Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: Lest We Not Forget

Before we began traveling to Europe, what we 'boomers' knew of World War I and II came from teachers and textbooks, historical novels, movies and television, and a few tales – that were seldom offered without great encouragement – from family members and friends who had lived through those years.

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In recent years, our travels have in Europe have made real those snapshots of history that once were but words on a printed page or on a television screen.  We’ve visited cemeteries and stood before war memorials.

But often we’ve been reminded of war’s impact in the most unexpected of places.  . . like the pub in London – Shakespeare’s Head Pub on Carnaby Street – where a bust of the old Bard above the entry is missing a hand and a sign tells us it was blown off when a bomb fell, obviously, not far from where we were standing.

Or even as we descend deep into the earth to reach the subway, thinking of the many who once took shelter in these same tunnels seeking safety from those falling bombs. . .

We pause at every memorial for each tells a story about those who fought for what they believed, others who were innocent victims of a war taking place on their homeland and others who traveled to foreign soil to fight for freedom, putting  the call to service before self.

Their unselfish actions then, gave us the freedoms we enjoy today, among them the freedoms to travel. . .and to write.

londonparisiceland2011 016So on this Memorial Day, we say, “Thank You” to the many to whom we owe so much.
“Lest we not forget.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Midnight Hour

The midnight hour. 
It has a nice literary ring to it, doesn’t it?

But it's not something I’d given much thought, until I read a  post on the  Baltimore Sun’s web blog a few weeks before our departure, written by John E. McIntyre, that pondered the questions:

Does midnight belong to the day that is ending or does it belong to the day that is beginning?  Or does the fact that a digital clock reads 00:00 at precisely midnight, mean it  is neither?

And what does that have to do with travel?

Well, quite a bit. Take midnight in Spain. It's dinner time there. Unlike our Kirkland lives where the middle of the night is when you wake up and take a 'trip to the bathroom'. 

That presented a challenge: would we dine at midnight or at least at the respectable dinner time of 10 p.m. or later? Answer: no.  We tried, but couldn't last that long.

In fact, we thought we were doing well to still be tapeo-ing (making the rounds of tapa bars) at 8 or 9 in the evening. And after eating tapas then, we really didn't have room for a real multi-course meal.
(And that plan of mine to search for flamenco's duende - that Spanish show of 'soul'  fell through when I couldn't make it until the 1 a.m. showtime).

There is no escaping the impact of travel on time.

We leaped forward three hours when we landed in Florida and then eased ourselves into new time zones an hour at a time - six times - as our ship crossed the Atlantic. We jumped back an hour when we flew to London and then moved head an hour when the Eurostar whisked us to Paris. The next day we gained two hours when we went to Iceland and another seven hours when we landed in Seattle. No wonder we couldn't remember the date, let alone the day.

Back home during our first night in Kirkland, I woke at 1 a.m. -  no, not for a potty run.  I was hungry! By my tummy time I'd 'missed' breakfast and it was nearly time for lunch.

Dang, if only it had happened in Madrid!

Note: Click on the 'flamenco' above for a taste of flamenco on YouTube.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In London “with” the Obamas

(Or with due respect to Charles Dickens) “A Tale of Two Cities . . .2011 Style”

You know our US President is into social media. . so that, along with recent travel overlaps, has me thinking that  someone in America’s First Family reads Travelnwrite!  Why? You might ask. . .
London 2010 002
Okay,. . .because we’ve been here twice and each time we’ve come to London, the Obamas have also arrived.  I think they are liking our destinations because here we all are again. . .’doing’ London. Thursday we all head to France.

And after seeing a US newspaper today, you folks back home don’t have all the details that the British media are providing about their visit, so I decided to give you my account of  ‘Two Cities’. . .ours and theirs.

Saturday afternoon the Smiths walked up to our hotel entry, hauling our own bags, after the world famous accuracy of the London Black cabs  failed us and our driver dropped  us behind the hotel – pointing out that we could reach it by walking  through a maze of construction scaffolding, around the corner and down a block and we’d be at the front entry. The doorman welcomed us warmly.

The Obamas ,of course, have traveled in Air Force One, a helicopter and a bullet- and bomb- proof SUV; their “Beast”, the iron-plated Cadillac, they’d shipped over got stuck on a ramp at the US Embassy in Dublin yesterday so they used the SUV. The vehicle didn’t matter though as thousands  of people along their route have greeted them with rock-star-fan enthusiasm.
crete 2010 001
The Smiths have two carry aboard sized roller bags, two shoulder bags and my Baggallini purse. I suspect they have a few more bags as all the headlines report what a fashion plate our First Lady is. . .I haven’t seen me -- or my hand-washable Chico’s fashions --mentioned in any of the local newspapers.

The work done by the Smiths these days can easily be accomplished on our Netbook  which we carry with us.
In contrast, the Obama’s have 1,500 people in their entourage – including chefs, doctors and who knows who all else. 

The Queen is hosting a dinner for them this evening. Obviously, someone forgot to mention to her that the Smiths from the ‘Other Washington’ were in town or we would undoubtedly have been invited. We will be dining at the pub around the corner.

Tomorrow evening Mrs. O. and the Prime Minister’s wife are putting the hubbies to work bbq-ing at 10 Downing Street – as they are hosting a dinner for invited military families. Obviously they didn’t know of Joel’s barbeque talents or he’d be there cooking as well.

We thought about dropping by the American Embassy and saying hello today but the rows of fencing, and lines of armed guards – not to mention a  low flying helicopter hovering overhead, didn’t quite make us feel welcome so we continued our stroll. I think the helicopter was keeping an eye on the Obamas . . .well, it might have been keeping an eye on us as well, since I felt the need to take a photo of it.

The Obamas are spending two nights at  Buckingham Palace where they (the Obama’s) have installed bullet-and-bomb proof windows in the suite where they will be staying.
London 2010 001
The Smith’s are quite content to be in their own palace-like digs at the Chancery Court Hotel on High Holborn.  The windows keep out the sound of traffic and that’s the only thing we need worry about. . .which makes me  think, it really is nice to be nobody!

But just a note to the Obamas:  if you need help flipping burgers tomorrow, we could be there!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Spring “Grand Tour”

The fellow from California that we met in Madrid said, "Wow! You are taking a real grand tour aren't you?" when we told him of our travels.

And I hadn't even told him that was what I'd been calling this trip long before we left home. Ever since reading about Europe’s “Grand Tours” I have always thought what fun it would be to have taken one. And since it's never too late, I stretched the definition a bit and named our spring trip our “Grand Tour”  although originally. . .

HAL 2009 cruise photos 085Those Grand Tours. . .
. . .served as what you might call an educational ‘rite of passage’ for young, upper-class, European men, that really caught on in the 1660’s and reached its crescendo in the 1840’s or so, after the introduction of large-scale rail travel.

(If you travel, you recognize the name Thomas Cook, don’t you? We flew one of their flights last year and they have money exchanges all over the place. Well, it got his start back in Grand Tour days with his then popular “Cook’s Tours”.)

The tour gave the young aristocrats an opportunity to learn about cultural legacies, view great works of art, listen to music. The tours could last for months, even years. They were not pilgrimages of scholarly or religious sorts, simply opportunities for intellectual and cultural growth.

Our Grand Tour. . .
HAL 2009 cruise photos 068. . .while certainly no where as long as those of olde, we have had wonderful opportunities to expand our cultural and historical knowledge.  From the on-board lecture series (our favorite speaker was English writer Nigel West) and the Corning Glass Museum demonstrations that Celebrity offered, to Madrid where we lived at the point of its Golden Triangle of the Prado MuseumThyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and the Centro de Arte  Reina Sofia, we have had some great opportunities to pursue that favorite US public school phrase: life-long learning.

We’re concluding our Grand Tour with our brief immersion in London history and culture (and at least a couple trips to The British Museum), before spending a final night in Paris where we plan to educate our palates with French cuisine, and expand our knowledge of wine, perhaps a bit of champagne, and a lot of Sancerre, the favorite white wine of ours from France’s Loire Valley.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Jolly Good Day in London

Our week in Madrid came to an end Saturday morning and an Easy Jet (one of Europe’s cheapy airlines) flight brought us to London’s Gatwick Airport.  A quick ride on the Gatwick Express train (the airport is 28 miles from London), brought us to town, and a cab ride later, we were at the Chancery Court Hotel.
London 2010 007
Our time in Europe comes to a close this week with  five nights here, (thanks to those Marriott loyalty program points) and an overnight in Paris prior to our Friday flight to Seattle on Iceland Air

Well, we think our time in Europe comes to a close this week. . .but as we watched news reports this afternoon (Sunday, London time) we are advised that the volcano in Iceland has closed both air space and airports. . .so maybe we will have a whole new adventure still ahead. No need to worry about it this far in advance, but it does keep us watching the updates.

We’ve left  Spanish tapa bars behind to explore English pubs for a few days and I’ll be intermixing stories of both. . .stay tuned. . .who knows? The gonzo geezers may have more adventures to tell you about than we thought we would. That's one of the joys of travel.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Spirit of Solstice

There they were, all lined up greeting us as we returned to the Solstice at the end of our visit to Lisbon.  The Captain (on the left) and his team just wanted to welcome us back.

That’s something we’ve not experienced on previous cruises - we can’t recall ever being greeted by the ‘management team’ except at the official welcome cocktail party. Returning from shore excursions we expect staff members to offer water and hand sanitizer, but the ‘top brass’ greeting – that’s a new one.
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That same team put those smiles aside the next day when in Malaga, Spain when the Spaniards decided to pull a work slow-down that affected four large cruise ships in port that day.  Tours returned late and then Spanish security decided to slow things further by ‘wand’ checking each returning individual. . .thus threatening to delay our departure. Our captain and his team went to work and got us all back on board, with only a slightly delayed departure.

(Note to Malaga tourism: some of our fellow passengers were so angered , don’t expect to see them again anytime soon.)

However, the following sea day – our last  – the team was smiling again. solsticetransatlantic 032 The photo to the right is a group of managers (our captain far right) who challenged a team of guests to a water volleyball game.

And it wasn’t just management, everyone on this ship added a personal touch to service.

Our room attendant, Agostinho Fernandes, who’s been with the company for 10 years, would head to our door to unlock it and hold it open for us the minute he saw us in the hallway – even though our keys were out.

There was the attentive assistant restaurant manager, Flavio, who helps oversee operations in the immense  dining room who  asked,”Is everything okay? You’ve been gone two nights.” (We had eaten elsewhere and were amazed that he had noticed our absence with hundreds of others filling the tables.)

The ship’s Hotel Director Sue Richardson, (she’s in the top photo) says it is what they call it the ‘Spirit of Solstice’

“It is the most critical piece,” she explains, adding, “And the team spirit is outstanding. The Captain is an inspirational leader, he just continues to motivate and inspire the team.”

It’s that  Solstice Spirit that made it hard to leave the ship last week but happy that we will be sailing it again in 2012.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Madrid Magic

This Spanish charmer has caught us up in its spell. – we are caught up in it as we stroll its wide boulevards in the morning to reach one of its enormous parks, gardens or palaces. And again when we’ve stroll to our neighborhood bars on our evening tapeo, the sipping of wine and eating small tapas, in the early evening hours of 7 – 9 p.m.
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We had no preconceived notions about the place – we’d done our usual research and it sounded like a logical stop since the cruise ended in Barcelona, a bit less than  three-hours away by train.  And a week, we thought, would give us time to explore other cities on day trips. . .perhaps  Toledo or even Valencia. . . Ha! We can’t get to everything we want to see in Madrid.   

There is literally something to see on every street in the part of town where our apartment is located; the Barrio de las Letras (or Cortes) where now famous writers once lived. We are just down the street and around the corner from where Cervantes, who brought Don Quixote to life, spent his final years and died. 
madrid2011 007 We are here, as I mentioned before, during the Feria San Isidro, the Festival of Madrid’s Patron Saint Isidro, which means that bullfights are taking place each day of the week, several times a day.  And they are so popular tickets have been sold out for weeks in advance. . .but they are televised, complete with pre-contest comments and sideline color and play-by-play announcements.

(Note: My photo is of a television screen).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Green, Green Grass of Home

Our floating home, that is.  I’d been intrigued by a lawn – a half acre almost – on a cruise ship, so it was great meeting those on board responsible for its care. 

Lawns are a feature of the Celebrity line’s Solstice class ships. It really is quite amazing and was a very popular place on our ship.  We watched bocce ball and croquet being played.  One night blankets and pillows were set up for wine and cheese under the stars. Sometimes concerts are held there. And it was a favorite place to gather for sipping wine and watching ‘sail away’.
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For a good deal of our Atlantic crossing a large portion of the lawn was covered with plastic – protection from the blowing salt sea waters (and to rehab it from the 100’s of kids who had done an Easter Egg hunt on it the week before we boarded). 

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Lawn management is a full-time job for brothers, Sherwin and Arnold Viajante, (in blue jackets above) both who have degrees in agriculture.  The two, along with their supervisor James Mitchell, the ship’s Environmental Officer (second from left) gave us a  Lawn at Sea 101 on our last sea day. We also met Antonio Delina, whose ship title is 3rd Cook, but is in the Celebrity cross-departmental training program and working with the lawn team.  I enlarged the photo above to show how green the grass was – although the team told me that in two weeks it would be ‘even better’. (They should see ours!)
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Sunday afternoon – the day we boarded the ship-  they’d been ‘sanding’ the lawn which is a blend of creeping Bermuda grass that likes hot weather and Rye, the bunchier stuff that prefers cool temps..  Bermuda grass flourishes with sand, making it grow thicker and stronger, they explained.

While they don’t worry much about weeds (occasionally bird droppings or guest shoes may leave a pesky seed) but here in addition to watering and mowing, they also must balance the weight of the growing media  (turf), sub-surface irrigation, the liner and stabilizer net .  Way too much to think about. . .

Somehow it makes our lawn care back home seem quite simple.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

At Home in Madrid

It was the high prices on hotels that prompted us to find an apartment to rent in this city of 3 million people, the capital of Spain.

(Of course - unbeknownst to us – our timing put us in the midst of the Festival Week of their Patron Saint so the town was at a tourist peak.)

We found our place as result of Joel’s research; renting from a company, Spain Select , that we hoped was as good as travelers’ reviews portrayed it to be and hoped that the place would be as nice as the internet photos made it appear.
madrid2011 004 Using our cell phone we called as the train reached Madrid and were met within minutes of our arrival at the building by the company representative.

We are on the corner of the top floor of this building – we have six balcony windows from which we can watch the world go by. It is great for watching the neighborhood come to life.

There is no lift in the building, as they say here, so we climb 65 well-worn but highly polished wood stairs to reach ‘our place’.
madrid2011 015 And it is a spacious place as evidenced by the living and dining room.  Now the kitchen is a narrow little affair that a wall backs up to the spacious bathroom.  We have two bedrooms (the second has a single twin bed) at the opposite end of the apartment.
madrid2011 014 All in all we are quite satisfied – we’ve lucked out and are in a great neighborhood, only a couple blocks from ultra luxe places, The Ritz and The Palace Hotels.

(Met a fellow last night staying at The Ritz and he said his cup of coffee there was $15 and the refill another $15.  Our pot of homemade Starbucks each morning is a wonderful thing. . .even if a half pound did cost about $9US)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Estamos en Espana!

Yes, this blog post is being written in Madrid - we have arrived in Spain.  Seems those serene, silent days at sea have been replaced with the magic of Madrid.  The travel gods have been good to us this trip - better than the techno gods. 

I lost the ability to enter the blog our last day at sea and the wi-fi connection in our Madrid apartment doesn't recognize our little computer . . .or vice versa.  I have plenty of ship stories yet to tell so will intermix them with tales of Spain - now that we have found Starbucks and Internet access again!

Just to start our Spanish tales, I will begin with:

Running the Red Light

You see had our taxi driver in Barcelona not run the last red light we hit between the port and the train station we would have missed our train to Madrid.  And we are not the type to go racing through train stations (it isn't a pretty thing like in the movies) but there we were loaded with bags, juggling and stumbling our way through security checks, down escalators, past tickets booths and thanks to the driver running the light we made the train with a minute to spare.  One minute after we reached our seats, the train whistle blew.

There was a problem again at the port we learned causing our departure to be delayed from the ship (those silly Spanish are cutting their noses off to spite their faces with the slow-downs they are having) anyway we had allowed ourselves two hours between getting off the ship and getting to the nearby train station.

Actual time:  Got in taxi at 10:38 still beside the ship (we waited in line nearly an hour for a taxi) at 10:45 I announced from the backseat that we would miss our 11 a.m. train.  That seemed to spark the driver - he raced through the last red light; we paid as he drove, and at 10:48 we clumsily threw ourselves into the train car. At 10:59 the whistle blew and at 11 the train started.

Not the way we like to travel. . .but here we are in Madrid.  More soon about this wonderful town.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

And the (Glass) Show Goes On

My foot was braced on the foot stool and still I smeared nail polish on my toe as I attempted to primp for the evening’s festivities.  The strong wind and high waves were continuing to rock  the ship.

I tell you that to put into perspective the  show we had just watched three floors above us:  the Corning Glass Museum’s Hot Glass Show; where we all swayed in the wind watching Leane Rae Quade , (better known in the art world as “Quade”) create a vase out of three pounds of molten glass by turning a pole of similar weight.
solsticetransatlantic 015 We watched as she worked with  1900-degree molten glass – a process that requires precision, and on this day, a lot of sweat as well. 

A few days later we chatted with her – after learning from other guests that was ‘also from Seattle’.

Her life is one of three months aboard and three months off the ship. She’ll be making art objects aboard the Eclipse on the next leg of her journey but does work with the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle. 

solsticetransatlantic 029 The Celebrity/Corning partnership has provided quite a ‘treat’ for passengers with as many as two shows a day on ‘sea days. None of the glass created by the three on-board artists is sold. But several pieces will be auctioned prior to the end of the cruise with that money going to scholarships.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lisbon, Portugal

We’ve arrived in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal after traveling some six miles up the River Tagus from the Atlantic Ocean to reach this, the oldest capital city of Europe.
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We are docked in its expansive bay, called the Mar da Palha” or “Sea of Straw”.  We stopped here a couple years ago on a repositioning cruise so plan to re-visit some of our favorites today. Or we may catch the local train and head to Estoril or Cascais, nearby cities and within an easy day trip.

We loved much about Lisbon on our previous stop especially the clanking trolley cars that clattered their way up to the Alfama, the oldest part of the city, located on the sloping hills below the Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George’s Castle) on a hilltop in the 12th century A.D. – on the same place they believe that Phoenician’s established themselves around 1200 B.C.

Phoenicians  were followed by a parade of ‘occupants” including the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors until finally in 1147 A.D. it was conquered by the guy who would become the first King of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques.
Map picture
Whereever we end up today, we'll be strolling wide, tree-lined (in places) avenues, many paved with mosaics making them sprawling works of art. And we plan to sip coffee at one of the many cafes that frame those streets. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Solstice: Entertainers with a Capital E!

There’s been so much to see and do on this ship the last week, that we are in need of rest – our first port day feels like a rest day. Is that too much fun?

Entertainment is never ending – someone is always performing at poolside or on the aft deck  throughout the day and then it moves inside about 5 p.m. with someone  playing a piano, or a string quartet will be playing, or a sole singer strumming a guitar will sing songs of our youth (that would be gonzo geezer youth, you recall). 

And the guests, well, they dance.  Some dance at the pool in their swimwear. They dance in the late afternoon, some dance at noon in the middle of the ship when the dance lessons are offered, some dance the evening away.  We headed to the cabin last night at 10 and there were a number of folks (many older than us) just starting to kick up their heels.

The BIG entertainment is that which takes place in the theater – and we have had some fabulous shows (sorry, HAL, but the entertainment on board is better than our Holland America cruises).  Last night we had a variety show as many of the performers leave the ship in the Azores and new performers join us. 

solsticetransatlantic 024 We said goodbye to a favorite – and one we hope to see on stage in London some future visit because he’s been in plenty of musicals there to date – and that was Paul Baker. He’ll be joining another Celebrity ship and sometimes can be found on Crystal ships.

Our ship is so much fun that our captain, and that would be Captain Gerry Larsson-Fedde, who has brought us safely across the Atlantic, left the bridge last night and picked up his electric guitar and joined one of our singing groups on stage. I don’t need tell you that he brought the house down, do I?

solsticetransatlantic 025A day at sea tomorrow and nNew entertainment tonight. . .I’ve got to go rest. . .more soon.

Bom Dia from the Azores!

solsticetransatlantic 026 We caught our first glimpse of land today about 6:30 a.m. and were cleared to go ashore on the island of Sao Miguel by 8 a.m. 

We logged about 7.5 miles wandering the cobbled black and white mosaic streets, visiting parks and churches in its Ponta Delgado – about the only thing open on a Sunday in this town of 21,000. Ponta Delgado has been the capital since 1546.

Off in the distance the hillsides are a lush green (no wonder it is the isla verde).  We were advised not to buy their famous pineapples or any other fruit or vegetable as it wouldn’t be allowed to be brought on board, so will have to rely on tourist publications that tell us this pineapple is a ‘prized commodity’.

solsticetransatlantic 027 Mid-morning was a bit too early to try their white wine, vino verde, (also known for it, we are told) so will have to wait until some future stop to try it.

I must tell you that as much as we love sea days it was nice to walk on terra firma again.  And it seemed strange to hear the roar of jet engines on planes taking off and to hear the noise of cars and motorcycles again.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Sea foam and Sapphire Saturday

solsticetransatlantic 017 Being on the sea is the selling point for us on transatlantic cruises; days of endless sea foam blanketing sapphire water with lace coverings. That, and then not having anything that requires our attention beyond those ever-changing patterns, well, of course there are always the decisions about entertainment, activities and eating, but more on those later. 

(And even those stormy slate-gray waves we’ve had for three days have  been interesting to watch).

solsticetransatlantic 009 If we thought ‘sea days’ had gone too fast on previous crossings on Holland America ships, they were nothing compared to the speed this week has zipped away. Here we are on our sixth and final day of crossing the Atlantic. The captain tells us we are now 2,535 nautical miles fom Florida and 336 nautical miles from our first port of call, Ponta Delgada, the capital of  Sao Miguel, the largest island of the mid-Atlantic Azores and the greenest of them.

Legend has it that the Azores are that of the lost city of Atlantis (of course, we have heard that in Greece and just yesterday heard a lecture in which we learned theorists think Atlantis might be in the Bermuda Triangle somewhere.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Twixt Twain and Us: The Transatlantic

We’re mid-way across the Atlantic Ocean now and for the last couple of our days, our 122,000 ton ship has been buffeted by gusting  35 mph winds and traveling through 10 – 15 foot waves. Stacks of  seasick bags (that look identical to those bags found in airline seat pockets) are readily available. Luckil, we've not needed them.

We’ve bumped into a few fellow passengers (pun intended) as we’ve made our way around each day. Speaking of our fellow passengers there are 2,749 of us on board, a wee bit less than capacity ( 2,850) and we have 42 nationalities represented.
solsticetransatlantic 005 Solstice, our floating home for two weeks, (the size of  three-football fields placed end-to-end and 60-meters tall) entered calm waters (photo on left) on Sunday but the ocean has gotten rougher as the days have gone by. Even with the six-meter stabilizers out on both sides of the ship we’ve been a rockin’ –n- rollin’.  (BTW, the ‘H ‘on the ship’s deck in the photo is the helicopter landing pad.) 

Considering the bounce we’ve experienced, we’ve been speculating on Mark Twain’s journey, described in his book The Innocents Abroad, that began with a 10-day Atlantic crossing in which he describes many storms and very seasick passengers.

Twain's journey to Europe aboard the steamship “Quaker City” began on June 8,1867  in New York.  He describes the trip, that was to last several months, as ‘the first organized pleasure party ever assembled for a transatlantic voyage.’ 

I doubt any of his 149 fellow passengers had any idea that they were kicking off what would become a billion dollar cruise industry. The cost of their passage was $1,250 per person, more than we are paying and certainly a considerable amount of money in those days. And being able to buy a ticket  didn’t get you on the ship – you had to apply and be approved by the Committee on Selecting Steamer. In contrast we just reserved space this morning on a Celebrity cruise in Nov. 2012 – with no more information required than our names and a credit card.

Promotional material provided those passengers  assured them that the ship would have every comfort including, a library, musical instruments and ‘an experienced physician’.

Suppose they would like the glass blowing demonstrations and live lawn sports that our ship features?  Or our theatre that seats hundreds of passengers on multi levels?  We have a number of musical groups –very good ones, I might add – on board providing cabaret type shows, theatrical performances, poolside entertainment. . .whew, and I’ve just gotten started. . . there are cooking demonstrations, wine classes, art auctions, exercise classes. . .in fact it is time to head out now. . .there’s a lecture starting soon! 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Feeling Like a Celebrity

They all said it would be like this.

But, quite frankly, it sounded too good to be true.

The emails came as did the conversations:  “You will love Celebrity,” they said.  The accolades came from both friends and people previously unknown to us. In particular, many said, they loved the Solstice.
And then it began: Our embarkation greeting Sunday solsticetransatlantic 001was reminiscent of a cruise several years ago on Silversea: being handed a glass of bubbly  by a white-gloved waiter at the second we stepped on board

And if all those folks who told us we’d love this ship, had mentioned the long-stemmed red roses in our room (and bathroom!) I had forgotten. 

You recall we found a good deal long ago on this cruise from a company called CruCon Cruise Outlet  -- a deal so good that we were able to book Concierge Class for the price of a regular balcony room through other agencies.

So we’ve settled into to our beautiful room on the 9th floor that features both a spacious balcony and bathroom; a bathroom that featuring toiletries that remind me of the Bulgari products we were provided on Silversea.

We been so treated  like ‘Celebrities” the last few days, that you won’t  be surprised to learn that we spent part of our first morning on board talking with folks at the ‘future cruise’ desk.

Mid-Atlantic: "The Deeper the water. . .

. . .the better we float," quips our Captain Gerry Larsson-Fedde, Master of the Celebrity Solstice.

We are, quite literally, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, having reached the mid-point between Florida and the Azores around midnight.  In the distance the horizon wraps itself around our ship in a semi-circular fashion; a seam binding the deep blue of the ocean to the turquoise sky.

The Atlantic is the second largest of the world's four oceans and the most heavily traveled, yet, we've seen no other ships since the first day at sea when we saw one in the far distance.

Our days at sea are going far too fast!  One of our favorite past-times we find is watching the cloud puffs pass overhead and the waves massage our ship's hull.  At noon Wednesday we were 1,220 nautical miles from Florida and with the slow process of easing us into new times zones at an hour at a time, we are now six hours ahead of our Pacific Northwest home.

The water's depth is 15,000 feet, prompting our Captain's daily reminders of how well our ship does in such deep oceans.

I did invite you to 'come along' with us and the nice folks at Celebrity even provided some precious computer time for me to provide you posts and photos as we sail from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, unfortunately (and this isn't news to those of you who've tried to use computers at sea) the computers are a finicky business.

 I've got a lot of posts and photos sitting in my Netbook (which is connected to the internet at full force in our room but not in the computer lab - nor will it connect me to the internet in the room. At least it isn't us, as the computer room is filled with tales offered by frustrated computer users.) So those posts will appear at the moment that broadband capacity and satellites are in the correct position. That means you may not see them until we reach the Azores or the Techno Gods smile upon us.

Then you'll join us as we dine at the Captain's Table, walk barefoot across the half acre of green grass at the top of the ship, run a gourmet gauntlet, meet the environmental officer who hails from Boston and the hotel director in charge of the guest accommodations. . .and that is just a start.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Celebrity Bon Voyage!

We'll follow this waterway into the Atlantic Ocean
j.smith photo, (c) 2011
Just like kids on Christmas morning, we were both awake early: today is finally cruise day!

The day that seemed ages away when we booked the trip is finally here. Now we are only hours away from the time, 4:30 p.m.ET, that our Celebrity Solstice will gently slide from its berth at Port Everglades easing itself to the right and heading towards the Atlantic Ocean.

We will see land again next Saturday when we arrive in the Azores. We will  leave our hotel, the Springhill Suites Marriott, which was jam-packed Saturday with pre-cruise guests, joining them all just before noon in a parade of shuttles to the port.

Cruise lines and Port Everglades employees have so streamlined the embarkation process that it won't take long to board this floating ‘home’ away from home.
HAL 2009 cruise photos 008We'll likely be on board before our cabin is ready for us so our explorations will begin of this ship that sounds too good to be true. (I'll let you know about that later.  But honestly, from the first time I wrote that we were sailing on a Celebrity ship I have had emails telling me what a great cruise line it is and what a fantastic time we will have. We met another couple Saturday who echoed those sentiments and will also be on the ship with us.)

We will get hopelessly turned around as we set out to see all that each deck has to offer. And we’ll likely stay mixed up for several days, as this is one big ship! 

Then it will be 4:30 and the ship's horn will sound and a sort of magic will envelop us. We'll gather with fellow passengers first for safety drills and then to watch land disappear. There will be a potpourri of music and laughter, greetings and confusion. 

And since I invited you along, you need to grab yourself a beverage, sit back, make sure your computers speakers are on, then click the YouTube link and join us as we explore the Celebrity Solstice.

“Bon Voyage!”


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