Note: I started this back on November 28th but got quickly behind. Today I posted the remaining journal. It is long.
28 November 2012 – Rome Italy
The flight was good with the exception of the last 30-40 minutes, which we encountered terrible turbulence!! Our flight had a total of 17 fellow cruisers.
I hired Rome Cabs (www.romecabs.com) to take seven of us to our hotels. There was three drop off locations. Massimo was our driver. Traffic was very heavy getting into the city due to the rain! Wow, it really stops the traffic.
I am staying at Hotel Parlamento (http://hotelparlamento.eu/) my home away from home while in Rome. It’s in a great location located on via del Corso. There’s easy access to the bus and metro and easy to get around to other areas on foot. The Trevi fountain and Spanish steps are just a 5-7 minute walk away.
Everyone at this family-owned hotel is wonderful. Mr. Chini, the owner, upgraded me to a room that opens onto the terrace. He probably upgraded me because of being a repeat customer and for bringing him my cruise friends as new customers. Tiziano, a handsome man, is polite, friendly, and always taking care of the customers. There are others too (Andrea and Roberto) that are friendly and helpful.
My room, #104, is a nice size with room to walk around. Comfortable king bed, nice marble finished bathroom and a small shower with full body jets (but they didn’t work, or at least I couldn’t figure out how to use it). There are doors that open to the terrace, which has a few tables and chairs. It's too cold to sit outside, plus everything is wet from the rain.
Carol, Glenn and I spent our afternoon in Rome walking to Trevi fountain, Campo de Fiori (great outdoor food market), and Piazza Navona (large Christmas market), and pizza for lunch at La Focaccia (http://1stmuse.com/focaccia/index-i.htm via della Pace, 11). You walk inside passing thru the kitchen with the large pizza ovens. We sat down stairs, where we found the place to be almost empty except for 5-6 people. I had delicious fried eggplant with mozzarella and ricotta cheese pizza (9 euros). Yum! Glenn and Carol enjoyed their food too. We shared 1/2 liter of red house wine (5.50 euros).
Afterwards, we visited the Pantheon, and then hit the Despar grocery store a couple of blocks from the hotel for some wine and lemoncello.
Nine friends came to my room for pre-dinner drinks. Carol brought her ‘mandarin-cello’. We enjoyed that along with the wine and lemoncello.
My group of five (Christine, Paul, Carol, Glenn and I) had a nice 20-minute walk to Il Fico (http://www.ilfico.com/ilficoristorante.html) for dinner, which I enjoyed in February 2012. It's located near the Piazza Navona on a small street and has the atmosphere of a typical trattoria with decorations on the wall, a local feel, and friendly service. With our complimentary prosecco we toasted to the start of a wonderful trip together.
I ordered the battered/fried stuffed zucchini flowers. Inside was cheese, perfectly melted, and anchovy - just enough for a light, salty, but not overly fishy taste; then the octopus salad, and finally the evening special: Risotto with mushrooms and gorgonzola. I was expecting a stronger flavor from the cheese, but there was only a hint of it. I thought it was well prepared. It was a large portion and I couldn't finish it. We shared a liter of house red wine and instead of dessert, we were given a shot of lemoncello to end our delicious meal.
Back in the room, we had some wine; then time for bed. Late at night it was thundering and lightning.
29 November 2012 – Rome Italy
I spent the day alone since most of my cruise time would be with my friends. At breakfast, Tiziano asked where we were dining this evening. After telling him, he suggested a place called Gino’s. He said, “You should go there, it’s like eating at home,” but that it’s difficult to get reservations. It sounded great but I couldn’t cancel our current reservations. I took the restaurant card for future use.
I spent the morning near the Spanish Steps (empty of tourists this cold, rainy morning), and checked out the stores. Many were decorated for Christmas with lights, wreaths, and bright red ornaments. I was sure Rome would be beautiful by Christmas. The window displays varied: fashionable, contemporary, strange, elegant, quirky. And the shoes! Prices are outrageous, but this is Rome.
I walked to Piazza Popolo (with a detour to walk along via Margutta, a peaceful small street) where I visited a small museum on Leonardo DaVinci’s works. There were replicas based on his drawings and sketches. I spent an hour inside looking over and playing hands-on with these marvelous replicas while it poured outside. DaVinci was a painter, sculptor, engineer, and scientist, just to name a few, who was so far in advance of others of his time that it’s mind boggling. This is a gem of a museum and quite different from the other museums in Rome that are filled with sculptures, paintings, etc.
I decided to find Ristorante Da Gino just to see if I could get for lunch. It was a little hard to find – located in a tiny alley off Parlamento, with the door entrance practically covered with plants/shrubs. I walked in around 12:30pm where I saw a small group of people eating lunch – they were the owners/family of this small restaurant. I asked if I could make lunch reservations. 1pm? Si, grazie! I walked around the area enjoying streets I hadn’t been on yet. I ended up at the Tiber River, which was pretty muddy looking.
I returned promptly at 1pm and was given a table near the entrance and hostess area, The restaurant was just about full! Tables were set close together and the last few had ‘reserved’ signs, which were quickly filled in minutes. As I ate my lunch, people came and went, some had reservations, some made reservations for another day, and some were turned away because they didn't have reservations.
Gino, the owner, waited on me. He moved slowly serving several tables. One of the sons told me Gino won’t stop working in his old age. Gino would give his recommendations to me. I started with a hearty riso & verdure soup, which was so filling that I couldn’t finish it, especially since I was looking forward to my entrée: Lamb with rosemary, garlic, and potatoes. Simply prepared, home style, and very good. I had a 1/4 liter of white wine to go with my meal. I didn't jot down the total but it was around 20 euros.
Gino was kind to let me have my photo taken with him, which I later showed to Tiziano. He was surprised, but happy for me that I was able to dine there for lunch.
I wanted to visit the Capitoline museum but as I walked south on via del Corso, it was blocked off by at least two dozen carabinieri. Protestors were walking up the street throwing fire crackers in the middle of the street. I stood for a while watching the spectacle. The carabinieri told the on-lookers move away from the area, but we stood around. It wasn’t a hostile group. They made their way to the Parlament building. I believe it was a workers protest.
This evening the group met in Christine and Paul’s room for cocktails. Their room was much larger than mine. Nice large bed plus a sofa. Bathroom was bigger too.
The same group of five headed out to dinner at Hostaria Romana (http://www.hostariaromana.it/). This is one of my favorite places to eat in Rome. I made reservations in advance via email to the owner and requested a table on the lower level. All of the walls are filled with graffiti. A few of the waiters recognized me, including Gigi and Franko (he was our waiter for the evening).
We were seated in one corner. On the back side was a large group of Brits, about 16, and there were probably two or three tables of Italians. The room was very noisy with everyone having a great time…except the Italians who shushed the room at one point in the evening. Anyone that has dined at Hostaria Romana knows this place can get very noisy, especially in a small room.
I had the antipasti to start, a nice small selection of food; pasta Amatriciania, which is prepared table side and was excellent! We had one liter of house red wine and later ordered a second liter. We chatted with the Brits and as the evening progressed our two groups blended into one. We had such a fun time.
We walked by the Trevi fountain on our way home. Late that night it really poured and thundered.
30 November 2012 Friday – Rome Italy
After breakfast, Christine, Paul, Carol, Glenn, and I took the mini 116 bus to Trastevere. We got off near the Tiber River and walked the rest of the way to our destination – a cooking class. The bus stop was very convenient, just several feet from the hotel entrance.
We had some time to kill, so we visited the nearby market. It was small but had the same usual food items on display as at other markets. A fishmonger egged us on to have our photo taken with him while he held either a huge knife or the head of a swordfish. He was very cheerful.
The sun was finally out for the day. I was a little disappointed to miss the sunny day being inside a kitchen, but you can’t predict the weather when you do advance bookings. Glenn headed off for the day while the rest of us attended the cooking class. A friend of mine told me about this class and I thought it was a great idea – something different to do instead of the usual touristy things in Rome. The class holds a maximum of 12 people. In addition to Carol, Christine, and Paul, friends Lynn and Leo joined us. We also met another couple going on our cruise; and four others.
It was advertised as a 5-hour class but it lasted a little longer than that. Chef Andrea asked everyone to Introduce themselves before going into the kitchen where we spent our time prepping the ingredients for our lunch. Our menu consisted of fried artichokes with a southern style pesto; fettuccini with a ragu Bolognese sauce; chicken cacciatora; roasted potatoes; ricotta and chocolate torta for dessert.
I was surprised how tiny the kitchen was, especially for a group of 12 ‘chefs’ plus Andrea (sometimes Erica came in to assist). We all managed pretty well even if one had to squeeze by or move out of the way.
Christine, Paul, and I started on the vegetables for the Bolognese meat sauce. We learned how to properly peel and cut artichokes, and we made fresh pasta. I also helped prepare the meat sauce, which was a combination of beef and pork. Once combined, it simmered on low for at least an hour. Some of us took turns cranking out fresh fettuccini. I’ve made fresh pasta in the past and this got me thinking I should make more at home. There’s nothing better than fresh pasta!
It was fun cooking with others and I enjoyed meeting people from around the world. I had fun in the kitchen prepping, watching others, listening to Andrea, and taking pictures. The pasta Bolognese was my favorite dish of the day. The southern style (tomato-based) pesto sauce, which you use for the battered fried artichokes, was excellent. It can also be used as a sauce for a pasta dish. I did have a few issues with Andrea, so I will say this wasn’t an exceptional cooking class. You can read all the details (photos too) of the cooking class here: http://monicapileggi.blogspot.com/2012/12/rome-cooking-class-fun-but-not-as.html
Glenn showed up right before we left and he got to taste our torta. Afterwards, we had a nice long walk back to the hotel.
I hosted a pre-cruise happy hour with about 45 other cruisers. Two weeks before the trip, the place I had booked told me they couldn’t take such a large group. I was able to find another place thanks to Roberto at my hotel. We all met at 0,75 – zerosettantacinque, (http://www.075roma.com/) located across the street from the Circus Maximus, which was about an 15-minute walk from the hotel – longer if stop to take pictures along the way. We enjoyed drinks and a fabulous spread of antipasti/tapas for a couple of hours. Not only was the food delicious, but every time I went back to get another bite or two, the cooks would bring out entirely new foods to sample. There was plenty of food to eat that dinner crossed my mind. The staff was wonderful, including Mathew and Flavio. I met the owner, Michele, and thanked him for a great night.
After our party we walked back to the hotel, walking past the Colosseum, Vittorio Emanuele II monument, a church here and there, which flood lights lit the buildings. It was a good opportunity for night photography.
Christine wanted to have drinks on the terrace, as we did this a couple of years ago. The terrace has 4-5 tables with chairs. We sat outside for just a few minutes as it was very cold. Carol and Glenn later went to their room. About 11:30pm Christine said, “I’m not leaving Rome without having a pizza.” So off we went. I asked Andrea for his recommendation of a pizza place that was still open. He directed us to Pizza Ciro (http://www.pizzerianapoletanapizzaciro.it/) located just down a block or so on our street.
There were a few others eating pizza. The menu had a long list of pizzas to choose from at various prices. We selected the Margherita pizza (9 euros) to share, along with some wine. I have to say this was some of the best pizza I’ve ever had! The dough was crusty and thin, the sauce the right consistency (not watery or overly thick), and just the right amount of mozzarella. We thought it was so good that we ordered a second one!
Rome photos: http://www.pileggiphotography.com/Travel/Italy/Rome-Italy-November-2012/27261762_XdLJ5L#!i=2290748764&k=QTJWX77
1 December 2012 Saturday – Rome to the Port
After breakfast and saying our goodbyes to everyone at the hotel we headed outside to wait for our car service with Rome Cabs (30.50 euros pp). Massimo was already waiting for us. It was nice to have him again as our driver and we appreciated his promptness.
The sun came out as we drove to the port of Civitavecchia. Check in took some time for me, which I didn’t know why. Carol and Glenn were long gone and on the ship, but I met up with Christine and Paul. We headed to our cabins with a glass of sparkling wine in hand. We quickly dropped off our bags and went to Bistro on Five for lunch (after getting another glass of sparkling wine). You can order various crepes (savory and sweet), soups, salads, etc. I had the seafood crepe and we each ordered different dessert crepes to share.
My aqua class cabin (#1635, room attendant was Zar) was located port side of the ship. Carol and Glenn were in 1633 and Christine and Paul were in 1637. We eventually opened the partitions on the balcony so we could enjoy cocktails together and talk while enjoying our sea days. There was angled post between my cabin and Christine’s but they could step over it.
My luggage arrived so I unpacked and then went to the boat drill. Afterwards, we met up with other Cruise Critic members for a sail away party. It was dark by the time we left the port.
Dining in Blu is probably the best reason to splurge on an aqua class cabin. There are other perks but the food stands out in Blu. Blu is open seating and we usually arrived around 7:15-7:30pm for dinner. Most times it was the five of us; other times we had other friends join us.
For our first night we sat at one table but for the rest of the cruise, we sat closer to the entrance at a table for eight. We never had to wait more than a minute or so for our table, but there were a couple of nights that we had arrived later than our usual time and had to wait for a bit.
2 December 2012 Sunday – Livorno Italy
I arranged for a private tour for eight people with Limoinrome.com (Claudio Caponera) to Florence and San Miniato. Our guide, Francesco, picked us up and we promptly headed out for the day. It was an overcast, rainy cold morning. As we left the port, Francesco asked why we had San Miniato on our list of sights to see and suggested we drop it and instead, visit San Gimignano in the afternoon. We were game.
Our first stop in Florence was to Piazzale Michelangelo where we had wonderful views of Florence. In the distance it was a long horizontal stretch of morning fog. Florence looked cold and old, yet magical. After the obligatory photo ops, we drove into the city and stopped to see the Church of Santa Croce. It was a Sunday so mass was taking place. A few of us quietly walked in and stood in a corner admiring the interior while listening to the mass.
Outside in the piazza, there was a Christmas market. There were vendors from different countries, including France and Germany. I picked up a couple of small items.
I walked around for an hour while the rest of the group visited the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David, an incredible piece of sculpture I saw several years back right after it had been cleaned. I purchased a beautiful purple leather purse and walked around while eating pistachio and Nocciola (hazelnut) gelato. Yum!
We were dropped off at Piazza della Repubblica and the group split up for an hour or so. Five of us headed to the roof top of the department store La Rinascente for lovely (and closer) views of the Duomo and nearby terra cotta rooftops. I knew we would not have time to go to the top of the Campanile, so this was the next best option. There’s a café on the roof top, a nice place to consider on a future trip to Florence.
We walked to the baptistery and Duomo; then over to Piazza della Signoria. The ponte Vecchio was crowded (as always). I enjoyed looking at all of the gold jewelry on display in the windows. The river was quite muddy looking from the recent rains.
After checking out the leather market, we went to the van Francesco drove us out into the country side. Seeing all of the hills, the rows of poplars, vineyards minus its grapes, fall colors, and other picturesque scenery made me want to jump out and take pictures. I definitely need to plan a land-based trip soon where I could plop myself in an apartment someplace in Tuscany, rent a car, and take my time traveling the countryside with my camera and gear. The sun was out turning our day into a beautiful afternoon!
Francesco stopped at an area called Fattoria Poggio Alloro where we had views of the vineyards, country side and the towers of San Gimignano in the distance. The sun was not in the best direction to take pictures of San Gimignano. He was patient as we all gave him our cameras for group shots.
In San Gimignano we had a quick bite to eat in a small café (prosciutto cotto, mozzarella panino and wine) and then we walked on our own exploring this fabulous town. I was here several years ago and climbed a tower. This time I walked to the highest point possible and got some great photos of the towers (and countryside) at a somewhat closer eye level. I later purchased a pretty ‘double’ ceramic bowl for olives and pits.
Back at the port, we all thanked Francesco for a superb day (tour price 70 euros pp w/tip).
Happy hour on board the ship: Celebrity revised the Captain’s Club Elite social hour (5-7pm) from having it in the observation sky lounge to passing out three coupons per day per member. I wasn’t sure I would like this new format, as everyone would be spread out at the various bars on the ship rather than in one lounge. It worked out very well. My group of friends and I would meet at the martini bar almost every night and had the same waiter (Joey). We enjoyed our drinks and would use the third coupon for a glass of wine to take to dinner.
Florence photos: http://www.pileggiphotography.com/Travel/Italy/Florence-and-San-Gimignano/27391865_GtvL4J#!i=2303411634&k=cZjkwDc
3 December 2012 Monday – Genoa Italy
Genoa was one port that I was really looking forward to visiting. I spent a lot of time planning on what to see/do, as most museums and palazzo are closed on Mondays. With the help of a trip advisor friend (thank you Mary!), I was able to come up with full day itinerary. I also booked a private tour for the Palazzo del Principe. There were nine of us and I was the unofficial guide. It was another day that started out gloomy but the sun came out soon afterwards. It was quite cold too.
The old town area of Genoa is quite compact. We could have walked from the port but there was a metro station right across the street, so we saved time and leg work. Our first stop was to the San Lorenzo Cathedral. The inside was beautiful with arched columns, black and white marble; mosaic marble flooring, etc. But my main purpose was to see the treasury museum (6 euros) with its collection of silverware, jewelry, and religious artifacts. Only three of us visited the museum, while the rest had coffee across the street.
Next door was the Palazzo Ducale. This was once the home of the Doges of Genoa and is now a museum and arts exhibition center. There was a special exhibit of photographer Steve McCurry. You may know his works from National Geographic – he’s the one that took the photograph of the young Afghan girl with the piercing green eyes. He found her years later and took her photograph again. I wanted to see his exhibits but we had plans later in the afternoon to visit a palazzo for a private tour. There’s also a tower at the Palazzo Ducale but it was closed until the afternoon. It would have been nice to catch some city views from above.
Next to Piazza de Ferrari was a small food stand with a few people making fresh focaccia with various toppings. I purchased one with cheese on top. It was tasty mid-morning snack.
There were many narrow streets that we walked along while window shopping and taking pictures. We saw some of the palazzo that were owned by the Andrea Doria family. I wondered what the interiors looked like.
I asked Valentina, who worked at the Palazzo del Principe , to make lunch reservations at Trattoria da Maria, Vico Testadoro 14 r. She was the person I was in contact with in securing our private tour to the Palazzo. Da Maria is located in a tiny alley, off one of the main shopping street. There were several rooms and we were seated way in the back. At first I thought, oh no, we're going to be stuck in a room with other tourists. Nope, the place filled up very quickly with locals. Our table had a reserved sign with my name on it.
We read through hand-written menu, which included some daily specials. I had fettuccini with pesto (a typical Genovese dish) followed by a veal/eggplant stew. Both were very good. We shared a couple of carafes of red wine. Prices were very reasonable: 10 euros for two items on the menu. The popular dishes went quickly.
Via Garibaldi is a colorful street line with beautiful palazzo. They were closed but we could walk into any open entrance way. Some of the ceilings had beautiful frescos, and some with grand staircases.
Jill and Kevin wanted to buy some Genoa salami to bring on the ship. Did we find any? No!! We were so surprised. None of the shops we found had any. They were disappointed.
It was a quick metro ride back to the port where we walked to the Palazzo del Principe (http://www.dopart.it/genova/en/) for our 1-hour guided tour. It was wonderful having the Palazzo to ourselves. The tour lasted a little over an hour, as we visited several rooms while our guide explained many things. Most were empty with the exception of some furniture and paintings on the walls.
It was a full day in Genoa but a fine day. We were all ready to be back on board to relax for the evening.
This was probably the worse night we had in Blu. We waited a very long time to get our dinner. It was not due to our waiters quality of service but that there was not enough waiters to take care of a full dining room. There used to be a $5 surcharge for suite guests who could dine in Blu if there was space available. The fee was dropped and we believed the staff was letting suite guests in without consideration of the aqua class guests, who had priority. I was also very angry at the sommelier. The previous night I exchanged my sparkling wine that was in my cabin for a bottle of red wine. I had a couple of glasses and the bottle was stored for the next night. After asking for it he came back to the table stating I had finished it the night before. NOT true and I told him so right in front of the maître-D. The bottle showed up at my table a few minutes later.
There were a few other nights that Blu was crowded. It didn’t have the quiet, elegant atmosphere that we so enjoyed while on the Summit this past spring. Sometimes it felt like we were dining in the main dining room, which has a noisy banquet-hall atmosphere. Fingers are crossed for a better experience on our next Silhouette cruise, otherwise it might be our last time in Blu.
Genoa photos: http://www.pileggiphotography.com/Travel/Italy/Genoa/27420697_cCxjwn#!i=2306177736&k=kmZB5bq
4 December 2012 Tuesday – Toulon France
I booked a private tour for eight people with Transferts Services (http://www.transferts-service.com/). Two friends had to back out due to being sick but they paid their share. We were very fortunate to have Delphine as our guide and driver. She’s a charming and lovely woman who enjoys taking travelers around her country. She’s very knowledgeable and informative about the places we visited.
We met Delphine at 8:30am (we were docked in La Seyne sur Mer, across the bay from Toulon). The morning was overcast and rainy but the sun came out a little later and it was a beautiful day. The mistral winds blew all day long.
Our first stop was to Sanary sur Mer, a charming and picturesque water-front town. There were many colorful fishing boats docked in the small port. Near the main parking, a daily Provençal market takes place, which is shaded by plane trees. We saw lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese, local products and interesting looking mushrooms and vegetables I couldn’t identify. We walked through the town along the small pedestrian streets and window shopped.
We drove through Bandol (another lovely port town) to La Cadiere d’Azur, a small perched village. From atop, you can see lots of vineyards (already picked with some remaining leaves in their fall colors), olive trees, pine forests, and Le Castellet, another perched village across the way.
La Cadiere d’Azur felt like a sleepy village, rather than a tourist-filled village such as Saint Paul de Vence. I saw just a few residents going about their day. Two women were decorating their store front with Christmas decorations. We walked along the pedestrian-only streets taking lots of pictures of warm-colored buildings, narrow steps, doorways, and fountains. Delphine took us a bread/pastry shop where I picked up a fresh-made petit quiche. It was a delicious mid-morning snack as I walked along the village.
Between La Ciotat and Cassis we drove along D-141 called Route des Cretes. It’s a narrow, no-safety-barriers, panoramic drive with breathtaking views of the mountains, Cassis, and the beautiful rich blue waters of the Mediterranean. Unfortunately for me, I was sitting up front and was very uncomfortable as we drove along the road. Delphine asked once in a while if I was okay. She was a very good driver so I knew we were in good hands.
We made two stops at look out points, the second having the most spectacular views. Far down below and across the way was Cassis. The sun had been out for a while now, so we took some wonderful photos of the area. Delphine told us to not get too close to the edge and I certainly listened to her, as it’s a sheer drop down and the mistral winds were really blowing. In fact, as we were driving, Delphine said she was surprised we didn’t see any other cars in the area or any heading in the opposite direction of us. Apparently when the winds are very high the road is closed for safety reasons. She wondered if it was closed on the other end that maybe the officials forgot to close our entry point. I got a little worried wondering if we were going to have to drive all the way back if the other end was closed. I was ready to get off this roller-coaster ride. This was a spectacular drive and not to be missed, albeit a nerve-racking drive for me.
By the time we got to Cassis, I was ready for a glass of wine and some lunch! Cassis was a striking and colorful seaside town. It reminded me of Sanary sur Mer but Cassis has lots of restaurants and cafes along the water area. There were lots of fishing boats too. We ran into some friends, who told us about a place where they ate for lunch. Cassis has lots of restaurants that were way over our budget so we went to Le Dom Camillo (http://www.restaurantdoncamillo.com/) and ordered from their pre-fixe lunch menu. Select an entrée to go along with the salad bar (nice variety of foods, including octopus). I had mussels in a tomato based broth, along with two glasses of red wine. Overall it was an okay meal.
After our time in Cassis, we continued on to Le Castellet. This is the village we saw across from La Cadiere d’Azur. Le Castellet has rampart walls, narrow streets, and small shops. In order to get back to the ship on time, we just took pictures from across the road. It’s a town I’d like to explore on a future visit.
This was one of my favorite port days on this cruise. Delphine was a very good guide, friendly, helpful, and (I especially appreciated this) a fine driver. The price we paid (including Delphine’s lunch and tip) was very reasonable for an all-day tour.
This evening was a formal night and I dined with a group of solo travelers in the main dining room. We were split between two large tables. Despite a brief and unpleasant encounter, I had good time chatting with my fellow diners along with a delicious dinner (beef carpaccio for an appetizer, rack of lamb for the entrée, and dessert).
Toulon photos: http://www.pileggiphotography.com/Travel/France/Towns-Near-Toulon-France/27434315_RKTqGG#!i=2307580936&k=XQV7S3N
5 December 2012 Tuesday – Barcelona Spain
Having been to Barcelona several times, I wanted to do a tour to Montserrat, so I booked with Barcelona Day Tours (http://www.BarcelonaDayTours.com). I was there in 1996 with my Mother but when we visited Montserrat, it was an overcast and extremely foggy day that blinded our views of the mountains. I booked a tour for six people, but a few were still sick, so they canceled and paid their share of the money. So, it was just Carol, Glenn, and me for the day.
It was a beautiful perfect day with clear skies and temps in the low 60s – probably one of the best days on the trip. The three of us took the local bus along with Dennis and Ray, who had been on my Florence tour. From the bottom end of Las Ramblas, we walked up the street and around the surrounding area. Street performers were setting up for the day. The flower stalls were bright, colorful, and included Poinsettia for the Christmas season. Las Ramblas has not changed.
Mercat de la Boqueria is one of my favorite indoor markets because of the displays of foods, offering many photo opportunities. It’s one place in Barcelona I recommend to others to see, as it’s such a lively place. Since we were traveling at the end of the tourist season, the market wasn’t crowded at all. It was a delight to walk around without being pushed or shoved or bumped with carts toted by old Spaniard women.
Near the entrance of the market is a small eatery called Bar Pinotxo (http://pinotxobar.com/, Mercat de la Boqueria, Stall 466-467), and is quite popular with locals and tourists. A charming older gentleman took our order for bocadillos (Spanish style sandwiches, 3.50 euros) with meat, cheese, tomato (just a rubbing of the tomato on the bread), and olive oil. He was all smiles and thumbs up when I asked to take his picture. I later did a google search on the bar and found out that this gentleman was the owner and his name is Juanito Bayen. I also saw several photos with his smile and thumbs up. It must be his “signature.”
Our handsome and charming guide, Armando, picked us up at the Hard Rock Café across from Placa Catalunya at 10:30am and we drove of Barcelona for our tour. He drove through some very expensive housing areas. I saw a few villas I wouldn’t mind living in.
We could see in the distance the mountain of Montserrat, the location of the Benedictine abbey and basilica, Santa Maria de Montserrat. The mountain range is quite a sight to see. It’s a long windy road getting to the top and it reminded me of the drive in France but this time with road barriers.
It was very cold up in the mountains, about 45 degrees but with the winds it felt even colder. I was glad I had my jacket and brought my gloves and scarf.
Armando was very passionate about Montserrat and the importance of the place for Catalans. He talked about the black Madonna and the history of the place. We were there at the right time to listen to the choir boys sing. Armando directed us to one spot where we could see the boys without anyone in front of us. Their singing echoed in the basilica with such graceful harmony. It was a certainly a moving experience for me. The basilica was completely full but once the boys left, the place quickly emptied out. We finished with a quick view of the Black Madonna.
There are three or four other abbeys in the area, none in use today if I remember correctly. Armando drove us to see one of them. The view of the abbey with the backdrop of the mountains was impressive.
Our sandwiches were quite good and we ate them while Armando drove down the mountain on the other side. You get a different perspective of this huge chunk of mountain, as the rock formations are different from area to area.
Armando made a short stop to Parc de Montjuic, where we had great views of Barcelona and even our ship in port. I could see Sagrada Familia in the distance. A lot more work has been completed but it will still take years before it’s finished. I paid Armando, we thanked him, and we were back on the ship. He was a great guide and I loved the personal attention we received.
Onboard the ship the captain made a few announcements, including telling us there would be a delay in departure and stated we would be passing the Strait of Gibraltar the next evening around 6pm.
Barcelona photos: http://www.pileggiphotography.com/Travel/Spain/Barcelona-2012/27727499_wNVVwd#!i=2336831576&k=6LSwf8K
6 December 2012 Wednesday – At Sea
Today was our first day at sea. After four days of sightseeing, it was nice to relax….well, not this day. My day consisted of breakfast (Tuscan grill dining room where the elite passengers could enjoy a light breakfast with fresh squeezed orange juice, cappuccino, or a bloody mary to name a few), attending the Cruise Critic connections party, listening to a lecture on the earth and plate tectonics, participating in the battle of the sexes game, hosting a wine tasting party, and cocktails in a friends room as we passed the Strait of Gibraltar. Phew!!
The connections party was fun. Many people showed up (around 150-180?) including some officers.
There were about 50 people who attended the wine tasting party. Each couple brought a bottle from their home town or from Rome and everyone had the opportunity to try the various types of wine. One woman scolded me for not requesting multiple wine glasses and spit buckets. This party was never meant to be a “ formal tasting” event but a second opportunity for cruise critic friends to gather together again.
The battle of the sexes was lots of fun. I went a few times while on the cruise and each time there was a challenge. One of the funniest was that the men had to show up wearing lip stick and women with mustaches. Christine and I made mustaches from the leaf of the flowers in our rooms.
My friend Phil hosted a cocktail party in his cabin. He had an aft corner suite with a large balcony (wish I could afford such a cabin). There were about eight of us and we sipped on champagne and snacked on hors’dourves as we passed the Strait of Gibraltar at dusk.
We had dinner later than usual and had to wait quite a bit for a table. We were squeezed in a table for 4 and I sat on the end facing the window. Not my cup of tea, as I was pretty much sitting in the aisle with waiters squeezing by me.
The food in Blu has been very good to excellent – all cooked to order, well prepared, and well presented.
7 December 2012 Thursday – At Sea
It was nice having two sea days in a row. My sea days were pretty much the same: Breakfast in the elite breakfast room or in Blu; listening to some great lectures, battle of the sexes game, trivia, reading, learning to knit, and walking outside on the track for some exercise. Of course I didn’t do all of these things every day.
8 December 2012 Friday – Tenerife Canary Islands
Our last port day before crossing the Atlantic for a week was Santa Cruz Tenerife, Canary Islands. It was a short day, docking at 11am and departing 6pm. The weather was beautiful! There was no need for a jacket and I saw a lot of people wearing shorts or Capri’s. The temperature went up to the mid-70s.
I wanted a relaxing day, no tours or car rentals, just a leisurely morning walking in town, window shopping, and lunch. The ship provided courtesy shuttles to the entrance of the port or you could walk about a mile to the port entrance. The main shopping street was quite active. Lots of shops, but I didn’t buy anything.
There’s a market in town called Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África. There were many food stalls to include fresh fruit/vegetables, fish and seafood, and lots of cheese and meats. I snacked on a beef and potato empananda. Outside the market building were two streets filled with flea market stands, mostly junk.
Next to the tram line is a place called Bodeguita Canaria (www.bodeguitacanaria.es). It’s a restaurant that serves Spanish tapas and other foods. Carol, Glenn and I sat outside under umbrellas and ordered the cured meat and cheese platter (12.80€ - very filling and excellent) and the octopus, which was grilled and dusted with paprika (9.50€). Carol and I ordered a small pitcher of “tinto” (red wine); beer for Glenn. The wine was served in a typical terra cotta glazed pitcher. I later asked our waiter with my limited Spanish if I could purchase it for a souvenir. He went into the kitchen, came out a minute later and told me the location of a store. I said the stores were closed (siesta) and begged, “Por favor!” He went back into the kitchen (assumed he was talking to the owner), came out and jotted down “5€” on a piece of paper. That made my entire day!
Closer to the port we found a gelateria, so we enjoyed our dessert (pistachio for me) as we slowly walked back to the shuttle stop.
Evening cocktails in the martini bar with Joey taking good care of us. Dinner in Blu. I brought a bottle of wine to share at dinner, which had been delivered to my room from Celebrity.
Clocks turned back one hour this evening.
Tenerife Photos: http://www.pileggiphotography.com/Travel/Spain/Tenerife-2012/27623431_2bDqzz#!i=2326426348&k=RqzKG9q
9-15 December 2012 – Seven Days at Sea
Summarizing my week at sea:
The captain made daily 10am announcements. He’s one of the funniest captain’s I’ve ever encountered and quite handsome too. He always ended his announcements with a funny cruise-related joke followed by, “This is your Captain………………………OUT!” I’m glad to know he’ll be on the Silhouette for my cruise in the fall 2013!
We had mostly smooth sailing with comfortable rolls of the ocean. There was one day or two that had higher waves, but nothing compared to my 2011 transatlantic cruise where I earned my sea legs from very rough and high waves.
Abbot was the main speaker for the Celebrity Enrichment series. He was so informative and interesting to listen to. He talked about different aspects of geology. One was called “How the Altantic formed.” He can take a complex subject and simplify for everyone.
I enjoyed sitting outside near the pool, reading, writing, or doing some knitting, which I’ve started to learn. I also watched the passengers versus crew playing volley ball. The captain made a grand entrance wearing his bathrobe and a big splash into the pool. With the angle of his jump, many of us gasped as we thought he was going to hit his head on the side of the pool!
One of the Aqua Class cabin perks includes using the Persian gardens. Inside are 6-7 heated tiled lounge chairs that were so relaxing that I could have fallen asleep. I prefer the sauna rooms on the Summit (M-class ships) over the Solstice class ships, as there were more options; however, I never had to wait for a seat or spot in the steam room. Christine, Carol, and I also swam in the indoor pool.
Friends and I attended some of the Captain’s Club events, such as the Captain’s Club Celebration, high tea, and the senior officer’s party.
Friends hosted cocktail parties in their aft suite a couple of times, which was lots of fun.
There were always tables set up outside the shops with items for sale. It was quite amusing to watch passengers scramble to grab an item that I didn’t think was worth buying.
One day at the lawn garden there was a presentation on the “Art of Pizza Making’. The chef made a few different flat bread pizzas, which we tried at the end. In the same area were two huge adirondack chairs where we had our pictures taken. I felt like Lilly Tomlin.
Since we were dining in Blu we didn’t feel the need to dine in the specialty restaurants, which charge $30-$40pp. However, we did eat in Bistro on Five (crepes – savory and sweet, soups, salads, etc.), and The Porch (sandwiches, salads, etc.), each a $5 surcharge.
Seven days at sea was wonderful. The days went by at a comfortable pace. We all wished for more time on the ship. Transatlantic cruises simply provide the best in cruising.
On the ship:
Staff members on board:
Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis.
Tanuska D’Soua – Captain’s club hostess. Some of us found her to be unfriendly and not social at all
Popa (our maitre ‘D in Blu) – Charming and always with a smile
Daniela – hostess in Blu
Toto – waiter on our first night
Gino – assistant waiter on our first night
Damar - our main waiter – all smiles and attentive
Jovan – waiter
Bosko – elite breakfast room (Tuscan Grill)
Cemal Ozcelik – restaurant manager
Joey – Wonderful bar server in the martini bar. Every time we showed up he scrambled to find us a place to sit. He was the best!
Jayne Curry, singer
Beatles Celebration – very good group, wigs and all
Brad Mastrangelo – the ultimate storyteller – Funny show! Carol laughed her ass off and it was actually more fun watching her than Brad
Some foods I enjoyed, to name a few:
Rack of lamb
Fettuccini with clams
Lobster with caviar
Wild mushrooms with mozzarella, balsamic reduction
Some “eh, not so good” foods:
The second lobster tail that I ordered (they were very small) – too mushy
Beef tips –dry
Halibut – overcooked
Chilled pea soup – just “okay”
Healthy orange roughy” with buckwheat noodles in a miso sauce - the fish was way over cooked and probably previously frozen
I will say that I have been living in Maryland since 1984 and never got up the nerve to try soft-shell crabs. I’m not a picky eater but didn’t think I would like eating the entire crab, guts an all. Lucky on cruises, you have the opportunity to order whatever you want on the menu. One night, there it was – a soft-shell appetizer. I really liked it!
I wasn’t impressed with the aqua spa café foods. I’ve had better on the other ships.
Overall, the food on the ship was very good; which is one reason I like to cruise on Celebrity.
16 December 2012 Sunday – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
The ship docked early in Florida. Since I was going to visit my Mom, I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. I had breakfast in the cafeteria with friends and later got my carry-on items and went to the Tuscan grill to meet a couple where we would share a rental car to West Palm Beach.
Getting off the ship was easy but the line was extremely long to get into the terminal. There were six ships in port!! The car rental agency had complimentary pick up service to their office. It took a while to get our car, as lots of people were renting one-way vehicles.
I was dropped off at Mom’s home, which I was grateful. Mom didn’t have to drive to the train station (my original plans) to pick me up.
I spent three nights before flying home and then back to the real world.
It was a very good trip! I had a lot of fun despite some rainy weather. I enjoyed cruising with friends, meeting new people, and loved the port towns we visited.
I’m looking forward to my next cruise, although it’s a port-intensive cruise: 13 nights with just one sea day. I plan to use two port days and stay on the ship while the majority of passengers are in port.