Showing posts with label Oceania cruises. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oceania cruises. Show all posts

Friday, May 10, 2024

Both The Journey and the Destination

When it comes to cruising, it is as much about the journey as it is about the destinations. 

Approaching Ibiza

I was reminded of that on our recent western Mediterranean cruise as we sipped room-service-delivered, piping hot coffee each morning on the balcony of our cabin watching some new port of call come into view. 


Morning coffee brought to our room at no extra charge 

Those coffee deliveries rank high on my 'feeling pampered' list and are among the reasons I so like cruising. But I am usually so focused on the vastly differing destinations that we are heading to -- both new and old favorites -- that my tales focus on them and not the ship that gets us to them. Yet, with cruising, the ship and its amenities are as important as those ports of call. 

Onboard the Oceania Vista

Our Mediterranean cruise was a rather last-minute travel idea for us. We decided to take it only three weeks before the sailing. We can do that because among the pluses of expat life is the ease of getting to other European countries.  Getting from Athens to Civitavecchia, Italy from where the ship departed was a three-hour journey; two for the flight and an hour for the shuttle from the Rome airport.


We chose this cruise because it would take us to four countries in 10 days, giving us an introduction to some new places and a refresher course of others. We'd not have more than a day in any one place, but long enough to get a feel for it and decide if we would one day return for a longer stay. 

Oceania's Vista, our ship, barely a year old

Oceania's Vista ship, barely a year old, was repositioning back to the Mediterranean for its summer season from the Caribbean where it had sailed last winter. It is one of the larger ships in Oceania's fleet, accommodating1,200 passengers and a staff of 800 who hailed from 51 countries.


We selected the 10-day segment based on the ports of call, price and our previous experiences with the cruise line. Oceania and its new ship didn't disappoint. Our standard class stateroom was simply spacious. Suitcases were stored under the bed after clothes were put in the large closet and the room's many drawers. Another plus for cruising is that we unpack once. No hauling suitcases from city to city, through airports and train stations.  

Our floating home for 10 days

Its bathroom was as large as that of a luxury hotel and the shower was so large that it could have accommodated several people.

Our cruise was a segment of the longer repositioning cruise that had started in Miami, Florida. It ultimately ended in Trieste, Italy, several days after we departed the ship in Malta.  Many of our fellow cruisers had been on the ship since it left the United States and stayed on until Italy.

With nearly a week of sea days spent crossing the Atlantic, those cruisers had time to take advantage of the educational and enrichment activities on board: among them, brushing up on computer skills or creating art in a dedicated studio staffed by two Artists in Residence. Several took advantage of the large culinary arts center where one could sharpen culinary skills under the guidance of the chef. 

With a port of call each day we had no time to indulge in any enrichment pursuits on board. We had plenty of culture and history indoctrination with our explorations.


Entertainment options included performances by a string quartets, singers and pianists. Shows took place each night in the ship's theatre, lectures on ports of call were held, and late-night dancing and music was regularly offered. A casino opened for gaming as soon as the ship entered international waters. 

Sun seekers at pool side

For the sun seekers there was a pool, and hot tubs, running track, a putting green, and a popular bocce ball court.  

One of three rooms that make up the ship's library

One of the most impressive amenities (especially for us, who live in an area without English language bookstores or libraries) was the ship's expansive, three-room library located next to Barista's specialty coffee shop. It was one of the most beautiful -- and well stocked -- libraries that we've ever seen on a cruise ship.

Medical center on board - well equipped and staffed

Of course, since it played prominently in our cruise experience (see my last post), I must note, the ship also has a well-equipped and staffed medical center. While one never expects to need it, it was great having it there when we did. (Medical care is not provided without cost. A visit to the doctor was $150US, medicine an additional $30US.)

Formal dining room is but one of many dining options

'Wining and Dining' is always a highpoint of cruising for us, and we had more options than we knew what to do with on this ship.  

Sail away happy hour Livorno Italy

Specialty restaurants including a steakhouse, Asian and Italian, were available at no extra charge (other cruise lines do charge for the specialty offerings). The days of dressing up and heading to a big stuffy cavernous dining room are over on this cruise line.  We could choose when and where we ate, whether to join others or to eat by ourselves. Casual dining or formal dress was up to us.

The ship offered a 2-for-1 Happy Hour each evening in several of its lounges and bars that brought the per glass price of drinks down to a reasonable rate ($14 to $15 was the average per glass rate for wine on board). 

Morning in Malta

Cruising isn't for everyone. And it is good we don't all like the same modes of travel. But for us, it is an easy and cost-effective means of having an introduction to places that would require a lot of time, effort and planning to get to otherwise.  Sometimes, as in this case, it was a quick but comprehensive get-away.

Thanks for being with us again.  We hope wherever and however you are traveling this spring and summer that you will have smooth sailing ~ and that you'll be back with us again when I write about the need for the tastes of travel~

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Barcelona ~ The Tripping Point

One minute he was walking next to me. Then he wasn't. 

He was laying on the sidewalk. 

Las Ramblas - Barcelona

And not just any sidewalk, but one found in one of Barcelona's more famous areas, the tree-lined Las Ramblas. 

Elegant buildings line Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas, was laid out ages ago along the city's medieval wall. It is lined with stately buildings completed in the 18th century and is one of the more popular tourist destinations in this Spanish city; although its popularity is a bit diminished these days by the warnings issued to visitors about pickpockets and touts who roam the area.

Oceania Vista

Our stop in Barcelona was mid-point in the 10-day Oceania cruise we had begun in Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy.  We'd made two stops in Italy and two France on our way to Spain.  Those ports of call had been a delightful mix of ship-sponsored tours (two outings came as part of our cruise benefits) and taking off on our own, which is our favorite way to explore when cruising.

Approaching Cinque Terra

One of our ship's tours was a small boat trip from La Spezia to the Cinque Terra in Italy. . .

Garden at Van Gogh's asylum - a trip highlight

. . . another was a motorcoach tour from Marseille, France into Provence with a stop at Van Gogh's asylum just outside St. Remy.

A visit with friends and tour of Lucca, their expat home

In Italy's Livorno, we headed off on our own, catching a train to Lucca, where we had a delightful visit with American expat friends of ours who graciously spent the better part of a day showing us around their adopted city. 

Entrance to Nice's train station

We'd also hopped a train in France, again on our own, and traveled a short distance from Villefranche where we were docked to spend a delightful Sunday roaming the streets of Nice before catching the train back.

We'd opted to 'do' Barcelona on our own as well. We strolled the length of Las Ramblas in the morning, we spent time exploring neighborhoods and the Gothic Quarter and were making our way back to the ship's shuttle bus in the early afternoon via Las Ramblas when we hit. . .

The Tripping Point

The culprit was a curb. Plain and simple. 

An old curb that had been rounded and worn smooth by time and footsteps; the kind that has a surface as slick as ice.  And we watch for those things. Living in Greece we've been trained to recognize streets and sidewalk hazards. We know that centuries-old European cities have walking surfaces worn smooth over the ages. But The Scout was also keeping an eye on approaching cars as he stepped off the curb. . .and it took him but a moment to go from upright to lying flat on the sidewalk.

In retrospect, there are two good things about his fall. First, was the immediacy with which people came running to help. Could they help him up, could they summon an ambulance, could they stay with us? We were surrounded by willing helpers. Not like the US big cities where passersby often ignore pleas for help. We've seen time and again people offering help in European cities but this time we were on the receiving end of the kindness. 

Several men -- from nearby businesses and a couple of taxi drivers - helped him get to his feet.  Three young women in their late teens wanted to call an ambulance and wouldn't leave us until he demonstrated he was able to walk, if slowly, to the shuttle bus. One of the taxi drivers offered to drive us to a hospital.

The other good news was that he didn't break a hip, leg, arm or head.  

However, the bad news was that he cracked or broke a few ribs and bruised his sternum.  

Visiting The Ship's Medical Center

A cruise 'first' - the Medical Center

Over the last couple of decades we've taken many cruises, and we've been fortunate in never having seen the inside of any of the ships' medical centers. This was our introduction to that cruise ship amenity, and I am happy to say, this one was nothing short of amazing!

There were three patient rooms, one intensive care unit, two medical assistants and a doctor.  The medical center is equipped with defibrillators, external pacemakers, pulse oximeters, an ECG, thrombolytics and lab equipment.  

"We even have a morgue," noted the doctor as he pointed to a door off to the side of the reception area. 

Modern well-equipped medical center on Oceania's Vista

The Scout was examined and prescribed some heavy-duty pain pills.  The doctor offered to make on shore hospital referral that day or subsequent day if symptoms worsened. (They didn't).

Smooth Sailing

Climb every fortress - Ibiza our last stop

The Scout
wasn't about to miss out on the remaining ports of call, and we logged almost as many steps with each stop after his tumble as we had before - and that equates to several miles of walking each day.  

This promenade was flat in Alicante, Spain 

The cruise segment ended in Valletta, Malta. We'd sailed some 1,837 nautical miles around the Mediterranean. We spent a day and night in Valletta. The shortest distance we traveled was 85 nautical miles between Livorno and La Spezia, Italy and the longest was 665 n.m. between Ibiza, Spain and Malta. The cruise segment we had booked was part of a cruise that had started in Miami, Florida and would end after another 10-day segment in Trieste, Italy. Several hundred passengers were doing the full 35-day trip.

Setting sail from Ibiza, Spain 

We've been back in Greece for a week now. And Greek Orthodox Easter Week is upon us. The Scout is still moving gingerly.  We've reapplied for our residency permits so no more travel or cruises outside of Greece for a while.  But we've got some great memories and other stories from the cruise that I will be telling you about in the next post.  

Until then safe travels to you and yours, watch those 'tripping points'!









Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Then Comes a Time to Travel

We've become complacent in this Greek expat life of ours.  It is easy to do when the sea is a stone's throw to our left and mountain peaks are to our right. 

It is easy to become content until one day, you aren't, and you know it is time to travel.  

The sea is a stone's throw away.. .

In the Peloponnese, where winters are mild and storms mighty, but few, there is no burning desire to escape inclement weather as we did in our Pacific Northwest life. A good book and fire in the fireplace on the bad days and a coffee at the beach bar on the good days. . .who needs travel, we've asked ourselves in deepest winter here.

Beaches are empty in the winter here

As I wrote last week, in addition to complacency, we had one of our 'fur kid' family members traveling toward the Rainbow Bridge in recent months and that meant we weren't traveling anywhere until her journey was completed with us at her side.  

Maggie's journey is completed.

The last time I packed a suitcase, and we boarded a plane was last September for our return to Greece from the States. Now that is quite a stretch for these two vagabonds who once spent as much of the year living out of a suitcase, as we did at home. And we also recognize that we are aging vagabonds, so we have far fewer travel days ahead than there once were, so . . .

Then Comes a Time to Travel

File photo: way too long since I've packed a bag


The Scout had his work cut out for him: something that would allow us to see as many places as possible, with as little effort as possible, and in a window of time no longer than 10 days. 

(Regular readers recall our residence permits expire in late April and our travels in Europe will be forbidden until a new permit is issued, likely some 10 months from now. We will be able to travel in Greece and to our home country.)

Our route to adventures


He met the challenge and soon we will be headed to Rome from Athens. And there, we will board a cruise ship and set sail for ports of call in Italy, France, Spain, and Menorca (not Mallorca as shown on the map) before ending in Malta from where we will return to Athens. 

The sea from the ship is mesmerizing.


It will be our third cruise on an Oceania ship; this one the line's newest, the Vista.  The routing takes us to a few places we've been to and introduces us to three new cities along the way. From Marseille we will head to Arles on a bus, from Livorno we will hop a train to Lucca to visit friends there. Valencia is home to the largest municipal market in Europe, we will spend a good deal of time in it. We will spend a night in Valletta where the cruise ends, staying in its old town in an ancient building turned modern hotel. Its address is Old Bakery Street, can it be any better?

Sea daze


And we plan to spend a good deal of time simply gazing at the sea.   It is one of our favorite things to do on a cruise.  

We know many of you have traveled to the destinations we are soon to be visiting and welcome any recommendations you might have for us.  Shoot us an email or leave a comment.

The olive grove shorn for summer.


And as I close, I want to say thank you for the many comments we received after my last post about Princess and Maggie and lessons they've taught in the olive grove. Maggie's departure has left a significant gap in our world.  Your kindness was most appreciated!

Until next time, safe travels to you and yours~ and thanks for being with us today!

Monday, May 8, 2023

Surprisingly Stunning Saigon

By whatever name -- Saigon, as it has long been known, or by its actual name, Ho Chi Minh City -- is a city both stunning and full of delightful surprises. 

Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City full of surprises

Even though it had been on our travel bucket list for nearly three decades, we didn't come with any expectations; no 'must see' or 'must do'. We simply wanted to see as much as we could in the nearly three days, that we had to explore this sprawling megalopolis. And maybe that is why we found it so full of surprises, and so stunning.

Here, unlike Cambodia, we explored on our own. . .on foot.  A bit warm with temperatures in the low 90F's but with good walking shoes, quite easy to accomplish.


City Hall patterned after Paris's Hall de Ville

This city was our last port of call and one of the reasons we had chosen this cruise aboard the Oceania Nautica itinerary for our 10-day late February getaway. 

The polluted Saigon River looked better at night

The murky river route that led us to the city (you can read about it here) didn't give us any reason to expect much. The stereotype of communist countries had me expecting to find a big city as drab, gray and polluted as the river we traveled to get to it.


Rolls-Royce and Communist Country didn't compute

 And that certainly was a misassumption on my part!  Clean tree-lined streets were home to high end fashion boutiques offering the ultimate latest designs in in home decor, clothing and shoes.  We certainly didn't expect to happen upon a Rolls-Royce dealership across the street from City Hall. . .a showroom so exclusive that you had to show your passport to get into the store!

The Scout reflecting on a Rolls-Royce on display

As 'Saigon', the city had been the capital of the French Colony of Cochinchina and later the Independent Republic of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1975. It became Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, named for the founder of the Communist Party of Viet Nam and the country's long-time leader.


A portrait of Ho Chi Minh dominates in the city's post office

Admittedly, our visit was short. We had just an appetizer-sized sample of the city with our explorations limited to its District 1, an area chockablock with some of the city's most beautiful French colonial buildings lining its wide elegant boulevards.

The Majestic opened in 1925, one of the city's oldest and elegant

Being fans of historic hotels, we headed to the Hotel Majestic to celebrate The Scout's birthday which fell on one of our days in port. The five-story hotel is built in French colonial and French Riviera style and its rooftop bar overlooks the Saigon River. It was a perfect place for a birthday toast!

Fresh mango margaritas at the Majestic Hotel

We sipped fresh mango margaritas, one of the hotel's specialty drinks and agreed this might be a good base should we return for a larger sampling of this city. 


Spring rolls at the Rex Hotel rooftop

Choosing between it and another historic hotel will be a tough decision though. The Rex Hotel, once a hangout for American officers and war correspondents in the 60's and 70's, quickly became a favorite of ours. 

Coffee mocha at the Rex Hotel

We made its rooftop bar -- once known as the home of the Five O'Clock Follies -- a regular stop each morning for iced coffee mochas.  We also had appetizers - the best spring rolls we've ever eaten -- and drinks there one evening.

Daily war press briefings at 5 pm in the Rex rooftop bar.

The elegant building housing the hotel was opened in 1927 as a car dealership. It wasn't until 1961 that the first guests experienced what that year opened as The Rex Hotel. 

The Rex Hotel and its famed rooftop bar

During the Viet Nam War in the 1970's its rooftop bar was the site of daily press briefings which were nicknamed the 'Five O' Clock Follies' by U.S. journalists who are said to have found the officer's optimism, shall we say, somewhat misguided.  

Courtyard of the War Remants Museum

Several blocks away the building that housed the U.S. Information Service, has become home of the War Remnants Museum. Previously called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, it was a somber place where the war's atrocities and its impacts on the everyday Vietnamese citizen, were documented through pictorial displays, video, art displays.  It was as horrifying to me as the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  We spent far less time than the guidebook's recommended two hours.   It isn't a place for everyone. I am glad we went. It is good to see both sides of the story, the old journalist in me, kept reminding us.

The French-era post office - a popular tourist stop these days

We continued sightseeing, by visiting the enormous French-era post office built between 1886 and 1892. While still operating as a post office, the place is a popular tourist destination.


The Opera House, officially known as the Municipal Theatre

Our cruise ship shuttle bus stop was across the street from the city's Municipal Theatre, better known as the Opera House.  It, like so many of the sights, were magnificent.  But in the end, it was those scenes of everyday life that we will likely remember the longest. A small sample of them:


A supply warehouse on the dock 

Our ship cabin faced the dock, so we were entertained by watching the coming and goings of commerce.  A large warehouse, storing all sorts of goods, seemed a hub of activity all day long.  

Of course, the street congestion as seen from our bus made its way to and from the ship, will also be long remembered. (Not to mention trying to cross those streets on foot!)

Typical traffic congestion in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City

And the school children. They came by the busload to visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum just around the corner from our berth.  They found our shuttle bus and we cruise passengers to be of interest and loved it when we waved to them.

School children waved in greeting

Our time was too quickly over. We set sail for Singapore where we disembarked and made a dash to the airport for our flight back to Kuala Lumpur.  After a night there and our Southeast Asian adventure was in the history books.  

Thanks for coming along with us once again.  We will be back with more travel tales and hope you will be with us! Safe travels to you and yours ~

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