"" Writer's Wanderings: November 2016

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Books For The Road - The Muralist

One of the books I finished reading on our transatlantic crossing was The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro. I grabbed it from a list of suggested readings from the library and was pleasantly surprised to find an excellent read.

Danielle Abrams working at Christie's auction house in the art department discovers what she believes to be pieces of her great aunt's work from the late 1930s. The aunt, Alizee Benoit, mysteriously disappeared in 1940. The book goes back and forth between the present and the past creating the mystery by detailing the life of Benoit as she worked as a muralist for the government works project during the Great Depression. A Jew with family in France that she discovers have become victims of the Nazi invasion.

While the reader agonizes with Alizee over her struggle to get her relatives visas to come to the USA, you also see the struggle of Danielle to solve the mystery of what happened to her aunt and get her work recognized.

I loved the insight into the work of those making murals for government buildings as well as seeing the evolution of the modern art movement in the States. While there are real life characters in the novel such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackson Pollock the author, Shapiro, has done a great job of integrating the fictional characters into the historical background and weaving all the characters together.

Definitely consider this a great book for the road.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sea Daze

It takes six or seven days to cross the Atlantic on a cruise ship. Sometimes I wonder if it might be less if the revenue garnered aboard ship was not so good. People have more time to think about buying extras and on the new Koningsdam ship, the opportunities to spend money were readily available.

Atrium
Yes, the usual was there--the extra beverages, the casino, the shops, the spa, the specialty restaurants.And let's not forget bingo! But now there were other opportunities. Several of the specialty restaurants offered extra menu items that had an added cost to them over and above the extra cost to eat there. In the Pinnacle restaurant you could order a lobster tail for $20 extra. Of course if you waited, you could get one in the dining room on one of the gala evenings for no extra cost. I'm guessing those in the dining room were not as large.

Another restaurant, a new one, the Sel de Mer which is a seafood/grill venue is all ala carte. You don't pay extra to eat there but you pick your ala carte dishes and pay accordingly. The Dutch Cafe was a new venue as well and while the food was not an extra charge (they had a wonderful pea soup!) the coffee and drinks were.

The Culinary Arts venue while not new in concept on HAL is a new adventure in dining as well. For a fee you can eat in the arts center and watch your meal being prepared by the chef.

Add water. Finger towel!
Our transatlantic journey was the first for the Koningsdam. It had already spent time in the Mediterranean and was now on its way to its first season in the Caribbean. In some respects it was a maiden voyage, the symbolism of which was not lost on Titanic enthusiasts. It didn't bother me until one night while we were still in the Mediterranean the captain explained that we were late to port because of some unscheduled maintenance on one of the pods (they control thrust). Not without a sense of humor, the captain in a later announcement also called the aft of the ship the blunt end as opposed to the other end which was the pointy one.

The weather cooperated for the week of the crossing. We had a little rain now and then but we managed to avoid a couple of lows to the north of us and skirted the systems. After the first day, everything seems to settle into a routine. Two lectures a day, time in the gym for Bob, my two miles a day around the promenade deck, breakfast, lunch, dinner followed by the evening entertainment. Intersperse all that with a couple of movies, some reading, some writing and a little people watching (I'm so easily entertained).

In seven days we had to turn back the clocks five times to catch up with the time zone changes and then the Daylight Savings Time change. It's certainly easier to go east to west but it still plays with your sleep patterns. And it beats jet lag where you get all that time change in one big lump.

No it's not upside down. Sometimes there would be
flowers in the stems of the amaryllis. 
One of the things I enjoyed most about the ship was the artistry of the on board florist. The arrangements were unique and always beautiful as well as refreshed. Quite a job to keep up with all of it as there were large fresh arrangements almost everywhere you went in the public areas of the ship.

By the time we reached Fort Lauderdale, I was ready to go home. Thanksgiving and Christmas lay ahead and we would be with family for that and Bob had already booked our next cruise. It's a rule, you know. The wife doesn't get off the ship unless she knows the next cruise is planned. Life has to have some rules.






Thursday, November 24, 2016

Port of Call - Funchal, Madeira

Leaving Cadiz, Spain, we faced a day at sea. I was ready for a break from an up to now port intensive cruise. A little reading, a little writing, a little eating--make that a lot of eating. It was an interesting day since it was also Halloween. By the time evening came, there were quite a few unusual and clever costumes.

After our day of rest at sea, we were ready to face a new adventure in Funchal, Madeira, which is a part of Portugal even though it is an island that sets out in the Atlantic. All I could remember from our previous visit to Funchal was hazy since I’d been ill that day and filled with decongestant and/or antihistamines. As luck would have it, there was another HOHO bus. We didn’t hesitate.

Unfortunately, while they sold tickets for the HOHO bus on the dock, we had a good fifteen minute walk in the sun that was warming up quickly to where the first bus stop was. Once aboard, we delighted in one of the best HOHO rides we’d had. For one thing, the ear buds worked well and the narrator was easy to hear and understand as well as having some nice local music playing in between the narrations.

The plan had been to take the bus around and then come back to the point near where we started to catch a ride on the gondola to the village of Monte 1800 feet above us. The top of the mountain didn’t look inviting however with dark clouds shrouding it. Optimistic, we thought by the time we were done with our ride perhaps the dark clouds would move on.

Our tour took us on a long loop around Funchal and to some very picturesque places. One spot, Camara de Lobos, was where our narrator said Churchill came to paint. Some of the vistas reminded me of a painting we bought on a cruise, not because we knew where it came from but because we just liked it and it was the right size for over our mantel. Now I was beginning to wonder if perhaps the artist had painted one of these views.

A fleet of colorful fishing boats were all pulled into the shore. This day was All Saints Day and as such was a holiday here. That probably explained a lot of the locals we saw gathered in groups either around a small table or just a ledge of a walkway playing a card game—probably with a little side wager, I’m sure.



There were lots of hotels and resorts in Funchal. It must be a popular place with Europeans for their warm holidays on the beach. Far outnumbering the resort areas however were the acres and acres of banana trees. They stretched up and down the terraced hillsides. We actually saw only one small place where there was a grapevine so apparently the grapes grown for their famous Madeira wines must be on the other side of the island. The bananas were said to be their second largest export going mostly to European markets.

One of the things that caught my eye were the beautiful orange tulip trees. I think they may be call African tulip trees. I seem to remember that from some other trip. We passed a wall full of painted “graffiti” that was a collection of art resembling some famous works.

 When we got back to our starting point, we decided to forego the trip in the gondola. The bus ride had taken us to such beautiful vistas that we couldn’t imagine it being any better from Monte. Besides, it looked like it was still raining up there. We headed back to the ship.



That afternoon as we pulled out of our last port to head across the Atlantic to Fort Lauderdale, I watched the pilot from the port get picked up from our ship. Each port requires a ship to have a local pilot on board as they enter and leave the port. It’s for legal and safety reasons. A local pilot will know the quirks of the currents and the lay of the land below the water level and stays on the bridge with the captain until the ship is out of the harbor. It always amazes me though how they manage to jump onto the pilot boat and never miss. At least I’ve never heard of one of them missing. This pilot made it safely as well and waved to the many watchers on the decks of our ship.
 
As we sailed farther away from Madeira I marveled at the homes and buildings lining the hills and mountains and cliffs. It is amazing to think about how some of them could possibly have been built before there were modern cranes and building materials.


Seven days at sea lay ahead. Hopefully they would be calm and uneventful weather-wise.





Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Port of Call - Cadiz, Spain


Sadly we would be passing Gibraltor Island in the dark again. Only once have we passed it during the day to get a look at it but that day had been foggy and rainy and there wasn’t much to see. To visit the island is still on the bucket list. Yes, there is still a bucket list of things to see even with all of the traveling we’ve done.

Cadiz was a port we had visited once in the past. I couldn’t remember much about it though except that I was sick with a really nasty cold and medicating which is probably why the memory part was bad. I did remember an old city (it is said to be the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe dating back to 1100 BC) and sitting at a cafĂ© and sipping tea or coffee. I was eager to see what I’d missed.

We found another HOHO and boarded for our tour. The complete ride was a little over an hour and skirted the old city. It took us past beautiful beaches and the amazing Cathedral. With all the beaches, it was easy to see why so many northern Europeans go to Spain for a warm winter holiday.

Once we were back to the starting point, we opted to cross over the main street and enter the pedestrian area of the old town. It wasn’t anything like I remembered. For one thing, I didn’t remember all the people but this was a Sunday so perhaps we’d been there on a day when locals were at work.

Sundays in ports are sort of iffy for restaurants and shops but usually there are plenty of eager merchants who know when a cruise ship is in port it’s to their advantage to open up shop for at least a short while. The shoppers were not disappointed and those of us wanting a flavor of the city were not either. Several vendors were set up with carts full of oysters. Not my favorite but always intriguing. 

In the large old Plaza de la Catedral in front of the cathedral were several groups of people exhibiting talents but the one that was most popular was the flamenco dancer who had placed a small wooden platform on the cobbled stone pavement and was entertaining the crowds of locals as well as cruisers asking only for a few Euros in the hat that her husband held out.

We  enjoyed several other small narrow streets, looking in the windows at bakery and candy and other products of the area. We found a candy shop that advertised toffee and Bob and I indulged in a bag of toffee with chocolate centers. We had no idea how big a ¼ kilogram was though. The bag of toffee was sure to last us through the rest of our cruise.


Then it was back to the ship. Remember, Bob never misses a meal on a cruise. After all, he paid for all of them.





Monday, November 21, 2016

Port of Call - Malaga, Spain

Malaga was another port that was new to us. Turns out, Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso! I guess that was another one of those art history classes I slept through in college. Never schedule art history or music appreciation at 8 AM when you are in college. He was born at No. 15< Plaza de la Merced in 1881. The place is now a museum.

And there was another HOHO Bus! We took the entire ride without getting off just to see what we might want to go back and visit. There was a castle on a hill, the Castle of Gibralfaro, which dates back to the Phoenicians but we passed on going through it. I didn’t care to see any more old churches and our other choices were pretty much just museums of art or archeology and history. 

It was too beautiful a day to spend indoors but a little chilly for a beach day although some of the beautiful beaches of Malaga were beginning to get busy. Malaga is one of the towns where Northern Europeans come to spend some days in warm weather—a little like our Florida.

We passed by a bull ring though that was intriguing. The Plaza de Toros can seet up to 15,000 spectators. In Alicante, I’d seen what at first I thought might be a Roman theater and took a picture of it from the fort above the town but didn’t discover until later that it was actually a bull ring. I wanted a closer look at this one in Malaga and I thought I had caught sight of a gated door that you could see through into the arena.


Bob and I got off the HOHO near where we had begun and walked through the lovely Parque de Malaga that had shady paths and lots of unusual trees and plants. Up in one of the large palm trees, were several green parrots chattering away. I tried to get a picture of them but they blended in so well with the green palm leaves that they are virtually invisible in the pictures. 

We managed to figure out where we were when we emerged from the park and finally found the bull ring. We walked entirely around it but didn’t see an open gate. If I had seen one when we passed, it was now closed. 

It was a bit disappointing but the bull ring was unusual in its architecture and I did get a nice shot of a poster advertising a bull fight we had missed by several days. I wouldn’t have wanted to see it but maybe just a little of the pageantry would have been nice. 

Bull fighting dates back to 711 AD and was originally a sport of the aristocracy and was fought on horses. Later King Felipe V banned the aristocracy from the bullfights. The common people took it up but had no horses so they developed a method of fighting that we are familiar with today--dodging the bull on foot with a red cape. 


On our way back to the ship, we passed the colorful cube of the Pompidou Center, a place that has rotating exhibitions of art and the lighthouse. It was a bit of a walk out to the ship but the sun was warm and a breeze was refreshing and this day my feet didn't seem to mind the walk. 

As we neared our ship, we noticed there was another in port. The shape of it and the name caught my attention. Could it be? Celebrity Cruise Line had a sister ship of our favorite cruising vessel, the Horizon, the one we took our first cruise on. Zenith was its sister ship. The hull was painted a deep blue instead of black but as we examined it further, we could still see the old X that marks the Celebrity ships. It was behind the new owner's emblem. 

Old ships never die. They just get repurposed?













Friday, November 18, 2016

Port of Call - Alicante, Spain

When your feet hurt and your legs feel like water and your knees are screaming to stop, you look for a comfortable way to explore a port. We had walked so much the day before in Barcelona that my feet throbbed in protest before we even got off of the ship to begin our look at Alicante. There was no argument. All of us agreed it was time to take the HOHO (Hop On Hop Off) Bus.


We were off the ship somewhat early so when we got to the fort, Castillo de Santa Barbara, at the top of the hill overlooking the city of Alicante it was not yet terribly crowded with tour buses yet. It didn’t take long to discover that only a certain number of buses could come up at a time. There was a small turnaround area that barely accommodated a large bus to turn around. Three marked parking spaces, one reserved for the HOHO bus were there. Tour buses were only allowed so much time there before the security man in charge would make them move. He was stationed high above the road that wound its way up and would signal from the turn around area to the bus next in line below at a wider spot in the road when it could make its way up as another left to travel down. It was quite a coordinated effort at traffic control.

The fort, which dates back to the ninth century,  was an interesting place to explore and had several levels all of which afforded gorgeous views of the hillsides and town below. Since we weren’t on a tour, we took our good old time walking around. There was an elevator that actually came from the bottom of the hill below at the street level. We waited a few minutes to catch one at level two where the bus had brought us to travel to the top. 


The views really were spectacular and I snapped off several shots. I noticed a round amphitheater, or so I thought and took a picture of it. If the bus went by it and explained what it was I would have a picture from above. I was thinking it was some sort of restored Roman theater. Turned out it was a bull ring! 

When we were done with our exploring, we waited near the bus turnaround for our HOHO ride down. It was getting busier and the security man had his hands full between people and vehicles as now there were also a lot of taxis coming up as well.
 
When our HOHO arrived, we got on and toured the rest of city. At a couple of stops before the one near the ship, Bob and I got off and crossed the street to the promenade and park, the Explanada de Espana, that ran down the middle of the street bordering the water. 

It is a beautiful promenade with palm trees lining it and a wavy pattern of marbled tiles. A few vendors were present but mostly it was people just out enjoying the sunshine and pleasant atmosphere.

As we neared the marina and the cruise dock, we found a fancy Spanish galleon that looked to be a floating bar or restaurant. There was also an “outlet” mall of tented vendors selling all sorts of things. We looked around a bit mostly out of curiosity and then headed back to the ship. It was time for lunch and a little relaxing.
 





Three ports down and two more to go before another sea day. I was going to need a sea day to recuperate. 







Thursday, November 17, 2016

Port of Call - Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona. What a city. We have been there at least three times maybe four. We even stayed for several days once before going on a cruise. We have done all of the Hop On Hop Off routes, seen the unfinished La Segrada Familia, designed by Gaudi, several times (Bob claims he’s not going back to see it until it’s done) and had churros and chocolate.

I didn’t even take my camera this time. I have enough pictures of Barcelona (to see pictures go to my travel index for Spain or enter Barcelona in the search box at the side.). I just wanted to enjoy. We took the shuttle bus to the base of the Christopher Columbus statue that was still pointing in the wrong direction if he was thinking of sailing to the New World. From there we began our walk up La Rambla, hand in hand, feeling good about being in this beautiful city again.

We were early so the “statues” were just setting up. One of them was shaving his face so that he could apply his makeup evenly. It took me a minute to realize he wasn’t a homeless guy just doing his morning routine. Later we would come back and walk past the amazing people who look like statues and watch other visitors react to them when they discover they aren’t stone or bronze.

Some time ago I had been researching something we could do in Barcelona for this trip. I had found a reference to a chocolate place that was supposed to be off the beaten trail and apparently had great churros and chocolate. Everyone indulged me as we tried to find it. The problem was trying to explain why I picked the place. I couldn’t remember exactly, It had been so long ago.

Eventually we found the street and the chocolate shop and went in. The only other people in the shop were obviously locals. I wasn’t too sure the proprietor appreciated us foreigners. He never smiled, took our order and brought our chocolate and churros to the table. They were good but not quite what I expected. I kind of wished we’d just gone to the place where we’d been before that was near the water. Oh well. It was a new adventure and we could say we had our churros and chocolate with the locals.

On our way back I found a clever hat that I bought for our granddaughter’s birthday. I had decided that at .55/minute on board ship for internet it would cost me more to search for a gift and order through the Japanese Amazon site than it would to mail a package. Our next challenge would be to find a post office. At a tourist information shop, we found a lady who mapped out our walk to the post office for us. We began our walk.

The post office was all the way back to the Columbus statue (the one that really was a statue) and then left on that street. The walk was just about as far to where the PO was as we'd already walked from the chocolate shop. Unfortunately we had no idea what we were looking for. As luck would have it when we stopped to try to figure out where we were we saw people coming and going from a building that looked promising and our map said we were there. We walked up the steps.

Sure enough it was the post office and we found mailing envelopes and boxes but they appeared to be only for Spain and Portugal. How would we get our package to Japan? The lobby was huge with a glassed-in counter all the way around. Each window had a number over it and a person behind it. We looked around at people standing and waiting. Bob noticed they had tickets in hand that they would check when the numbers on a monitor overhead changed. We went back to the entrance and found a device that gave us three choices, send, receive and one more I can’t remember. Now that I think about it, I'm surprised it was in English. Maybe Bob found an English language symbol first. We tapped the send button and out popped a ticket with a number. On a screen in the corner of this huge lobby, we found a monitor and waited for our number. And waited.

About ten or fifteen minutes later our number appeared ant we went to the appropriate window. Would the man understand and speak English? We could only hope. We showed him the hat and small fan we’d found and said we had to send them to Japan. He looked at the mailer in our hand and pointed and said “No.” He held up a finger for us to wait and he pulled a mailer from a drawer behind him. We stuffed the hat and fan and a card into the mailer, addressed it quickly and he weighed it and told us our cost. It wasn’t much more than what we would have paid in the states and probably as much as trying to order over the internet would have cost on the ship.

Proud of ourselves, we walked back to Christopher Columbus, stopping along the way for a few moments to watch the Giant Bubble Guy (I need to tell my friend she could finance a trip to Spain this way--or not), found our shuttle and smiled all the way back to the ship. We’d earned a good lunch.




Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mallorca or Majorca or Malorca

The port of Rome is actually Civitavecchia on the coast. It is about a half hour from Rome by train or bus. From Siena it was almost two hours by van. Bob’s brother had arranged for transportation for us to the port and the transfer from our hotel to the embarkation point for our cruise went smoothly.

Our reason for taking this cruise was to try out the new Holland America ship, Koningsdam. Once on board, we discovered it wasn’t the usual HAL ship. Its interior was a lot more modern looking. The old world flavor that I love so much on the other ships was missing. Gone too were some of the other things that we enjoy on other HAL ships but we would adjust. Like Bob always says, it’s hard to have a bad cruise.


One of the things that makes the Mediterranean Sea cruise so beautiful is the deep blue color of the water. Our first day was a day at sea and there was plenty of sunshine to enjoy the blue waters as we sailed for Mallorca or Majorca or Malorca. I saw it spelled several different ways over the next two days.



This was our first trip to Mallorca and I was eager to see what it was all about. We had not planned on any excursions through the ship but knew there were lots of other ways to explore Palma de Mallorca the port we entered.

The shuttle bus from our ship dropped us off right across from the huge cathedral and fortress that was now a museum. We strolled around the grounds of the cathedral and eventually found where they sold tickets to get in. When we saw the price, we opted out of going in and instead continued to explore the narrow streets of the city.

Next to the cathedral was a palace that was also a museum. Old fashioned carriage rides were available near here but this picture I snapped of one of them made me wonder if the texting rules applied to these drivers as well. Maybe the horses sense for the road is like our cars that have those lane sensors in them. 

Our goal was to find the market which is always a neat place to get a flavor of the local produce, meat, fish and bakery. This one did not disappoint and we walked up and down aisles of colorful produce (why can’t our markets look that pretty?). We looked at some unusual parts of animals (like heads) for sale as well as all sorts of fish and seafood some of which I didn’t know were consumable.


We had a little trouble finding our way back to the cathedral. Unfamiliar names on street signs and the maps we held which didn’t match where we thought we should be had us scratching our heads. Finally we spotted the department store that was on our ship’s map and discerned where that was on the Spanish map and eventually saw the spires of the cathedral. Along the way though, we passed the door of another church. Somehow Bob got confused and thought we'd found a back way into the cathedral. While this church was very large and ornate, I doubted it measured up to the cathedral.

Majorca is famous for its pearls and we stopped into a small shop where the proprietor spoke excellent English. It turns out she went to an international private school and had to learn English from the start. She explained that the pearls are man made by a special process. Layer upon layer of a unique paste made of oils and fish scales or mother of pearl for iridescence. They only take weeks to make as opposed to a pearl from an oyster that can take years to make and then is not necessarily gem quality. The Majorca pearls are said to be the closest thing to the natural pearl that is made. They were beautiful and made in many different colors.

How far we had walked I don’t know but we were ready to call it a day, head for the ship and find lunch. Rarely do we eat lunch on shore. After all we’ve already paid for our lunch on the ship and Bob wouldn’t want someone else eating it. *smile*



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