Day 112 April 25 (sea day)

The usual morning. Tai Chi, Vantage - we discussed a number of things. We spent some time talking about the political situation in a number of countries and unions (yes, I did open my yap about this) and education (more yapping - don't you love the guy who says spending more money won't necessarily improve the situation - I didn't hit him. He is right, of course but that is beside the point. Not spending more money will pretty much guarantee a continued status quo or even worse, degradation of the situation. I realized that each state has its own situation and since he wasn't a Texan and I was we might not be thinking of the same problems.) There was a lecture at 11 about coral reefs. Then trivia. We tied for first but lost in the tie breaker. Who knew the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas had 5005 rooms? The other guys guessed 5000. Almost as good as the other day when Ron hit the answer, $40,000 right on the head. (If I didn't share that, the question was about how much money an airline (I think) would save in a year by providing one less olive for drinks. Amazing!) Only one more trivia day. I will miss that. But I will be able to watch Jeopardy for the first time in four months. That will probably help.

Some of the Grand World Voyage passengers are taking offense at the interlopers in our midst. We debarked about 300 passengers in NYC and they were immediately replaced with new ones. Some of them are going to Ft. Lauderdale and others will stay onboard as the ship goes through the Panama Canal and up the west coast to Seattle where it will begin Alaska trips. The problem is we think of this ship as our home and these people have come into our home uninvited! Well, that is the way some feel. I have been welcoming the new ones aboard. They're pretty easy to spot. First they don't look familiar, second they are confused about which way to go to get somewhere (we all go through that at first) and last they have these big eyes as they look around. Pretty hard to miss those cues. I understand the attitude by my shipmates but it isn't the fault of the newbies that we're finishing up our cruise and they are just starting. The trip to Seattle is said to take 21 days. "That's not a real cruise", said Ann. Here's a secret. This was Ann's first cruise. No compassion for the newbies. Tsk, tsk. She is usually much nicer to people. I think she may be getting cranky.

Right now I'm in the middle (literally) of packing. I've got stuff to be shipped piling up on the couch, stuff to be checked at the airport on one bed and carryon stuff on the other. I'm slowly emptying out drawers, closets, etc and sorting. Hopefully I'll be done before bedtime or I may have to sleep on the floor.

Well, that's about it for now. I'll try to send one more email when I have reached San Antonio to let you know I'm back in Texas and share any adventures I encounter along the way.


Day 111 April 24 (The Big Apple, The City That Never Sleeps, New York, New York)

After all the warnings about how difficult it would be clear Immigration in New York, the New York Immigration people were lovely! I complemented one of them as I was leaving and she asked me to tell her supervisor. I did. These people are so nice I may have to move back to the east. What a pleasant surprise.

So, I called my cousins on my cell phone (I remembered how to use it after a couple tries!) and of course I got their voice mails. We had talked earlier when I was on my way to Immigration. I wanted to let them know I was free to move about the country. We had already exchanged info about where I would be and they were on their way. They were probably in the subway when I called so I wandered outside and just a few minutes later there they were. I have a couple of pictures of strange behavior but promised not to share. Sorry. LOL!

We hugged and laughed and all talked at once for a few seconds and then settled down to serious sightseeing. Well, as serious as you can get in a few hours. It was about 11:30 AM and my ship was going to turn into a pumpkin at 3:30 PM so we didn't have too much time. We decided to go to the Top of the Rock (30 Rockefeller Plaza) instead of to the Empire State Building. They told me some story about there being a bunch of school age people running around and that the Empire State would be crowded. I figured they just wanted to keep something for me to return another time for but later some of my shipmates confirmed their prediction. Good on ya ladies!

So up we went and the view from the Rock is just about as good as the ESB would be I suspect. There was no crowd which gave us time for a leisurely lunch at Connolly's Irish Pub. Barbara (my NJ cousin) shared pictures of her family and stuff and then I pulled out my laptop and showed 339 of my favorite trip pictures while we ate. Then we went across the street to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). Judith (my NY cousin) has been deeply involved with the arts most of her life and even got us in on a pass she has. Very impressive. (I liked the price too, LOL.) Judith and I have looked at art before and I repeated my (stolen of course) line about not knowing much about art but knowing what I like".

Well, there is some very nice stuff there including Van Gogh's Starry Night. And to Judith's surprise they are allowing photographs. I did find one display a bit annoying. The term kinetic (moving) art is not new to me, but this particular piece was pretty much a waste of space and energy (literally). I kept trying to come up with an alternative explanation like maybe the cooling system had failed and this was a temporary fix but it just didn't explain what I was seeing. Picture a very (and I mean VERY) high ceilinged room. Suspended from the ceiling on a heavy cord (probably a support cable as well as an electrical supply cable) was what you might recognize as a medium size table fan. You know the type. Several fan blades inside a wire cage to keep fingers at a safe distance. Now picture this turned on and therefore wandering around the area about 15 feet above the floor. (The fan pushed air in one direction and was pushed in the opposite direction by the air - Action/Reaction according to Newton's 3rd Law of Motion - at least I think it is the 3rd one....) The suspension cable was probably 75 feet long or so. I confess that I didn't try to find an explanatory sign or maybe the "artist" to better understand this piece of ... creativity. Perhaps I missed something wonderful but I just didn't have the time. I can only hope that tax dollars weren't paying for the electricity not to mention the materials to create this !@#$% thing.

Wait!! I just figured it out. This was one of the first things we saw after entering. Since much of modern art is essentially incomprehensible maybe they put this there to so totally confound us that the other incomprehensible stuff would seem less so by comparison. That might be it! Eureka!

We hurried through a number of exhibits that had some good, bad and confusing art and then it was time to head back to my pumpkin. I totally enjoyed the few hours I got to spend in NYC with my cousins. They each had to take the day off and travel a fair distance to see me (well, not quite as far as I travelled to see them - last count was 35,510.7 nautical miles - but that's not the point since there are shorter routes I could have taken from El Paso) and I really appreciated it. Seeing them has really helped me feel like I'm almost home. Barbara has threatened to start a competing blogsite including pictures of her house and stuff. I'll keep you all posted on that. The three cousins are planning to get together more often in the future. I think that is a fine idea.

After returning to the ship I went up on deck to take pictures as we sailed away from NYC. (I had slept in this morning...lazy bum that I am and having grown up around here.... But I figured I should get some pics and video just to round out the trip properly.) There was a big sail-away party on the aft Lido Deck (the outside pool, etc.). Then it was time for dinner.

Here's a piece of advice free of charge. When you think you know something don't be too sure. (Feel free to copy that down.) I got into a disagreement with Anita at dinner. I have driven, taken subways, taken Circle Line Cruises, etc in the NY area most of my life. I was born within about 10 miles of NYC and lived within 50 miles of it until I was in college. I thought I knew a bit about the geography. Well, I do but not as much as I thought. Anita said she thought that the Verrazano Narrows Bridge connected Brooklyn with Staten Island. I knew it spanned the Hudson River and told her that I was 99.9 % sure the bridge connected Long Island with New Jersey. Well, like I said. For those of you who don't know the area, the Hudson River does form the boundary between NY and NJ from the northeast corner of NJ down to about Bayonne, NJ (south of Manhatten but even with Brooklyn. At that point the boundary takes a sharp turn to the west and passes through a very narrow channel which goes into the Bay of Newark and then south again. There is this large landmass very close to the NJ side of the Hudson River which it turns out guessed it...Staten Island. I never had that part of the area in my mental map. I have taken the ferry from Manhatten to Staten Island a number of times but never realized the island was so close to NJ. By all rights it ought to be Staten Island, NJ but it isn't. I would love to know what historical anecdote explains this bizarre twist but after all is said and done I was ... it is hard for me to say it, but... wrong! Ouch!

I have often said travel is educational but who knew?

I will recover from this embarrassing faux pas but it will no doubt take time.

We went to the show after dinner and they had to slip in a banjo player to replace the scheduled comedian. To my knowledge no announcement was made about the change. We were all ready to laugh and when the introduction was made the guy's name was different and the entertainment was music, not jokes! We were all a bit puzzled but the guy was pretty good. His name is Doug Maddox and he went through the history of banjo music demonstrating the different styles and explaining briefly what happened to change the style each time. Interesting, and he even had a few good jokes along the way so we got to laugh as well.

I met Ron, Sheila and Susan for drinks in Buddy's Piano Bar afterward and we talked for awhile and then realized we were all exhausted and said goodnight.

Day 110 April 23 (sea day)

New York City tomorrow. Today was largely concerned with people getting ready to debark (some get off in NYC while most of the rest will debark in Ft. Lauderdale. A small number will extend through the Panama Canal and on to California or Washington State. The ship goes there next and will spend the next four months touring Alaska. (NOT one tour four months long! Probably many two week or so tours going north and south.) You won't find a better crew if you're thinking of an Alaskan cruise this summer. Holland America Lines ms Amsterdam! End of commercial.

So after Tai Chi at 10 AM we went to Vantage where we got Chris and Dee's debarkation lecture. The ship was having one at 10:30. We asked Chris if we needed to go to that one too and he said only if we liked crowds. He would cover the same material but the difference was we were just about 100 - actually less since not everyone came. The ship's talk would be in the Queen's Lounge where the shows are performed and it would be for the entire ship. Only problem with that is that the lounge doesn't hold that many people. I didn't choose Vantage for any particular reason but I have been more than pleased with their onboard Program Directors. Better to be lucky than good.

We finished one shy in trivia again today. Close but no cigar. We got 17 right and the winners got 18.

I'm sitting in my cabin now (it is about 3 PM - Wow! I'm actually in the Eastern Time Zone! I think I'm home - almost). I guess we've recaptured our lost day from crossing the International Dateline. What an amazing trip this has been. I will send one more email after NYC but I've got free minutes right now so I'm going to send this - the computer gods willing - while they last. OK, they're not really free but they are to me. Daphne is leaving us tomorrow to go visit some nuns in NYC so she has offered up her minutes to anyone who wants them. I'm down to about 50 of my own (out of more than 1500 I paid for). So, I'll use hers and save mine in case I need them on the last part of the trip.

We're having a cocktail party to say goodbye to Daphne in Jack and Anita's cabin this afternoon. Still trying to use up the 4 bottles of booze Jack and Anita got at the beginning of the trip. What a bunch of lushes we are (NOT!) (In fact, two of our tablemates, Carol and Darryl are Mormons so they don't help at all.) I suppose there may be some drunk tablemates at dinner tonight. I will try to resist the temptation to help our too much with the alcohol consumption. Not out of any concern for health or weight control. Just don't care that much for the choice of spirits. I've never been a Scotch or Gin fan. The vodka is the only one I find enjoyable. Well, enough of that. I don't know how busy the net will be today so I better get started trying to send this.

Cheers to all!

Day 109 April 22 (Hamilton, Bermuda)

I was up about 7:30 AM. Gotta love these 25 hour days. It really makes a difference. I wonder if the earth is slowing down enough that we could have them all the time. I suppose not. Hmmm.

We were all taking one giant ferry to shore instead of multiple tender trips to ferry us in. The ferry held about 700-800. So the first one was leaving at 9 and most of us were on it. The only ones who waited were people who didn't have an excursion. When we arrived at the dock we transferred to the Restless Native Catamaran. There were 22 of us. I suspect the time of year scared (cold water?) others off or they just wanted to see Bermuda. Anyway we were a good group and the trip was a lot of fun. The Catamaran crew consisted of a pilot, a hostess(?) and an older guy they called Pops who provided background lecture on the way to the snorkeling area. Maureen (the hostess?) actually did a number of things. She prepared the homemade-baked-on-board cookies and the juice and water we had throughout the voyage. She also gave a presentation on the marine life we would likely encounter and at one point helped with sail rigging. So calling her a hostess is not really accurate. These three obviously work together all the time and have fun jobs. Apparently the boat is owned by Pops' son - I'm not sure but he may have been the pilot. After Maureen's marine life lecture Pops gave us a briefing on the equipment and procedures. Those of us who were Scuba divers or had snorkeling experience didn't need this but it was helpful for the newbies. Such things as how to get water out of your mask or snorkel are important skills. Also, the admonition to take the snorkel out of your mouth before hollering for help might have been important. Fortunately nobody needed to do that as far as I know and we did return with the same number of people we left with.

The water was supposed to be 70º F and that isn't in my comfort zone at the beach in NC but I put my tootsie in and decided to try to snorkel without using my wetsuit. I'm not sure whether it was the fun of the adventure or perhaps I was trying to impress one of the ladies on the trip but I actually got into the water without any squealing and didn't get back out for my wet suit (I had brought it just in case). It was definitely on the cool side but not bad. Perhaps the fact that I buddied with Daphne (just had her 79th Birthday remember) was my motivation to stay in the water. I'm not sure but we actually were part of the last few to get out.

After the dive we were given Rum Swizzlers and crackers with cheese and banana peppers. We had a very nice time and the fish and coral were good enough. Not up to Caribbean standards but not bad at all.

After our catamaran returned us to the dock area we had about an hour before the ferry (the last one of the day) sailed for the Amsterdam. Carol (Jane's friend and the watercolor instructor for the cruise) and I decided to go on a bit of a walk to look around and take some photos. I have one of me standing in the famous "birdcage" pretending to direct traffic. This is the scene you see in movies, etc. where Bermuda is depicted during high traffic times. This cage sits on a pedestal in the center of an intersection. I'll try to attach it to this email. Oh, I didn't have to mug a cop to get into the stand. It was empty at this time of day. Not enough traffic to warrant a policeman standing there I guess. Carol and I strolled a nice garden area and took some street scenes to fill the time.

On the ferry on the way back to the ship crankiness broke out. Seriously, some of these people behaved like 5 year olds at the end of a long trip. They were jockeying for position to leave the ferry like being in the front would win a prize or something. I heard one person ask, "Where did he come from?" And then the angry reply, "I've been here!" It was obvious they were headed for trouble so being the shy retiring type that I am I said loudly, "Children, children, behave! The trip is almost over, let's not spoil it." Amazingly they settled down and behaved. I guess I've still got it. I'm not sure what it is, but I've got it. Might be my years as a parent of two sometimes rambunctious kids or my years as a teacher/coach. Not sure but whatever it was it worked.

Actually, before the near fight, another incident happened which amused me. I was standing against a railing near the exit (I was one of the last ones on - I had a bit of an epiphany today. If you are the last one in line you win several ways. First you don't stand in line as long, second you can stand near the exit because you won't be in the way of others coming on and third you will be one of the first ones off!). Anyway, standing there I became aware of creeping passengers. These started to show up as we approached the ship (about a 20 minute ride from the dock). This one woman slowly inched in front of me as if she was expecting a protest or something. Then after she had achieved her desired primo spot she turned to her husband who was somewhere behind me. She encouraged him to move to where she was. He was reluctant at first but she got a bit bitchy and he did as she asked. I watched the little scenario with amusement that she seemed to think she had achieved some sort of important advantage from her manuevering. I had a wry look on my face and just shook my head trying to understand how getting off the ferry a few minutes ahead of others could be so important when I heard a woman to my left laughing. I looked in her direction and she was looking at me. I asked her, "You read my mind didn't you?" She said yes and we both had a laugh together at the little play we had just witnessed. Not everyone onboard is losing their sense of humor. Some are apparently getting cranky just like kids. Something new to be aware of I suppose.

It had been a long day and the ferry was 45 minutes late so those who stood in line early were no doubt really tired. My friends and I realized that we could go sit on a bench and watch the line (and the harbor and other pretty things) while the others stood. We got up and walked to the line after most of it was onboard and enjoyed ourselves much more. I think there may be an entire book in this somewhere about line psychology and game theory or something. Hmmm.

The show after dinner was perhaps the best our singers and dancers have produced. The singing was almost flawless and the costuming and staging was awesome. For the first time they had the band involved as well as the singers and dancers. The two pianos were placed on special platforms over the stairways on either side of the stage and the other musicians were in blackened windows across the back of the stage. The stage was used to its maximum. Not sure if I have described it but there is a large section of it which rotates and also turns into elevated risers. There were amazing lighting effects as well. They really pulled out all the stops. Bob Mackey was the costume designer and he did his usual great job. Fantastic!

We lost Broadway Music Trivia later in the Piano Bar. We missed winning by one song. We're getting silly about the prizes at trivia just like the pillow gifts. Lizzy was the host and after she announced we would win key chains and we all pretended to be excited she brought one around holding it like a Price is Right model. We all ooohed and aaahed like we were delighted. Buddy, the piano player, allowed as how the prizes had just been brought from the Captain's vault. We are just about ready for the trip to be over I think!

Day 108 April 21 (sea day 5/5)

I was up before 8 after a good night's sleep. Tai Chi as usual. Then Vantage. Chris finished up WWII. He then discussed how the British Empire dissolved but pointed out that most of the lost colonies joined the British Commonwealth. He was pretty brutal to the historic Brits about the things they did in the name of Empire in the past but I think he needed to point out that perhaps it wasn't all bad. He also let us off the hook for dropping the bombs on Japan. He feels (as do I) that at the time it was the right decision.

I went to the 11 AM lecture to find that our friend Peter McGugan (snake oil anyone?) was still talking. He was the 10 AM lecturer and should have been done by now. I thought he was either a snake oil salesman or had a messiah complex about his topic. He must have a messiah complex because no self-respecting snake oil salesman would risk alienating so many people.

The next lecturer was standing inside the entrance I happened to choose and as more and more people showed up for his lecture we got a bit rowdy because Mr. Snake Oil was being totally inconsiderate. The convention (dare I say rule?) has always been that you end about a quarter to the hour. This guy finally got off the stage at 11:03! Even then he had to be spoken to by a stage hand. He had the gaul to make a few comments about how rude we were being. So, I guess he just figures he has a message everyone needs to hear whether we want it or not and that it is ok to make the next lecturer (and those who want to hear him) wait until about 11:15 to start his 11 o'clock lecture. What a jerk!

I'm sure I missed almost half the lecture about sea creatures and the food chain because I had to leave for trivia at 11:45. We finished 2nd by the way.

The afternoon was uneventful. A nap, Tai Chi, read some, and dinner.

The show was a singer named Iris Williams who has won the OBE ( that means "Order of the British Empire"). She had a great style and her voice was pretty good but a little weak on the higher notes. Overall very entertaining.

The pillow gift tonight was the wonderful and ever popular HAL 2008 Grand World Voyage Luggage Tags. I guess they are running out of money or good things to give us. I'm so spoiled. I think I have neglected to mention some of the more recent gifts but the last one was a heavy plaque to commemorate our voyage (or perhaps for us to put somewhere in our houses to remind us of it so we would sign up for more???). Many passengers gave them back or to the cabin stewards. It has become a bit of a joke. I kind of like mine but then, I'm a neophyte.

After the show I ran into Ron, Susan and Sheila and we had drinks while waiting for the Black and Gold Ball. This was the last formal night I think and certainly the final Ball. I figured I should go to look at the decorations at least. Susan and I went and sat and talked for about an hour and then I went to my cabin to prepare for tomorrow's snorkel adventure in Bermuda. Oh, we gain another hour tonight.

Day 107 April 20 (sea day 4/5)

The usual AM routine. Vantage is back to Chris. He is beginning WWII.

No lecture of interest today. Trivia: we got 16/23 20 won.

After lunch I met Anita and Jack in the computer center to help her with email. She is improving but had trouble the last time she tried to do it on her own so she asked me to hold her hand. I brought my laptop and worked on pictures, etc and was there to help a bit when she got stuck. She did pretty well but got stuck a few times.

At 3 I went for a run.

At 4:45 we had cocktails in Anita and Jack's room (me and my tablemates).

The show was a comedian who was just fair. Afterward I watched the second half of the movie, "No Country for Old Men". I thought it was weird because I missed the first half but everyone tells me it was just weird even if you saw the whole thing. I guess I'm not bright enough to understand how it won the Academy Award.

Day 106 April 19 (sea day 3/5)

I was awakened this morning about 6 AM (GROAN!). There was this sound which I misidentified as a back-up warning for a motorized wheel chair. It took a few minutes to stop and I went back to sleep. About an hour and a half later I heard it again. It went on longer than I thought it should and by now I was awake so I got up to see who the inconsiderate person was who was allowing it to continue. Well, silly me. It was not what I thought at all. It was coming from a dryer next door. I identified the culprit (machine #2) and called the front desk to lodge my complaint. The noise hasn't been heard since. I love this ship. They take such good care of us. I knew Jinque wouldn't let me down.

The rest of the morning was normal. Our Vantage lectures the last two days were by Dee, Chris' wife, about her family's history (and coincidentally London's history). I have learned a bit of Cockney in the process. Ask me what "Pearl" means when you see me. I'll give you a hint. It is a comment about the weather. It isn't exactly politically correct so I'll not print it here. Don't want to offend anyone. You know me, always trying to be inoffensive.

We had a lecture on Ocean Currents and their effect on weather. This included the possible global warming consequences as well. Interesting. These ideas were supported by scientific research. Anyone want to hear my snake oil tirade again?

Trivia was a blowout today. We lost by a lot.

I spent some time in the afternoon helping (or trying to) Daphne with her computer and pictures. We had trouble and I took the CD to my room to try it out on my computer and CD/DVD player. It didn't have any pics on it despite our attempts to put some there. Either the disk is defective or it was already used for something else. My computer didn't recognize it as having anything useful on it and offered me the opportunity to format it. The CD/DVD player detected two tracks on it of about 12 minutes in duration but when playing it there was not any intelligible sound. Just some crackling. Daphne thinks somehow the disks (she has had two disks which didn't work) might be incompatible with her system but the only thing I found on the written documentation mentioned 1x recording speed being incompatible. Daphne has a new laptop and Vista so I'm sure it isn't a 1x system. I guess we'll explore this more in the future. If anyone has any ideas let me know. Otherwise I'm at a loss to explain the problem.

I spent most of the afternoon in my room laying out stuff to try to get a handle on my packing scheme. I will need to know how many bags (my trunk too) I'll be shipping home and what I'll be packing in what. I am going to San Antonio to visit new grandkid(s) before returning to El Paso, but my Miata is waiting in San Antonio for my ride home so I have to ship as much as possible. Just need to make sure I have enough with me in San Antonio to cover my time there before returning to E.P. Also need to sort out souvenirs which go there from those which I want in El Paso. Ah, the problems of the world traveler. You've heard this before but ... it's a tough life... you know the rest.

The show tonight was Moscow Magic. Fantastic. This is a Russian couple and they do a lot without commentary but it was some of the best magic I've ever seen. Are you listening David Copperfield? If you get a chance to see them do it. They were really good. No really big illusions but a lot of small to medium tricks. Very well done and a pretty fast paced 45 minutes! They do speak English but obviously do their act to many different audiences and have evolved the mostly silent routines.

There was Evening Express Trivia in the Crow's Nest at 9:45 and we came in second. I was planning on an early bedtime but as I was leaving the show Laurie (one of our cruise directors) asked me if I was going to trivia. I showed up a few minutes before 9:45 and as I walked into the room was met with a loud, "HARRY!" Ron and Sheila (two of my lunch trivia team) were there with three other people. I spread my arms and said, "My peeps! You saved room for me." By the way, I had to explain the "My peeps" comment to a few of the older folk here. I'm doing my part to keep the cruise set up to date on slang I guess. It's a tough job but....

Day 105 April 18 (sea day 2/5 on the way to Bermuda)

The usual stuff this morning. At 11 there was a new lecturer, Peter McGugan. His topic was Concious Creation. He lost me in the first five minutes when he "explained" the nature of scientific inquiry. He intentionally or through ignorance misrepresented what science does and proceeded to use this falacious version of science to justify his own personal philosophy/religion in which he maintains that everything in the universe is connected by a conciousnous. I'm not saying that is not true. I don't know. It may be. Or it may not. The point is that he was trying to use something I know a bit about after teaching it for 30 years to justify his conclusions. I sat through the entire lecture to see when he was going to solict contributions to his wonderful cause and to my surprise he didn't...yet. Then again, any smart snake oil salesman doesn't try to get your money right away. My attitude toward this guy, "sell your snake oil if you want but don't misrepresent it as being scientifically supported if it isn't."

We won at trivia today. Not much else happened of interest. These days are going to be organizational days and packing days to a large extent. I may lump some together unless something of interest happens.

Day 104 April 17 (sea day - #1 of 5 to get across the pond)

Slept 10 hours last night. I was so tired I went to bed by 11 and then got up to set the clocks back at 2 (Sorry, I know I've used that one before). Actually, I set the clocks back before going to bed so I went to sleep around 10 PM today's time. Woke up once around 6. Back to sleep until my alarm (thank goodness I set it) went off at 8 AM.

Breakfast on Lido, Tai Chi, Vantage: Dee, Chris' wife lectured on the Canary Islands. She lived and worked there for some time. I am learning so much on this trip.

For some reason today is Pirate day so we had Pirate Trivia today. We lost by a bunch. Arrrrrrgh!

After lunch there was a Pirate Scavenger Hunt. This involved moving around the ship hunting for 7 "pirates". These were our Cruise Staff dressed in pirate outfits who were in public areas. On finding them they would ask us a pirate question and if we got the right answer we got a piece of paper with a symbol on it which proved we had found them. Sort of like visiting the Oracle at Delphi and solving its riddle. Fortunately the questions were multiple choice. Did you know that September 19th is "Speak Like a Pirate Day"? The question here was, "In what month does Speak Like a Pirate Day fall?" This stumped us. I offered April since we were doing this pirate stuff. No luck. Then I got creative and answered, "Maaaaaarrrrgch" which was highly appreciated by the pirate but still wrong. At this point I remembered thinking earlier that if we didn't know an answer we could just guess them all so I did the Jan, Feb, Mar... thing until I hit September and the pirate said, "Right!" Duh! Well, we finished 2nd. Not winners but what the heck. It was fun figuring out strategy on the fly and running all over the ship looking for the pirates. At this point in the cruise we are probably a bit easy to amuse but it is almost over. The real world looms ever nearer!

I spent the afternoon working on pictures and video and this blog.

I took the laptop to dinner and showed the pics and video of the "couch" ride. Everyone loved it. Oh, I also got an email from our departed tablemates, Bryan and Pat. Everyone was happy to hear from them. Bryan's sense of humor seems undiminshed by having to end his trip early. His jokes made everyone laugh. He is also friends with Julie and Dick who traveled with us in Funchal. I shared the video and email, etc with her too. I ran into her after dinner. I'm still annoyed at Apple that my video software doesn't work properly. If I haven't mentioned it the problem is that the program (iMovie) crashes after importing about 30 seconds of dictvideo. I wanted to get the tobagan video in to share it so I imported 30 seconds at a time until I had the 5 minutes or so in. It wasn't that difficult but I don't want to have to import the 40 hours or so from the entire trip that way. Hopefully the fixes will be waiting for me when I can update on broadband when I get home. If not Apple will not like what they hear from me. Are you listening Mac men?

Tonight's show was half Amsterdam Singers & Dancers and half a "Comic Ventriloquist". He wasn't. Well, he was not a bad comic but his mouth moved more than the dummy's some times. He needs practice.

That's it! You're caught up. Four sea days and then Bermuda. Then one more sea day and NYC. Good grief!! I need to start packing....

We gain another hour tonight. That will help. By tomorrow we'll be just three hours ahead of EDT.


Day 103 April 16 (Funchal, Madeira)

Here is a little assignment for you. Find out which interpretation of Madeira's nationhood is correct. I have seen in writing here two different versions. One maintains that Madeira is part of Portugal the other says they received their independence shortly after Portugal got its independence. I want sources to support your answers people, no sloppy research please.

Don't forget there will be a quiz when I get home.

The port we docked in is called Funchal and I had never heard of it before. Apparently it is a very popular place and I now know why. The island of Madeira is beautiful!! It has a lot of history attached to it as well. It was a main stopping point for many ships travelling west or south. It lies south and west of the entrance to the Med.

Today's tour was another do it yourself one for five of us. It was Anita's idea because she and Jack had been here many times. She took the tour catalogue and put together a tour to most of what she thought were the best places to see. We negotiated with several drivers until we found one who seemed to offer the best deal. This was a more expensive ride than in Malta where we rode the Jeep around but we felt we got the best possible deal. We each wound up paying €36 euros for about four hours. Today's crew was me, Jack and Anita and another couple who live near me, Julie and Dick. We went to several locations to view the scenery. This island is similar to Japan in that it has very little flat land for farming. (OK, you got me. I have never been to Japan. But I learned a lot more about Japan than I ever heard about Madeira. "Have some Madeira my dear-a." is about the only reference I could summon up for the island before this trip. I guess if you drop bombs on us we pay more attention to you in school curricula. Hmmm.) So the solution here is similar to Japan's. Terracing. And I do mean terracing! Big time! It makes for very interesting scenery. We also visited the second highest sea cliff in the world (or so it is claimed). 580 meters s t r a i g h t down! There are pictures but you have to be there to really appreciate it I think. Awesome!

After stopping at several places we headed to the center of Funchal for the couch tobagan. The official name is Carros de Cesta which (if my Spanish is close) means basket cars. Julie and I decided to take the ride. The rest of the wimps just watched and worried. It was great. This is a tradition over 100 years old. I think I may have seen this on the Travel Channel or somewhere. But I didn't remember it at first. There are these wicker love seat size couches on skids. Two guys push and pull (one on each side switching from front to back depending on circumstances) the "couch" down the hill. Yes on regular roads! They grease the skids from time to time as needed. The hill is pretty steep in spots (Japan remember?) and the road is surprisingly smooth. No El Paso potholes. There is good news and bad. The traffic is quite light on the cross streets but the reason is that the roads are extremely narrow and the traffic apparently uses larger roads for the most part. I was never really worried but we did get pretty close to the walls, cars and trash cans we passed at times. Our "drivers" were pretty good. We never had to just stop because they couldn't keep us on the road. The only time we stopped was when people ahead of us had stopped. The ride lasted over five minutes and I have video. But here is the most amazing part. This is an old tech kinda of thrill. We had to wait in line for about a half hour to have our turn despite the fact that they now use flat bed trucks to bring the "couches" back up the hill. On the way down I waved at a photographer who had a nice looking camera at the side of the road and was pointing it at me. Well, about four minutes later when we got off at the end of the ride there was this guy with a lovely folder with our picture in it (€10). Talk about a contrast. Primitive ride but wireless transfer of a digital picture to the bottom in time to be printed and ready when we were! I understand high tech like this in Disney parks but...!

Of course I bought it. It was a great picture and the technology jolt just blew me away. Capitalism is alive and well in Funchal, Madeira! "Have some Minolta my dear-a." (Sorry...I just had to do it.)

After returning to the ship for lunch, Jack, Anita, Claire (ran into her at the front desk where I had to go for more euros...I am doing my part to support the local economy) and I took the shuttle back into town to explore a bit more. We walked and took some pics and then stopped into the Cafe Funchal for a beer. I'm turning into a lush I think. This one was quite good. The brand name is Coral. We walked a bit more and saw some nice stuff. There is a botanical garden in the center of town. Also photographed a kapok tree. Weird. I was about to reboard the ship when I saw my buddy Jane and we walked along the pier a bit. We saw a US ship being pulled into harbor by tugs. We waved and yelled U-S-A but I think they thought we were nuts. A few waved but most stood at attention on deck as Navy guys are no doubt supposed to do.

The best part of this last bit of tourism was that I was the next to last passenger to return to the ship. It was time to lift the gangway and it looked like they were ready. I asked the security guy who scanned my card how many were still not back. He said, "One." I felt a certain pride in getting the most out of my shore time. I think I'm finally getting the hang of this traveling stuff.

We had dinner onboard while sailing out of the harbor. The show tonight was a harpist. I just wasn't up for that. Seen a couple already this trip. Decided to go to the movie. The rest of our dinner table did likewise. The movie was "I Can't Be Your Woman" or something like that with Michelle Pfeiffer. It was amusing but not great.

Gained an hour tonight.

Day 102 April 15th (sea day)

Wow! Income tax day. I have completely forgotten about that little chore. The IRS will love me when I return I'm sure.

Today was fairly normal. The usual in the morning. Vantage was Part IV of Russian History. We lost at trivia by 2 or 3. In the afternoon I ran and did other routine chores.

The show after dinner was an awesome singer. She is the first one I've heard do justice to a Whitney Houston (Dolly Partin) song - I Will Always Love You (the theme to the movie The Bodyguard)

After the show I was still energetic and decided I would go listen to Buddy in the piano bar. As I approached it I heard my name called. It was Ron and Sheila - trivia teammates - and there was Mystery Music Trivia. I didn't know but I was up for it. It turned out to be Sheila's birthday so we won. Well, as I told you in a separate email the other day, we tied but after four tiebreakers left the tie unbroken we were declared co-winners. Yea! HAL coffee mugs.

Day 101 April 14 (Lisbon, Portugal)

Breakfast in the room. 9:15 AM excursion which included visiting the Monument to the Discoveries (built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. He wasn't an actual explorer but was the moving force behind the Portuguese exploration explosion). Did you know that at one time the Pope divided the world into halves giving one half to the Spanish and the other to the Portuguese for colonization purposes? They were the two superpowers in the Pope's dominion and he didn't want them fighting and wasting resources in competition over the same territory. The line in the western hemisphere gave them Brazil. Ergo the Brazilian national tongue is Portuguese. What do you know, I learned something on this trip! LOL.

From the monument we rode down the road a bit to the Belem Tower. The early explorers were given a rousing send off from this structure. Nearby is Jeronimos Monastery. It was closed today but we drove by and had photo ops.

We then bussed to the other side of the Tagus River to visit the Christ the King monument. This is modeled after the one in Rio de Janeiro. Very impressive. If I remember correctly it was built in gratitude to God for keeping Portugal out of WWII. Great view after the elevator ride and two flights of narrow winding stairs.

Then to the city center (back across the bridge - looks like a shorter version of the Golden Gate Bridge) to view Black Horse Square and Parque Edward VII viewpoint. Lisboa (Lisbon) is a beautiful city in part because of an earthquake. A substantial part of the city slid into the river forcing rebuilding. There are still old things around but much of the city is quite modern due to the earthquake.

That was the excursion but I had them drop me off in the Commerce Center Square where our ship's shuttle bus connection was so I could spend the afternoon in town. I walked up the hill (toward the viewpoint we had visited) through a lovely pedestrian walkway lined with shops, restaurants and artists selling their work. I found a sandwich shop and thanks to a few phrases our guide had given us and some almost Spanish phrases I was able to order a ham and cheese sandwich (OK, the pictures on the menus helped too and it was really Presunto E Mozzerella but I'm not going to give away all my secrets!) and a Coke.

I shopped a bit and then went up in the Elevador (very good, you're learning Portuguese - it does mean elevator). This is an elevator in a frame structure inspired by or similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris (yes, over 100 years old I think). At the top, again following two flights of stairs (this time a tight spiral staircase but not so claustrophobic since it was open steel mesh construction) was a small restaurant. I, needless to say, had to have a beer while I sat up top enjoying the view and atmosphere (no pun intended here, sorry). At some point I walked around the top platform a bit and discovered that rather than taking the elevator you can climb a hill behind the structure and walk out to the restaurant free of charge. That would explain the relatively small fee for a round trip ticket on the elevator. But it was still cool! I have pictures to prove it. I was told that the elevator was actually originally constructed to help in construction of nearby buildings. There was a nearby Church ruin. Perhaps that was the main need but I can certainly see how helpful it would be to be able to use an elevator to lift the heavy blocks of stone used in its construction. This is one of the places I'll want to return to to learn more about and see more. Very pleasant. The last time I was here was in 1970 and the country was still ruled by a dictator named Salazar (if I remember correctly). He was overthrown in '74 and they have really transformed the city (hopefully the country as well; it was very very poor in '70). By the way, the beer was Sagres and it was just fair.

After sitting and sipping for about a half hour I went down and did some more shopping. Eventually I passed a coffee shop and since I like to try local coffees I had a cup. Much like the Turkish variety but without the nasty grounds. Quite good.

On my way back to the shuttle meeting place I passed through the artists again. There was one guy with a bunch of woven name bands on the ground. I stopped to glance at them and he went to work on me. (Well, not in the Vietnamese sense, but he told me the bands were €3. He asked me what name and I smiled as I said "Thatcher". Heh, heh. What are the odds he would have my new grandson's name? As I suspected he didn't. I figured I'd won but he said, "I can make it in 2 minutes." Well, this I had to see. He got me. I had been trying to think of what you buy a 3 month old and the name band seemed like a good idea. Besides, the curiosity in me had to see this done in 2 minutes by hand. I have video! It is neat. He started with about seven or eight strands of white braided thread and held them in his hand. He put a thin strip of clear plastic behind them and started to wrap the strip/threads with a thread of whatever color you chose. I chose blue of course. As he wrapped he flipped various strands back over the already wrapped end so that they would show after the next wrap or two. This is how the letters were created. Essentially it is a hand loom. Cool. If you can't picture it perhaps it will help if you ever created big letters on a typrewriter or computer by typing characters and blanks on several lines to make the image of letters. Oh, here... I'll try to show you:


Well, that doesn't work as well as it did on a typewriter but if you imagine the letters on each line being the white thread which was flipped back during some blue thread wrapping so the white showed for a bit like the letters L, O, V and E (ok, I cheated with a W once) and then laid back down to be wrapped )and covered by blue again perhaps you can visualize it. If not I'll be glad to show the video when I get home. I might even be able to put it online. It won't be long now. Anyway, as you can tell by the amount of time and effort I have put into trying to explain this I thought it was really cool!

I returned to the ship around 4 PM. We were sailing at 6 and I was satisfied I had done a good job in a day of sightseeing.

The evening show was a comedian named Jeff Stevenson. He was very funny.
Afterward I worked on my pictures and this blog.

Day 100 April 13 (Gibraltar)

Had breakfast in the cabin. Had an early excursion. 8:15 AM.

We took a bus to the cable car station. The cable car took us up to the top of the rock. I bought what I thought was a DVD titled Inside the Rock or something like that. Unfortunately, I didn't read the case carefully. This thing is an interactive computer DVD and it only works with PC's. #$%^&* This is a mistake I think I may have made before and I prefer to make new ones but I'll survive. I'm sure I'll enjoy it when I get to one of those primitive devices. I guess I could ask one of my friends onboard to borrow theirs but I have been too busy or perhaps I don't want to admit I messed up and bought the wrong product. Hmmm. Well, I have to give myself a break on this. The thing was right next to the regular DVD's and I was a bit distracted by being on top of the rock right?

Anyway, I really enjoyed the tour. We went from the cable car into a cave. Stalactites and everything. This one was a bit bigger than the one in Halong Bay, Vietnam. They had an amphitheater in it similar but bigger than the one in the Glowworm cave in New Zealand. Our guide made it clear that they were not environmental idiots. The area had first been cleared to make room for a hospital during war time. Gibraltar does occupy a rather strategic location at the mouth of the Med. After touring the cave we emerged and proceded to the entrance to the old tunnels dug in the rock at the end of the 1700's.

Oh, we also got to meet the Barbary Apes of Gibraltar when we were above ground. They are actually Tailless Macaques (monkeys), not apes. They didn't bother us at all. One or two came very close and sat waiting to see if we had any food for them. We had been well briefed on how to avoid incidents and all behaved well (people and monkeys). l learned that earlier (we were not the first tour) Jack and Anita had had more personal encounters with the monkeys. One apparently jumped on Jack's back but didn't really bother him. He said it didn't hurt him and was surprisingly light. The "ape" population is apparently doing pretty well. They are well taken care of and fed daily. This is to keep the different groups (there are six distinct families or tribes) from fighting each other for the food available. Our guide said there is actually enough food available on the rock naturally to support a population somewhat larger than the about two hundred or so living here. Someone else heard that they are fed to reduce their temptation to try to steal food from tourists. Probably both reasons are correct.

As I was returning to the ship I met my old Scuba buddy, Jane. She had escorted a tour to the rock at the same time I was there and wanted to go out and have another adventure. She invited me and I said as long as it didn't involve beaches and old forts like the one we had in India I was game. We both laughed. The misadventures are often the most fun to recount after you survive them. Well, we had not had lunch and were thirsty and figured we'd find a pub and work on solving both problems. We passed a Pig and Whistle Pub and popped in. We had ordered Guinness and then discovered they didn't have any food. Well, we sat there for about an hour and a half sipping our Guinnesses and forgot about lunch. The bar tendress did a cute thing on the head of the Guinness when she drew it. The last little drizzle made a shamrock on the top of the foam. Very artistic. I took a picture and then she asked me if I would show it to her boss. I did and told him she should get a raise for such creativity. If I remember correctly he was amused but not impressed. Oh well, I tried.

Jane and I headed back to the ship because we had an early sail-out time. She's a crazy girl but has done some pretty interesting stuff. Life is never dull around her. Pity she is married. Such is life. I'm not sure I could keep up with her anyway. Still not married as you can see Judith.

At dinner we once again celebrated Daphne's birthday. As in many restaurants in the States, the wait personnel all gather to sing Happy Birthday (in Indonesian of course) for those celebrating their birthday. We didn't want to miss out on that just because we had gone to the Pinnacle the night before so we told the waiters it was Daphne's birthday tonight. They brought a cake and sang as expected. It seems that the 13th of April is a birthday for about half a dozen or so other passengers too. The birthday song got quite a workout this evening.

The show tonight was split between Hillary O'Neill (singer/comedian) and the Jugglers. Neither was quite as good as the first time they performed. The show was only fair.

It is hard to believe there are only about two weeks remaining to this great trip. Poor me....

Well, I am going to wrap this up now and try sending it. I'm actually writing it on the 17th of April but want to get it on its way and will run out of time if I try to catch you up all the way. Besides, it is long enough already right? I'll work diligently to get Lisbon and Funchal to you in the next 24 hours or so. Hope you all are doing well and I am getting excited about seeing my cousins, Judith and Barb, in NYC. Four more sea days, a stop in Bermuda and another sea day before that but I'm almost home.

By the way cousins, I am told we will be docking at Pier 92 (711 12th Ave) at or about 7 AM. There will be delays (aren't there always) for Immigration, etc. but that is the word at present. I don't think we need to have you there that early. It is likely I won't even be able to leave until 9 or so. I have my cell phone with me and will be glad to give you a call when they turn us loose if you like. Of course, the phone might not work for some reason but it should. I can always find another phone. I may have your cell numbers but just in case please email me your current one(s). Thanks.

Cheers to all!

Day 99 April 12 (sea day)

Breakfast on Lido, Tai Chi at 9, Vantage Lecture at 10 (Russian History part III) and Trivia (we got 16/22 the winners had 19).

After lunch there was a lecture on the Age of Exploration. You know most of this if you paid attention in World History. One surprising fact was that they knew the world was round in about 400 BC! That means the impression that Columbus was really ahead of his time or courageous to risk sailing off the edge was not very accurate. I mean, 1900 years is a long time for the idea of a round earth to sink in don't you think? On the other hand I recently saw an accurate replica of his ship and going anywhere except to the neighborhood marina in anything that small had to take courage (or foolhardiness). We also learned that Columbus was V E R Y lucky! His estimate of the circumference of the earth was off by about 10,000 miles. If he hadn't bumped into an unknown continent he would have run out of food and water long before reaching Asia (He thought the world was about 15,000 miles around instead of the actual 25,000 or so miles. It is better to be lucky than good.

Took a nap, had a run, then got ready to celebrate Daphne's birthday (#79). We had cocktails and champagne in Jack and Anita's cabin and then went to the Pinnacle Grill for dinner. The Pinnacle is a smaller eating place with supposedly better food and service and a more intimate ambiance. You pay for the privilege. Dinner is $30 per person and lunch is $15. This might not seem too high until you remember that food on the rest of the ship is free. But it was a special occasion and oh, yes. I forgot to mention. Daphne invited all of us (our table of seven including her) to be her guests. We tried to talk her out of paying but she wouldn't hear of it. What a sweetie. I will say that I had the best steak since I left Texas. It was passable but not spectacular. Give me Cattleman's any time. We had a great time and spent about three hours there. We had all chipped in on a birthday present for Daphne.

Day 98 April 11 (sea day)

The usual today. Tai Chi, Vantage - Russia part II, A Lecture on famous Romans with photos. OK, they didn't have cameras then but our lecturer had slides of old coins, statues, etc. and he tried to bring this rogues gallery to life. He almost succeeded. The idea was interesting.

I don't really remember what I did in the afternoon. Probably took a nap or something. I didn't write down anything in my journal except the show at 8 PM. Sorry. I guess it was bound to happen. Lost at sea.... Anyone seen the Flying Dutchman? No, just my brain drifting aimlessly about.

The show was our singers and dancers with songs from the days of the Rat Pack. If you have to ask you wouldn't know the music anyway. (Apologies to Scott and Bunk. You would have recognized much of it.) It was a good show. The money spent on costumes continues to amaze me!

Day 97 April 10 (Valleta, Malta - Day 2? - and much more)

Up about 8 for breakfast and a meet with my tablemates (well all but Daryl and Carol who had tours booked and didn't know we were planning our own - we thought we had invited them but apparently we didn't or they forgot). Daphne had been here before and she and Anita planned a list of places we should go visit so we just needed to get wheels. Not so fast smart guy(s)! There were five of us and the cabs here only accommodate four passengers. The guy who was in charge of cab assignment - very organized including set rates here - said we could fit five in a cab. His secret was that four of us could sit in the back seat. Yeah, right! We were mulling our options when he suggested he might be able to hook us up with a Jeep that would be big enough. I was skeptical but what the heck, we could look. He made a phone call and we negotiated a price (€130 for 6 hours). We were off to check out the vehicle and driver/guide. Think small pickup truck but in the bed were two seats (one on each side so you sat facing each other). Because of the arrangement we could sit two on each side with careful leg placement. Daphne, our fifth tourist rode shotgun. There was a canvas roof over the truck bed for shade and rain protection if needed. We agreed this would do.

At about 9:30 AM off we went. Our guide was Alfred. He spoke English very well and was quite knowledgeable about his country and its history. He was an artist too so he and Daphne had a strong connection. We started out along the coast and travelled basically NW until we ran out of island (if it matters the town there was called Cirkewwa). We stopped along the way at some major old things and also for photo ops for great scenery.

This is truly a beautiful country. I can't remember the names of all the places we went by or through but there were two important towers, the red one and the oldest one. These were part of a chain of towers built by the Knights who lived here to defend the island from invaders. The island was apparently a way station and then a hospital (run by monks) for pilgrims from western Europe to the Holy Land. When some of the crusaders committed attrocities there were predictable retalliations. Eventually the Catholic Order of Knights of St. John was established on the island as a military unit. Hence the towers. The famous Maltese Cross possesses 8 points. There are two at the tip of each of the four branches. These symbolize the eight aspirations of the Knights, live in truth, maintain faith, repent sins, give proof of humility, love justice, be merciful, be sincere and wholehearted, and endure persecution. Nice sentiments. It is a shame they and all the world don't live by a code like that enough of the time isn't it? Anyway, you and I now know more than we probably need to about the Maltese Cross. The Knights ruled Malta from their inception (sometime in the 1400's I believe) until 1798 when Napolean forced them to surrender.

We headed south along the west coast from Cirkewwa and stopped at several places again. My favorite, although not really worthy of the wonderful history of this place, was Popeye Village. This is where Robin Williams filmed Popeye. They left the set behind and the country has preserved it and added to it to create a children's amusement park area. Why not? I didn't get to see Hobbit Town in New Zealand so this will have to do until I can get back there. We didn't actually go in, just stopped to take pictures.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the most fun part for me. We were a bit cramped in the back so I asked Alfred if he would get a ticket if I sat on the tailgate/spare tire and hung onto the roof supports. He said that was fine so I did for most of the day when we were driving. It allowed me to have a full view to video or snap photos and it gave the others more room. Win, win right? I know, I think I'm a teenager again sometimes but it was a blast! We drove down some back roads at times which had stone walls so close on both sides that I swear I could have touched both at the same time if I had tried. One of those areas where you have to back up if someone comes the other way. Yee ha! The only time I got back into the truck was when we were really hurrying to get to our last stop before it closed. I'm crazy but not stupid. I understand from Daphne that Alfred ran at least two stoplights and I'm sure he was doing 60 mph or better at times. If I hadn't ducked into the seating area I would likely have been hanged by my hat trying to blow off. I had the string under my chin to keep from losing it and at that speed.... Not a pretty picture I'm sure. Sorry.

Anyway, we proceeded to the town known as Rabat and to a restaurant for lunch. We had Brajolie for lunch (all but Jack who had chicken). Brajolie is a spiced ground meat wrapped in a slice of some other meat and covered with a dark sauce which could be called gravy. I don't ask too many questions anymore about unfamiliar food. I've had so many new experiences with food that I just taste it and if it tastes good I eat it. That saves a lot of anxiety. This was pretty good. It came with familiar veggies and potatoes and was more than enough. We had a nice veggie soup as an appetizer and ice cream for dessert. I had a Maltese beer called
Cisk. Not bad. Not quite dark enough for me but tasty nevertheless. All of this cost each of us about €9 (about $14).

We went to the old town in Mdina (nearby) after lunch. This thing goes back 2500 years! Not as old as the pyramids but not much is. Lots of pictures and Daphne spent about 20 minutes sketching. She does this everywhere we go when she can. Then we took Mr. Toad's Wild Ride back to Valleta. OK, just joking. This was the stretch where Alfred drove as fast as he thought we could stand. We were all pretty calm so that is why I had to duck down. Along the way we passed some old aquaducts. Perhaps there were other sights along the way but we went by so fast...the aquaducts were paralleling the road so they were visible long enough to be noticed and even announced by Alfred. The guy is good! I have his email and phone if any of you plan a trip to Malta and want a great guide.

The object of our hurry was St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valleta. This is the only mistake I know that Alfred made. He thought it would close at 3 PM. When we got there we discovered it was open 'til 4:30 PM. Summer hours! So we needn't have hurried but even that was fun. Another great adventure. The reason for the strong desire to get there before it closed was that there are two Caravaggio paintings in the Cathedral. Daphne more than anyone wanted to see them. When she lived here before she had somehow not been aware of their presence. The church is really beautiful. Built in the 1500's. Lots of gold and fancy stuff. The floor, like some in Europe, has large marble slabs which are actually burial markers. Those buried here were the knights and perhaps a few other important people.

All in all it was a great day. We travelled around almost half the island and hit most of the more important historical sites. Not bad for about six hours. I collected money from everyone to pay Alfred. We gave him a good tip. This guy actually told us at the beginning that if we weren't completely satisfied we wouldn't need to pay him anything! Not only that, I realized I had not put my Euros in my wallet (took them out on the way to Split and put Split money, Konas I believe, in. When we couldn't land in Croatia I exchanged my Konas for US dollars and forgot to get my Euros out of my safe). I told Alfred that if my friends didn't have enough extra Euros to cover my part I could run into the ship and get them and he said not to worry. I could mail them to him! This guy is truly an artist. Who else wouldn't care about getting his money right away?

We returned in time for supper (we actually took an extra hour and a half but Alfred didn't seem to mind and never even hinted that we should pay him more - quite different from India and a few other countries). After supper the show was an amazing act with two juggling comedians. The act was called On the Edge. The guys were Bert and Howie. They said to look them up on U-tube or on their website (I think it was Sorry, if I didn't get it all. I just went to where DVDs are usually sold by our acts and these guys apparently are selling theirs. They have one and I'm still pursuing that (they gave copies out to a couple of "volunteers" during the show. These guys were hysterical. I gave them a standing ovation. I think I was the only one but their juggling was amazing. I don't know if I've seen a better juggling act. And remember they did this on a moving ship.

Day 96 April 9 (sea-day/ early arrival in Valleta, Malta)

Up in time for Lido breakfast.

Tai Chi at 9. Vantage at 10 was a lecture on the first part of Russian History. Czar was chosen as a title for early rulers because it was close to Caesar and the ruler who decided to call himself Czar felt he was important enough to warrant such a title.

The 11 AM lecture was pretty good. It was a history and current status of the European Union (Common Market, etc.). It is an amazing organization and continues to surprise nay sayers (our lecturer is one but gives kudos where they are deserved).

Trivia Victory today! One of the questions was a 4 pointer: Name the six different flags which have flown over Texas (our quizmaster is from Houston)! I knew these and a couple of other ones that really helped because I think we won by one point. Yea me! It is great to feel like you helped win. The prize was an Amsterdam umbrella. We have one already but you can't have too many umbrellas right? Especially in El Paso. Hmmm.

The 2 PM lecture was about the Phoenicians. They really gave us much of our alphabet and some other important things. They were amazingly advanced as seafarers. They were actually called the Caananites but the Greeks called them Phoenicians because of the purple dye they traded and purple clothe they produced which was worn by royalty. The lecturer has a really dry delivery but seems to know his stuff and throws out many interesting facts. He also answers questions well.

At about 4 o'clock I was running on the top deck and had to dodge a lot of photographers. I knew that was likely to be a problem because our schedule had changed and we were due to sail into Valleta, Malta around 5 PM. The reason we had to arrive early was that we had a medical problem onboard which needed more attention than we could provide. I hope whoever it was recovers quickly. After my run I ran (ok, I walked and used the elevator) and got my cameras and arrived up top just in time to record our arrival. The sun was at an unfortunate angle so the pics won't be as good as if we had arrived in the morning but a medical emergency does seem a good reason to change the schedule.

I went to the show at 8 PM. It was a comedian/singer named Hillary O'Neil. She was on the UK series Copykats and has performed for the Queen. She sang quite well and most of her jokes were pretty good. Part of her routine was about how hard it is to have a social life with the schedule of entertaining on ships. She was soliciting the audience for a boyfriend. I would have volunteered but I was in the balcony. Perhaps I'll get a chance later.

After the show Daryl, Carol and I went out to the dock. What a beautiful dock! they have a real shopping center here. Most of the shops were closed but there are several restaurants including a Hard Rock Cafe right on the pier. It looks like they have renovated the area and it must be part of the night scene in Valleta even without ships being in port. This town has been owned by most major Mediterranean powers at one time or another and it seems like English is the main language. We are going on our own trip tomorrow. Daphne has been here before and I think Anita and Jack too. They are planning the places we will go and we'll meet at 9 in the morning to move out. Should be a fun day.

We got a gift tonight. Today was supposed to be a formal night until we had all the schedule changes. And we get gifts on formal nights. The gift was a plush Cocker Spaniel to keep us company on the trip or to give to someone. I think this one needs to go to a grandchild. The only question is which one. What do you think Quinn? Would you like a plush puppy? Thatcher is too young right now and your soon to be born cousin will also be too young. Let me know. It is yours if you want it.

Well, I'll try to send this again tonight. It is after 11 PM here. Nighty night!

Day 95 April 8 (Split, Croatia NOT!)

All those going ashore for tours in Split, Croatia take one step forward. NOT SO FAST. You're not going anywhere Amsterdam passengers.

This morning while eating breakfast early enough to make the 8:45 AM tour I was signed up for the Captain came over the intercom. Not a good thing except at 1 PM daily when he gives a daily report. This was unusual. The problem was 45 knot winds and big swell. We were anchored and the plan was to use the tenders to transport passengers to and from the dock. They actually had a tender out and had to ferry one of the entertainers and some immigration personnel to shore. On it's return the waves and wind made it VERY difficult to get people back aboard the ship. Some passengers saw it and said they were very worried and/or scared. So the Captain was on the intercom to tell us that we would have to abort the intended port day. The forecast showed no let up in the immediate future. Too bad. Split looked like a nice port with some interesting history. Apparently it is a very popular port during the tourist season and we would have been lucky to avoid the mobs of tourists. Of course, if it was anything like Venice the crowds would have still been there. In any case we were told we would still arrive in Malta (our next port) at the scheduled time. The ship did make a fairly close "drive by" of Split before we left the area. Incidentally, when I switched my tv to the front camera channel to see what the sea looked like up there the song playing was the theme from the Titanic! Someone has a sick sense of humor or it was just a coincidence. Hmmm.

A revised schedule of events was quickly published and delivered to our cabins so we could have a full day of activities onboard. Not their first rodeo, they got it done very quickly. I think it was under my door before I left for 9 AM Tai Chi!

At 10 I went to where our Vantage group usually meets and Chris was there with about 10 or so others and we had a wandering discussion. During the meeting someone asked how often this type of thing happens. Chris said that when it is a tender port rather than docking there is usually a 50% chance of having to abort the operation. Wow! We have been very lucky so far. This is our first time and I'm sure we have tendered a half dozen or more times.

There was a lecture at 11 - basically 25 maps of the development of Europe, etc. historically. Not scintillating, but somewhat interesting. Lost trivia by a couple. Tried to email you guys about the situation and send a few pics but it never made it. The show was a harpist named Gosia (from Poland). She was ok but not great.

Day 94 April 7 (Venice - day 2)

Wow! What a great day. I was a little bummed yesterday. I just didn't have a lot of fun. I'm not sure why. I thought perhaps I'd been here too many times but now I'm sure that wasn't it. I felt a little puny - never identified a cause - and it was chilly and overcast much of the day. Who knows.

My past visits were always in June and the weather was much nicer. Well, today was a beautiful day and I decided I'd walk from the ship to St. Marks. I'm not sure how far it is but I know the Grand Canal (which goes about the same distance) is two miles long. Because the path I took through the city meandered somewhat I may have walked farther. I really didn't care. I was too busy being delighted by the beautiful and at times surprising sights along the way. I took about 100 pictures today. Most of them were postcard quality. It is hard to take a bad picture in Venice!

I woke up without an alarm around 8:30 AM. Slept like a log. Had breakfast on Lido and off I went.

The first part of the trip wasn't too beautiful. The port area is perhaps the only part of Venice which could be called ugly (at least in comparison to the rest of town). It took perhaps ten or fifteen minutes for me to find my way to the beautiful Venice. The first surprise was a small park. I remember seeing it on past visits but never went into it. Too much other stuff to see and do. Today I thought, "What the heck. I have no agenda. I wonder what a park in Venice looks like." Well, it was not very large but it was beautiful. Several postcards there.

Off toward St. Marks. The Venetians have a different way of naming streets so you don't try to use a map by street name. (I'm told several streets may have the same name and that the names change from time to time.) So the trick is to look up on the buildings for yellow signs which point the way to major attraction points (such as Piazza S. Marco). If you have an idea of the general location of these landmarks you can use them (or rather the signs pointing the way to them) to lead you to where you want to go.

On the way amid many beautiful photo ops I passed a Coop Market (think 7-11 grocery store but much smaller - two aisles only). I kept walking for a few yards and stopped. Lunch! I returned to the store to explore. I was curious about prices in such a store which was obviously not a tourist trap but was used by the locals. Nothing is cheap in Venice even for the locals but the prices were more reasonable than elsewhere. I bought some yogurt (the ship lately has had very little and most of it is not to my liking - low or no-fat or plain without fruit), some plastic spoons to eat it with and a few other items for later use (some Tic-Tacs and some Mentos, etc.). I had water in my napsack so I had yogurt and that was almost lunch. A stop in a bakery - there were a few along my path - provided me with a scone (chocolate chip variety - chocolate is one of the basic food groups I believe!) to eat as I walked along ... drinking the Coke I couldn't resist. I promised myself to eat better at dinner.
I'd like to say that the failure to resist temptation ended there but there was this candy store.... Well, I might run out of my stash of sweets before Ft. Lauderdale. I had to buy a couple more bags of candy just in case right? These are interesting ones. A hard caramel type candy sort of like a Werther's but it has a honey center. I've never seen any like it in the States but I don't go candy shopping often there. I do almost all my candy shopping in Europe and Asia dahling.... LOL.

After two hours of a really great walk I reached St. Marks Square (Oh, I saw two McDonalds along the way. What is Venice coming to?)

After lunch I started to walk again with no plan in mind and met a couple of shipmates who were going up in the clock tower. I had thought about doing it yesterday and passed thinking it wasn't worth the 8 Euros required for a view perhaps just a little higher than the one I had from the top of the ship on the sail-in yesterday. I decided to join them and I'm glad I did. The view was great. It was also fun to see the young people who went up too. The vewing area can hold perhaps 30 people at one time. After we had been there a bit the young ones showed up. Their enthusiasm as they jostled to crowd into pictures taken by their friends was a hoot. I took a few pics and listened to the audio guide I had rented for awhile and then descended.

After that I headed for the shuttle boat dock for a ride back to the ship. I decided to take a back way (I'm so cool I can do that you know...OK, I wasn't sure but I was in an adventurous mood and I had come 2 miles or more already...It also helped that I had an extra hour or so if I got lost.) Well, not only was I able to find the way but I also found a few more great pictures and surprises.

One surprise was a sort of fountain with bottled water, cocoanut pieces and cocoanut halves. The bottles were on the top level and the water was running down over the bottles, dripping on the cocoanut pieces and then dripping on the cocoanut halves. All of this to keep them cool I surmised. The funny note about this was the note. It read, "Please don't touch the water." Yes, it was in English, not Italian. What does that tell you about who needs to be told not to touch the water? People from non-english speaking countries apparently have enough common sense to realize that touching the water might contaminate the food (cocoanut). Duh! I'm embarrassed for my co-english speakers.

Another surprise was seeing lovely chandeliers hanging from the awning shading a sidewalk cafe. Chandeliers! Only in Venice!

I also photographed the Bridge of Sighs from the back side (not from the Grand Canal). Most people never see it from that side. Sadly, it doesn't look much different but hey! A new perspective is a new perspective right?

I finally returned to the ship for our sail-out party and dinner. I'm in love with Venice all over again. It is unique. Like Paris it is a city everyone should try to visit at least once.

The after dinner show was our ship dancers/singers and a new comedian, Al Brown. It was pretty good.

Well, it is after 11 PM and I need to shower and sleep before an 8:45 AM tour tomorrow. Gotta go.

Day 93 April 6 (Venice, Italy - day 1)

Sailed into Venice Lagoon between 9 and 10:15 AM. I videotaped most of it and took a few pictures perched on the railing on deck 10. It is getting crowded up there. May have to rethink my vantage point if that keeps up.

Took a short nap afterward. Didn't get a full night's sleep because of the late show yesterday.

Had lunch onboard and then caught the shuttle boat (not ours again but this time we were anchored but the main part of the action in Venice is a couple miles from the dock and in Venice you can't have shuttle buses because there are no roads! Canals are the roads so everything that we usually think of using a truck, car or bus for is done in boats.) So shuttle boat to Piazza San Marcos (St. Mark's Square). I have been here three times before so I didn't take a tour. Today I just wandered around a bit (about 3 hours) and then returned by shuttle boat to the Amsterdam. I did manage to find my bar. Harry's Bar is quite near the Square. I have a few photos but to be honest I never went inside. It was very busy and I figured pictures of the door and outside signage would suffice.

After dinner onboard I returned to the cabin and worked on my picture files. I have well over 2000 pictures so far. If I don't keep up with organizing them I may never get it done.

Day 92 April 5 (sea day)

Up at 7:30 AM due to early bedtime yesterday. Breakfast on Lido. Tai Chi at 9. Vantage discussion at 10. We talked about what we will do when the rest of the world needs petroleum so bad that we do actually run out. It is coming faster than many of us think. What is your favorite alternative fuel?

At 11 we had a lecture by Phillip Harding about Emporer Diocletian and the transition of the Roman Empire. Quite interesting part of Roman history.

Trivia was not a good thing for us today. We got 8/22 and the winners had 13.

Helped Daphne copy her photos to a zip drive this afternoon. Have I said that I'm not a fan of PCs? Macs rule! We succeeded but I had to work pretty hard to find the magic words to say to PC. I'm no guru on PCs but I appear to be the available resource for several shipmates.

At 2 we had another lecture (not too many sea days left so they are stuffing them in. This one was on the 7 Ancient Wonders, etc. by Paul Duff.

I took a nap after that and after dinner we had a show called Opera Interludes. Four singers presenting various selections from more popular operatic pieces. They also did some popular music. Three of the four singers had pretty good voices but the tenor was no prize. Past his prime as is the case with many cruise ship entertainers.

You might think the day was over but not so fast! At 10:30 PM we were treated to a crew show. This was our Indonesian crew members showing us many dances and songs from their culture. It was a very nice show and the emcee was hysterical. He did a joke or two between each act and had us rolling in the aisles.

Day 91 April 4 (Santorini, Greece)

Wow! What scenery! Beautiful place. I had a tour scheduled which included a hike up an active volcano and then a chance to swim in heated sea water near a volcanic "spring" which was said to produce as warm as 37ºC water (that converts to about 98ºF).

This was the only port we have visited which required us to use their tenders. This seemed like an inconvenience until we found them to be more comfortable than our own. All complaining stopped at that point. Our tenders are just our bigger lifeboats and have molded plastic seats without any cushions. These local tenders were nicer and did have pads on the seats. They also had a fair amount of wood trim which looks nicer. I suspect they often have several cruise ships anchored in the caldera (ancient collapsed volcano center which forms the circular island group that is Santorini) and don't want tender pilots from different ships running into each other trying to get to the docks first or something like that. Anyway, it worked out in our favor.

We tendered in to the island's docks and then immediately boarded another boat to go to the volcano. This was actually located in the center of the caldera. The volcano is still active and after the first collapse has created several newer cones of lower height which have poked up in the middle of the caldera. Some of these have in turn collapsed back under the water level. The live volcano we visited is the latest of these. It is truly still active although no serious activity is threatened any time soon. In fact, when we hiked up we eventually arrived at the "smoking vents" and it was not real exciting. Sort of like me trying to photograph my breath in Sevastopol. You could see the smoke but it didn't show up on my still pics. I hope it is visible on my video but I haven't had a chance to look at it. The climb was a bit of a challenge for many of our geriatric set. The path is well defined but is covered with several inches of gravel (made from volcanic rock). It was sort of like walking on a loose sand beach with the added complication that we were climbing a several hundred meter high hill. Not a climb for the impaired (it was marked as challenging physically in the brochure). In fact, by the end of our hike the new passenger in our group (teenager - high school junior whose grandmom invited him to join her on the last part of our cruise) was commenting that his legs were tired by the end of the hike. Heh, heh. My legs were just fine thank you. All that running paid off.

After the volcano we sailed to another area where there was obviously a sulfur spring at the edge of the lagoon. Only problem...we had to swim from where the boat anchored to the hot water (a distance of about 100 yards). Oh, sorry. One other problem. The "hot" water wasn't always 37ºC. Just in the summer which this wasn't! Your's truly knew that the water temperature in the nearby water where the Amsterdam was anchored was 53.9ºF this morning. It is barely spring here and if you think I was going to jump into icy cold water (ok, I know it was not "icy" cold but I also know I don't like 70º water when I go to the beach in the summer!) ... So I wimped out. Sue me. Maybe I'll come back some summer and give it a try. It was the volcano climb which really interested me anyway. If I want hot sulfur springs I can always go to Yellowstone right? Work with me here!

So, after about 9 hardy souls jumped in and swam to the "hot" water and returned (reporting it was not really "hot" of course) we returned to the populated part of Santorini. I took the Finicula to the top to save time because I wanted to have some food and walk around the area on top and we had to be back at the dock in about two and a half hours or we would be left behind. They only wait if you are on a HAL tour. I found nice open air lunch place. Had a lamb pita gyro and a Mythos beer. Both were quite good. I started walking after lunch and almost immediately one of my Tai Chi classmates called to me and asked if I wanted some free internet time. She and her husband had not used about 30 minutes of what they had purchased and it would go to waste.... That is when I sent my email to those of you who got it. Hope it was all of you. If not, this contains most of what was in it if not all.

After using about 20 minutes of internet I had to get going. I was not certain of the last shuttle time we had to make. I figured better safe than sorry (translate sorry to stranded). I had thought about walking down the path instead of using the Finicula but decided I might not have time. Besides, the footpath is also the donkey path (they will - for a fee of course - put you on a donkey and give you a ride up and/or down the footpath) and the donkeys are sort of like the Indians of Mumbai and don't seem to need private bathrooms so I understand the path can get slippery if you don't watch where you step.

I didn't write down what I did after returning to the ship but I think I just had dinner and went to bed a little early (probably skipped whatever show there was). If anyone has a burning desire to know shoot me an email. I have saved all daily programs and if I go back to that one it will remind me of what was going on and I'm sure I'll remember. Otherwise, I don't have time tonight. (I'm writing this on April 7th after two days in Venice and we have Split, Croatia tomorrow so I need to get on with this.)

Day 90 April 3 (sea-day with passage back to the Adriatic sea)

I'm writing this on a sea day when we travelled back through the Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara and the Dardenelles. Took some pics of Istanbul as we passed. A lot of history here. We lost by one today at Trivia. Barbara talked as we sailed the 19 miles of the Bosphorus and as we passed through the Dardenelles. That is where Galapolli is. Several monuments to the dead. The allies tried to take this spot for almost three years and finally withdrew! The Turks deserve their reputation as fierce fighters. Singers and dancers put on a great show tonight. The costumes were Broadway quality. Great!

Gotta get some rest before Santorini, Greece mañana. Going to climb a volcano and soak in a hot spring. Tough life....

Day 89 April 2 (Sevastopol, Ukraine)

Севастопол, Украйна

OK, just tring to show off again. If it isn't working don't worry. This is the last port which has Russian as a language. For me the fun continued. The tourists had a better time today too. This country isn't as uptight about tourists despite being part of the Soviet Union not too long ago. In fact, they just barely tolerate the Russians these day. Apparently they didn't like being under the boot heel of the USSR much. Imagine that.

So, what did I do today? Well, after breakfast I went for a haircut. I had no excursion planned and the hair cutters are so busy that they often make you wait two weeks for an appointment. So when I stopped by yesterday afternoon after my run (the scale is there and it is close to where I run) and they offered me an appointment this morning I didn't hesitate. Chances are I would have just been a slug-a-bed if I didn't have to get up for the appointment so it was a good reason to get up at a reasonable hour.

After the haircut I went walkabout as the Aussies say. I hit the tender at about 9:30 AM. I wanted to just walk and see the local area and I knew there was a thing called the Panoramic Museum not too far to walk that I might try to find. I stopped into a small store looking for candy. I needed to replenish my Werther's supply. They had something similar (nothing is a good as a Werther's of course) and I bought several bags as well as a bottle of Coke. I got a half-liter bottle for 3.4 Gravnya (the local currency equivalent to about $.20 US). So for about $.70 I had a 16 oz bottle of Coke. Pretty sad when you have to go to the Ukraine to get Coke for a reasonable price. I guess I'll save it for a special occasion.

Moving on...literally and figuratively. I walked along the shore more or less and discovered a souvenir stand next to a dolphinarium. There were some shipmates trying to negotiate with the stand owner but they weren't getting anywhere. I did my best and it was good enough to let them know that the price was too high for them. I then bought a couple things for myself. Actually they were more of a Russian type souvenir but we didn't see a souvenir stand where I was in Sochi. Some of the other tours apparently did go by some stands.

Sevastopol is quite unique. It was apparently founded or at least largely developed for defense purposes. It is on the Crimean Peninsula and that is strategic territory for the Russians because it is on the Black Sea. There are still Russian Navy ships here at anchor. Now they pay rent. In exchange they apparently give the Ukraine a break on oil prices. Because of this history (the Crimean War should ring a about "The Charge of the Light Brigade") there are many, many (over 2000 I understand) war memorials and monuments in the city. They are very proud of their courage. The Panoramic Museum is a tribute to the siege of 349 days in the Crimean war where they held off French, British, Sardinian and Turkish troops.

After wandering the waterfront a bit I turned uphill and set out for the Museum. It was farther than I thought but after stopping a uniformed guy on the street and asking directions I got there. I even understood his answer (mostly)! More fun with Russian. I love this stuff! Of course, if our maps had been any good I might not have needed to ask but what the heck. Just another chance to try to speak the language. I wonder where the brain stores all that junk you think you have forgotten. Sometimes words just pop up that you need. Other times not so much....

One of the monuments I saw on the way was a lot of plaques for dead servicemen. I felt kind of strange when I realized (word puzzle solved) that it was a monument to the dead from the Afgan war. You may remember that we were supplying and supporting the Afgans in that one. It is weird standing in your former enemy's country looking at a memorial to his war dead you helped create. Of course we're all playing nice now and the people here seem genuinely friendly but it just caught me by surprise when I translated the word(s) which helped me realize what I was looking at. On the other hand after a war is over many countries honor each other's fallen. We heard some beautiful words spoken by Ataturk after a gazillion Australian and New Zealand soldiers were killed in a place called Galipolli (sp? Sorry if this is wrong Ron, don't have time to check it right now). Just google ANZAC and Ataturk and you should be able to find it. If you are sentimental it will moisten your eyes. (The incident took place during WWI.)

The Panoramic Museum was slightly amazing. I understand there is one in Atlanta GA which is similar. A huge mural of the height of the battle during the siege of Sevastopol is hung against the inside of the exterior wall of a cylindrical display building. There are props which are placed in front of the mural and indirect lighting which makes the scene look real. I understand the one in Atlanta (no doubt commemorating some battle there - Sherman's march to the sea perhaps) actually moves but this one hangs there and you walk around. They have audio guides here but I walked up to the entrance (after buying my ticket) just as one of the ship's tours was entering so I just hung with them. Got to visit with the tourists and the guide was pretty good. I was glad I had made the effort to find the museum. I even bought a DVD from the souvenir desk on the way out. It isn't too bad. It is in somewhat accented English but it covers the history and Panoramic Museum well and shows some of the behind the scenes stuff that the tour didn't cover. Only 30 Gravna! What a bargain. (For you currency conversion impaired...that is 30 x .20 = $6)

On the way down the hill from the Museum I stopped at a drink stand. I love this country. They sell beer at drink stands in Museum parks! Had a Obalon dark. Awesome. No, make that AWESOME! That long walk back toward the ship seemed much shorter than it was. I still don't know what the alcohol content is (I have the bottle) but I wasn't half finished when I began to feel a buzz. Of course I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. Hmmm. Not too bright. Apparently my sense of direction was not too impaired because I took a slightly different path back toward the ship (I did this on purpose to see more monuments, etc. The map wasn't totally useless) and got there with no problem. Of course, I did photograph one monument that I had already photographed early in the day without realizing it until I looked at my pictures later. I saw some shipmates and asked which way the tender dock was and they pointed about 50 yards to my right. I was there and didn't realize it. Better to be lucky than good right?

So, before going to the tender and back to the ship I decided I needed to eat something in Sevastopol. I looked around and there was a snack booth. They had coffee and baked pastries with all sorts of stuff in them. I was trying to tell the attendant that I would like to try any of the pastries (I had already ordered my coffee black) when a friendly Ukrainian came up and (probably to get me out of the way so she could order, but she smiled nicely and seemed to care) said to me, "English?" I said yes and she asked me what I wanted and she explained to the attendant. I had perhaps the greatest cup of coffee I've ever had (yes, I was still a little buzzed and pretty hungry by now - it was like 2:30 PM) and a good meat filled pastry.

A great adventure! I then tendered back to the ship and hung up my clothes to dry out. Did I mention it was drizzling slightly off and on throughout my 4-5 hour walk? Never enough to make me put up my umbrella but enough to slowly seep into my parka (I was never cold. Had gloves too if I needed them. The temperature was so cold on the way back that you could see your breath. I tried to take a picture of myself in front of one of the many monuments I saw on the return trip but all I succeeded in doing was taking a pic of me with my mouth open. Duh. Trust me, you could see your breath. Honest, I wasn't that buzzed!)

Had time to help Jack and Anita with the internet in the afternoon before dinner. The show at 8 was mediocre. A flautist named Tara Wilkinson. Perhaps she'll improve. She is young.

Day 88 April 1 (Сочи, Руссия)

(Sochi, Russia case the preceding doesn't print correctly. I have a Russian alphabet font but it may not be transmittable for some reason. Just showing off. Sorry.)

Sochi will host the Winter Olympics in 2014 but they aren't ready yet. That's the consensus of this boatload of tourists. In fact, Sochi isn't ready for any tourists yet. Not too surprising because they apparently haven't been a tourist stop until very recently. I understand the first cruise ship showed up about a year ago. In any event, I had a blast. More on that later.

I set my alarm for 7:20 AM last night so I'd have time for breakfast and be able to make an 8:15 tour. No need. The immigration people here are not comfortable with visitors yet. They made us jump through some hoops but we eventually got going about an hour late.

My tour was billed as a Russian Tea Party. Not much of a tour but I decided that would be fine when I was signing up for stuff way back in the fall. We started off on the right foot. Our guide spoke pretty good English and seemed to know a bit about the town. Later she confided this was her first tour. Her day job was as an English teacher in the schools.

Sochi is a resort town used for many years by the royals and then by the Communist Party bigwigs. They say the scenery is lovely and the beach is ok. I couldn't say. The weather was overcast and drizzly all day. The tea was pretty good however and we were given a look at the machinery they use to process it and drove by some tea growing in fields. This is what they (they being the residents, perhaps for tourist purposes) call sub-tropical. Well, it is spring and the trees are blooming but 50º F doesn't sound sub-tropical to me. Of course, I've been in a lot of warm places lately so maybe I should cut them some slack. After tea and sweets our host, through our guide as interpreter, explained the tea business to us.

So, you ask, If the weather was bad and the tour not very exciting. why did I have a blast? Well, many moons ago (over 40 years to be more precise) I studied Russian. Three years in high school and a semester (the 4th semester) in college - that's all the college offered. They gave me credit for the first three semesters because of my high school Russian and they didn't offer a 5th semester. That's why I had to take a semester of German in college. I needed two semesters of upper level language (3rd and 4th semester) to meet my degree plan requirements. I told them I'd be glad to take another semester of Russian if it was offered and they let me slide on the two semesters of upper level but made me take 1st semester German to get two semesters credit. A bit twisted but in those days you did what you had to to meet the requirements. I figured they might make me take enough German to reach 3rd semester or something. I argued fairness and they saw the logic to my saying that by taking 4th semester Russian I had shown competency and it wasn't my fault that I couldn't go on for another semester. They agreed.

So, you ask, what has that got to do with having a blast? Well, I don't remember much of my Russian vocabulary. I haven't used it for, let's see...45 years ... wow! Well, I guess it is understandable that I have forgotten much of what I knew. I mean we were reading Tolstoy in Russian (ok, we had a dictionary in the other hand but we were reading and usually understanding quite a bit) and now I can't put more than two words together most of the time. But, I digress again.... As we began our trip I started looking at signs and realized I could still sound out the words pretty well. The Cyrillic alphabet is similar to the Greek - long story there, another time - and most people haven't a clue. But as I began to sound out words I didn't remember or had never seen I realized it was like working puzzles and each time I understood something it was like the aha moment you get when you figure out a puzzle. Well, that just kept happening and as I went on I began to remember more vocabulary. I'm a long way from 1963 but it was just fun! I even had some short conversations with some Russian speakers. For me that was a blast! (All right, I have to get my kicks somewhere. Still not married. Give me a break here ok?)

I did run into a very cute new female face after returning to the ship. Only problem was that she had a Russian uniform on. Wish I'd been more fluent. She spoke some English and was apparently just walking around the ship having a look. We talked very briefly and she said the ship was "cold". I didn't realize until after we said goodbye what she meant. It was cold outside but not inside. Then it hit me. She thought the ship was cold as in impersonal. I had not thought about it that way but to an outsider who doesn't have the benefit of all the smiling faces and greetings that we see every day the furnishings might seem a bit cold. The ship is basically a big hotel on the water and as such doesn't have the kind of warmth that a home might have. I imagine that part of the experience for her was coming from a place where very few people could afford to take a cruise that she was probably looking for something less than perfect so she could tell friends that it wasn't such a great thing. Perhaps I'm wrong because we certainly didn't talk much but trying to look at things from her perspective led me to that thought.

Having a morning excursion returned me to the ship in time for lunch and afternoon trivia. I joined three people who I had not met who were willing to add me to their group. We won! I wish I had been able to contribute more but what the heck. Our prize was a caribiner (my spell check is no help with this word. I'm talking about the kind of loop clamp that mountain climbers use. One side of it pushes in to allow you to clip it onto things - a belt loop perhaps) with a strap on it to use as a key chain. A win is a win. I won't tell you that there were only two other groups competing. Everyone else was still on tour I guess.

I ran this afternoon since I had the time. That's about it. We gain an hour tonight because we head west to Sevastopol.