Cruise the Med

New Newport News News: Cruise Wisdom edition


Here are a few of the things I've learned on my cruises:

  1. Always bring a power strip or hub.  Although newer ships and hotels have plenty of plugs, most do not.  It is tedious to have to share one plug between 2 or more electronic-age people.

  2. Although it is permitted, it is not worth carrying canned drinks aboard.  Even with these, it is hard to get enough to drink.  Make a conscious effort to drink.  Camping out in the Trough or a bar and refilling cup after cup is the strategy we adopted.  I took art or a computer and set up at a table for 2 hours drinking tea.  Onshore, you cannot be cheap.  Buy drinks, especially if you are swimming in salt water.

  3. Speaking of tea, the tea on most cruises is awful.  In future, I plan to take squirt sugar-freer lemonade and teabags.

  4. Never snorkel without eye drops in the kit.

  5. Do not bother to eat the lunch included in shore excursions.  Pack fruit, cheese and bread from your Trough breakfast.  Buy drinks.

  6. Always pack a goodly number of sandwich-size zipper baggies, for lunches and beach combing.  I collect sand from all my trips as well as a few shells, beach glass, etc.  (Be aware that if you do collect anything, it will be damp and should be left in the baggie open until the end of the cruise.)

  7. Apply sunscreen early and often.  The spray kind is much easier to deal with on the beach; pump spray rather than aerosol is best.  It’s up to you what level of protection, but if you’re in the tropics in winter, your skin is not ready for the intensity of the sun.  Take a tee-shirt or rash guard shirt; aloe burn cream is also a good idea.

  8. I pack 2 swimsuits.  Not only is this fun and lavish, but one can be drying while you wear the second.  Of course, they never really get dry, even hanging on the chairs on the balcony, but it’s less clammy at least.  Do not, however, bother to bring more than one coverup.  (It makes no sense to put on something clean if you’re beaching / swimming each day.  It’s another thing if you’re going to town, not the beach.)

  9. Pack your suitcase and then take out half.  If you're doing a lot of touring, you'll need clothes.  If you're doing the beach, fewer clothes.  It is lot of fun to bring something fancy, but everyday clothes can be held to a minimum.  However, you do need several pair of shoes: closed toes if you are going walking on an excursion (Behind the Scenes Ship Tour and Blue Holes tours require them); flip flops or beach shoes and nice shoes for formal nights.

  10. Pack plenty of toys for sea days.  The key to enjoying sea days is to be prepared.  Unless you like to drink and gamble, or play games with strangers, sea days can be a challenge.  I am into arts and crafts.  Ron is lost without a computer.   We usually indulge in a cabin with a balcony and spend the sea days playing and napping.  (But this is how you get dehydrated, without realizing it.)  We also bring ebooks and computer games.  The key is to have enough variety of things to do; and, if you are prone to seasickness, you might need to lie down doing them.  Gaming and reading might be nauseating, so be prepared with movies or TV shows. There is seldom  much to watch on ship's TV.  Motion sickness medicine often makes you drowsy and you might lose many hours napping.  Do not be upset about this!  Count it as part of your vacation and relax.

  11. Shows on the ship are always too loud, so bring ear plugs.  Shows vary a lot in quality, with some producers thinking volume can overcome lack of talent.  Still, the shows can be great fun and usually end a day nicely.  Often, there are 2 shows per evening, to follow early and late dining.

  12. Early / Late Dining vs "Your Own Time".  There are advantages to both.  With set-time dining you are seated at a table with 4-6 strangers with whom you can converse.  The service tends to be better.  With "Your Own Time" dining, you are usually seated with your own party, and will be seated in different places around the room.  This is nice for ogling other diners, but if you get tired of your cabin-mates’ conversation, you’ll be silent a lot.  [The dining room is loud, so conversation is a challenge in either case.]  Service can be painfully slow. with "Your Own Time" dining.

  13. Trough dining.  The Trough is good for breakfast and lunch.  Cruise ships are getting into small specialized restaurants, with different opening times.  There might be a pizza joint, hamburger place, Mexican, as well as extra cost dining options, like a steakhouse or sushi bar.  The only time I have ever paid extra for a meal on a cruise was when Ron and I went to The Chef’s Table, a very expensive multi-course meal with the head chef at the head of the table.  This was quite wonderful, and we are not even foodies.

  14. Take a walk around the ship.  Enjoy the decor, nooks and crannies, and games like ping-pong and putt-putt.  (Such games are truly pointless when the ship heaves and wallows.. therefore hilarious.)

  15. I have yet to try an onboard water park.  I must be too old.  You have to climb a lot to get to the top of the slide.  Pools are often too chlorinated to be enjoyable.  Hot tubs are usually very crowded.  But this is my personal hang up.

  16. Cruises often include evening movies on the pool deck.  Looks like great fun, seldom crowded, but the just haven’t shown anything I cared about seeing.

When it comes to booking shore excursions, there is a lot that goes into your choice.  Price, of course, but also value for money.  Some people arrange their own tours without going through the ship's excursions staff; I have never done this, because the ship usually guarantees that they will not sail without you if you book one of their tours.  We have had great times just walking from the ship around the port and have also been delighted with guided tours.  I find that it really pays to spend a lot of time making these choices.  The cost of a good guide book is paltry compared with a bad tour experience.

Any questions?

A VISIT TO THE GREAT EXHIBITION OF 1851

My parents began to travel to England every year when I went to college.  My dad loved to travel and my. Mother loved England.  After I was married to Ron Buckles for 3 years, we managed to have enough money to accompany my parents on one of their trips.  We did the basics and they did their own thing, but we often dined together.  In addition to Whitley Court, a small mom&pop restaurant serving British fare and breakfast anytime, my parents also showed us the local food market for fruit and “American walnuts! (what we call English walnuts!).  But this day we four went together by underground to the outskirts of London, aka the City.  Here is a vintage piece from my father.

A VISIT TO THE GREAT EXHIBITION OF 1851

In London, the Beth al Green Museum is an example of prefabricated cast iron and glass construction which was used for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (The Crystal Palace, which was the first World’s Fair.). This building was built in 1856 near the present site of the Victoria & Albert Museum as a temporary museum, but as the permanent building neared completion, it was taken apart, moved to Bethnal Green, and part together again on the present site, northeast of the City.  On the new site it was encased in brick and some slate was used on the roof.  On the outside the effect is much like any other brick building, but on the inside, the “modular” nature of the construction in 24 foot square sections with cast iron posts and beams, makes it easy to see how the Crystal Palace was constructed using as many “modules” or units as needed to get the enormous size.  The Crystal Palace was moved in a similar manner after the Great Exhibition and lasted until 1936 when it was destroyed by fire.

Bethnal Green Museum in 2019

         

In this museum, still a branch of the Victoria & Albert, the structure itself is one of the exhibits.  That was enough for me.  For Carol and Shirley, there were exhibits of doll houses, dolls and other old toys.  For Ron there was t he exhibit of Samurai swords and Japanese armor.  With all these attractions, we just had to visit it.

             In my aimless wandering over the whole place to inspect the bolted construction, I came upon glass cases filled with female figures dressed in dresses of olden times, in fact, the costume collection.  The eerie thought entered my head: “If these ladies are visiting the Great Exhibition today, I might as well do so too.”  So I set out to see the “wonderful manufactures of all nations.”  Soon I came upon a sideboard if elaborate design and nearby another not quite so fancy.  Alongside one were a couple of intricately carved and upholstered dining room chairs.  My Art Journal Illustrated Catalog described these sideboards as “Bookcases.”  Each was about 12 feet long and maybe 8 feet high.  The one made by M.M. Leister of Austria was given as a present from the Emperor of Austria to our Good Queen Victoria.  This one looked like a castle with very many towers and steeples of wood decorating the top.  The other less elaborate sideboard was not as high or as long, but still much too large for most village houses.

            As I moved along, continuing to inspect the Exhibition, I found things that didn’t fit.  The spell was broken and I was jerked back to 1974 from my little trip in time.
—Herbert J. Kerr

The Quest for the Sleeping Giant

From the Baron’s Feast, our small band struck out across the scrubland.  We were Arthur the Traveler, Davidus the Roman, Simon the Barbarian, Red Fang, Robin the Mage, Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee and Mistress Beth.  A number of not-to-be-named (for privacy reasons) intrepid souls accompanied us.  We could taste adventure in the very air and we were ready for it.

Mistress Beth Carpenter of Rye, ready for a feast


Arthur the Traveler at a very much younger age that in this story.


In 1995, the Baron’s Feast was again held in Irvine Regional Park.  If these quests ring a bell with you and you think you were one of the kids or parents of any, leave a comment below.  We have so very few photographs from these days, as film and processing were quite expensive in those days.

We were beset by Orcs immediately!  The smell of their blood was strong in the air, as they sprang from the trees by the wayside.  Our Vanguard and our Rearguard quickly dispatched them to their reward, whatever that might be for an Orc.

Orcs' blood smells like charcoal lighter fluid.

Arthur the Traveler, Andrew Buckles, doubled as the Ugly One of any band of enemies.  Davidus the Roman could be the Tall One in any crowd.  Simon the Barbarian was my son Simon.  Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee was Michelle Sevigny.  Others will retain their anonymity.  Mistress Beth Carpenter of Rye was me.


We traveled on.  For days we journeyed.  Finally climbing the steep bank ahead of us, we realized that it was a High Way, though no Village was within sight.  Only herds of cattle bore down upon us.  On one side of the High Way was the grassy plain we had just traversed; the other fell away into a vast plain of rocks, mayhap a riverbed, though scant water flowed there now.  As we traveled, we became aware of divers flowers lining the Way.  Mistress Beth recognized them as Enchanted Blooms that, when picked, cause the plunderer to fall into a Hundred Years Sleep!  All the travelers, even Robin the Mage, were advised to stay away.

Yes, flowers, just flowers.  But the kids wanted to pick them all, so the warning was issued.  The herds of cattle were families out on 4-person bikes.

Gazing into the vast expanse of rocks in the riverbed, we noted huge and weathered ribs, obviously Dragon ribs!  So this is what had become of the Dragon we had followed to his Cave last season!  Suddenly overhead, we could hear the roaring of another Dragon.  Mistress Beth reasoned that it must be the mate of the Dragon, roaring her grief.  But, as the day was overcast, we could only speculate.

Dragon bones might be mistaken for branches and limbs washed by the river last time it flowed.  The live dragon might be thought to be airplanes.

Whilst searching for a likely way to cross the riverbed, Andrew the Traveler helped all the weaker of us down the steep path descending toward the river.  As we walked aloaang the sandy riverside path, Arthur the Traveler discovered quicksand!  All passed safely, except Mistress Beth who, in typical fashion, became enmired.  But the Vanguard pulled and the Rearguard pushed, and she was saved.  Just beyond the quicksand, another band of orcs spotted the Vanguard, and all armed warriors rushed to defend the weapon less among us.  Defeat of the orcs was swift.  Robin the Mage, however, was struck down by the Orc Magician; with Death imminent, Mistress Beth located the necessary curative herb and Robin was restored!

As we rounded a bend in the riverbed, we came upon a huge grave!  Easily 20’ long, it was clearly the grave of a giant.  We deduced that it was the grave of a female by the weathered comb, with the straggling strands of her hair still upon it!  We all spread out to search for a marker on the grave.  Mistress Beth discovered the name “Lara” inscribed on an upright stone.

The grave of Lara was an eroded mound in the riverbed, deposited by the river in flood.  While the children were searching around, Mistress Beth inscribed the name on an handy stone with chalk, and then “discovered” it.  Lara’s comb was a bleached branch and her hair the grasses caught upon it.

Imagine then the thrill of our shock when we traveled to the very head of the grave and discovered the skull of the giantess, weeping over her own grave; her huge snaggle teeth bit into the riverbed and the tears that ran down her fleshless cheeks flowed into the river.  A more horrible sight can only be imagined.

The weeping skull of Lara was part of the roadbed / bridge over the riverbed, where culverts allow the water through.  Built of large stones concreted together, two openings allowed the flow of “tears” and the stones were easily giant’s teeth.

We deduced that the giantess had been slain, and lay unavenged, though half-buried.  With a shudder of terror, we marched on, now knowing that it lay upon us to avenge Lara, lest she take her revenge upon us.  Hurrying away from the morbid scene, we hastened toward the deep woods beyond the river.  In our haste, we neglected to keep our usual watch and were beset by terrible brigands, screaming curses and waving their blood- thirsty swords about their heads!  Though terror stricken, our small band rallied bravely and began to defend ourselves.  The battle that followed was horrific in its fierceness.  Robin the Mage had seen Death Marks earlier, and we only had hope that the death foretold was that of the evil brigands and not of our band.

As the brigands attacked, all our band was laid senseless, saving only the very young Elizabeth, whose courage and quick barrage of blows saved our motley band.  She rained metal death upon the tallest of the evil pair, and then she moved on to the ugly one.  The ensuing fight was long and fierce and a deadly dance of death.  But in the end, the ugly one’s body lay uglier still in a pool of his own gore.  Our band recovered from our swoons and moved on.

We reached the foot of an enormous mountain, so tall as to block out the sun.  Suddenly, from the shadows, emerged two fierce warriors, defenders of the giant, brandishing polearms of prodigious length!  Again young Elizabeth came to our rescue!  Her slight height enabled her to duck beneath the polearm of the taller of the warriors, slicing his belly like a pig at autumn slaughter.  With determination, she beat back the ugly warrior, dispatching him with a resounding blow to the head.  And again, she saved the day!

The sleeping giant was the hill itself, cliffs across the river in the park.  It really is a steep climb with a wonderful view.  Arthur and Davidus gave us battle once more, no longer as orcs.

But our quest had an amazing ending.  As we approached the mountain, we came to realize that it was the actual body of the giant, Lara’s husband, sound asleep, believing himself protected by his minion warriors.  As a band, we swarmed up his mighty arm to the top of his shoulder, and looked out at the world, from this commanding height.  Woe to the Evildoer and high praise to the avenging band!  With pure heart, firm in our faith in the justice of our cause, but with no joy in the killing, each of the band took sword in hand and, with enormous effort, hacked at the neck of the giant.  It fell to Simon the Barbarian to strike the final, yea, even the death blow.  The giant lay lifeless beneath us.  The rivers of reeking blood ran from his evil heart to soak the ground for miles around.

Upon leaving the crimson scene of death and revenge for Lara, we saw a black crow upon a white rock, an unmistakable portent of our success—Lara’s messenger from the World Beyond, telling us now that she lay at rest.  We made our way camp ward, exhausted but elated by our quest.


The quests here described were undertaken with the children of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Kingdom of Caid, Barony of Guildenholt, the the mid-1990s, when I was the head of the children’s group, the Caidan Crescents.  Our quests were completely unscripted and followed whatever landscape or activity we chanced across.  I had not read any Tolkien, though it sure sounds like it.  This was my attempt using similar fairy tale sources as his.  Needless to say, I had not read "A Game of Thrones" either.  We really did see a crow.
I wrote these stories after the event and gave copies to the parents of the participants.  In the SCA, Caid is Southern California, Gydenholt is Orange County; if you are interested in playing dress-up and medieval role playing, go to www.sca.org
Shadow of my former self

The Quest for the Dragon’s Cave

The quests here described were undertaken with the children of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Kingdom of Caid, Barony of Guildenholt, the the mid-1990s, when I was the head of the children’s group, the Caidan Crescents.  Our quests were completely unscripted and followed whatever landscape or activity we chanced across.  I had not read any Tolkien, though it sure sounds like it.  This was my attempt using similar fairy tale sources as his.  I wrote these stories after the event and gave copies to the parents of the participants.  In the SCA, Caid is Southern California, Gydenholt is Orange County; if you are interested in playing dress-up and medieval role playing, go to www.sca.org

The Quest for the Dragon’s Cave

From the Baron’s Feast, our small band struck out through the woods.  We were Arthur the Traveler, Simon the Barbarian, White Fang the Ninja, Matt, Robbie, He Who Was Nameless and Lady Beth Carpenter of Rye.  We could taste adventure in the very air and we were ready for it.

These pictures are a few years earlier, but give a little SCA flavor.  Both are at previous Baron's Feasts.
 

The Baron’s Feast was held in Irvine Regional Park in the spring of each year.  Arthur the Traveler was my son Andrew.  Simon he Barbarian was my son Simon.  White Fang the Ninja was Michelle Sevigny.  Robbie was Robbie Morris.  The others I knew not then or now.  Lady Beth was me.  The real year was 1994.

After a long march, wherein we became acquainted, we spotted the Magic Caterpillar, whose sentience diverged our path sharply to the right.  There, through the ordinary trees, we spied the Tree of Life itself!  All the Band took our turns climbing the tree to gain its beneficence and, thus fortified, we continued our journey.

The Magic Caterpillar was a non-mage.  We took our direction from the way he was heading.  The Tree of Life was a huge live oak with many low branches.

Almost at once we chanced upon a Sage Bush in full bloom.  Each of the Band was given the chance to identify the fragrance, but none could, except Lady Beth, whose kitchen experience far outweighed everyone else’s.

Thereupon, we rejoined our journey, through league after league of forest and scrub land, occasionally hearing the mighty roar of the Dragon from on high.


The Dragon was represented by numerous airplanes following their normal flight path.


Imagine our surprise then, as we broke through the woods to behold a Village of Strangers, clad in the most amazingly brief garments we had ever beheld.  We caught them at their revels, bent on executing a gaudily dressed person hanged by the neck from a tree!  Before we could intervene, a village child struck a mighty blow with his quarterstaff; we were mightily relieved to discover the person was made of paper stuff and was filled with treats. We were unable to communicate with the Strangers, as they spoke an outworldly tongue.  We made use of the Village necessary rooms and drank from the foul waters of their fountain, and forthwith, traveled on.

The Village of Strangers was a group of Hispanic people celebrating with a piñata.


Our eyes then beheld a fair green meadow, rising gently toward the distance.  It was here that we first saw the Dragon as he patrolled the skies, roaring his anger with putrid breath!  All undertook to follow the Dragon to his lair and we forthwith crossed the meadow and gazed from its further most hill a vast and scorched lakebed.  White Fang understood, and explained that the lake had been dried up by the evil Dragon!

The vast lakebed is in fact a dry streamed in the park, not so very vast.

There was naught for it but to cross the forbidding landscape.  We undertook this task with sinking heart; the blazing sun beat down, parching us and the deadly lakebed.  Halfway across, Lady Beth became aware of a miracle: in draining and drying the lake, the Dragon had magicked many of the stones thereunder!  Our noble Band then set about collecting one or more of the Magic Stones.  There were pink stones, striped stones, flat stones, big stones and little stones.  All were imbued with a Magic most powerful.

Upon achieving the other side of the vast lakebed, our nostrils were assailed by the terrible, putrid, foreboding stench, by which portent, we knew that we were near our Goal.

The putrid stench was caused by several very ripe dumpsters.

After a long slog across a strangely quiet, sandy plain, we saw the cliff on top of which the Dragon ruled his Kingdom.  On the side of the cliff was his empty Cave and we knew that we could climb his Throne with impunity.  After holding aloft our Magic Stones, we placed them at the foot of the imposing cliff, in a Magic Pile, on top of the Comet Shield of Simon the Barbarian.  Thus disarmed, we made our way straight up the Dragon’s Throne.  Standing guard within the very Cave of the Dragon, Arthur the Traveler protected our flank as we climbed.

The Throne of the Dragon was the cliffs that rise across the river from the main park.  They really did offer a wonderful view.  Andrew declined the climb and stayed with our stuff.

After a strained and parched climb up the very staircase of the world, our hearty Band achieved the top of the Throne of the Dragon and beheld, away in the distance, the whole length of our momentous journey!  This will indicate to the astute the height of our ascent

The even more asture will realize we hadn't come so very far.

After a time of rapt gazing, we then made our perilous way down the cliff face, to join joyously again with Arthur the Traveler, and to retrieve our Magic Stones and weapons.

We then retraced our steps across the parched lakebed, across the green sloping meadow, and thence to our native Village, where we drank our fill and were greeted by our fond families.  (Had they given up hope of ever seeing us again?)
Ocean Wake

New Newport News News: Caribbean edition

Theresa [my daughter-in-law] and I have itchy feet; we really really want to travel.  Destination not that critical.  Having reefs and fishes, though really fires us up.  So, itchy feet in flippers?

This is our second cruise to the Caribbean together within 2 years.  We were pretty sure we would get on ok since we had several 5 -person family trips under our belts.  Theresa’s co-workers asked her if she was going with her mother-in-law “on purpose.”

The thing is, we are comfortable with each other’s silence. I have concluded that that is even more important than a sense of humor, which we also share.  And she tolerates my snoring!

[Ron and I have been twice together to the Bahamas.  The same paragraph above applies to us.]

Theresa and I were quite pleased this time to have 3 snorkel days.  Last trip we had a day in Port Canaveral FL, where we saw alligators, had some beach time and shopped.  Great fun, but no snorkeling.


Alligator Farm 2017


But this time, we had a stop in Princess Cays.  As there was no dock for the ship, Carnival Pride stood out in the bay, and passengers took a large water taxi ashore to a gorgeous beach resort, owned and operated by the cruise company and leased from Eleuthera Island, Bahamas.  We took a bus tour of the lower part of the island and then were dumped for 5 hours at the beach.

The tour took us to 2 “blue holes”.  These are ocean pools in the middle of land; there are a lot of them in Mexico.  Since I never want to go to Mexico again, I was thrilled to have this chance to see blue holes.  These were not really blue, although the guide told us they are from the air.  Algae grows on the rocks, and fish live in them.  Jacques Cousteau dived these 2 and found no bottom.  Meaning they pierce the island all the way to the ocean.  So the blue holes are tidal as well as briny.  The first hole, “boiling Hole”, was our favorite, as there was a cave system attached.  Some blue holes are formed when a cave roof collapses.  This looked like the case with Cathedral Cave.  The remaining roof was pierced with windows of all sizes and 30 foot roots from the weeping fig [?] trees above.  Tiny bats were hanging in the darker grottoes and the acidic small of guano was present but not unpleasantly so. The other blue hole, Ocean Hole, had no cave but had lots of large fish, and small boys, swimming.

30' roots in Cathedral Cave



Ocean Hole with fish



Returning the Cays, we headed directly for the ocean side of the resort, set up near the lifeguard and got his advice on where to snorkel.  He actually walked over once we were going in, to show us in person!  We needed the guidance; the tide was going out and the nearest reef rocks were very near the surface.  Theresa had learned how, once you put on the flippers, to walk backwards into the water.  This is awkward as all get-out, but much more dignified than trying to walk face first.  [Which often cause you to fall on your face.]   Snorkel vests were a requirement on this beach.  Not much inflation is needed, but the vest helps keep you from being swamped by waves or people splashing.  We both had corrective lens swim masks.  We began to swim in mere inches of water, and nearly kissed the rocks a few times, but I pride myself that we looked at least competent.


Competent?



I’ve been in training at our health club for 18 months, with fins, snorkel and swim gloves.  This paid off very well indeed.  The water was cold enough and rough enough that I needed my swim aids.  But OH, THE FISH!!!

Yellow, electric blue, indigo, purple, striped, spotted, narrow, wide and everything in between fish swam beneath us.  I saw tiny fish cleaning bigger ones at “service stations.”  These are coral clumps where the tiny fish are protected and the larger fish a hover to get mites and dead skin removed.  Purple fan coral, brain coral and dozens of ugly brown coral flourished.  The limestone rocks were covered in a soft brown fur of algae.  There were little lollipop shaped coral (?) growing.  The rocks were often cut away beneath, leaving fish-sized caves to hide in.





I am very noisy breathing through my snorkel, so many of the fish were leery of me.  But few were really afraid, and they let us float over them.  Theresa actually reached out and touched them, and  picked up hands-ful of hermit crabs!  We spent an hour in amazement, before raging thirst drove us to shore.

We had a rather nasty lunch (included) and lots to drink ($).  I also bought some spray-on sun screen, as we were reluctant to rub lotion into the sand all over us.  Then right back into the ocean.

The tide was even further out and we really had to thread our way among the boulders to get out to the deeper waters.  There were actually fewer fish out and about; perhaps there was too much sun in shallow water for them.  Still an amazing show.

With about 1 1/2 hours to go, we just had time to swim the shallow lagoon, knowing there would be few fish and lots of capering kids.  But we discovered that the far side of the lagoon had rocks and reefs in very shallow water, but was swimmable.

I was puttering around, when a moving shape caught my eye; it was an octopus!!!  It’s amazing how I could yell “oh my God!!” 15 times under water, and hear myself.  (Not blasphemy, it was a prayer of gratitude!)  About 8” of octopus was visible, but it squished into a crevice until only the eye, with the distinctive lambda shape was visible.  I hovered there so long that Theresa came over to see if I was dead, and so she saw the eye as well.  But he would not come out.

We motored back to the ship, exhausted but triumphant.
Cruise the Med

New Newport News News: Barcelona Spain edition

Not to brag, but we have been to Barcelona many times.  Fortunately, it is a cool place to visit.  Many cruise ships put in there and the harbor is new and ready for company.  Barcelona is more French than Spanish, but more Spanish that French; it is Catalan.  The language is a “Franish” blend which is easy for me since I took Spanish in high school and French in college [dumb move] and now speak a blend of neither.  The Catalan people want to secede from Spain and I guess if they could join the European Union, they could make it. But the Spanish do not want to let them go.  Barcelona is famous for Salvador Dali, Joan Miró and Antoni Gaudí, all surrealists of note.  Each has a museum in town.  We have been to none of these.  Antoni Gaudí has done a lot of wonderful architecture in Barcelona, which is very much worth seeing.

But on our other visits, we had seen his buildings, and the major museums and had a wonderful ramble over Montjuic, which is a mountain-sized park, with a cliff-side cemetery.  The Martime Museum is also superb.

We caught a shuttle from the ship into town and wandered through some familiar terrain, enjoying our memories.  The street market there at the harbor has grown exponentially and is now ‘enhanced’ by illegal vendors from North Africa hawking pirated designer knock-offs.  I’m sure you recall the Marine Corps hymn “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli…”  This refers to the battle action of the Marines taking on nests of North African pirates on the Barbary Coast in the early 1800s.  Wikipedia has an interesting history; I recommend a quick read.  The Barbary pirates, however, are now in Spain and hard at work selling tennis shoes and purses.

Our agenda was to see the Museum of World Cultures on Calle de Moncada, very close to where we had tickets for a Flamenco show.  This turned out to be a superb choice.


Museu Etnologic de Barcelona


This is a world-class museum, rather small, but with one near-perfect specimen from every major culture on earth.  From approximately the last 3-400 years, anyway.  [<museuculturesmon.bcn.cat>]   Housed in 2 medieval manors [Casa Marqués de Llió and Casa Nadal], this is a must-see in Barcelona.  Here are just a few photos—

Guinea, Africa: helmet head dress Nlo-o-ngo 20th century AD
 


Australia: kunapipi fertility dancers on bark cloth, 20th Century AD

India: head of the bodisattva Maitreya, 1-3 century AD



We had a dinner of tapas [modest size dishes, almost hors d’oeuvres, which combine to make a meal.  You order as many as you wish, á la carte] for me and paella for Ron.  Barcelona is a young, trendy town, so people- watching out the window of our restaurant was fun.  There were a couple of slot machines near the kitchen, so Ron had some excitement.  And, of course, no Spanish folks were dining so early.
Yummy

Our final flourish on this cruise was to attend a Flamenco performance.  Years ago, I had read James A. Michener’s Iberia; he was a great fan of the art, and described the meanings and history very well.

Housed in another medieval casa on the Montcada, the Palau Dalmases, the troupe promised an authentic flamenco. Ron had done a lot of searching online to find this one.

Palau Dalmases courtyard



The dancers, singer and musicians are completely without set themes or musical score.  In this sense, flamenco is like jazz, where everyone improvises.  Flamenco, though the name means “flaming”, is actually full body blues.  It is an art form begun among gypsies in Spain.  I don’t believe these are Romanay gypsies, but indigenous wandering people.  The women are the chief artists, although we had a male guitarist and drummer.  The singer cannot be said to ‘sing’ but rather to emote passionately with her voice, more like a jazz saxophonist, say, than a torch singer.

The dancers [we saw 2] were extraordinary; led by their emotions generated by the singer—and feeding back to her—they move so fast, they are literally a blur.  The facial expression is one of pain and intensity.  Traditional hand gestures, clapping by the singer and the dancers, hard-soled heeled shoes and elaborate tight dresses completed the magic and intensity.



No camera can keep up with the speed


While in college, Ron and I went on our third-ever date together to a flamenco show.  It was lovely dancing, vibrant costumes and men in tight pants, but it was nothing like this.  That was a show for an audience.  This night in Barcelona was a group experience, where we were so tuned in that we felt tense and tired just from watching.  Wow.





     
Cruise the Med

New Newport News News: Toulon France edition

We planned a low key day in Toulon.  We had just completed 3 intense days in Italy, and though Monaco was a fairly quiet day, we didn’t have the stamina to board a bus for the Riviera or Provence.
So we went to the ship board port talk, got a map, and set our agenda.  Coming into port the next morning was amazing.  Toulon has been an important port forever, and I have read about it’s glory days in Napoleon’s time.  The approach takes a long time, as the harbor is enormous, with all shapes and sizes of islands providing lee protection to literally thousands of boats and ships.


Franch Navy in Toulon



Toulon from the sea
 


We had a very leisurely breakfast, while the madding crowds debarked.  We walked ashore, heading toward the Cours de Lafayette street market, and whatever fate put in our path.  Toulon is charming, filled with wonderful funky shops and the street market is fabulous.  Though mostly fresh produce, there were also handmade soaps, toys, purses, clothing and the like.  Nicer than a flea market—an upscale farmer’s market.

Street market



Famous French cheeses



We found ourselves in a wonderful shop with Christmas figurines; these are called Santos [saints] and are very popular around the Catholic Mediteranean.  These were exquisite and therefore expensive; hard to justify when my best friend hand made my crèche.  We then discovered we were in the shop for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Chair.  [It seems to refer to the bishop's seat, which is what a cathedral is, by definition]

So we walked around the block, through a charming pocket piazza with a fountain.  The church is beautiful, though not terribly old.  A very nice brochure guided us through the chapels and art works.  We were very impressed with this high altar sculpture.


The Virgin ascends to heaven



Continuing on, we looped through a Napoleonic-era drawbridge and through a large shopping mall.  We bought a few things at Carrefours, the French grocery.  Toulon is home to many many Muslims [as it has been for centuries], but French law dictates that their faces must be uncovered.


Drawbridge in the old city walls






Stop for refreshments



We elected to eat at the ship’s trough2 for lunch and then spend a lazy time on our balcony watching the scene.  It was very windy and many a fine sailing yacht, with many a perhaps less-that-fine crew were struggling to dock.  An official in a motor launch was going from one to another helping, advising and sometimes getting on board and taking over.  He had to tow one yacht in.  It was an excellent example of the 3 laws of sailing: keep the water out, keep the people in and keep the boat off the ground.  Sounds so easy!

“Yachts in the wind / all we are is yachts in the wind…”  Right, Kansas?

________________________________________________________________
N4: 135 Toulon France edition
1 Cousin Vinny’s: a stop on a bus tour that involves a store, often with a demo of what they make there and a long opportunity to purchase.  Always includes restrooms.
2 Trough: an all –you-can -eat buffet.  Always looks more delicious than it is.
3 CTC is Cheap Tourist  Crap.  It is not necessary inexpensive.  Often to be found in Cousin Vinny stores.  One must sort through and can sometimes find treasures.
4 The Euro was about $1.25
Cruise the Med

New Newport News News: Florence Italy edition

We got a bus [not a tour] from the ship to Florence, though we had to park about a mile away, on the banks of the Arno River.  Someday, I would love to stroll the banks of this romantic place with my lover.

Arno River



But, we had a tight schedule, with only 5 hours!  We walked at my fastest pace to the Duomo in the heart of Florence.  This is quite simply stunning.  The Medici family built this enormous church and paid for most of it with their enormous wealth.  The Medici family were bankers at a time when bankers were not supposed to charge interest to other Christians.  They probably didn’t, in the strictest sense, but money and position came their way from the important people they loaned to.  There were Medici family members all over Europe in the Renaissance, doing business with letters of credit.  By the mid-1500s a Medici daughter married royalty in France.

The Duomo is Italian in the sense that there is no square inch of its exterior that has gone undecorated.  But its huge size makes it majestic rather than busy-busy.  It is meant to overwhelm.


The Duomo of Florence
   

Our plans did not allow us the time to go inside, but we had as leisurely snack at one of the tables crowded around the Duomo.  This struck me as very appropriate, since merchants have always set up in the shadow of the great churches.  Commerce hasn’t changed in 5000 years [or so].

Shopping our way across town from the Duomo, we discovered that the Ponte Vecchio [Old Bridge; one of the 4 remaining shopping-bridges in Europe] had shops selling gold, silver and precious stones.  Makes sense, since the rent must be sky-high on the bridge.  We did manage a bit of shopping, just not the gold and silver…


Ponte Vecchio



Our goal was the Pitti Palace, where I have long wanted to have a pity party.  Sadly, the photo of me pity-partying didn’t really turn out, since the palace it is so very larger and I am [relatively] very small.


Poor me...


We had an excellent lunch right across the street.  I was very proud of myself; I ordered a Caprese panino, which was not on the menu.  I had just enough Italian to ask. Caprese is the fabulous combo of tomato, basil and mozzarella and panino means sandwich.  I pointed to my choice of bread.

mmmmmmmm



Thus fortified, we bee-lined for the Uffizi Gallery, where we had timed tickets to get in.  I really like this trend in museums.  Rather than making everyone stand in line, you can buy a ticket for a certain time online. Usually, once you’re in there is no set time to leave, although we found that the Borghese in Rome boots you out after 2 hours.

Someday, though, I would dearly love to return to Florence to actually visit the Pitti Palace, as it is crammed with famous art.  But we had studied long and hard and made the choice to visit the Uffizi Gallery.

The Uffizi is a family estate, like so many of the great art museums in Europe.  In fact, in the USA, the Getty, Huntington, Guggenheim and Rockefeller families have done the same.  When you are rich enough, your private collection needs curating and then you figure you ‘might ought to’ share with the hoi poloi.  [this is a Greek work for the many, the people].

  Among the incredible works here on display is Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” / “Primavera” and a half dozen more.  Several paintings by Veronese, El Greco, Caravaggio [our fave] were grouped by artist.  Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” was there.  Bronzino’s “Lucrezia Panchiatichi” intrigues me because I flatter myself that she looks like a younger me.



Fiortino’s “Musical Cherub” which adorns just about every syrupy Valentine’s card is much better in person.  Rubens, Rembrandt and Raphael vied for attention.  I am coming to admire Raphael, the more of his works I see.  I think he was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci [several of whose works were also displayed] but IMO, Raphael surpasses Leonardo in clarity and soul.  There, I said it.

We really had to hotfoot it through, leaving scorch-marks on the floors.  But we saw it ALL!

My pet peeve these days is people who stand back from a work of art and take a cell phone picture of it.  WHY??  You can look at all the pictures of pictures you want on the internet and in books.  When I travel thousands of miles to see a work, I want to see the brush strokes and the thickness of the paint!  So I am a jerk and go right up to the piece and take off my glasses and LOOK.  This, of course, ticks off all the people with their phones, but I DON”T CARE!

Oh, yes, Florence is still on my list of places I’d like to go to.  A half-day visit is simply not enough; this city, poised as it was between the Middle Ages [the dukes and bankers still engaged in tournaments] and the Modern Age [the Medici’s pan-Europe banking empire combined with a love of art and a desire to “give back”] deserves at least a week of exploring and museum going.  And the food’s good too.
Cruise the Med

New Newport News News: Monaco edition

Monaco is one of those teensy weensy nation-states of which Europe used to be composed.  I believe that the European Union is a better solution to the duchies, kingdoms and republics than the 19th century nations ever were.  The overall union allows a more tribal approach; you could argue that Europe is more of a melting pot than the USA was, as wave after wave of conquerors and refugees, fleeing before them, swept from East to West.  And, in many ways, continued sweeping across the Atlantic Ocean to create the USA.

The principality of Monaco has a town in it called Monte Carlo.  This town is where Prince Albert lives [in a can?] and just below the palace is the Casino.  We really didn’t care much about either.  There were tours, but to even tour [not gamble in] the Casino was €18 4.


Monte Carlo [Charles Mountain]



We had just finished 3 glorious, grueling days of touring, so we opted to take a late, leisurely breakfast and go ashore well after the mad rush.  We were being tendered at this port, but we left so late, we didn’t even need to get a ticket ashore.  The tenders were just running back and forth by the time we wanted to go ashore.

We had spent some lovely time lounging on our tiny balcony, watching the incredible ocean yachts arrive and anchor.  I can’t even imagine the cost of these yachts.  I went online for a guesstimate and all the ones listed are tiny in comparison.  These were at least 150 feet in length; 5 decks above the waterline; garage opening in the bow for the shore boat; 5 or more crew; diving platform at the stern.  For those of you who have been to Catalina, off California, those are shore-boats compared to these yachts.  I’ve seen one or two of these yachts off the Greek Isles, but not a fleet like this.


Helipad on one of the yachts                 The dark rectagle at the stern is the garage door for the shore boat
                     



I am not jealous.  I cannot even imagine the wealth required to own such a bauble, nor would I want to have that responsibility.  OK, I did wonder what it would be like…

Did I own one, I certainly would not heave to in Monaco in such a ship.  I would find somewhere utterly deserted.  But then, the wealthy love to be seen.

The harbor of Monaco is like a major highway, with a stoplight to control traffic in and out.  Our ship was not even anchored, but was using the thrusters at station-keeping to hold position.  Most of the yachts were anchored out in the bay; hence the need for shore-boats.  But our little tenders and other vessels made for the enclosed harbor.  It is a very busy place.


Tender away!



We off-loaded at a tourist dock, nicely set up for the lower sort of mortal confined to a cruise ship.  We strolled a little ways along the harbor.

Our means being modest, we boarded a small ferry that took us across the harbor for €2 each.  We enjoyed the little trip, getting the lay of the land—and the lay of layers of houses and hotels tumbling all the way down the mountain to the edge of the harbor.  And they’re still building at the edge.


From the mountain to the sea




Our plan was to walk around the harbor, looking at shops, etc, at a leisurely pace.  We perused condos and apartments listed for sale [millions to buy, thousands a month to rent] I  a brokerage window.  Yachts for sale [ditto].  Interspersed were practical places: ships stores, engine repair shops—and a wonderful 2 storey grocery store.  Here I purchased “Lange de Chat” [=cat’s tongue] cookies at €1,31, a souvenir Documents de Santé [health documents] folder at €1; and a few gifts.  It was delightful.

Along the way, we noted 2 life sized bronze statues to the previous winners of the annual Grand Prix auto race.  There are apparently dozens of these around town.  I noted the loving detail of the autos, compared to the casting of the drivers, and decided what was considered important.


Man and Machine



We continued our walk around the harbor, noting the €8 cokes [declined], and looked at the elevator in the car park by which we could go up Monte Carlo.  We could walk around looking at the streets and gardens.  But we could not bring ourselves to care!  So we completed our circuit, boarded the tender and returned to the ship.  I went to the bar to indulge myself in limitless diet cokes, as had become my custom.

And, even though the ship remained in Monaco until midnight, we stayed on our balcony, enjoying the view and resting our feet.


__________________________
N4: 134 Monaco edition
1 Cousin Vinny’s: a stop on a bus tour that involves a store, often with a demo of what they make there and a long opportunity to purchase.  Always includes restrooms.
2 Trough: an all –you-can -eat buffet.  Always looks more delicious than it is.
3 CTC is Cheap Tourist  Crap.  It is not necessary inexpensive.  Often to be found in Cousin Vinny stores.  One must sort through and can sometimes find treasures.
4 The Euro was about $1.25
Metro station, Rome

New Newport News News: Rome Italy edition

There’s no place like Rome….there’s no place like Rome….there’s no place like Rome…

Click your ruby slippers and you’ll be there!  Well, if you fly across the Atlantic, across Europe, over the Alps and southerly a bit.

We have visited Rome several times, but had never been to the Vatican.  The main reason is the crowds and craziness.  This trip, we determined to bite that bullet, guessing what to expect [based on our crowd experience of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia].  We signed up for a bus tour offered by the ship; rather expensive, but we knew that [a] it’s a long way from Civitavecchia [chee-vee-ta-VECK-ya]  harbor into the city and [b] they’d get us back on time.  The also took us to lunch, as a group.

First off, we enjoyed the 1 ½ hour trip through wonderful, fruitful fields of sunflowers and field corn.  Old farm houses dot the landscape, many of them almost fortresses, built around a courtyard.  Wonderful umbrella pines crop up on the horizon; these are all over Rome and nothing makes me feel like we’re in Rome than these trees.  We came in on the major highway, which has traced the exact route for at least a thousand years.  It leads past the imposing basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Wall, the site of his execution and burial.  It is by no means the original building, so we haven’t made a point to go there, but I’d like to.

The basilica is indeed right outside the walls of Rome, which do not exist anymore, except for a section here and there.  There is a pyramid tomb embedded in the Roman wall.

Our Vatican tickets were for 1 pm, so we got a city tour first.  We have done this very tour at least twice, but it’s always fun; our biggest surprise was the extensive rebuilding of the Colosseum!  When we last saw it, in 2011 it was still very much a ruin, having served for centuries as a stone quarry and earthquake attractor.  They had re-built a section of  the performance floor, to show how it would have looked.  Now, they have edged the most prominent ruined wall with sturdy brick.  I assume the brick will support the rotten stone, yet be very clear what’s ancient and what’s not.  And, as the ancient Romans used a lot of brick with stone, it’s appropriate.

We all lunched on a side street, in a tiny restaurant clearly made to feed busloads of people quickly, but well.  No choice: salad, lasagna, red wine and trifle for dessert.  I thought it was charming and efficient, but many on our tour grumbled about it.

And on we went to see the Vatican.  I am of more than 2 minds about the Vatican.  First off, I was highly amused, remembering Pope Francis telling the US that we shouldn’t build a wall on our border, yet the Vatican is completely walled and guarded by soldiers.  You’ll read more of my minds below.

This tour was a taste, and only a tiny taste of what’s in the Vatican.  Our guide stressed those things she cared about and slid over the rest.  She spent ½ hour in the sun explaining what we were going to see in the Sistine Chapel, but failed to mention the smaller cycles of frescoes by Sandro Botticelli, lower on the walls.  She told us the categories of Greek statues, as delineated by Johan Winkelmann, but failed to point out the Apollo Belvidere, the most exquisite Roman copy of a Greek bronze [now lost] in the world.  She dragged us through a long chamber of hand-painted maps from the Renaissance, when the church was at the peak of its power—who cares?  All the while, it was wall-to-wall people, as desperate as we were to see the treasures.  Our guide fussed and fussed about keeping up.


Apollo Belvidere



We had 10 minutes in the Sistine Chapel.  It was actually enough.  There were stern guards keeping people from stopping right in the doorway and pointing out the steps.  All around the wall, there was a bench and I was able to find a spot and just look from there, rather than wander around craning my neck.  [no photos allowed]

To say it is wonderful is the truth.  But I have never been that big of a fan of Michelangelo; I am not fond of the over-blown musculature of all the figures.   If there were simply the Creation of Adam, that would be enough.  The rest is gratuitous, IMO.  But, then, I’m not Pope Julius.

The restoration has been a wonderful success.  I have seen photos of the grimy, dingy state of the ceiling before the 1980-84 cleaning.  The vibrant colors are much more what I would expect of the early 1500s.

I do love Sandro Botticelli!  He was often a painter of mythology, such as his “Birth of Venus.”  So these side walls’ religious theme, exquisite and delightful, surprised me.  One wall holds the cycle of the story of Moses, the LAW, while the other, the cycle of the life of Jesus, the WORD.  Oh, how I wish I could have got closer!

Then we were trotted over to the basilica proper, where our guide did let us wander about a bit.  I spotted the old bronze statue of St. Peter, which is supposed to be right above his tomb in the catacombs below.  There was a short line to see it, and I went over.  I then realized people were humbly touching the feet of the statue and that so many pilgrims had done so, the both feet are worn half away.  This awed me; the thought of 1500 years of pilgrims, all in line, to pay homage to the simple fisherman whose faith brought the news of Christ to us all.  I touched his feet also, thinking about the time Jesus had washed his feet.  Peter would be quite uncomfortable with this whole ritual, but it was meaningful to me [and thousands of others].


St. Peter statue, right above his tomb
.



In another side chapel is the Pieta by Michelangelo.  This is the one statue of his that moves me: the beauty of the Virgin, so young and pure, holding the dead body of her Son, grieving, yet knowing all the while why it happened.  It is as perfect as anything here on earth.  It moved me when I was 11 and saw it at the New York World’s Fair in 1964; it brought me to tears this time.


Pieta


The basilicais so big and so Baroque; lavish and unapologetic; politically motivated; a showcase of power and ego.  But it also the church built on the spot that Peter was martyred.

The facade of St. Peter's Basilica.
Also the facade of Ron Buckles                     Swiss Guard

         


As we finished up and made our way outside, past some very spiffy Swiss guards in their 16th century uniforms, I mused on the irony of the fact that the building of this cathedral, to showcase the power of the pope in Rome, led directly to Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral.  Pope Leo had come up with the scheme to sell indulgences for sin all over Europe to raise the funds to complete this edifice.

Don't you hear the voices of your dead parents and other relatives crying out, "Have mercy on us, for we suffer great punishment and pain. From this, you could release us with a few alms . . . We have created you, fed you, cared for you and left you our temporal goods. Why do you treat us so cruelly and leave us to suffer in the flames, when it takes only a little to save us? 4


Any other pope, I believe, would have managed to absorb Martin Luther and the others back into the church, as Pope Gregory IX did the radical Francis of Assisi.  But there stood the mighty St. Peter’s Cathedral and there I stood a Baptist.  Such is the legacy.  Will Jesus bring his church back together?  Only He knows when.






N4: 132 Rome Italy edition
1 Cousin Vinny’s: a stop on a bus tour that involves a store, often with a demo of what they make there and a long opportunity to purchase.  Always includes restrooms.
2 Trough: an all –you-can -eat buffet.  Always looks more delicious than it is.
3 CTC is Cheap Tourist  Crap.  It is not necessary inexpensive.  Often to be found in Cousin Vinny stores.  One must sort through and can sometimes find treasures.
4 [Source: Die Reformation in Augenzeugen Berichten, edited by Helmar Junghaus (Dusseldorf: Karl Rauch Verlag, 1967), 44.]