Monday, April 30, 2012

Blog Update From Voyager 4/26/12 We are nearly mid-way through our 31 day cruise to Dubai, and all is going well. Many of our cruise friends are onboard with us and we have been having many enjoyable social times with them, especially each late afternoon and early evening in the Diamond+ lounge.
So far, most of the days have been sea days, as we crossed first the Gulf of Mexico out of New Orleans, and then the Atlantic. There was a sunny and warm port day in Nassau, the Bahamas, where we have been many times. Three days ago we enjoyed another beautiful day in Punta Delgada, the Azores, another frequent port call for us. It is one of those little European towns where the cobblestone streets and sidewalks are arranged in black and white patterns and the many municipal gardens were in glorious bloom. Pedestrian only streets make it easy to walk around for window shopping or people watching. Today was sunny and about 72 here in Malaga, Spain. Elaine and I walked along beautifully landscaped areas leading to the main part of town, where we explored a bit and also found free WiFi in McDonalds. Here I am with a sculpture of Hans Christian Anderson on the main street:
There is a large, beautiful and easily accessible beach right near the ship, with another nice promenade to walk on, but we have had such a hard time sleeping at the right times, because of all the time changes, so we skipped that and returned to the ship for a nap. This is the port where some of our friends took a train to Torremolinos, and others took a 2 hour bus to Grenada, to tour the Alhambra. Tomorrow we will be in Cartagena, Spain, another charming and beautiful town but much smaller than Malaga. It is a fun place to just stroll or shop. The next day we will visit Valencia, a place we have never been before so we are eagerly looking forward to exploring there. Then, on the 30th, this cruise ends in Barcelona. We will be lunching with Bill and Gisela Pollock, RV friends, who arrive ahead of us on a different ship. They will stay there for about a week. We have done that before and loved it - Barcelona is one of our very favorite cities and a place to enjoy visiting over and over. This time however, our ship will be leaving at 5PM so after lunch we have to return to it for the muster drill. Yesterday afternoon, our last sea day, Reuben and Sergio, 2 of our friends from Miami, came over and gave us designer haircuts. They have their own studio there and have been in business together for more than 20 years, so they are experts. Elaine now has a "new" look - the messy hair, spiky look and it is cute. Tomorrow we will have to buy more gel or mousse to help it stick up in a fashionable way. Reuben shaped my hair so it basically is the same style, it just looks more groomed and my unruly cowlick shouldn't be a problem in a while when everything grows out more.
Our stateroom looked like a disaster after these guys finished working their magic, but that is why we tip our attendant to clean up after us, right? Our ship, the Voyager of the Seas, has been undergoing some renovations while we have been sailing and today they loaded a LOT more stuff on to continue this. One of the finished renovations was in the casino, which was closed for a week. They took out a lot of the slot machines and added a lot of gaming tables in expectation of the upcoming cruises in Asia. The Asians are such enthusiastic gamblers, they project that casino revenue will go from $200K a week to $1.2 million!!! It is time for our nightly Happy Hour with the Diamond+ friends so I will end this and try to bring you up to speed after our next 3 Spanish city port days. 4/29/12 We have just left Valencia, Spain, which is a new port for us. What a fabulous city and a great place to visit! The harbor is small so our big ship had to dock in the industrial port. It was a fairly long shuttle ride into the city center but what a delightful place, once we arrived. There are so many architecturally interesting buildings, it is a feast for the eyes. We walked 7 miles total, and wished we had time for more. We visited the cathedral in the centro, where there is a large and busy open mercado area as well, which was the former forum area during Roman times. Nearby, we walked down narrow alleyways with stalls and shops which reminded us of the souks in the Middle East, to get to the Plaza del Mercado. Unfortunately, because it was Sunday, it was closed, but even the huge building itself is beautiful with many different facades.
There were lots of busy stalls selling tourist items outside, and Elaine bought a scarf for 2 Euros. Down the block was the former silk exchange building, the Lonja de la Seda, which is a UNESCO building because it is one of the best Gothic civil architecture buildings in Europe, dating from 1483.
Aross from it the Santos Juanes church, with a fabulous interior
and heavily guilded altar, certainly looked great for something built in the 1300's. As we walked through the downtown area, we came across an absolutely HUGE mass of people marching through the streets to protest the economic situation here.
Unemployment is about 25% here, and they are facing big cuts in education, health funding, social security, programs for the elderly, etc. We spoke to a young woman who told us that this was the 7th Sunday in a row they have marched and happily, these have been peaceful marches, unlike the riots in Greece when we were there last year. Near the area where the protesters were marching, there were beautiful fountains and buildings:
Just walking around the city, we were impressed with sculptures right in the middle of intersections:
Another long walk took us to the dry river bed circumventing the city which has been converted into beautiful gardens, walkways, playgrounds, strolling areas, dog parks, skating areas, grassy areas, etc and which was heavily used on this Sunday.
There is a huge complex of modern buildings called the City of Arts and Sciences where there is an opera house, music hall, oceanrium, laserium and planetarium, surrounded by marvelous pools, sculptures, and gardens.
There was a big playground area too, and here is a picture of it, with some of the typical apartment buildings behind it:
It takes hours to walk around here and every minute was delightful - and we didn't even have time to go into any of the buildings! Even the numerous bridges over the riverbed have nice architecture, flowers or sculptures. It was a wonderful day with perfect weather which was only marred by the long shuttle lines, due to the inefficiency of Royal Caribbean in the way they handled the entire bus situation. We also had time to stroll a bit with John and Julie Black and their 4 year old granddaughter, Tayler, after having breakfast with them too. They are old RV friends and they will be disembarking in Barcelona tomorrow.
I will post pictures once we get back to the USA.

Friday, April 13, 2012

4/13/12 Early tomorrow morning we will be driving to the Houston airport to catch our flight to New Orleans, where we will board the Voyager of the Seas. It will be the beginning of a 16 day transatlantic cruise to Barcelona, and we will be traveling with 9 of our good cruise friends: Roger & Martin, Jack, Sergio & Reuben, David & Diane, and Patrick and Daryl. There will also be some Boomer friends on board: John and Julie Black and their granddaughter, Tayler. In Barcelona, on April 30, we are meeting other Boomer friends, Bill and Gisela Pollock, for lunch. They are arriving on a different cruise ship the day before. Then we will get back on our ship and travel to several ports in Egypt, Jordan, going through the Suez Canal, and ending in Dubai. We will stay there 3 days with David and Diane, exploring the city before flying back to Houston on May 18. Then we will get our rig ready to travel again and keep heading east.
While waiting for this event, we have had a couple of experiences worth mentioning. Last Thursday we drove up to Nacogdoches to tour the Foretravel RV factory. They have been in business since 1967 and make some of the most highly regarded RVs in the industry. We had called ahead of time and they told us they had tours every Mon-Thurs at 10AM. Unfortunately, they don't communicate well at that company because after the guy loaded us up in the van and drove us over to the manufacturing plant, he discovered it was closed because it was the Thursday before Good Friday. Since we had driven 75 miles to get there, we were rather annoyed. So we looked through some of their new and used rigs before leaving to explore the town. Foretravel RVs have evolved into very large and luxurious units and they cost anywhere from $600K to $1.2 million. Here are some pictures of one of them:

Downtown Nacogdoches has a lot of history and has preserved a number of the old buildings all around the main town square. Sam Houston lived in Nacogdoches for four years prior to the Texas Revolution in 1836. Here is a picture of one of the sides of it:

Nacogdoches isn't a very big town, so we didn't spend much time there after all.
Last Monday we drove to Houston to see our cruise friends Duane & Dorothy McCarthy, and their friend Mary Townsend. After a pleasant hour of catching up on everyone's news over a glass of wine,

we went to lunch at a nearby Tex Mex place called Las Ventanas:

The food was very good, and so was the company! They will not be joining us on our upcoming cruise because they are taking one through the Panama Canal instead.
We have also been attending some of the movies here at the SKP park, which they have twice a week because a guy named Joe who stays here buys all the latest releases and shows them. Last night we watched the Swedish version of the second book in the Millennium series, "The Girl Who Played With Fire". It was engrossing. Joe has a very appropriate sticker on the back of his truck:

We will try to do some blog posts while we are gone for the next 35 days but it all depends on whether we find some free WiFi spots at the ports.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

4/3/12 Hello from humid Livingston. Yes, we are still at the SKP park here and yesterday we finally managed to get into West RV where they fixed our fridge. The tech said that the solenoid valve on RV fridges rarely goes out, but of course, ours did. So Elaine's troubleshooting skills are still intact, because that was the same conclusion she came to when she investigated this when it first occurred. Now it is functioning on propane, which is rather important for us because we boondock all the time. We have very little food in our fridge, because of the problem, but this is a good thing since we have to empty it out totally before leaving on our 35 day cruise and Dubai trip on the 14th. While we were driving to the repair place, the skies just opened up and we had very heavy rain, thunder and lightning for at least an hour while we waited for our tech to start fixing our rig. Today it is overcast again, with a drizzle, so maybe later on we will have more water works.
Luckily, Sunday was a lovely day in the mid 80's for our visit with my nephew David Exley, and his family down in Pearland, south of Houston. He is the oldest son of my twin sister, Marsha, who lives in Denver. It has been about 20 years since we last saw him, and I must say, he has developed into quite a nice, charming family man who also entertained us in fine style. We had never met his wife, Ann, or his kids, Brittany and Nick, but they were all delightful as well. Here is a picture of the family:

And here is a picture of David & Ann:

David grilled baby back ribs and chicken for us, while Ann made Colorado beans and a mixed salad. Here is David at the grill:

And here is the finished product before we all attacked it, with gusto!!!

Needless to say, everything was delicious and we enjoyed eating and chatting out in their lovely backyard:

David really reminds both Elaine and me of my brother, John. Here is a picture of me with him - can you see any family resemblance?

They also exposed us to a Texas beer, called Shiner Light Blonde, which we greatly enjoyed.
This week we are packing for our upcoming 31 days of cruising. Usually that also means going through our closets and drawers and organizing at the same time, something we really need to do. More rain is predicted, so it will be a good time to be inside with these chores.