Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tenerife Times Two

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Traveling to Tenerife Today was another lazy day in port. We had visited Tenerife in 2001. At that time, we took a ship’s tour to see an orchid garden. We passed Mount Teide, the highest point in Spain; visited the garden; and were unceremoniously dumped at the beach and told to go shopping until the bus returned in 2 hours. Luckily, we had books with us and spent the time reading by the water. This time, we had no plans.

After a late breakfast, we lazed around until almost 11:15. While MA read, D went in search of information about the Hop On-Hop Off bus and discovered we were less than a ten-minute walk from the nearest stop. He bought tickets good for unlimited rides for one day. Once we got moving, we wended our way to the bus stop and hopped on. Although the view is better from the open deck on top of the bus, the steps leading up are steep and narrow, so we stayed under cover. For the next hour, we rode around Santa Cruz, the capital city of Tenerife. D took some pictures but they were all through the bus’s windows so weren’t really too good. Almost every time he saw something he wanted to photograph, either the bus moved or some tree was in the way.

Santa Cruz de Ternerife is a typical European city with lots of highrise apartment buildings and dwellings rising several stories above shops. There are numerous parks and statues, and a mixture of classic and modern architecture. It seems to be a very livable city. We saw people going about their business with no one approaching us to buy bracelets, Polex watches or t-shirts. The city was clean and the people purposeful. There is a pedestrian shopping area, complete with McDonald’s and its free wi-fi, within easy walking distance of the ship.

We decided to leave the bus at a park near the harbor. After an hour, our tushes were tired and we knew we could always get the next bus since they run on a twenty-minute schedule. We discovered, though, that we were practically at the bus stop where we had boarded an hour earlier. It was short walk back to the ship. Once aboard, we dropped our things in the room and went to the Lido for lunch. We ate outside by the pool; it was warm but not hot and there was a nice breeze. It was practically empty because most of the passengers were out on tours. We ate our ice cream with Dave and Linda [from Trivia] and then went to the Ocean Bar to read, write and claim our Trivia table.

No one else from the team showed up today, but we weren‘t expecting any, so we joined another team and had a good time. “Good time” is code for “we lost.”

While MA took the afternoon rest, D went back into town to find AA batteries since his new camera seems to eat them. Siesta had not ended and most shops were still closed. He saw the McD’s and felt morally obligated to buy a Coke so he could use the wi-fi. Almost 45 minutes later he headed back to the ship but found a shop with AAs, so he bought some for a bit less than he would have paid on the ship. Of course, on the ship he would have used some of the credit that’s on the bill, but he was hopeful that these were fresher than the ones on shipboard.

We hurried through dinner [Cobb salad/paella] so we could get seats at tonight’s show, a folkloric presentation by a local group. The showroom was packed since there was only the one performance, but Trivia Linda had saved seats in our regular place. The show was dynamic consisting mostly of group dances to drum accompaniments. Costumes were gaudy [and skimpy!] and we were reminded of Le Cage aux Folles and The Boy from Oz. By the time it was over, we were exhausted.

MA read and went to bed and D updated the journal and did some banking in the Ocean Bar before retiring for the night.

Sad Note #1 – D seems to have lost the wireless mouse for the computer and will return to McD’s tomorrow morning to see if it was turned in there. It’s not a tragedy but it is an inconvenience and embarrassment.

Sad Note #2 – Roxanne e-mailed that a Carnival exec was quoted as saying that the company, which owns HAL, is canceling cruises to Morocco as well as Tunisia and Egypt as well as some stops in Israel. D found the quote in USA Today from March 23. Today is the 29th. Why doesn’t anyone here know anything??

Tomorrow – Another day of nothing in Santa Cruz de Tenerife [and wondering about North Africa] Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tenerife II

With nowhere to go and noting to do, we slept late, an easy thing to do when sunrise is 8:00 or so. After breakfast, D walked once again into town to search for the missing mouse. What a difference a day makes!

Yesterday, the only ships in port were us and a Silver Sea ship. The Silver Sea ships are quite small, holding only a few hundred passengers. While we spent the night in port, the Silver Cloud [or whatever it was] was gone when we awoke. In her place were ships from Oceana, Costa, MSC and Norwegian Cruise Lines. The Captain said there would be an additional 10000+ people in town today and he wasn’t far off. Let’s put it in perspective: the Prinsendam carries 830 people when full, according to Fermin, and has 8 life boats hanging at her sides. The Oceana Insignia has only 12 boats, but the Costa Fortuna has 24; the MSC Fantasia has 28; and the NCL Behemoth of the Seas has a whopping 32 lifeboats!

As a result of this assault on Santa Cruz, everything was jam-packed. The pedestrian shopping area was a sea of people anxious to spend euros and the outdoor cafes were very busy at 10:00 with customers already drinking beer and wine. As the morning wore on and became lunchtime, the crowds at the cafes just got worse. There were hawkers in the mall trying to lure the unwary into jewelry and electronics shops. The most telling sight, though, was the line for the HO-HO bus. When we rode yesterday, there was plenty of room on the bus and no lines of people waiting to board. By comparison, today there was no room visible on the buses which passed by the ship and the line to board seemed to have several hundred people in it at 10:00. Even at 1:30, there was still a short line.

D battled the crowds and went to Mickey D’s in search of the errant mouse. When he was finally able to find someone who spoke a little English, he was still unsuccessful. The staff was sympathetic but helpless. To make matters worse, McD’s wi-fi wasn’t working properly, so he couldn’t even check e-mail. Others from the ship were having the same problem and Danielle from the Cruise Staff said that the manager swore it would be working in 10 minutes. It wasn’t important, so D didn’t wait around. He also stopped in the shop where he bought the batteries yesterday but could not make them understand that he was looking for a lost rodent; the salesman simply showed him where the mice were on display. Instead, of buying a new mouse, he went “home” where he looked up prices for mice on his Kindle. Although the ones available in Santa Cruz were not name brands, they were a bit less expensive than at Staples, so D schlepped back to town to buy a new, lime green, mouse. It isn’t great but it’s better than nothing.

We had lunch on the back Lido deck since there was no wind and then went down to the Ocean Bar to read, do crossword puzzles and update the journal before Trivia. Only Sandra showed up so we three joined three others including Louise with whom we share shore adventures. We managed to score 14/17 today, good enough for a second-place tie.

v Who starred in both The King and I and From Here to Eternity? v Who was the shortest Beatle? v What is the only former-Soviet Baltic country whose name does not start with L? v Who first recorded Light My Fire? v What is the English word for a small piece of garlic? v What is the second most common element in the universe? v In which country was the mambo introduced in the 1930s?

Louise and Sandra joined us in the Java Bar for yuppie coffee drinks before we sailed away. MA went to the cabin, and D retrieved his camera and went topside to take some last pictures of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Sandra and her husband Alan were on deck 13 and Louise was on deck 12, all doing the same thing.

We had our pre-dinner drinks in the Crow’s Nest again. It was Happy Hour and we figured we could get two glasses of wine for the price of one. Instead, we got four for the price of two, so D had his first drink of the cruise. We had the first glass in the Crow’s Nest and carried the second glass to the MDR, trying to look sophisticated. That didn’t last long considering the high jinks of our dining room stewards. Tonight, Mega the assistant started calling D either Mr. Cool or Mr. Cucumber because he was wearing a cool tie with Looney Tunes characters. Unfortunately, he went to the wrong table and said it to some other man. He and Khaye the bar server came to our table and crouched down to try to hide, laughing all the while. After dinner, Bahtiar made us the third in the series of origami figures. Tonight’s was a little puppet which he said was his daughter’s favorite.

The show featured two musicians who played about twenty instruments between them with an emphasis on pan pipes and recorders. There were also lots of drums and cymbals, guitars and a violin. Their repertoire included American, South American and European music, from El Condor Pasa to Turkey in the Straw. They changed instruments faster than the quick-change artists changed clothes. Although the show did not have the energy level of the folkloric show, we enjoyed it anyway.

We read until midnight and then turned off the lights.

Tomorrow -- Lanzarotte

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Black Ties and Nothing

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Today was a sea day, so there wasn’t much going on. We lost an hour again last night. We looked all over for it, but never did find it. We slept in and didn’t started anything until we found it around 10:00.

Since it was a sea day, Trivia was held at 11:30. As far as we were concerned, it could have been canceled and it would not have made much difference. We were skunked. The questions did not seem so difficult, but apparently the answers were. We didn’t even save our answer sheet to share the questions here. Let’s just say it was sad.

Tonight was another formal night and we were invited for cocktails and dinner with the Captain and his wife. We arrived at the appointed time [7:15] after leaving the Showroom midway through an encore by Black Tie, the Australian singers and musicians. We knew we were not late because Mrs. Captain Schoonderbeek was still there when we left. Still, we were among the last to arrive at the Captain’s quarters and almost all of the seats were filled with people who had come early.

There were perhaps twenty guests in the living room plus most of the senior officers, many of whom we know now. We were greeted warmly by all of them and soon found a place in a corner, our usual hangout. The ship was rolling so much that people were bracing themselves against cabinets and furniture if they did not have seats. Watching the waiters come around with canapés and drinks was exciting, but there were no calamities.

We struck up a conversation with a couple from Palm Beach via Cleveland and had a pleasant time. Just before 8:00, most of the guests departed leaving just 8 of us to follow Gildus, the dining room manager, to the MDR where we found our assigned places at the Captain’s table. MA was to the immediate left of Captain Scooby-Doo [as some call him] while D was to the left of Lesley, his wife. We never had formal introductions to the other six guests but know that 2 of them are host/hostess for passengers who booked through Cruise specialists, a large Seattle-based travel agency founded by the wife of a former HAL president.

Dinner at the Captain’s table is not like dinner anywhere else on the ship. Each place had a charger plate made by Rosenthal using a Versace design. All of the following china had the same patter but in different colors. The flatware had the same pattern as did the crystal – all three glasses. Of course, there was more flatware than anyone could use at any meal. Menus were placed on the chargers, large scrolls rolled and tied offering the selections for dinner.

There were appetizers of shrimp cocktail or phyllo packets; soup or Caesar salad; and a choice of crab legs or beef Wellington. Dessert was chocolate cake. Bottled water was used instead of whatever we normally get at dinner and the wine was unlimited, both red and white.

MA and the Captain had a spirited conversation throughout the meal and D managed some chit-chat with Lesley who is delightfully unaffected. The role of the Captain’s wife did change her from being the small-town English girl she was. She actually worked in the cruise industry and met her husband while she was working. She no longer operates a Shore Excursion office but does help as an escort when the staff is stretched thin. We saw her yesterday in the Banjul market where she was, as she put it, “herding” passengers of a HAL tour. When D asked her to name the hardest part of being the captain’s wife, she said she loved it all. She did concede, though, that the 5-foot bed they share is a bit crowded compared to the regulation 6-foot bed the passengers have and that the Schoonderbeek’s have at home.

Captain Albert [his first name] is a naval historian of sorts. He can recount stories of almost every cruise ship afloat and most that are no longer in service. When the subject of one of our favorite ships, the Marco Polo came up, he was able to give detailed information on its current ownership and itineraries as well as its history since the demise of Orient Lines. Like his wife, he is very approachable and affable, easy to talk to and full of personality.

Dinner broke up around 9:45, giving the Captain and his wife plenty of time to get to the Show-room for the Black and white Ball. We had already decided not to attend [we never do] although we were curious how people would dance on a very bouncy ship.

Back in the room, we read until lights out so we would be rested for another day of nothing.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Everyone’s a Critic

Today was the second meeting of the Cruise Critic group, so we were up early. After breakfast in the MDR, we went to the Crow’s Nest, the top-most spot on the ship, for a 10:00 meeting. Although we were there at 9:30, Bob and Judy [voorn in CC-speak] were already there. They had made the original name tags for the group and were set up to make new ones for member’s who had lost or forgotten them and for newcomers. We added several pseudo-members today, folks who were not part of the online chat about this trip or who not heard of the group until they met friends aboard. We’re just happy to have more people.

As 10:00 passed, Lois [SlotL] started things again by suggesting that anyone with space left on a private tour share that information so those looking for tours could make arrangements with them. As that was getting started, CD Thom and Cruise Consultant Tine [Mrs. Thom] arrived to say hello and banter a bit. They didn’t stay very long before we got back to meeting-and-greeting. D made the announcement that he is a CC addict but had gone 17 days without logging in. We all just sat and talked, often comparing experiences ashore in Banjul and Dakar. We had no agenda and no real purpose except to socialize. We saw people there whom we had seen around the ship without remembering that were CCers. And we will probably forget that fact again.

D had had personalized ship’s invitations sent to all of the cabins of known members of the group and asked anyone who did not get one to see him so he could update the list. About a half-dozen people came to him to volunteer their information. The plan is to publish and distribute a finalized list with names and e-mail addresses at the last get-together in May.

MA left the meeting early to secure our traditional Trivia table and D followed when the meeting petered out around 11:10. He was reminded by Bob Voorneveld to take some fruit to her since he had not done so after the last CC meeting. The Trivia questions were easier today because our 14/17 was only good for third place. [Which is larger, a pool table or a billiards table? Who directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Alphabetically, who is the first disciple? Who was the most recent British monarch who was crowned as a teenager? What is the square root of .01?] Naturally, several of the right answers were mentioned but never made the paper. Woulda , coulda, shoulda again.

Reading and a nap were followed by dinner [veggie/beef] and then more reading before bed. Tomorrow – Tenerife, the Canary Islands

Sunday, March 27, 2011

African Adventures

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wal-Mart of the Wharf

Land Ho! We have docked in Banjul [ban-JOOL], the Gambia, our first port in Africa. The temperature at 8:00 was 66° with a high of 95°+ predicted. On a map, The Gambia looks like a splinter stuck in Senegal in the extreme west of the continent. Needle-like, it is divided right down the middle by its river. Jon says there are no land routes connecting north and south. He also told us there wasn’t much to see and that we would be well served to stay on the ship.

Of course we ignored his advice. We did not take an organized tour [in such a thing exists in this less-than-Third-World country], but hopped on the ship’s shuttle at 10:00. We apparently had a guide on board the bus for the ten-minute drive to the market area and then discovered that he was going to stay with us until we returned to the shuttle for the drive back. He led us into a warren of paths from which we might never have escaped on our own, but more about that later.

For the most part, the market was uncovered which is to say the walkways were open to the ever-warming sun but the vendors had mostly covered stalls. Much of the produce and seafood, however, was out in the open with the produce typically spread on cloths on the ground. The fish were in galvanized steel containers for the most part. Some of the fish seemed to have been smoked; some were fried; and there were vendors [all female] who were stripping the flesh from some of the fish. We didn’t get pictures of the fishmongers because the self-appointed guide was moving too fast, but there were perhaps a dozen varieties including crabs, shrimp and something reminiscent of a flounder.

As soon as we entered the market, we lost all sense of direction. In this it was like the medina in Marrakech except we were not surrounded by buildings, just assorted stalls. The market was part crafts market and part local market where the populace of Banjul came to buy their groceries “fresh from the farm” even if some things were imported. The two markets coexisted but we could tell when we crossed from one to the other. Cloth vendors tended to be grouped together as did wood-working merchants. The same is true of other crafts. Of course, we enriched the local economy. MA bought small woven baskets and D added not one but two masks to his collection. You should have seen the ones that got away!

To some extent, the Banjul market combined the essence of the Ben Tanh market in Saigon with “beauty” of the Russian market in Pnom Penh. It was dark, smelly, exotic and well worth the time.

In the good news/bad news department, it was while we were making the last purchases that we discovered that our guide had disappeared. We never did find him so, like Moses wandering the desert, we tried to find our way out of the maze which was the market. It was all guess work, and we would be there still if it were not for a Good Samaritan who offered to help us find both the outside of the market and the shuttle bus. We wandered behind him like the Pied Piper’s rats through dark and twisting pathways. We were well away from the tourist area and surrounded by the stalls that the Gambians would patronize for shoes, clothing, etc. At one point we came to a large area filled with foot-treadle sewing machines where, he said, men, women and children were learning how to make the kind of clothing sold in the market.

Soon after the sewing center, we were outside but nowhere near our bus. True, there was a HAL tour bus there, but it was not available to us. So we walked and walked and walked. Let’s just say that we saw the even seamier side of Banjul. With perhaps more luck than skill, we found a group of HAL passengers who seemed convinced that they were at the shuttle stop. We thanked our new-found friend, tipped him generously and watched as our bus bounced toward us.

The Gambian infrastructure may not exist. We saw no rat’s-nest of electric lines the way we have in Shanghai indicating that the use electricity is not universal [there was no 3-G signal this morning, either]. The roads we traveled in the city were more pot-hole than roadway and the driver tried valiantly to steer around the gullies in our path. Walking through the market was just as exciting and uneven.

Nonetheless, we arrived home none the worse for wear, full of the sights, sounds and smells of one little corner of Banjul. By the time we got to the dock, local merchants had set up shop selling many of the same crafts and goods we had seen in the market. Had out goal been simply to by souvenirs, we could have done so right on the wharf, but it would not have been the same.

We went to the Lido pool to read and update, as we usually, do and were surprised by Peder, the Beverage Manager, who stopped to tell us he had identified all of the CC members save two. There was a couple listed with no last name and no cabin number. D immediately told him it was Ed and Roxanne who do not yet have a cabin number but who are joining us in Venice. Peder does not need their info for the March 28 meeting.

Trivia was not as crowded as it is on sea days because some of the Trivials were still ashore. We managed a respectable 17/19 today with a teensy assist from Ken and Lois’s team which scored our paper. In the musical scale, what note follows “fa?” We wrote “sol,” but the substitute emcee wanted either “so” or “soh.” Close enough. We lost a tie-breaker when D did not share his quick answer with the team [or they with him – In the song, where are you supposed to put your troubles? The correct answer is “in your old kit bag,” but someone wrote “an old kit bag.” So we only got one Grand dollar today, not two. Oh, the horror!

Tomorrow – Dakar, Senegal

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dakar Daze

Once again we were up at 6:30, an hour fit for nothing. We were chugging very slowly into Dakar. There was some confusion with the pilot boat, so we were fifteen minutes late arriving in port.

D had arranged the first in the series of group tours. We were to share the trip with Bill and Louise from upstate New York who will be with us on all five of the tours prior to Venice; Anita and Howard, friends of theirs from Canada; and Charles and Lynne from Delray Beach. The latter joined at the request of Ken and Lois who then canceled because their travel agent offered a free trip in Dakar.

Although the ship had not been cleared, we met in the Stuyvesant Lounge down the hall from our cabin at 8:00. The Senegalese officials were to use that room for passport control, so we knew before the rest of the passengers that we could disembark when Firmin left the officials to alert the bridge. Even though we were among the first off, we stood and waited because our guide was nowhere to be found. D even returned to the cabin, going against the departing guests like a salmon swimming upstream, to get a cell phone number which he didn’t have. By the time he returned to the group, our guide and driver were there and ready.

We started by driving around Dakar while the guide, whose name was unpronounceable, told us what buildings we were seeing and pointing out monuments and fountains. We stopped outside the presidential palace for photographs of the guards, the gates and the palace itself. We laughed about the fact that HAL tour groups were doing the same thing for a lot more money. Next on our agenda was the local Catholic church, a building dating only from 1939. It dramatic in its simplicity – there were no statues and no Stations of the Cross decorating the facility. There were a number of side chapels, as is customary, many with abstract stained glass, some with recognizeable figures. When we left, we started out for the Goree Island ferry which was practically next to our ship.

Our drive through Dakar was interesting because it highlighted the dichotomy of the city’s heritage. In the “official” section near the palace and church, and, indeed, in much of downtown, the city reminded us of Paris or some other European city. Street level shops were topped with apartments, trees were abundant and divided roadways were not uncommon. But the street hawkers who flocked to us were definitely not French even if their language often was; the curbs were trash-filled; and there were merchants selling things on the sidewalk, not in stores. We thought of Cambodia and Jakarta. The French may have left a decent infrastructure but the local flavor was equally present.

We arrived at the ferry dock with time to kill and waited in the terminal until everyone started to race to the exit door. We didn’t race but were still right in the thick of the crowd as we headed to the ferry. Our group of eight plus the guide stayed at the prow [the pointy end] of the boat so we could see Goree Island as it appeared out of the mist.

Why visit Goree? It is a UN World Heritage Site because it houses the infamous Slave House from which thousands of Africans were exported like so many bags of rice. Most died on the journey to the Caribbean and the US. The Amistad, about which a movie was made, began its odyssey at Goree Island. Today, the Slave House has been rebuilt to resemble what it would have been in the early Nineteenth Century. At that time, what is now Senegal, along with the slave trade, was controlled by the Portuguese. The top floor of the Slave House is now a tiny museum giving information about the history of slavery on Goree and showcasing some of the shackles worn by the slaves. It is the first level that is most disturbing. Here, we could see small rooms which held 15 – 20 male slaves at a time in a space large enough for maybe two people. There were rooms for infants, children and women, too. Several rooms were especially noteworthy. One was the room where under-weight slaves were taken to be fattened up, like cattle, because the minimum weight for a saleable slave was around 60 kilos, about 135 pounds. Other rooms were set aside for the recalcitrant slaves, those who were not docile and cooperative; these were like “the hole” in dungeons, completely without light or air.

We left there and for reasons unknown went to see a demonstration of sand painting. For us, it was pretty much a waste of time but the stop did afford everyone the chance to use the toilets. Louise has hip and knee problems, so she was directed somewhere with better facilities. Once we were all finished, we walked to the Catholic church. This one was dark with age and filled with icons, the Stations of the Cross and the raised pulpit from which the priest would deliver sermons. It was interesting for its existence but not particularly attractive. Nonetheless, we donated toward its upkeep.

We started back to the ferry but were accosted by a woodworker who had struck up a conversation with us on the ferry on the trip to Goree. He half-dragged us to see his hut in an artisan’s encampment near the church. We were not really interested in buying anything, especially at unrealistic prices, and eventually were able to escape. He followed us and, we think, said derogatory things about our mothers, but he did it in the local language, not French, so we are not sure. He even insisted that D return his business card since we did not purchase anything.

Goree Island is more than the Slave House and church although these are the tourist highlights. It is home to about a thousand residents and has a small hospital of dubious quality and schools for the children. There are many cafes and innumerable street vendors trying sell cheap beads, knock-off watches and t-shirts to the tourists. There are also vegetable sellers whose customers are the residents. There were probably other products available but we didn’t see them. Travelers have to remember that there are no grocery stores and few specialty stores despite the Aldo shop we saw in Dakar. People buy what they need on the street just as they did in Banjul.

Following a boisterous return on the ferry – where we were entertained by a percussion band celebrating tonight’s soccer match between Senegal and Cameroon – we drove perhaps 40 minutes to the area known as Les Almadies, the resort area of Dakar. Lunch was included in the tour [but not drinks] and we had salad with shrimp and shredded chicken; either fish or beef kabobs; and fresh fruit. The food was marvelous if not Senegalese. The drinks were a bit overpriced [$3 for a coke and $7 for a Heineken beer] but in the grand scheme of things, it was a trifle.

The trip back followed the coast and brought us at one point to a monument to the African Renaissance. There must have been 150 or more steps up a hill to the base of this gigantic statue which was itself probably 100 feet tall. At least that’s what it looked like. As we approached the ship, Anita voiced her dismay that we had not visited the market area because she wanted to shop for tchotchkes. We turned around and retraced our path before finding “the market.” Unlike Banjul’s enclosed market which we visited yesterday, Dakar’s is blocks and blocks of vendors crowding the sidewalks and even the roadway. One enormous intersection was wall-to-wall vendors wherever we looked. Jewelry. Fabric. Shoes. Produce. Meat. Whatever Joe or Josephine Dakar wanted or needed was available somewhere. It looked like a scene from The Amazing Race, and could have been dropped into most Asian cities as well. We were fascinated – this was the real Dakar, not the European food we had just eaten. We stopped but no one wanted to venture forth. We were not interested in shopping and, those who were, were too intimidated by the scene to venture forth. When Anita said that the people smelled, D reminded her that we smell to them. “I don’t smell,” she replied. “Yes, you do, but you smell of deodorant and soap, but that is still different from what they are used to.”

We circled back over now-familiar streets and returned to the ship. While the others went to shop for crafts on the pier, we boarded and hurried to Trivia [why not?]. We got there in time for question #9 and joined some of our regular teammates and two strangers. Working together, we managed 10 points, enough for a 4-way tie for second. Once again, we blew the tie-breaker and received no ship’s dollars. We sought solace in iced cappuccinos with teammate Sandra and then went to the cabin to read and write [and nap].

While we were eating, this year’s dining room captain, Gildus, came to the table to ask if we would like to have dinner at the Captain’s table tomorrow. We would have been fools to decline and accepted with gratitude. Sure enough, the invitation to his quarters for cocktails was in our mail slot when we got back to the room. After dinner [veggie/Thanksgiving dinner], we checked e-mail and Facebook before going to the show. The ship’s singers and dancers did a Broadway retrospective but we didn’t think it was as good as their show last week. Maybe things will get better.

Tomorrow – A day at sea, formal night and the Captain’s table

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

We docked around 7;00 this morning at Mindelo [MIN-dello], Cape Verde, and were cleared to go ashore at 8:00. HAH! We were still in bed, enjoying the luxury before we have to start getting up at 6:30 to start touring at 8:00.

We arrived at the MDR a few minutes earlier than normal but were still shown to what has become our regular table. It is in a corner as far from everyone else as it could be. Are they trying to tell us something? Once again, we were joined by the same couple with whom we have had breakfast several times, always in the “bad children’s” corner.[See the entry for March 15]. We have been passing the time talking about the Trivia and other matters of little importance.

We decided to venture into town to see what there was here. While the ship or the locals were offering a shuttle to town, the 10-passenger mini-van filled quickly with the truly needy, so we began walking. And walking. And walking. We thought the shuttle was going as far as then end of the pier [like Martinique], but it went all the way to what passes for downtown. After walking about a mile, we turned around and came back to the ship. Others we met returning when we were outbound said there wasn’t much to Mindelo; folks who made it [via the shuttle] told us the same thing. As someone said of the market, “I’ve seen plenty of vegetables before.”

Cape Verde is really a series of volcanic islands in the eastern Atlantic off the coast of Africa. It reminded us of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands [which we will visit in a week or so] in that it is barren to look at. All we can see from the ship is bare mountainsides and the strata of rock pushed up by tectonic action. It looks like a giant cinder. It is a rock between the Caribbean and Africa with little to offer except geography.

Back on the ship, we grabbed a cream soda and went to the Lido where we sat outside in the breeze and read and wrote. Trivia was early today, scheduled for 2:30 instead of the usual 3:30 we’ve come to expect on port days. We scored 10/17 which was good enough for a second place tie with Ken & Lois and one other team. We told K&L today that Ed and Roxanne are boarding in Venice and plan to join our Trivia team [say “goodbye” to Gordon] and they were really put out. They presumed that everyone would be fighting for them to join their team. We set them straight when MA pointed out that we already have team hats which our future teammates bought.
Among the questions today:

1. What is the northernmost landlocked country in Europe?
2. Which of these presidents is/was the tallest; Obama, Bush II, Clinton, Carter, Bush I?
3. Who wrote the lyrics to “West Side Story” and “Gypsy?”
4. Whose slogan was, “Even your best friend won’t tell you?”
5. Which was the first movie studio to ban smoking from its films?
6. Which was the first state in the United States?
7. What is the most quoted line from “Gone with the Wind?”
8. In which sport did Johnny Wiesmuller win 5 gold medals?
9. For a short time in the 19th Century, what South American city was the capital of a European country?
10. All three current female associate justices of the Supreme Court were born in the same city. Name it.
11. The Global Seed Bank is located in Svalbard. In which country is Svalbard located?
12. [Bonus] What do the J and D stand for in J. D. Salinger?

Because we played Trivia at 2:30, it was 3:00 when we finished and there was a local folkloric show set for 3:30 by the Lido pool. We hustled up there but were only able to find seats in the corner by the temporary bar which was mass producing margaritas. Our view of the staging area was slightly obstructed [especially when passengers went to the bar for nachos], so D went up to the next deck where he could get some pictures and video of the show. He returned to MA and shot more video and took more pix as the performance continued. There were three sets of dancers who combined local flavor with Latin rhythms; the dancing seemed to combine salsa, tango and samba although not at the same time. There was also a small band consisting of 3 guitars and a violin player plus a female singer. It was a highly enjoyable 45 minutes and was the highlight of our stay in Mindelo.

After dinner [vegetarian again/barramundi], we went to the show lounge for a performance by a Cuban-born pianist. His fingers flew through such numbers as Brasil, Malaguena, Tico Tico and a Gershwin fantasy as well as Leroy Anderson’s Typewriter during which he played both the piano and the typewriter simultaneously. It was so enjoyable that D bought one of his CDs after the show.

Tomorrow is another sea day, then on to Africa!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Little Bit Rock and Roll

The captain told us at 1:00 p.m. that we had Force 5 winds and 10 – 12 foot swells. We thought it was swell, too. There was just enough motion to remind us that we were aboard an ocean-going vessel. The elevators made noises like a New York subway car, so we jiggled a little pretending to be on the IRT.

We had new people at breakfast this morning; then it was off to the Ocean Bar around 10:30. We schmoozed with worthy opponents and with Fermin who had wandered through. D cleared out the e-mail and booked a tour in Ashdod, Israel, for April 20, the day which was added in lieu of Egypt. He also e-mailed a copy of the tour meeting chart to himself so he could print it using the ship’s computers. Then he went to the computer area to print it. A stop by the Front Desk yielded enough copies to distribute to all the people joining us on a variety of shore excursions starting with Dakar, Senegal, in two days.

1. Which US president was an engineer?
2. What Chinese city is the richest?
3. What tennis term is an anagram of lovely?
4. What aspiring track star abandoned sports to become a professional singer?
5. What branch of science deals with the study of liquids in pipes?
6. Whose slogan was, “Where’s the beef?”
7. The citizens of what country each the most beef per capita?
8. Who was the first female to appear on a Wheaties box.
9. Which of these has the most potassium – tomato, potato, banana or artichoke?
10. Which continent has received the most meteor strikes?
11. Victoria’s Secret opened its first store in the 1970s at a Stanford mall. For 2 points give both the city and state.
12. According to a recent article, what per cent of women would rather reveal their age than their weight? [within 5%]
13. [bonus] there are 8 USDA grades of meat. Name the three highest grades.
We improved to 10 correct today, but there was a 4-way tie for first at 13 points. We had skipped over 3 answers which were ultimately right but weren’t close on the tie-breaker, so it didn’t matter.

As usual, we are surrounded by “characters.” There is the couple we call Boris and Natasha. There is no logical reason and no foreign accents, but we think of them this way based solely on appearance. We are sailing once again with the dancing fools we call Boogie and Mrs. Boogie. They look like refugees from the 60s [with a little ZZ Topp thrown in], but they are on the dance floor every night. He now uses a cane but that has not affected his dancing. The ship’s rabbi is a bit loud and talkative; his wife reminds us of a tall version of D’s sister. And her name really is Linda. They set the religious threshold pretty low by ordering shrimp and lobster whenever it is offered.

And there is Virginia. She and her husband John sat next to us for a few nights before they went to the big dining room. Now that they are back, they have managed to get a table for four, like ours, at which they entertain different guests and staff members each night. We think Virginia, the controller, may be trying to host a different couple every night. When they went to the big dining room, we declined an offer to join them for even one night. Now we know we would have felt cheap if we had.

Tomorrow – Banjul, the Gambia

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's a Living

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another Day, Another Dollar

We are sneaking up on Africa as we speed across the Atlantic Ocean. Soon, we will be at the port of Mindelo on Cape Verde Island. That’s several days off, though, so we have more nothing ahead of us.

After a relaxed breakfast, we went to the Ocean Bar to read, talk and post the latest blog entry. This was followed at 11:30 by the hardest Trivia contest so far, perhaps the hardest in years. Some of the questions were so obscure that they cannot be printed here because they made no sense at the time. Here goes:

1. What are two colors are most often confused by people who are color blind?
2. Which penguins are the biggest?
3. Who sang “Don’t Go Breakin” My Heart” with Elton John?
4. Who was the first Quaker US president?
5. In the following series of numbers, what is the median? 0,0 1, 3, 6
6. Who is the patron saint of children?
7. In five card stud poker, the odds are 4161:1 against getting dealt what kind of hand?
8. Whose slogan was, “A diamond is forever?”
9. Who wrote “Captain, My Captain?”
10. What are the smallest pieces of icebergs called?
11. Which company trademarked the color “robin’s egg blue?”
12. What do you call a government run by rich people?
13. [BONUS] What are the three kinds of caviar harvested from sturgeon?

As if the questions were not hard enough, today’s bonus was a plus-or-minus. We would add a point for each correct answer but lose a point for each incorrect answer. Teams could add as many as three points or lose as many as three from their totals. The game became even harder when one of Kevin’s answers was wrong, penalizing folks who were right and rewarding those who didn’t really know. Ken and Lois’s team, which has been out of the running the last few days, won with a score of 13/18! We tied with seven other teams with 8/18 and still finished second! Poor Kevin gave us all Grand dollars, but we might have broken the bank. We think he is enjoying stumping us as much as we enjoy playing.

We lost an hour today as we headed east. Rather than make the change at 2:00 a.m., we set our watches ahead at noon so we did not lose any sleep. We will do the same thing tomorrow when we pass through another time zone.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Uneasy Lies the Head

The sea-day routine continued for another day – breakfast, Trivia, lunch, read/rest, dinner. We are inexorably eating our way to Africa.

There were, apparently, several CC members [who shall remain nameless] who were miffed because they were not invited as CC leader to the reception the other night. They are welcome to the job if, in fact, they are willing to put in the time. First, there was the compiling and consolidating of the member list. Then there was the problem of figuring out how to print it, followed by their printing and distribution. Today’s chore was working to get reminders sent to each member for next week’s gathering.

The Beverage Manager, Peter, is responsible for the printing and distribution of invitations, but he normally has the passengers flagged by group on the manifest delivered by HAL’s offices in Seattle. It is easy to identify them when AmEx or Cruise Specialists gives them the information; organizations like these know ahead of time which of their members/customers will be on board. The Cruise Critic group is largely unknown until we meet for the first time. We add new members as we go along; do not have full names of all of the participants; and sometimes do not even have cabin numbers. Peter agreed to print invitations, which D wrote, and have them delivered based on the cabin numbers on D’s chart. Some people will invariably be left off and will be petty about it; it has happened before.

Once all of that was arranged, it was almost 1130, Trivia Time. Kevin continued his sadistic streak today. Although there was a 4-way tie for first at 11/19, we were a distant 3rd at 8 again. We still had more fun than anyone else.

1. We call them Arabic numerals. Where were they developed?
2. What city sits on top of the world’s largest oil deposit?
3. Who won the NFL’s first overtime game?
4. At over a million dollars, what company now offers the world’s most expensive car?
5. An opera singer is considered to have sung ‘the Grand Slam” by performing in which venues in Milan, New York City, London and Vienna?
6. Who was Tom Cruise’s second wife?
7. What vitamin is used to treat pellagra?
8. Most languages have dictionaries. How many have a thesaurus?
9. What date in January is celebrated in Australia like the 4th of July in the US?
10. What bird has the widest wing span?
11. In which decade of the 20th Century did Mauritania abolish slavery?
12. What was the first disease associated with a virus?
13. Which company used the slogan, “Does she or doesn’t she?”
14. What branch of astronomy deals with the creation of the universe?

Lunch, reading and resting followed Trivia. Around 6:00, D went to talk with the Future Cruise Consultant, Tina, who happens to be CD Thom’s wife. He finalized deposits on cabins for a Christmas cruise with the whole family in case the children are interested. The reasoning was that it is easier to cancel before final payment than try to book several adjacent cabins [or any cabins] at the last minute.

Off to dinner. Peter stopped by to visit and we invited him to join us one night. We hope he will; he has a good sense of humor and would be a fun dinner companion. After dinner we went back to the cabin. We weren’t too interested in the Scottish comedian. We know what’s under his kilt. When we got to the cabin, there was another little present, an adjustable shoulder bag good for carrying identification, key card, money, etc. The other night we got a card case sized to hold room key cards [Did I mention that one already?].

Tomorrow: Mindelo, Cape Verde

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sea Days Daze

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sea Daze

We are back to sailing mode with several days of open ocean ahead of us. This means we will revert to our routine – breakfast at 9:00 in the MDR; Trivia at 11:30; lunch between 1:00 and 2:00; nap; and dinner. The after-dinner shows are optional although tonight’s will feature the Prinsendam’s singers so we might give it a whirl. We have been told that there is a corps of singers and dancers but that there will be no big production shows. This would be a tremendous change from previous cruises. [The Prinsendam has a tiny stage, unlike the newer, larger ships. Broadway style shows with lots of feathers and costume changes just don’t work well here. Even on the larger stages of the bigger ships, they aren’t usually so good. Walking on a rolling ship is tough enough, but dancing on one is suicidal.]

TRIVIA TIME! Since we have no narrative on sea days, here are some of the questions from today’s contest;

1. Who said, “I did not have sex with that woman” and who was the woman? [2 pts]
2. The first intercollegiate competition in New England was a rowing contest. Which school won?
3. Where are the “trade winds” found?
4. What music style is a combination of jazz and the Brazilian samba?
5. What company was founded by an immigrant who morphed his maternity clothing into clothing for plus-size women?
6. What state did Joseph McCarthy represent?
7. Who wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?”
8. Which Egyptian king said, “After me, there will be only five kings – the King of England, the King of Spades, the King of Hearts, the King of Diamonds and the King of Clubs?”
9. In what year did Anne Frank die?
10. In the 1960s, who wrote “The Feminine Mystique?”
11. What Nobel-winning economist said that inflation is the only tax that doesn’t need government sponsorship [or something similar, anyway]?
12. What Briton conducted a series of highly publicized interviews with Richard Nixon after Nixon resigned?
13. What Oklahoma painter and guitarist wrote “This Land Is Your Land?”
14. What Oscar Hammerstein musical featured the song “Can’t Help Loving That Man?”
15. In what book did James Joyce perfect the use of stream-of-consciousness?
Bonus [2 pts] Give both the first and last names of the two men who discovered the double-helix, DNA.

We were one of four teams tied with 14/18 but were the only one eliminated in a series of sudden death tie-breakers. There were, as a result, three first-place team and we, who sorta finished second, got nothing nada zip for our efforts. But we had more fun than the other teams.

The highlight of the day was the really long nap. It’s a tough life.

Tonight was a formal night, number two of nine, and we coordinated in blue. MA wore a blue Chico’s outfit and D wore a blue bow tie and cummerbund. We were the best dressed at the table. It was also lobster-tail night and even MA had one to go along with her shrimp cocktail. D had two lobster tails but only because Bahtiar, our waiter, suggested it. Bahtiar was right again.

The show tonight was, indeed, just singing. The “Songbook” show featured all six members of the ship’s cast dressed mostly in formal wear rather than gaudy costumes. The group sang mostly standards from the Fifties with others sprinkled in. When did “Mambo Italiano” and “Come Onna My House” become part of the Great American Songbook? As usual, the band and singers were over-amplified and the echo effect was in full force, but the show was still the best ship’s production we have seen in many years. We are looking forward to more shows by this group.

Back in the room after the show, we read until overcome by the forces of Morpheus.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More of the Same

Although it was more disconcerting when we were in the Arctic, there are birds chirping in the MDR at breakfast. We thought it was a remnant of the South America/Amazon voyage when we first heard them. We asked about having them turned off after 9:00, our usual arrival time, but were told that the dining room manager vetoed our request. It gives a whole new meaning to “twitter.”
And now for today’s Trivia questions:

1. Ferdinand Magellan was from what country?
2. In which country were the opening planetary scenes in the first Star Wars movie filmed?
3. Olives are used as a garnish in martinis? What is the garnish in a gimlet?
4. Harlan Sanders was an honorary colonel in the Kentucky militia. What was his highest rank in real life?
5. Where did ice cream makers Ben and Jerry learn to make ice cream?
6. What Brazilian city was, for a short while in the 1890’s, the world’s richest city?
7. One of Charles Darwin’s cousins had a china company named after him. What was his name?
8. What is the real name of the song used as the theme music for The Sting?
9. How many African countries does the equator run through?
10. Recently, someone whose name I can’t remember became the youngest person ever to win a NASCAR race. What race was it?
11. Nelson Algren said, “Never play cards with a man named “Doc” and never eat at a restaurant named” what?
12. [omitted because of complexity of details. It dealt with the Peruvian national drink/cocktail]
13. In Judaism, “kosher” is the term to signify that food is fit to eat. What is the comparable term for Islam?
14. What Japanese word means “empty orchestra?”
15. What modern English word derives from Greek origins meaning “the place where three roads come together?”

Bonus Question [2 points] -- What Poe poem constantly repeats the word “nevermore?”

We didn’t feel as confident today as we have on some others, estimating our score before the answers were given at around 11. It turned out that we tied for first again with what has become our usual 14 points. The tie-breaker was this: Frank and Nancy Sinatra recorded the duet Something Stupid in what year? The answer closest to the actual year would determine the winner. The other team guessed 1963 and we selected 1967 which was the correct year, so we won another two Grand Dollars, giving us 16 so far. We think the reason we won is that we have figured out how to motivate the rest of the team – there will be no candy unless we win. So far, so good.

We get very little mail delivered to the cabin other than the daily paper and junk mail promoting profit-making schemes for HAL. Yesterday, we received this:

As a group representative
You are cordially invited by
Hotel Manager Firmin van Walle &
Some select officers
For a casual
Get together
Sunday, March 20 at 7:15
in the Oak Room

D had been invited as the public face of Cruise Critic because he arranged all of the group’s meetings. Before dinner we joined the other group reps for free drinks and munchies instead of going to the Ocean Bar. Originally, the invitation was addressed to D but he asked if MA could attend as well. No problem. So we arrived at 7:17 only to discover that the get together had already gotten together. For better or worse, we missed most of the speeches but were in time for the drinks and conversation. The other group reps were really the escorts for various tour agencies such as Cruise Specialists. Between our dramatic late entry and our being completely unknown to the others, they crowded around to talk to us. Many were not familiar with Cruise Critic, so we explained it to them and chatted with some of the officers.

We had met Fermin last summer on the Top of the World cruise and had several meals at his table. In the more relaxed setting of an intimate cocktail party, he seemed much more genial and less authoritarian than last year. He showed a wit and sense of humor we had not suspected. In addition, we spoke with Gary, the Guest Services manager, and Peter, the Beverage Manager. CD Thom was there, too.

After dinner [veggie/roast chicken], we checked e-mail and FB before going to the show. Tonight’s headliners were formerly competitive ballroom dancers who now combine their award-winning talents with quick-change skills. There was more dancing than quick costume changing; there were also film clips of Astaire and Rodgers to set the mood. It got a little tiresome toward the end, but was generally entertaining.

Off to bed to prepare for another strenuous day at sea tomorrow.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bridgetown and Beyond

Friday, March 18, 2011

Beautiful Bridgetown, Barbados

Today was the first port where we had arranged a tour; hence, it was our first early morning. We were awake before the 6:30 alarm because the sun was right outside our window, the light illuminating our cabin despite the heavy curtains. Opening the drapes produced a blinding blaze of light which was blocked once in a while by other cruise ships as the moved to their spots at the pier. We had breakfast in the room although D did venture to the Java Bar for cinnamon rolls. As big and gooey as the ones from Cinnabon, they are only available at the Java Bar and only 8 per day are set out. He took two to be safe.

Although there was grumbling, we were among the first off the ship. Our journey began with a shuttle from the ship to the cruise terminal [read: shopping arcade] because the pier is so long and narrow. Walking would have been dangerous because of equipment being moved on the pier. We traversed the empty terminal quickly [by our standards] and found ourselves looking at an outdoor bus terminal. There must have been room for more than a dozen tour buses. Of course they were not all for our little ship; there were five cruise ships in port plus the World, a condominium ship which sails wherever her residents want. We ventured forth, looking for a round park with a big tree and a bench. We found the little park and our guide after passing the vehicle checkpoint.

D had booked with Glory Tours and the owner, Sarah, was our guide. Although she has others working for her, especially during cruise season, she prefers small groups and ours was the smallest – just the two of us. We started for Harrison’s Cave, one of the recommended sights on Barbados. For the whole 40 minutes we drove, Sarah talked about the history of Barbados and the assorted non-European and European conquerors. She was also busy on her phone making reservations for us Harrison’s Cave as well as for two other groups her company was escorting.

Driving over, under, around and through the island reminded us of driving in St. Thomas. There were very few level or straight pieces of roadway. The road surface was full of broken places and potholes due the compacting of the clay soil. The roads were lined with ramshackle houses and, often, livestock. Although we saw cows and horses, the predominant farm animal was the black-bellied sheep. This breed is a coffee brown and has a black undercarriage. The black-bellied sheep are not raised for wool for they are as hairless as goats. Sarah told us they are raised for lamb chops. Yum!

Our first stop, Harrison’s Cave, is a limestone cavern which was finally explored and mapped in 1970 under the aegis of the government although it had been discovered decades earlier on land owned by someone named Harrison. The cave now boasts of a ride from top to bottom with live narration on electric trams. It also features dripping ceilings, so no one leaves with dry clothing. We, on the other hand, had our rain jackets and D had his hat. In the car. Sarah had not warned us about the ‘cave rain,” so we were as wet as everyone else by the time we emerged half an hour after starting the ride. The cavern was warm and humid with some quite stunning stalactites and stalagmites [Stalactites with a T are at the Top of the cave; stalagmites with an M are at the bottoM]. There were pools and waterfalls in addition to little pocket caves, small caves within the walls like shop windows. The designers of the road bed which had been dug or blasted through the limestone knew exactly where they were going and what they were doing because of the 1970 mapping project.

GEOLOGY LESSON: All of the other Caribbean islands are volcanic, but Barbados was formed from sedimentary rock produced by the action of the Caribbean and Atlantic tectonic plates. The plates, remnants of the break-up of Pangaea [the original land mass], meet near Barbados and their action over the millennia formed the island through pressure and earthquake action. Although not as active as the tectonic plates in the Pacific Rim’s Ring of Fire, they still produce earthquakes which are measureable [As this is being written, Japan is still in turmoil following the earthquake there, so it really strikes home to the Barbadians].

From Harrison’s Cave, we drove up a hill, down a hill, whirly-go do to an orchid garden. This was one of the places we had asked to see since we have been to orchid gardens in Tenerife [in the Canary Islands] and Singapore. When we got there, though, Sarah was not enthusiastic about it. Since being taken over by a large tour company, which made more money sending its own buses there, the gardens had been allowed to deteriorate. Knowing it was built on the side of a hill, we decided that it was not going to be worth the time or effort, so we told Sarah to pick someplace else.

She picked an old sugar plantation, St. Nicholas Abbey. The tour was abbreviated because we joined a group which had already been told about the two rooms on the ground floor. The second floor was not accessible because of safety concerns since the stairs had not been tended to in decades. We continued into a short hallway where we were shown original furniture several centuries old and old photos of life in Barbados and on the plantation. Then it was time to go outside where saw a 400-year-old tree and then into another, smaller building where we were served rum or non-alcoholic punch and shown more pictures and a timeline of the property. We had a chance for more rum samples which D declined but MA accepted before viewing a film dating to 1935. Made by probably the last owner of the sugar plantation, it showed daily work life on the plantation from threshing the cane to crushing it to boiling down the juice. The film had been processed and then put in a drawer only to be discovered when the photographer died. The plantation and the attendant molasses and rum-making facilities were closed down in 1947. We also were able to see the community bath house and latrine; reminiscent of the one we saw in Ephesus two years ago, it was a four-hole commode with different seat sizes to allow the user to find one which was comfortable.

LUNCH! We ate at Round House, a restaurant overlooking the Atlantic in the Bathsheba area of Barbados. It is called this because its beauty was compared to that of Bathsheba, wife of King David. Sarah joined us after very little persuasion; we gave up our table by the window overlooking the ocean for one which would hold three of us. We both had the most wonderful coconut shrimp and Sarah had what she called her “usual,” spinach quiche.

Our last stop was another synagogue. We have visited them in Curacao, St. Thomas, Florence and St. Petersburg, so there is a tradition to uphold. This synagogue still holds services every Friday at 7:30 but we were told by Sarah that there is another active congregation elsewhere on the island. The sanctuary was plain with a marble, not sand, floor and a balcony where, we presume, the women sat or stood. There was no guide, docent or pamphlet and the batteries in both cameras picked here to die. We walked past the restored mikvah [ritual bath] and into the museum where we could get a clearer picture of the history of the Jews in Barbados. Let’s just say that they had their ups and downs.

Last call for boarding the ship was 3:30, but we were back by 2:45 and went straight to Trivia. Even though teammate Sandra was there at 2:00 to get “our” table someone else had already parked there. Our team of four sat at another table and still had fun. We also had sixteen correct answers today out of seventeen possible points. Too bad we only wrote down fourteen of them. We finished with our customary 14/17 [3rd day in a row?] and settled for third place. Not bad for a team of four.

Sandra and her husband Alan joined us for dinner tonight. With no one around us, dinner has been boring. We may invite others, too, as this first leg continues to Venice. Oh, before dinner, Linda came over to say she would be back at Trivia tomorrow since it is a sea day. We said we understood as we might miss some/many days when we are in port, too.

Dinner was very pleasant. MA decided to try snails in the hope that they will agree with her again. She had a Caesar salad with shrimp as an entrée so the only normal part of her dinner that she missed was the jumbo shrimp. Shrimp for lunch, shrimp for dinner; there’s no need for sympathy. D had rainbow trout [and the jumbo shrimp] tonight.

We will lose an hour tonight so we set the clock and watches ahead before bed. We skipped the comedian and read and blogged. We have several sea days in a row, so this may be the last posting for a few days. We’ll update the Trivia results and menus in a few days.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

All Quiet on the Southern Front

As predicted, today was even quieter than yesterday. We chatted amiably with a couple of retired ladies from Alberta, Canada, before returning to the room to gather our supplies for Trivia. We always take our own pens as well as Goetze’s Caramel Creams, known as Bullseyes in other parts of the country. They are a Baltimore specialty and we are trying to get the rest of the world addicted; Trivia Kevin was really excited when we slipped some to him on Saturday, and other Trivia players have accused us of bribing him.

By the time we got to the Trivia venue, the Ocean Bar, it was packed. We weren’t able to get our “regular” table and ended up at the bar before D spotted an empty table. We hustled to it before someone jumped our claim and D dragged 2 more chairs over so we had seating for four. It was perfect. Our teammates straggled in and we proceeded to giggle our way to a second place tie today, one point behind the winners. Shoulda, coulda, woulda – we had at least one more correct answer which we bypassed in our path to second place. [What do you call the place between the two halves of a backgammon set? We almost wrote “hinge” but settled on the incorrect “wall” instead of “bar.’] We are having our own friendly rivalry with Ken and Lois’s team since we had identical results both yesterday and today.

Trivia has changed a little from previous cruises. In the past, the daily winners were awarded ‘cheap ship stuff’ after the papers were scored. On this Grand Voyage, the daily winners get 2 Grand dollars each and the second place team players get 1 Grand dollar each. At the end of the cruise, the dollars can be exchanged for new cheap ship stuff. Passengers may also win these dollars by participating in sports activities. Once upon a time [i.e., two years ago], HAL issued DAM dollars at the sports events and redeemed them for athletic clothing and supplies. There’s nothing that good now, but at least we don’t have to worry about schlepping key chains, pictures frames and luggage tags home.

We sat and talked some more with our teammates before heading to the computer center to try to post the blog for Saturday and Sunday. The connection was poor and D gave up after wasting 10 minutes with no positive results. He met MA in one of the lounges where she had been reading and sipping an iced latte, then went to the MDR for lunch. Oh, no! We were 5 minutes too late for sit-down lunch and did not want to indulge in the international buffet, so we went to the burger bar by the Lido pool. MA got a veggie burger and D had a knockwurst while we watched on-deck whale races run by Thom and his staff. Participants won more dollars based on their bets, but we were not so greedy as to join the small but enthusiastic group.

After lunch, D was able to post the blog and e-mail a Cruise Critic chart to himself from the Ocean Bar where the wireless is at its peak. Then he went to the internet area and used the ship’s computers to download the chart and print it. Once that was done, he opened the blog and formatted it so both faithful followers could read it easily. A quick stop at the Front Office yielded 50 copies of the Cruise Critic name-and-cabin chart which the Housekeeping staff will distribute to everyone.

MA got tired of waiting for him in the Ocean Bar, so she returned to the room where D found her working on a crossword puzzle. He made a few calls leaving messages with people about the new vacancy on the Rabat trip. If there are no takers, he will e-mail the agency, apprise them of the problem, and ask for a partial refund. There is still plenty of time until we reach Casablanca, but we want this resolved earlier rather than later.

And then it was nap time.

We discovered that the early cruiser also gets the table and chairs in the Ocean Bar before dinner, not just at Trivia. By the time we got there at 7:30, our usual time, there were no seats left. We were fortunate that a couple was leaving and motioned to us to take their table; they even waited for us so no one else could usurp it. When we went into the MDR, our next door neighbors, a lovely Asian couple, told us that they had been able to get a larger table so they could sit with other friends. They invited us to join them, but we demurred. Dinner itself was fine – MA ordered the day’s side vegetables, broccoli and a corn-stuffed tomato, in lieu of an entrée – and we discovered that we were finished much earlier than other days because there was no cross-conversation with the neighbors. Things will certainly liven up when Ed & Roxanne arrive.

The show tonight was the antithesis of last night’s. There was no rock and roll, no dancing, and little excitement. The performer assumed the persona of Ethel Merman and gave a brief musical drama based on Merman’s career. The music was enjoyable but was, as is the habit on cruise ships, over-produced. The opening line of the show, spoken from behind the curtains, alluded to the fact that Merman would never had needed a microphone to be heard at the back of the auditorium, yet the whole show was amplified and all of the songs were done with an electronic echo [reverb]. Her lisp didn’t help matters. Merman headlined 14 Broadway shows from Girl Crazy to Gypsy and introduced many songs which became popular on their own.

Before the show began, D spoke with Louise with whom we will be sharing five tours. She had just found out that her travel agency was providing a free tour in Rome. She was conflicted because she had committed to our Roman adventure. She was also more honorable than the couple who backed out of Rabat – she said they would not drop out unless she could find replacements. That’s the way it should be done.

We saw our erstwhile dinner companions on the way out of the theater and she told us that they were thinking about returning to their original table. He wears a hearing and the noise level in the other dining room bothered him. They are really angling for a table for 4 right behind ours; it was been vacant each night so far. If it stays empty for 4 nights, the staff may make the change. Oh, the intrigue!

Tomorrow – Gustavia, St. Barts

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
A Quiet Day in the Caribbean

Our first port of call is Gustavia on St. Barts island [actually, St. Bartholomey Island]. It has become a playground for the rich with a harbor filled with yachts too big to describe. We were here two years ago and decided to stay aboard and rest up for the “real” ports where we have tours. The day is cloudy and there have been sporadic showers, so we have no real need to tender into the town. We will read and play Trivia this afternoon. [On sea days, we play at 11:30; on port days, it begins at 3:30] The last tender from shore leaves at 5:30, but we are sure that most of the Trivials will be back for The Game.

Breakfast found us next to an elderly couple [aren’t we all on this trip] who seemed pleasant enough, but he interrogated us pretty thoroughly about our lives, children, etc. We talked very little about travel, the usual topic among new acquaintances, but he did mention how much they liked Bruce Scudder, the Cruise Director on the Amsterdam, whom we distinctly disliked. They gushed over him and were especially effusive about his piano playing abilities. Later, there were some anti-immigrant comments which did not set well so we will try to avoid these people if we can. As Disney said, though, “It’s a small world.”

We stopped at the internet center so MA could catch up with Facebook. When she was done, D e-mailed the tour operator in Egypt to say that we would not be there. He also wrote to the vendor for our trip to Rabat asking about a partial refund if we cannot fill the two spaces created when someone backed out on the opening day. While at the computers, we heard another passenger ask about re-charging his Kindle. He had forgotten to pack the power cord but D volunteered to do it for him, so our first chore when we returned to the room was to plug it in for him. We will return it later today. That’s the way most folks are on small ships on long cruises.

We went to the Lido Deck and read at a table in the shade where we could still enjoy the tropical warmth and breeze. We ate a staggered lunch, first MA [veggie burger] and then D [pastrami]. We talked with the Republicans at the next table for a while. We seem to attract them. Because of the crowd at Trivia yesterday, we went to the Ocean Bar a bit after 2 p.m. and claimed the small table we had yesterday; it is perfect for a team of four. Linda didn’t show up by 3:30 but we added a fellow whose whole team failed to appear. With help from all members, we were able to win today with a score of 14/17. We are now the team with a target on our collective backs.

On the way back to the room, D returned the no-longer-dead Kindle to its owner who was so grateful that he offered to buy D drink. D declined but told the fellow to call him when the e-reader died again.

And then the nap.

For those keeping track of things [Roxanne], we have received not one but two presents so far. On Sunday night, the first formal night, we returned to the room to find two cruise diaries on the bed. Each has its own pouch to protect it from TSA or something. Last night we got carry-alls emblazoned with the logo for the cruise. These are nice, plastic lined bags suitable for tchotchkes or wet bathing suits. With eight more formal nights to go, we should be rolling in stuff before we get home.

Moving on…We got to the Ocean Bar early enough tonight to get seats without difficulty and spent a half-hour watching the dancers. Some are quite good while others are quite enthusiastic. Dinner was shrimp cocktails and penne-spinach casseroles. We have a new neighbor at the next table but are not sure if she will be there tomorrow. She said this was her fourth table in four nights. This could get interesting. We can’t wait for Ed & Roxanne to arrive so we can have fun at dinner.
We skipped the show tonight and returned to the room to read.

And so to bed, as Samuel Pepys used to write.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Another Sunny Day in Paradise

Another day, another Caribbean Island. Today we are on Terre de Haute, one of the tiny outer islands of Guadeloupe. Once again, it was overcast and sprinkling when we dropped anchor but was clear, sunny and hot by the time we made it ashore. The town where we anchored did not have a level spot on it. Even the streets closest to the shore were not flat. We wandered through the town for a while, marveling at the vibrant local life. There were plenty of little shops which were obviously aimed at the tourists, but most were part of the local life – little grocery stores, restaurants and bakeries as well as lots of Heineken outlets. The street was full of locals going about their daily lives.

The harbor was chock-a-block with sailing vessels although none rivaled the ones we saw in St. Bart’s for size or splendor. Still, some were sizeable and cost more than most houses. There were quite a few catamarans as well. Sailboats dotted the blue-green water between Terre de Haute and the other volcanic islands which comprise Guadeloupe.

We stayed ashore for about an hour and saw everything we could see or wanted to see. By 11:30, we were on board the Prinsendam and cranking up the A/C in the cabin. Once we were cool and dry, we went to the Lido pool to read and, eventually, have lunch [veggie burgers for both]. At 2:00, we descended to the Ocean Bar to stake out our table and read. D tried to upload the blog for the past two days, but the internet connection was down. Instead, he began today’s entry and then read his Kindle until Trivia time at 3:30.

Since it is a port day, Kevin is again busy with other duties, so a replacement Trivia host worked with us today. He has such a heavy accent that all of us in the room had difficulty understanding what he was saying as well as having difficulty understanding the questions. By the time we were done with all of the questions and the bonus, everyone just wanted it over with. We went over the answers as a group and we and Ken & Lois’s both had 14 out of 17 points. The new guy declared a team with 13 as the second place team which, naturally brought howls of protest from the two winning teams. There was a playoff between the 2 teams. But wait! After the second playoff question, a third team claimed they had scored 14 as well and that they should be included in the playoff. Since New Guy had collected the papers and maybe misread the scores [we have our doubts about the this team], they were allowed to continue even though no one knew if they had the right or wrong answers on the first two tie-breakers. They definitely missed the third and sat and fumed as if it were our collective fault. We were still tied after the third extra question [not that we had the right answers each time, just that we were either both right or both wrong]. Finally, the other team won on a question neither of us understood, but there guess was closer to the correct numerical answer than ours. They each received 3 Grand dollars; we got two apiece; and we’re not sure if anyone [like the crybabies] got one dollar.
It was 4:15 by the time we finished, too late for a nap, so we returned to the room and read, worked crossword puzzles and updated the journal.

We got smart tonight and went to the Ocean Bar 15 minutes earlier than usual. We had no trouble finding a little table for two and spent the time until dinner watching the dancers. The lady who sat next to us last night was gone tonight, so we are alone again. The table for six behind us is empty, too. Maybe it’s us. After dinner [veggies, again/dry duck], we went to the room where MA read and D finished today’s entry and then posted it on line.

Tomorrow -- Martinique

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thomas Wolfe Was a Dope

Saturday, March 12, 2011
Two years ago, when we took a different version of this cruise, we had to rent a car and return to the house to retrieve a suitcase the driver had forgotten to put in the limo. This year, the start of our “grand” vacation was almost boring.

We left home a little past 10:30 in the morning and were at Port Everglades before 11:45. Great! We expected to walk right on and put our carry-on bags in the room before lunch. Wrong! Although there was an entrance to the check-in area reserved for 4-Star cruisers [those who have spent 200 or more days on Holland America], it had degenerated into a mob. People were waiting mostly patiently to trickle into the building, but there was neither order nor organization. To make it worse, passengers who were not 4-Star had been directed to the same entrance. It was slow times three. Everyone survived; no fights broke out; and eventually we all got checked in and on board.

The cabins had been ready since 11:30 even if the terminal staff was not, so we dropped off the bags and went to the main dining room for lunch around 12:45. We passed the time chatting with a couple from Stockton CA swapping travel and family stories. After lunch we checked out the spa for information about manicures; the gym for information about the equipment they have [or don’t]; and the internet area to find out about purchasing computer time.

Our larger luggage trickled in and by 3:30 we had everything unpacked and stowed away. The walk-in closet in the room is a godsend and we actually have more room than we need. In addition to clothes, we also brought snacks and 54 cans of diet cream soda which the ship does not stock. Each cabin has a refrigerator, so we will be able to keep the soda cold.

Grand Cruises are different from the regular ones. They are, of course, longer – this one is 62 days – and the ship has extra personnel to make sure everything runs smoothly. The ports can be more exotic, the itinerary including some otherwise-unfamiliar places. The staff is usually hand-picked and, on the Prinsendam, many of the staffers seem to stay for years. So it wasn’t a surprise to be greeted by people who remembered us from our two previous cruises, especially Kevin, the assistant Cruise Director. Dining room supervisors and Cruise Staff went out of their way to say hello. Unfortunately, some of the people we had hoped to see again [Syarif, the dining room manager; Richard in Guest Relations; Roger the Beverage Manager] had moved on to other ships or gone home. The best of all, though, was that our waiter this year is the same one we had in July and August. Not only did Eko greet us warmly, he asked about the others with whom we traveled last year. Take that, Thomas Wolfe!

Grand Cruises also come with some perks. Because we booked early, we will not have to pay the $11 per day per person “hotel” charge [read: mandatory tip] that is included on most other cruises. Do the math and you will see that this is a not inconsiderable amount. There will be presents left in our cabin throughout the trip, usually on formal nights; on-board credit for booking the whole cruise; a bottle of cheap champagne which can be traded for slightly better wine at dinner; and so on. Then there are the goodies from Ted our travel agent [who is reading this so I have to be nice]. Thanks, Ted, for the champagne and the flowers and, we assume, a massive amount of ship board credit. If that wasn’t you, take the credit while you can.

Anyway, we spent time waiting to sail out of Port Everglades in the Crow’s Nest lounge looking out of the panoramic windows. The captain announced that we would not be sailing at 5:00 as scheduled because not all of the supplies had been loaded onboard. Instead of being first out of the gate, we were the last to leave port [around 7:15 as it turned out]. We watched as a parade of gigantic cruise ships made their way out of the harbor – they represented Carnival, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America, Regent and Royal Caribbean. One of the Royal Caribbean ships was the Oasis of the Seas which is the size of Delaware, the largest cruise ship afloat holding around 6000 passengers. It measures fuel efficiency in centimeters per gallon of fuel. We changed for dinner [vegetarian/prime rib], talked a bit with the couple at the adjoining table and played the “Do you remember them” game as familiar faces walked by.

There is a tremendous loyalty to the Prinsendam. It is small, quirky and somewhat bedraggled. It does not have the fancy activities and bars of the newer ships, but it holds fewer than 900 passengers. It is intimate which might explain why this is our third cruise on her in two years. Many others feel the same way we do, so we have seen and talked with a number of people from previous trips. Full disclosure: Some we saw and hid from. Still, it is like returning to the old neighborhood, full of idealized memories and hopes for the next 9 weeks.

One other note – when the map of our itinerary was posted in January, God was in His holy temple and all was right with the world. Since then, obviously, things in the Mid-East have gone to Hell in a hand basket. We received semi-official [but not final] word today that we will probably not get to Cairo; instead, we may spend a day in Dubrovnik and an additional day in Ashdod, Israel. These will be nice places but they are definitely not the Pyramids or the Sphinx. Ah, well, better safe than not.

Tomorrow is a sea day; the first Cruise Critic meet-and-greet; and the beginning of Team Trivia.
Busy, busy, busy.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Day at Sea

Today was the first of two sea days before we land in Gustavia, St. Barths. The pattern we established today will probably be followed on the rest of the sea days until we return in May. We did practically nothing.

We were up earlier than expected and went to breakfast in the MDR [main dining room] where we shared a table with a boisterous bunch of biddies. We’ve met worse. The dining room manager always asks us if we prefer a table for two or a larger table with others. The larger tables allow us to meet more people, but sometimes we opt for a two-top.

The first Cruise Critic meeting was this morning at 10 so, naturally, we were there at 9:30. There were already people there including Bob and Judy [known as voorn on CC] who had made very professional name badges for all of the members. They also made new ones for latecomers and lurkers who had not signed up on line. In years past, HAL has provided coffee and cookies; this year, at MA’s suggestion, we asked for fruit as well. Not only did HAL supply fresh fruit skewers, they also sent fresh veggies and dip. For the next meeting we hope they will send plates as well – dipping veggies is not easy when all you have is paper napkins.

The meeting went well. People sat and talked, comparing cruising stories and experiences. Eventually Lois [SlotL] started the not-so-formal meeting and we introduced ourselves even though quite a number of us knew each other from previous cruises. We laughed and joked as the introductions were made and then Thom Faulkner, the Cruise Director, came to say “hi.” Most of us have sailed with Thom before, so once again we all joked with him. The captain also stopped by for a few minutes and somehow the conversation turned to toilet paper [Actually, we were late leaving Florida yesterday while pallets of t.p. were loaded on the Prinsendam]. We had almost 50 people in attendance and it looks like a good group.

The meeting broke up around 11 in plenty of time for Trivia. MA went to snag a table for us while D gathered names of newcomers for a members’ list. The worst part of the morning came when one of the CC’ers asked D if he had received an e-mail in which this fellow canceled his reservation for an excursion in Rabat. The e-mail had never arrived [if, indeed, it was ever really sent] and suddenly we were left with two spaces on a prepaid trip. We will try to find replacements among the new people; otherwise we might take a $200 hit if the agency will not refund the money. Stay tuned for more later in the week.

On the Grand Med in 2009 we met Linda and Dave from Miami. We got along well enough that she asked if were interested in taking the World Cruise with them in 2010. We appreciated the suggestion but were not interested. Now they are with us again and Linda joined us and another CC’er at Trivia this morning. Kevin, the assistant Cruise Director, always emphasizes that it’s supposed to be fun trivia, not cutthroat and lived up to his standard. We had fun even though we were a distant fifth in the scoring. We hope our team of four will stay small until Ed and Roxanne board next month in Venice.

After Trivia, D tried to get a list printed by the Front office, the internet manager and even the Future Cruise Consultant [who is Thom’s wife]. Alas, they no longer will print anything from a memory/USB stick because of fleet-wide virus infections. Frustrated, D rejoined the waiting MA for lunch. At a table for two. We were both tired and by 2:30 were snug in our bed for an early nap.

Tonight was the first of NINE formal nights. After D dressed in his Swiss banker costume, he went to get help from the internet manager who, for unexplained reasons, had not shown up for his 7:00 pm shift by 7:20. There being priorities, D went back to the cabin and he and MA went to the Ocean bar for a refreshment before dinner [mushrooms for her/rack of lamb for him]. We chatted with the couple at the next table during dinner and had and enjoyable time despite MA’s not liking her entrée.

After dinner we went back to the room to retrieve the laptop and then went off to see the internet guy. This time he was at his post. He suggested that the quickest and least expensive way to get the documents to print was to e-mail from the laptop and then print them from the ship’s desktop computers. It was an elegant solution to what could have been a tedious problem and we were done in time to get to the show.

Prior to the show, the Captain introduced key officers and crew, a tradition on HAL ships. And the drinks were free. The show itself was a three-man group called Horizon who did a 45-minute tribute to the Motown sound. They recreated many of the classic Motown hits by groups like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and the Temptations. Their voices blended well and the choreography was reminiscent of Bandstand performances – the backups on each number not only singing but dancing in synch with each other. It was one of the better shows we’ve seen in several years. Even D sang along, a little.

Off to bed so MA could read her Kindle and D could recap the day for posterity. Tomorrow will be even quieter than today. That’s a good thing.