11/3/11 My Goodness – it is November already (!) and the days have been flying by while we are cruising on the Mariner of the Seas. Since we have started the long trek across the Atlantic now, we are having 6 sea days in a row before we arrive in Nassau. This is Elaine's favorite part of cruising because it means long, lazy days on the ship, where we have all our needs met by the labors of somebody else! For example, we just finished having a nice lunch in the dining room with our old cruise friends, Duane and Dorothy McCarthy and 6 of their old friends, whom we didn't know before. Now we have several hours of down time before meeting friends in the Diamond Plus lounge for drinks. Later this evening there will be a special party and ice skating show for returning Crown & Anchor members in the top tiers. Then we will attend a first-rate violin performance in the theater by a lady we have seen before on another cruise. Tough life, isn't it?
The ports we have visited since my last posting have been fun and interesting. Our time in Athens turned out to be fine because it was Sunday and they usually don't have strikes and riots on Sundays when no one is working. We did see riot police in Syntagma Square, but all was well. At 11AM on Sundays the changing of the guard at the Parliament building becomes a big event because there is a marching band, and the entire regiment in their really unique uniforms marches in too. Then they do some tricky routines with foot stomping, balancing on one leg, pivoting and rifle maneuvers, before two guys actually replace the 2 that have been on duty. I got some really good pictures, which I will post when we are back in the USA. Elaine says she has never seen so many men wearing skirts in public!
By the time we got to the Acropolis, we had been walking around a while and Elaine was tired because of her cold, and I had a headache. There were big crowds to get in so we decided to just walk the perimeter on our way to the train back to Piraeus and see what we could, and then do an extended visit to all the ruins on our next visit. It was a lovely, sunny day and just walking around was enjoyable. Getting into Athens from the port was easy and cheap using the Metro. Whenever we can explore on our own, we always get so much more out of the experience.
The day we had in Athens was right after we had been in Kusadasi, Turkey and we found out from the news on TV that they had a huge earthquake in the eastern part right after we had left. Our hearts go out to those poor people when we see all the crumpled buildings and hear the stories about the deaths, injuries, and the rare instances of rescues. Many of our friends e-mailed us to make sure we were OK, and we appreciated it that we were the recipients of such caring concern. Thanks to those who wrote.
The next port was Chania, Crete, and we had a short day there, but it was charming. Once again it was easy and inexpensive to get to town using the public bus which picked us up right at the ship. The local market was right where we got off the bus and we got to have samples of raki and ouzo, two of the Greek liquors we have heard a lot about. They taste like licorice. We walked through the old, narrow, cobblestone streets filled with shops and restaurants, down to the port area. It was constructed during the time when Venice was a major world player, and thus is like a Venician port. There is also a fort on one side and a lighthouse on the other side of the harbor entrance. When we returned to the bus stop, firefighters and police were gathering in droves in the square and it looked like some sort of demonstration was going to be taking place, so we got on the bus and returned to the ship. Later we learned that the ship sailed late due to the difficulty of getting all the passengers back on board once those demonstrations started and the bus route changed. Good thing the bus drivers didn't decide to join the work stoppage!
The first cruise ended on Oct. 26 when we returned to Civitavecchia. It was rainy and cold so we stayed on the ship for a very nice special lunch for back-to-back cruisers. Then we started running into all our old cruise friends who were coming on board for the transatlantic. It was great to see everyone again: Carol & Byron Hall, Len & Letty Reeser, Duane & Dorothy McCarthy, Ken & Carolyn Kimpton, Susan Matthews, and June & Ralph Shortill, all joined us. The first night in the Diamond Plus lounge was chaos, even though they had moved us to Ellington's, a much larger lounge than before. Things are somewhat better organized now, although there still isn't a lot of available seating because there are so many return cruisers for these long transatlantics.
Palma de Mallorca, Spain, is a lovely island off the east coast of Spain which we have visited once before. Royal Caribbean has sunk to using deceiving tactics such as putting in the daily Cruise Compass that shuttle buses are “required” here and in Funchal, Madiera, and they are charging $12 per person for them! We knew they weren't so we just walked out of the port and caught the public bus with David & Diane for 1.25 Euros each way. Had a lovely day poking around this scenic and historic city. The cathedral there is immense and easy to see from all the way across the harbor. Gaudi did some of the renovations near the altar about 100 years ago, so next time I want to go in and see it even though it costs 4.5 Euro to get in. We have trouble convincing ourselves that we should pay to get into churches....
The next day we were in Cartagena, Spain and again we lucked out and had lovely weather. This is a small and scenic town we have visited about 5 times so we mostly just walk around, shop a little, and did some computer stuff at the free WiFi at Burger King, near the port. It was interesting to see in the supermarket that they are now selling wine in 1 liter waxed cardboard cartons at very reduced prices, such as we had in 2001 when we were in Chile. It tastes great too. And, there were some small boxes too, like juice boxes, three in a pack, for about 1 Euro. Additionally, they have some wine in plastic 1 and 2 liter bottles, like Coke bottles. We didn't try any of that. One of the benefits of the cardboard boxes is that you can bring them on the ship in your daypack and they don't confiscate them because they don't know it is wine! We also passed a bride getting out of a limo in front of the church in a very gorgeous wedding dress, with the church all decorated and everyone looking so spiffy. Of course, she didn't look as pretty as Marielle, our new daughter-in-law who just married Darran in San Diego.
Our day in Funchal, Madiera was actually hot, but of course, these islands are off the coast of Africa, yet this one is Portugese. Lots of our friends went off to do the toboggan ride from Monte, the town near the top of the steep hills towering over Funchal. They have wooden sleds which they slide down the steep cobblestone streets with strong men wearing shoes with rubber tire soles who turn them, slow them down, and stop them when necessary. A ride costs 25 Euro for one or 30 for 2 people. I have yet to convince Elaine that we should try this, but Letty & Len loved it. We walked around and also went to the market with Byron & Carol. Letty wanted us to pick up some poncha for them; it is a local liquor made with rum, lemon or tangerine juice, and honey, so we tried it at a bodega. It was good but sweet, and we didn't get any for ourselves. The town is so scenic with streets and sidewalks inset with black and white stones in patterns, and lots of narrow pedestrian streets, which open onto small areas where there are tables and chairs outside for people to sit around and drink coffee, beer, or smoke and talk. We stopped at one in a quiet area and had a local beer called Coral. It was good, but not unusual.
The next day we were in La Palma, Canary Islands, and again the weather was warm and sunny. The Canaries belong to Spain. We were going to catch a bus around the island with Ken and Carolyn, and Diane Wilson, but it was a bank holiday so the bus schedule was erratic, and we might not have made it back to the ship on time. Instead we walked through the scenic little town to the other end where there was a replica of one of Christopher Columbus' ships, the Santa Maria. There was also a scenic viewpoint from a fort located fairly high above the town and the seafront. The town was loaded with beautifully restored old buildings with wooden balconies, most of which had wonderfully colored flowers artfully arranged all over them. I'm sure the town will seem very different if we go there again when most of the businesses are open. This time it seemed like a nice, quiet, sleepy, picturesque town with no stress and lots of beauty, with a very comfortable climate. The island itself has very high mountains that seem to rise very quickly from the seafront towns, so it is not heavily populated.
That was our last port until Nassau, and then one week from today this cruise ends in Galveston. The weather has still been sunny and warm on the ship but we have been experiencing big swells, and fairly often there are big booming noises at the front of the ship when it gets hit by rogue waves. We are hoping that the “motion in the ocean” doesn't get any worse because then people will start to become seasick. Also, the ice show and the production numbers in the theater, with lots of dancing, will have to be postponed.
Elaine is over her cold and we are able to work out in the gym every day and also attend some lectures and other activities. Probably I won't post to this blog again and until we are back in the USA and I can add some pictures. Thanks for cruising with us!