteran tour guide and freelance writer, who hails from Birmingham, Alabama, our Cruise Director Sue Denning told the hundreds of us gathered in the ship’s theatre, “It is very important not only to feed and entertain you, but to enrich you as well.”
DSCF2320And enriched we were!   Each day Niki offered an enormous amount of information using PowerPoint presentations filled with facts and photos.

Absorbing so much information about topics like  “Gods from the East – The Sword and The Cross”  and “Indigenous People of the New World”   almost overloaded our laid-back  brains.

Okay, so true confession: 

I’ve always wanted to be one of those speakers. . .well, at least until they start talking and then I think, “How can they possibly know so much about so many places?!”  It was a question, I decided to ask Niki over coffee one day . . .

“It takes about a month to put together a show with the research and then putting together the images,” he explained, adding that he’s got some 200 in his portfolio.

HAL 2009 cruise photos 058And as the world changes, so do the presentations. Take Madeira, for example.  His talk about that island was scrapped when Portuguese strikers prevented our stop there. Instead, he switched topics as quickly as the ship switched ports.  And I might add, his “Gibraltar: Rock at the End of the World”  was one of our favorite presentations.

His enthusiasm for travel was contagious. Our fellow cruisers gathered around him after presentations to continue the conversation. Doesn’t surprise us at all that he’s been booked by several high-end cruise lines well into 2012. (He’s already done 23 cruises in nine months. ) Did I mention that in his non-cruise life he’s still leading tours in the U.S. and far distant destinations? And that in his 'free' time he still writes?

I've decided I'll quit fantasizing about being a speaker, I think I make a much better audience member.

Note:  Niki has also written a novel, “Song of the Gypsy” (2003) set in his parent’s homeland, Greece’s Peloponnese. Take a look at it – it’s on the  Amazon carousel on our home page (subscribers need to click the link to get back to the homepage). And as with all books there, if you buy any of them we earn a few cents -- we have earned to date, $1.24! 

If want Niki  to speak to your group or organization, his contact information is on his web site:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

TP Thursday: Malaga–Anything to See There?

“But is there anything to see there? we are often asked about places we have been.

To our way of thinking, everything is to see there. And some of  most spectacular aren’t on a tourist map nor do they require entry fees.

Such was the case in Malaga, a city of more than a half million people and birthplace of Pablo Picasso, on Spain’s Costa del Sol.

All we knew about its Ayunamiento, or Town Hall, was that a bus stop we were looking for was near it and that it was located in the shadow of the towering tourist attraction, the Alcazaba (which means Citadel in Arabic).

When we reached the building constructed in the early 1900’s, its Neo Baroque exterior stopped us in our tracks with its beauty.


With such a stunning exterior we had to see the interior. . .

All visitors pass through a security screening/bag check.  When the security guard asked our destination, we responded, ‘Estamos touristas ~ solo veyamos’ (‘We are tourists – we are only looking’) with me pointing to my ever-present camera to emphasize the point.

And then we were greeted by the most magnificent sight:


The marble stairway leading to the building’s second floor is bordered by stained glass windows depicting scenes of the city’s history from its founding by the Phoenicians to the entry of Felipe IV. We’ve since learned they were made by the Parisian glass studio of Maumejean.


We missed the second-floor Hall of Mirrors, a room so beautiful that it is often rented for civil weddings because we didn’t know it was there until after I did some research for this post.


Even without the Hall of Mirrors, the building’s interior was stunning. Paintings – the fine art type – turned our stroll on the second floor hallway into a gallery tour. We perused a hallway lined with the framed portraits of all Malaga’s mayors.

And I can tell you it is the only City Hall I’ve ever visited that offers a bidet next to the toilet in its public restrooms, (or WC’s as they are called there)!

If you Go:  El Ayunamiento is located on Avda. de Cervantes, phone number 34 952 135 000, website (in Spanish)   Although we had no difficulty entering the building and exploring the hallways on our own, I noticed at least one web site advises getting permission to visit in advance by writing

For more photos from around the world, head to Budget Traveler's Sandbox, the creator of TPThursday.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Art of Airline Safety

I am a white-knuckler when it comes to flying.
Always have been and I suspect I always will be.

Because of that, I am the one on the plane who listens to and watches the safety demonstration . . . even though I’ve got it memorized and I could give the safety demonstration. 

I am so bad, I reach under the seat to see if the life jacket the flight attendants says is there, really is. In fact, I really fight the urge to rip it out of its storage bag and blow in those little pipes to see if it really does inflate but suspect that would terminate my flight before it began.  So after the demonstration, I read the safety card. . .

And I read it over. . and over . . . and over . . . again.  

Other than the tips it offers to keep me believing I could save myself  - and others - in the event of a disaster, I’d never really thought much about that card or its history until I read a fabulous  article, “The Unlikely Event” by Avi Steinberg  in The Paris Review blog, Nov. 28, 2011.

Whether you are a traveler, an art fancier or a history buff, I guarantee, you’ll love this cleverly written piece. It was so good, that now I think I must buy a copy of his book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian” which was published in October.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

So, who runs the hotel on this ship?

Think cruise ship. Think floating hotel.

While our  Captain got us to our ports of call and ultimate destination, someone else was taking care of the hotel side of operations. On our recent  Celebrity Constellation cruise that person was Jamie Petts, our Hotel Director.

DSCF2192 We’d seen Jamie several times on deck and at functions aboard our transatlantic cruise, and each time he was answering what seemed to us to be an endless stream of questions.  (As he was doing in this photo).

So, I almost felt guilty about my lengthy list of question as we sat down in  his office, just off the lobby’s Guest Relations counter, for an interview that I’d arranged prior to sailing.

I really didn’t expect to have the interview as he’d been rather busy the first few days of our cruise dealing with the ship’s sanitization after an outbreak of gastrointestinal virus on the cruise before ours. But he’d assured me that he had some time available. . .
Sure enough. The ship’s Events Coordinator called on one of our sea days and told me that my appointment with Jamie was set for 7 p.m. that evening. . .as in, long after an ‘8-to-5’ day would have ended.  But that’s not the way cruise ship life goes.

“You are on a ship for four months and off for two,” he said, acknowledging  that while on the ship he was basically on-call 24/7.   So a 7 p.m. appointment wasn’t unusual – for him, it was part of his work day.

DSCF2239As Hotel Director, I was surprised to learn, that he’s responsible for: Food and Beverage, Finance, Data systems, the Cruise Director, the Guest Relations Manager, the Assistant Hotel Director, the On-Board Marketing Manager, Restaurant Manager, Bar Manager Executive Chef and the 850 crew members who work in those divisions.

He assured me that I wasn’t alone, as most cruise passengers have no idea the scope of the job, “One of the funny things is that when the Hotel Director is introduced people  always say, ‘The cabins are really nice’ and there really is so much more than just the cabins,”  he said, with his ever-present grin.

He left his home in Canterbury, England, where he still lives, and joined his first ship 14 years ago in Sydney Australia. He’s worked for other cruise lines and held a number of on-board positions along his career path. Three years ago he joined Celebrity.

DSCF2334“This is a fantastic job!” he says, “Each morning I get up and I never know what my day will bring.  I love my interaction with guests and I am working with my family, my Celebrity family.” (Here Jamie was representing the officers in a bean bag toss competition with passengers.)

He’ll be leaving the Constellation soon. He’s starting his shore leave but don’t think he’ll be sleeping in when he gets back home. He’s about to become a dad and that will certainly make for some 24/7 days!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

TP Thursday: Amsterdam Autumn

A seemingly 'bad' flight connection can often be turned into a 'good' travel experience, such as our overnight stay in Amsterdam last October.  Unable to get from Poros, Greece to Seattle, Washington in a single day, we found ourselves with less than 24 hours to see as much of Netherland's capital as we could such a snippet of a stop. 
We marveled at the multitudes of late-night diners, shoppers, strollers and bikers as we wandered the lively streets into the late night hours. We reluctantly returned to our hotel for a bit of sleep before getting up early the next morning to continue our explorations of the neighborhood. The streets that had been filled with people only hours before were nearly empty as we strolled along the canals before heading back to the airport. 

This photo was taken not far from Anne Frank's home, now a major tourist attraction that sadly we didn't have time to visit.  We will get there one day - when we have more time than a 'bad' connection provides.

porosamsterdam2010 012

Travel Photo Thursday is your chance to travel around the world in a few minutes thanks to travel bloggers participating in Budget Traveler’s Sandbox project. Click the link and start your journey!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

D2G loses to Spain’s Tapa Temptations

Yes, that healthy eating we’ve been touting for the last year – our Diet to Go, or D2G – met its challenge in Spain’s Tapa Temptations.

osuna 021 So we said “Adios” to that eating plan and each night saddled up to a tapas bar to eat our way through several of the small plates that offered a variety of meat, fish and vegetable tidbits; some of the best food we’ve had on our travels.

Potatoes and bread  – those things we’ve bragged about eliminating (or greatly reducing) in our lives this last year, were key ingredients in most of the tapas we ate. And Spain’s famous rice paella couldn’t be missed. . .

When in Spain eat as the Spanish do. . .and we did! In a manner of speaking anyway. Each night we’d wait as long as our American appetites allowed (somewhere around 7 or 7:30) and we’d go in search of a tapas bar. Tapas bars, like restaurants, don’t open their kitchens for hot dishes until 8:30 in most cases, so we’d work our way through cold dishes and wind up the feast with a couple hot dishes.

Tapas are generally inexpensive. So were the many varieties of Spanish wine we quaffed down with them.

Our best tapa dinner was eaten in Osuna, that charming small town outside Sevilla. The restaurant Meson del Duque, (Plaza de la Duquesa, 2, phone 95 481 28 45) had been recommended a couple of times so on our last evening we waited as long our our American appetites allowed and we headed out for what would be the culinary treat of the trip
osuna 020 As usual ‘los Americanos’ (us!) were unfashionably early so we had the place to ourselves. . .which gave us time to visit with Jose, the owner, left, and Paco, the bartender, to his right in this photo.

osuna 018 Since their tapas weren’t on display and we weren’t sure what was available, we asked Jose and Paco to select some plates for us.

They served us a mouthwatering short rib that you could cut with a fork, a fish dish, a pork dish and shrimp with a presentation resembling the horns of bulls in an unbelievably tasty sauce.

osuna 019So good were the tapas that we fell further off the diet wagon and ordered dessert – again their choice. Need I say this chocolate morsel was good?

Our last night in Sevilla we dined at Casa Tomate ( on the 'tapa bar street' of Mateos Gagos 24, phone 954 220 421) and decided to try the combination plate of three hot and three cold tapas; to that we added a half racione (half order) of deep fried calimari. 

As we started to order a salad as well – thinking we’d need a bit more, our waiter politely told us we didn’t need it – we had ordered plenty.  He was right as the tapas plate alone had anchovies, meat balls, veggies, Russian salad and a potato torte (tortilla):

seville 035

If you've been following the blog the last few weeks, I know you are probably thinking, "And then they got on a cruise ship for two weeks and ate some more?"  Yes we did, but I should tell you that we logged some 7 - 10 miles walking each day on land and on the ship either worked out at the gym and walked or did both.

While in Spain we marked the first anniversary of our D2G.  It has been a success despite the eating we did the last few weeks. We weighed in today and Joel weighs five pounds less than he did last year and I am down 13.5 pounds. . .and now that we are home we are back on the D2G way of eating.

Note:  The D2G is based on the Glycemic Load Diet as developed by Seattle doctor, Rob Thompson.  His book of the same title can be purchased from

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Celebrity Life draws to a close. . . for now.

solsticetransatlantic 006 Another taste of Celebrity Life came to an end today.  And as it did, we wondered how a 13-night cruise could glide by as rapidly as has this one. 

We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida at 5 a.m. Saturday, were off the ship before 9 a.m.  – and will be home by noon Pacific time on Sunday, after spending a night at a Miami airport hotel to make the airline connection.

 (This beach in the photo above  is the first thing you see arriving in Port Everglades; the last land you see when setting out across the Atlantic from the port.)

After its rather unusual sanitized beginning, our cruise quickly got back to normal.  The only evidence of the previous outbreak of illness was the continued emphasis on hand washing and sanitation, elbow bumps replacing handshakes and extra sanitation in the public areas. (And by yesterday we were hugging new friends as we said goodbye – with a blatant disregard of ‘bugs’.)

The two-story library was the only part of the ship to remain closed for the cruise – sanitation of books is a difficult thing, we learned.

The ship’s doctor reported Thursday that only 21 on this cruise had been quarantined and those as precautionary measures. (There are nearly 2,000 passengers and a 1,000 crew members on board.)

barcellonaandconnie 024 Our cabin was spectacular, and Isabelo, our room attendant, took such good care of us that we were  spoiled by his attentiveness to detail.

We were so spoiled we actually looked into hopping aboard another Celebrity ship leaving Ft. Lauderdale and extending our adventure by another week.

We decided that might be considered excessive by some of you.  However, I must tell you that we were introduced to a couple who have been on the Constellation for two months! They were getting off today and hopping another Celebrity cruise. . . now that did sound a bit excessive.

barcellonaandconnie 057
The last few days were filled with farewells and celebrations were held, like the traditional crew goodbye (photo to the right).

But I couldn’t leave you wondering about that glass of champagne I had been dreaming about being handed when I stepped aboard.  As I said things don’t always work out as planned when you travel, but good things do happen along the way, such as my champagne.  What can I say, but. . .?

barcellonaandconnie 037 Cheers to Celebrity Life!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sea Days ~ Sea Daze

barcellonaandconnie 054 We are now more than half way across the Atlantic Ocean as evidenced by the map on our television screen this morning.  (We are the little red dot under the “O” in Ocean.) This cruise is taking us across this massive body of water in seven days. . .seven long, glorious days at sea.

barcellonaandconnie 040 We once thought that sea days might drive us crazy.  Really, we thought, there’s nothing to see but sky and water and no choice about getting on or off the ship. . .how interesting could that be?

But, after trying our first transatlantic cruise a few years ago, we were hooked.  That sea and sky are  pretty interesting. . .in fact, we find ourselves often doing nothing but watching them for hours at a time.

Our days have begun on our deck waiting for the sun to rise while sipping coffee. I should note that we are re-entering the U.S. east coast time zone by turning our clocks back six hours, an hour at a time, which makes early rising much easier and our days a bit longer, which is great.

barcellonaandconnie 053 Changing cloud formations and sea foam patterns can be nearly hypnotic.

barcellonaandconnie 045
Our days have glided by smoothly and rapidly- as we’ve focused on what I call our Body, Mind and Soul Program.  For the body, we’ve gone to the gym and worked out for an hour each morning, then headed off to a lecture (we have three lecturers on board – all with fascinating topics) to improve the mind, and then it is time to replenish the soul from a lounge chair overlooking the sea. From there we head to afternoon coffee, which leads into cocktail hour, dinner and whew, we find anther day has simply disappeared.

barcellonaandconnie 044 For those of you thinking that wouldn’t be enough to keep you busy, let me assure you that our Cruise Director Sue (see earlier blog post) and her staff provide us a daily page-long list of activities for those who need to keep busy. 

For instance, a sample from the list includes: attending a movie, taking an on-line computer class, learning  how to scrapbook, learning a new language using Rosetta Stone, taking a dance class, attending a culinary demonstration, playing  bingo, joining in a trivia game competition, listening to any of a half dozen entertainers performing throughout the ship, bowling on XBox Kinect, or entering a Texas Hold’em Tournament. There’s also a lengthy schedule of parties and dances, if you can fit them all into your schedule.

barcellonaandconnie 055 Today is the first storming day we’ve had at sea (a rain squall moved our morning coffee, lunch and most activities indoors today) and if it doesn’t get worse it is almost an enjoyable experience providing a  rocking of the ship. . . the kind that encourages a nap right after the morning’s lecture.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Celebrity’s Sue Denning: She’s Got Talent(s)!

Our Cruise Director has toured the world in musical theatre and since 2004 she’s been a part of the cruising world as both an entertainer and a Cruise Director.

Cruise Directors  (for those not familiar with this form of travel) are the folks in charge of entertainment and activities; the things that keep passengers busy on long days at sea such as those we are now enjoying as we cross the Atlantic Ocean on our Celebrity Constellation (“Connie”).

barcellonaandconnie 019 Cruise Directors are the ones who appear in elegant dress to announce the evening’s theatre entertainment. (as is Sue in this photo). They appear on the ship’s television channel to tell you about special events and activities.

They are, you might say, the cheerleaders; the persons that  passengers are sure to  remember.

Although we’ve now sailed on a number of cruises, I’ve never met a cruise director until this sailing.  Sue is one of the folks on board that Celebrity had arranged for me to interview while on the cruise.

And I’ll tell you about that chat in the next post, but now  I want to tell you about my first meeting with Sue – last week, long before the ‘official’ interview took place.

We met in one of the women’s bathrooms on the day after we’d sailed from Barcelona.

I had been outside the bathroom as she whipped past me, high heels clicking, with heavy rubber gloves on her hands carrying a bottle of cleaner and sponges. There was no one else around – I’d been waiting for Joel to return from the men’s room.

Not quite believing what I’d seen, I followed her inside and there found her scrubbing a toilet.
“Aren’t you are Cruise Director?” I asked (as any good reporter would do).

barcellonaandconnie 034 “Yes, luv, I am,” she replied in her heavy English accent, without missing a swipe.

“And, uh, you are cleaning toilets,” I somewhat stupidly added.

“Yes, luv, I am,” she replied. And then she added that our staff had been working so hard to eradicate the gastrointestinal virus that had struck during the last cruise (see my earlier post) that I could rest assured I was on the cleanest ship on the ocean.

*****              ******
barcellonaandconnie 033 I reminded her of that meeting when we sat down for the formal interview yesterday. She was quick to clarify she hadn’t been doing it for notoriety. (I knew that as there had been no one else had been around other than another staff member who was also cleaning the restroom.)

“If I don’t do it, I can’t expect my team to do it,” she explained, noting that the Herculean task of sanitizing the ship on that Sunday had required that musicians, entertainers and revenue partners all join in on the cleaning that continued for the first couple of days of the cruise.

“This is a family and this is our house,” she said of the ship and its crew, “We want to keep it safe and clean for all of us.”

So I’ll tell you more about Sue in the next post, but I can tell you that I knew after our first chance meeting, she’s a cruise director I won’t soon forget.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...