Sunday, May 1, 2011

Around the Med in 60 Seconds

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Katakolon Krowds

We are continuing on the “downside” of the cruise where the ports are less and less important, at least to us. The Prinsendam is in Katakolon [kuh-TACK-uh-lon], Greece today. Katakolon is the ship’s gateway for tours to Olympia, the home of the ancient Olympic Games. We saw the home of the modern Games in Athens two years ago; that was enough.

Katakolon is unique in several ways. The most obvious to even the casual visitor is the stench from sulfuric gas bubbles which rise to the surface by the dock. The lower decks, especially near the front staircase and gangway, were especially aromatic this morning. We were not immune since our cabin is on the lowest passenger deck and we are near the gangway. The gas is the remnant from volcanic action or at least potential. The town, however, does not smell of sulfur.

This is the ultimate tourist town. It is nothing but jewelry stores, tchotchkes shops and cafes. The cafes all have seating outside on the harbor side rather than the street. It may be picturesque, but we wondered whether the sulfur was noticeable to customers while they ate. Yuck.

Sandra told us that their guide said that the shops open only when there are ships in port. If that’s true, they will be open all day today. There are four ships here including ours with as many as four thousand potential customers. Luckily for us, at least, the ships are all relatively small. We cannot even imagine what would happen if 4 ships the size of the Westerdam docked here and disgorged 12,000 people.

The town, such as it is, has only two streets, the one with all of the shops and a second street parallel to it. We walked down one side of the street and up the other, stopping in a pharmacy to purchase cough drops for MA and Ed who are both still suffering from the mange. We crossed the street from the apothecary shop and found a store selling semi-local products including olive oil and wine. We purchased two bottles of wine as presents [one red, one white, both supposedly dry] and strolled among the throng back to the ship just as today’s intermittent rain started again.

Earlier in the day, D took part in several Grand Events which, like Trivia, reward winners and/or participants with the coveted Grand dollars. He added three to our collection and we are now only one shy of our goal of forty. All but five have come from Trivia, but we have not been doing well recently. If we get no more in the next two weeks, we are hopeful that the Cruise Staff will remember all of the candy and pastry we have given them and have pity on us.

And, finally, we are down to the last two weeks of this year’s “trip of a lifetime.” We will have to pack our bags two weeks from today as we prepare to return home. Damn!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding

The timing was perfect for a sea day because today was the royal wedding between Kate Middleton and Prince William. The whole ship was abuzz, sort of. Thom and his staff arranged for big-screen coverage in the show lounge, re-re-named the Queen’s Lounge for today and tomorrow, and provided tea and baked goods for the audience. The televisions in the library and Java Bar were crowded, too, with some crazies taping the tv coverage from BBC. Of course, the same broadcast was available in the cabins but people wanted to be part of a crowd for this event – why else would hundreds of thousands been in the crowds in London?

Even Trivia today was Royal Trivia. Thom was the moderator for the first, and probably last, time and all of the questions dealt with the current royal family and the wedding. He claimed that the questions came directly from the Seattle head office, but we think that was just a way to avoid responsibility. Scores were really low today with 8/16 heading the field. We scored 5 and ignored two correct answers again. Shoulda, coulda….

After Trivia, which was held an hour earlier than usual to accommodate the wedding schedule, MA went to the Queen’s Lounge to watch with the masses. She ended up with Sandra and Lesley, the captain’s wife, and had a “loovely” time. D played slots for a bit and then returned to the Ocean Bar to read for a bit until MA joined him around 12:30, after the deed had been done, so to speak.
After lunch, we returned to the cabin where she watched more of the festivities and inane interviews until the momentarily happy couple came out to the balcony for the traditional wave to the common folks. Then it was lights out for the nap.

Formal night featured a toast to Carnival Cruise Lines, owner of HAL and half-a-dozen other cruise lines, on the occasion of the launching of their 100th ship, the Carnival Magic. As stock owners, we are thrilled; as customers, we wish they used better champagne. Thom did the honors and said that there would be as many as 227,000 people toasting Carnival tonight which assumes sold out cruises on all of the ships. It also means that the average Carnival-owned ship holds about 2250 passengers. HAL’s ships max out at 2100 and average about 1750, so there are some pretty big ships out there somewhere.

The show was a piano duo called Katzenjammer. MA swears we have seen them before, but D doesn’t remember them. And they are memorable. Two players, one piano, and fireworks on every number. Most of the repertoire was classical and it was a well-received program. We are hoping for an encore before we land in Florida.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sardinian Showers

The weather gods have made up for lost time, but we are grateful that we had fair skies in the ports which were most important to us in Africa and the Middle East. Sardinia is just another pin in the map, so to speak, so we were not too disappointed to discover high winds and intermittent showers today. We had no tours planned and no great plans to wander. The ship was far from the cruise terminal, so the locals provided a bus which we ignored. Our sole venture outside was to visit the wind-blown merchants who were brave enough to set up their wares on the pier. MA bought another little box for the collection before we high-tailed it for home.

Earlier in the morning, D ventured up to deck 12 for a football toss contest. Although his prime motivation may have been securing the last Grand Dollar needed to make our desired purchases next week, he also was looking forward to the comraderie of the participants. He discovered the other day at the sticky darts event that the people who take part in the sports activities have their own group personality which is far different from the tone at Trivia even though some of the same people are involved.

The football toss was canceled due to the winds. More specifically, the football blew overboard while the staff was playing catch before the scheduled start time. No football meant no football toss, so we gathered in the Crow’s Nest for Backwards Bowling in which we had to turn our backs to the pins and then bowl between our legs. D garnered 5 more GD, so we are now above our goal of 40. Some passengers have 500 GD, but they go to all of the activities.

We did better at Trivia and should have been contenders but weren’t. This trend is no longer a concern since we have the Dollars we need, but it is frustrating.

Tonight’s dinner should have featured another cheap champagne toast in honor of the Queen of the Netherlands but didn’t. Today is the official celebration of her birthday even though she was born in January. April 30 was the date of her mother’s birthday [who continued the holiday tradition her mother had started]. The present queen kept the April date because it made celebrating easier in the Netherlands than wintry January would have. It was a good excuse to serve the traditional Dutch dinner and make the waiters wear little painters’ hats, but that was the extent of the celebration.

Tomorrow – Another sea day

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Time flies when you are having fun. Here it is May Day already. We have been aboard so long now that it is hard to remember the earliest ports. Martinique? Mindelo? Were we really there? Do we have pictures to prove it?

This morning was HAL’s Race for the Cure. The staff does this once during each cruise as a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen cancer research program. Two years ago, D almost participated. He paid the $15 entry, received his Susie G t-shirt and was right in the center of the group photo. Once everyone started walking laps around the ship, he slipped quietly inside at the first door. Today, we watched from our breakfast table by the back deck as Thom inspired the group before they did their stretching exercises. Then we counted laps as they passed the table. Thom had just gone past for the fourth time when we left.

It was another busy day. Arthur Starr gave another lecture on fact, fiction or fantasy in the OT; there was another loss in Trivia; animal racing on the Lido deck; and a meeting with Tina to discuss our cruise plans for 2013. Exhausting!

The animal races were fun because, unlike the earlier camel races, we could bring any species we wanted. Sandra made a lizard from toilet paper [“the first animal made from personal products,” as Thom phrased it]; Ken used a goldfish from the bar; and D used his computer mouse. It was all in vain as we lost, but at least D got to move from the starting blocks this time.

We had placed a deposit on the Grand South America voyage for 2013 weeks ago and then considered pairing that with the 2013 Grand Med again. That combination would have totaled about 130 days in a row at sea. MA always said the world voyage was too long at 110 or so we changed our plans, canceling South America and adding the 2013 Grand Med and the 2012 Amazon Explorer which travels up the Amazon River. The Grand Med will probably be about 62 days although the itinerary has not been finalized yet and the Amazon is 23 days. Neither of us has expressed any strong feelings about South America but we both want to see the Amazon.

We went to the cast show after dinner. It had only the four male singers and was not great. The singer we have dubbed Dudley Dooright was as full of himself as ever. The others were okay. We have an early day tomoorow, so we were in bed about 15 minutes after the show ended.

Tomorrow –Motril, Spain, gateway to the Alhambra

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