Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

The Saturday April 30, 2016

Arrived in Ft. Lauderdale early this morning so when we woke up we discovered that we were already docked -- at the same pier from which we left 115 days ago. It was quite a journey but there was no time to reflect as we had twenty-something bags to shepherd off the boat, through customs and to the car  that was to pick us up at 9:30 a.m. Shockingly everything went smoothly. We had a pleasant breakfast, played around with our phones (unlimited wireless for the first time in four months). We left the room at quarter to nine, sailed through customs, picked up all our luggage (which we had wisely adorned with pieces of a bright orange scarf we were given in India) and arrived at the pick up area early. Our driver was also early. Everything fit into the car and we headed out of the port and into the real world.

Packing was a bit of an ordeal
But we managed 
Back where we started from
Leaving the ship one final time

We made a stop at Home Depot to pick up a tarpaulin. We discovered on the way down to Florida that the cover on our pick-up truck isn't waterproof thus the tarpaulin purchase. R's Mom, Phyllis and her husband, Howard welcomed us with air hugs as they prudently did not wish to catch our colds (more about that later). The truck arrived shortly after the appointed time and we were able to hit the road at around 1:30 p.m.

Through customs, waiting for car pick-up
Everything fit
Arriving at R's Mom's house

Stopped for a surprisingly good dinner at Ruby Tuesdays and are driving through northern Georgia as I write to you know. The final week of the cruise was relaxing despite the fact that R caught a cold which turned into a terrible and very persistent hacking cough. And a couple days later I succumbed to the same cold which in my case metastasized into a sinus infection which necessitated a visit to the doctor and antibiotics. Needless to say we are both glad to be off the m.s. Petri Dish.

The highlight of our final week (aside from the Indonesian Crew Show) was our 30th anniversary party which we held on the 27th (our actual anniversary is the 28th). The party was a combination end-of-cruise, India reunion and anniversary celebration. It consisted of an open bar and hot hors d'oeuvres (sp?) from 4:15 to 5:45 (the first seating in the dining room is at 5:30). Some of our friends did a bang-up job of decorating the Crow's Nest. Approximately 75 to 100 people showed up and I think they all had a good time. R hired a videographer and had said on the invitation that guests should be prepared to share an experience they had with us, advice for the next 30 years and/or what they most enjoyed about the world cruise. A lot of people chose not to participate in the video but the ones who did had lovely things to say and the resulting video will be a cherished memento for us. 

Indonesian Crew Show
30th Anniversary Party
Note photo behind us -- a friend had a photo of us in front of the Taj Mahal blown up and printed in Florida and then had Fed Ex deliver it to the ship in Barcelona-- amazing! So nice.
R with one of our new friends, Ladine (she's an author from Germany)
R taught this lovely couple how to needlepoint and they have really taken to it which was very gratifying for Russell 
Havin' fun!
With "Rex" our friend Christine's well-traveled "pet"

We are going to spend the evening at the Hilton Garden Inn in Florence, S.C. and hope to make it to Delaware tomorrow evening. Looking forward to being home. Didn't plan on driving so far today but many of the hotels that I called had no vacancy. So Florence it is. 

Even got a special delivery anniversary cake from Marie (at the coffee bar) and Hazel (from the Explorers Lounge where we would go after dinner to listen to the classical music playing piano and violin duo, Adagio). Note: I'm in bed because I really don't feel well. It was right after the anniversary party when I went to the doctor and got antibiotics.
So nice! Thank You Marie and Hazel. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Funchal, Madeira (Portugal)

Friday April 22, 2016

We are going to try this again. Yesterday I wrote the most marvelous blog entry (you would have loved it) and then when I went to add photos and post it I discovered that it had disappeared into the ether. Very frustrating. But here goes again ...

Sunrise over Funchal
Lucky rainbow?

What a pleasant surprise Madeira was! I had no idea what to expect so consequently was happy to discover that we were docked near the heart of the city of Funchal. The city is quite green and climbs (I would say "sprawls" but it's hardly that big) up several rather steep hills. Our tour was poetically entitled "Botanical Beauty" so I expected to see lots of plants and flowers. However, I was not prepared for the volume nor the variety of greenery that we saw. The island with its mild temps and year round rainfall is a veritable greenhouse and what's especially interesting is that both tropical and temperate plants grow well. The mixture of the two while occasionally jarring means that nearly every month of the year you can find something blooming.

View of Funchal from Monte
Gardens near Monte Church
Houses up the hillside, Monte

Our first stop was an area of the city entitled Monte which as you might already have guessed is located atop one of the hills at the edge of town. We visited Monte Church which I found to be distinctly different from the Spanish churches we have recently visited and also vaguely nautical in feeling  with its wooden ceiling and curved choir loft. On a patio located below the church we were able to view the launch site for a uniquely Madeiran activity -- tobagonning (sp?). The tobagons consist of a two-person bench seat placed inside a wicker basket which in turn is placed upon two wooden runners. This sled of sorts is conducted down the steep streets by two gentlemen wearing straw boaters and traditional outfits. Apparently this method of mass transit was popularized by wealthy Madeirans in the 19th century and now is of course kept up exclusively for the tourists. It's supposed to be quite fun but was not included on our tour.

Pavement was decorative but slippery
Monte Church -- vaguely nautical?
And they're off!

Instead of a tobagon ride, our tour featured a a cable car trip back downtown. The cable car was modern and the views were as you would expect quite good. In the downtown now we took a brief walk down the oldest street to the mercado. This marketplace was quite active and the vendors seemed pleased to have an influx of tourists. They certainly knew what they were doing; handing out samples and then engaging you (me) in conversation resulting in -- predictably -- a sale (10€ worth of caramelized almonds and 7€ of two different types of passion fruit). 

Like our new hats?
From the cable car
Trying different varieties of passion fruit 

Back on the bus we once again headed for the hills where we visited the Botanical Gardens. This multi acre facility spreads down a rather steep hill. Fortunately we were dropped off at the top of the garden and picked up at the bottom thus resulting in both an enjoyable (no need to go uphill) and an efficient (no backtracking necessary) visit. R was quite taken with the cactus garden whereas I was impressed by how most of the plants appeared to be in tip top shape. I will say however that they need help with their signage as nearly all the plants were without proper identification.

Botanical Garden
Topiaries at Botanical Garden 

Our final stop on this four plus hour tour was the downtown tasting room of a local Madeira wine producer.  I cannot tell you much about this stop because a.) I did not drink the wine and b.) I did not attend the sales presentation preferring instead to pass the time in the classy but spare gift shop where I struggled mightily (but ultimately successfully) to spend money.

Streets of Funchal

On the way back to the bus for our return drive to the ship we passed lots of people eating and drinking outside on the wide sidewalks as well as a lovely city park that was chock full of flowers and inviting places to sit. With the sun shining and the streets busy the place had a festive air and R and I have tentatively decided Madeira is worth a longer sojourn someday. Perhaps we can combine it with a visit to mainland Portugal or we could do a whole Atlantic isles trip visiting the Canaries (never visited), the Azores (visited and enjoyed) and Madeira. So many places to visit (and re-visit). Still, I am happy to have visited Madeira once and to have the memories that I do. Mustn't be too piggy after all!

And just because:
Your intrepid reporters 
Gorgeous shot R!
Fellow passengers (no comment)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Cadiz, Spain (Seville)

Wednesday April 20, 2016

Up and out early today (7:30 a.m.) as it was a long ride from Cadiz to Seville (1 1/2 hours). Nice bus though, new and comfortable and a good driver as well -- smooth and not too fast. Horrible weather though. Cold (upper 50s) and wet. Definitely not in the tropics anymore. R and I have visited Seville once before, on a bus tour of Spain 10+ years ago. I wanted to see the place again to refresh my memories but I have to confess that with the early start and the poor weather I was beginning to question the wisdom of our decision.

Photogenic hotel in Seville
Line at Alcazar
And again (just in case you didn't get the message the first time) 

Once we arrived in Seville we were dropped off several blocks from our destination--the Alcazar or Royal Palace. We arrived at the Alcazar at precisely the wrong time. The palace doesn't open until ten a.m. and we got there at around 9:30 just in time to be the last group in the very long group entrance line. There were two other lines; one was for people with reservations (apparently not us though you wouldn't be wrong to think that it ought to have included us) and a third line for singles without reservations. Eventually the lines started to move. Scratch that--eventually the two other lines began to move. The group line remained stubbornly in place. For ten minutes. Then twenty minutes. All the while the singles line is moving along at a quick pace. But not the group line. "Unprecedented," says our group leader, Sergio, a handsome thirty something who is sporting a rather unfortunate comb-forward hairstyle. "Never has it taken this long". Well, eventually the line starts moving ever so slowly. The reason for our hour plus delay is never explained but necessitates a revamp of the schedule.

Courtyard in front of Royal Palace
Interior courtyard 
Gorgeous tile work
And again
Everywhere you look just amazing Moorish style decoration

The Alcazar is absolutely amazing and I am pretty sure we didn't visit it the last time we were in Seville even though I find this hard to believe. Still, I would have remembered the exuberant Moorish decorations including a partly-sunken interior courtyard garden, stunning tile work and elaborate stucco work. The place was unsurprisingly crowded but fortunately we were not rushed through in order to make up time.

Jewish Quarter
Minaret turned bell tower, Seville Cathedral
Gold altarpiece, Seville Cathedral 
Christopher Columbus tomb (?)

After a brief walk through the Jewish Quarter (narrow alleyways and small, picturesque courtyards) we headed for the Seville Cathedral. The Cathedral was built on top of a mosque. It is quite large with twenty(?) side chapels and a very high ceiling. The style is a mixture but it felt mostly Gothic to me but again I could be wrong. The gold altarpiece was huge, elaborate and impressive with a ridiculous number of carved figures from the Bible while the silver altar was "simpler" (it's all relative) but still big and showy. The Cathedral also contains the remains of Christopher Columbus which our guide said had been confirmed through DNA testing but he also admitted that they had only about half of his remains and that the body has been moved hither and yon many times so I am skeptical. 

High ceilings, Seville Cathedral 
More beautiful tile work, this time at Plaza d'Espagna
Good shot R!

After the Cathedral it was time for lunch. We took the bus to a hotel where we were served a proper meal (as opposed to the usual buffet) in a large but strangely empty (except for us) dining room. The shoppers in the group had to settle for the hotel's gift shop as shopping was I believe jettisoned from the schedule after our Alcazar line disaster (though perhaps shopping was never on the schedule). 

Plaza d'Espagna 
Your intrepid reporters

Once outside we discovered that it must have rained hard while we were enjoying lunch so that was a lucky break. Our final stop was the Plaza d'Espagna. This semi-circular building complete with colonnade, two big towers and a water feature with four bridges was built in the 1920s (I think) for an international fair that was held in Seville. Earlier in the day we had driven past (and dutifully photographed) numerous other buildings that were constructed for that very same international exhibition. The Plaza d'Espagna was by far the nicest and largest fair building that we saw. It included gorgeous tile work that featured the various regions of Spain and this, in combination with the guitarist who was playing in the background, left little doubt of where in the world we were.

We made good time driving back to the ship but still arrived a half hour later than we were supposed to. The "sail away" was bittersweet as we bid farewell to Europe for the second time in less than a year. This time it was a bit harder than the previous time because I don't know when I will be back. But be back I shall -- no doubt and you'll come with me ;)

Monkey is studying up for his next trip to Europe! He's such a smart monkey.