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.

londonparisiceland2011 008
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.
solsticetransatlantic 030
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.
madrid2011 013

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’.
solsticetransatlantic 002

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). 

solsticetransatlantic 039
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!)
solsticetransatlantic 004

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.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...