Friday, February 26, 2010

SAN VENANZO ON THE MOVE!

The new sidewalk in San VenanzoThere's so much going on here in San Venanzo! A new sidewalk is being built - I guess Marsciano must've had some bricks left over after they installed new sidewalks on every possible road there. Anyway, the sidewalk will be much appreciated.








San Venanzo work-in-progress_005Also under construction is a new parking lot, right on main street! The steep hillside next to the bakery has been excavated and now a retaining wall will have to be built. Our geometra told us that pylons for this wall will be sunk 12 feet deep! We were also told that this lot will hold 12 cars, but even in theory I don't see how. Of course in reality it will probably hold 15 or 20, since everyone will just pull in where-ever they can. We were also told that once this lot is finished the police will start writing tickets for those who park on the street. I'll have to see it to believe it! San Venanzo's main drag has 2 small grocery stores, a gas station, book/newspaper store, pharmacy, bakery, butcher shop, Post Office, laundry, 2 bars and more all in one small section. In the mornings it's not unusual to have cars parked on both sides of the street with cars facing the wrong direction and/or pulled in at an angle - making it difficult for ONE lane of traffic to get through, much less two, but every one just goes with the flow. Once this new parking lot is ready it's going to be VERY interesting to see if old habits die hard.

A traffic light in San Venanzo!In the meantime these two projects have necessitated that San Venanzo have two traffic lights! This has certainly helped the flow of traffic, except of course for the cars that continue to park along the side of the road. The Italians seem to take this all in their stride - although there might be a lot of really dangerous drivers here, the majority of people just seem to go with the flow. No honking horns, no yelling, just a patient acceptance.

San Venanzo Wall 001Another more unexpected project has also presented itself: After many, many, many weeks of rain, the overly saturated ground finally gave way under the old city wall, near the elementary school. This happened late in January, and luckily at night, so no one was hurt and no cars damaged. This will be another project that will be interesting to watch!

For those of you who want to see ALL the pictures (and you know who you are, Damon), here's a slideshow. You can click on the icon in the bottom right hand corner and make the photos full screen.

Labels:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

AT SEA ON THE CELEBRITY SOLSTICE

Here’s a short video I shot from the top deck of the Solstice. We had been watching the Hot Glass Show and went back to the cabin for just a minute. When we came back the decks were all wet and I couldn’t figure out why. The seas weren’t rough at all, and even if they had been, I didn’t think there would be spray up on deck 15! When we walked around to the back of the ship we saw that we had just sailed right through a small shower, still visible in the distance! Turn the sound down before you watch this – if I’d realized that the wind noise was so loud I would have covered the microphone with my finger!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

FLOODING IN MADEIRA - FEBRUARY 2010

Yesterday I wrote about our visit to the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira. Now the island is experiencing heavy flooding. As of today 32 people have been killed as a result of this flooding.....

Labels: ,

Monday, February 22, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - Day 7 - Madeira

Just in case you're wondering what happened to day six of our cruise, it was a day at sea between our stop in Cartagena Spain and our last stop before heading out to sea.  Our last stop was the beautiful island of Madeira, Portugal.  The day at sea also allowed us to 'fall back' one hour so that when we arrived in Madeira we'd be synchronized with their time.

I wrote a little about the history of Madeira and about our plans for the day HERE in case you'd like to go back and read that post. 
 
Funchal Madeira PortugalComing into Madeira was beautiful.  The city climbed up the hillside. and although the mountains were coverby by clouds at least it wasn't raining. Because Madeira is an island we hoped there was a good chance that it would be windy enough to blow those clouds away.

Although I wasn't dedicated enough to get up for all the really early arrivals, I did enjoyed watching the docking process when we arrived at a more civilized hour. I could tell as we approached the dock that the walk into town would be longer than it was in Cartagena, but for us that wouldn't matter: our minibus would be picking us up right at the ship to take us on our 4-5 hour tour of the island.

After posting on the CruiseCritic.com message board we'd ended up with 15 people in our group, enough to fill one large minivan. As it turned out, the minivan we were supposed to use needed some repairs, so the company substituted 2 smaller vans, which was really better. It also allowed a woman we'd met on the ship to join our group.

Celelbrity Solstice dockedWe knew that the first stop on our tour would be a cable car ride up into the clouds. We had a great view of our ship in the harbor, as well as views of the houses and surrounding land. As we would see throughout our tour, almost every available space was planted with something: a personal vegetable garden, vineyards, fields of sugar cane, banana trees, and flowers everywhere, even in December. This must be an amazing place in the spring when everything is in bloom!garden plots



As we continued our tour and saw how steep and winding the roads were we knew for sure that we'd made the right decision to book a tour. If we'd opted to walk into town all we would have seen would have been the shops, not the beautiful countryside.
Madeira Portugal
When we came to the point in the tour where people could opt to ride the famous basket sleds down the hill no one in our van was interested. As it turned out the line for the sleds was so backed up that it wouldn't have been practical anyway.

Madeira PortugalWe drove up up up to an altitude of over 3000 feet for some incredible views. Although the clouds still clung to the mountaintops it didn't rain. Sunshine and blue skies would have been nice, but even a cloudy day can't diminish these views!Madeira Portugal

We were able to taste (and buy!) some Madeira wine at a small wine shop. There was no pressure to buy, and everyone was happy to answer our questions and offer samples. We ended up buying both the sweet dessert Madeira and the dry version, as well as a few liquers.

fish spread out to dryOur stop at the small fishing village of Câmara De Lobos let us get up close and personal with fish drying in the sun!  We see dried, salted cod in Italy, and I guess everywhere fishing in important the fish are dried for use during the winter months, just as they have been for centuries.  This man, who was anxious to practice his English, told us that this fish was "too much good!"

Everywhere we stopped on our tour the views were spectacular and once again I'll just let the photos speak for themselves. Remember, you can click on the icon in the bottom right hand corner of the slideshow to make the photos full screen. If you ever have the chance to visit Madeira, go, and definitely take a tour to see as much of the island as you can.



There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, February 19, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE – Day 5 - Cartagena

Okay, back to the cruise updates! Sorry for the delay, but things have been just a little crazy around here lately. Watch this space for an exciting announcement coming soon.

Our second Spanish port was Cartagena. For a little history of Cartagena click
HERE to read the post I wrote back in December, before we’d actually been there.


We knew we’d be able to walk right off the ship and into town, which was really nice. We knew the town itself would be smaller, and although cruise ships do stop here, it’s not over-developed.

As we disembarked we were handed samples of a local liqueur - what a great way to say welcome! We headed to the top first – to la Concepió Castle. We walked up the winding street and were rewarded with some great views – of our ship in the harbor, and of an old bull-fighting ring, which I later learned was built on top of a Roman gladiatorial arena. At the castle we watched a short film which told us about the history of Cartagena, which dates from 227 BC.

From our vantage point we could also see a Roman amphitheater, just one of the many reminders that this region was once part or the Roman empire. Later as we walked through town we visited the House of Fortune, which houses the ruins of the home of ‘ordinary’ Romans from the 1st century BC. We also visited the Punic Interpretive Center to see the remains of the wall built by the founder of Cartagena, Hasdrubal, in 227 BC. Also located at the Interpretive Center are the remains of the Hermitage of San Jose, or at least the burial vault of the Hermitage.

I don’t know why no one told us about a wonderful sheep’s milk cheese to try in Spain called Manchego. I would have loved to compare it to the pecorino cheeses we have here in Italy, but I didn’t know about this cheese until we were back in the states! Even worse, no one – NO ONE! told me about the famous thick hot chocolate and churros!!! When friends described this decadent treat to me I was soooo sorry we didn’t know about it when we were in Cartagena – it would have been the perfect place to try it! We did see quite a few delicious treats in the bakery windows, but resisted temptation, knowing that our six straight days at sea were rapidly approaching, and that eating would be one of the main past-times!

Rather than just showing a few photos, here's a slideshow of our day in Cartagena. Remember you can click the icon in the bottom right hand corner to make the photos full screen size!





There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 12, 2010

COMFORT FOOD ITALIAN STYLE!

If you're in the states, chances are pretty good that you've experienced some snow this winter.  Many of you might have experienced snow to the extreme, and there have been some pretty frigid temperatures to go along with that snow.  Here in Umbria it's been pretty darn cold, with temps dipping into the teens a couple of times, and it's not unusual for us to dip below freezing.  All in all our winter hasn't been as rough as it is in other parts of the world, but still the gray gloomy days of winter make me want to curl up with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate.

We've also been enjoying some good ole comfort food - a big pot of chili,  macaroni and cheese, a nice pork roast and potatoes in the oven to warm not only the soul but also the kitchen - and make the house smell great in the process.  Today we had some comfort food Italian style:  risotto.  Risotto at it's best is creamy and filling, and this recipe is also the perfect one pot meal.  Add a salad if you like, and lunch is served!




Risotto with pumpkin and pancetta


Risotto with Pancetta and Pumpkin

1/4 pound thinly sliced pancetta, cut into ¼” strips

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb pumpkin (or butternut squash) cut into 1 ½” by ¼” sticks

8 sage leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

¾ cup white wine

5 1/2 cups chicken stock

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 ½ cups arborio rice

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving


In a large skillet, cook the pancetta over moderate heat until crisp, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a medium bowl. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to the fat in the skillet. Add the pumpkin and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the sage, salt and pepper, and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the pumpkin to the bowl with the pancetta. (Make ahead tip: The pancetta and pumpkin can be refrigerated overnight. Return to room temperature before using.)

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

In a large saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Add 1/2 cup of the hot stock and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Continue adding the stock, about 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring constantly until it is nearly absorbed before adding more. The risotto is done when the rice is just tender but still has a bit of a 'bite' and the liquid is creamy, about 20 minutes.

Stir the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and the 1/2 cup of Parmesan into the risotto. Gently fold in the pumpkin and pancetta. Spoon the risotto into warmed bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.


Next time I'll probably try substituting sausage for the pancetta, just to compare, but this version was delicious - and very comforting.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 11, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - Day 4 - BARCELONA 4

Last but not least, our day in Barcelona included a ramble down las Ramblas, the tree-lined pedestrian mall. Just off las Ramblas is the Gothic Quarter, with many buildings dating back to the 15th century.



There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - Day 4 - BARCELONA 3

La Bogueria - Barcelona's food market - wow! Here's a slideshow of all the photos I took at la Boqueria - no need for words:



There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - Day 4 - BARCELONA 2

Here’s Rick Steves’ take on Gaudi’s Barcelona:



and two short videos I took inside la Sagrada Familia -







There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 08, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - Day 4 - BARCELONA 1

Barcelona – I’d heard it was a great city, but really knew nothing about it. Kind of embarrassing, but our transatlantic cruise gave me the opportunity to read about Barcelona and try to make good use of the limited time we’d have there.

Barcelona is full of museums and galleries: a Picasso museum, National Museum of Catalan Art, a gallery featuring works by Miro – with whom I AM familiar, since Louisville has a couple of Miro sculptures – plus the Olympic stadium, used for the 1992 Olympics, but originally built for the Great Exhibition of 1929. Then there’s the Gothic Quarter, which originated during the Roman period, and has many buildings from the 13th to 15th centuries. And last, but certainly not least, are the many buildings designed by Antonio Gaudi. The largest, most elaborate and most amazing of these buildings is, at least in my opinion, the church of La Sagrada Familia.

La Sagrada Familia was first proposed in 1874, and construction began in 1882. Gaudi devoted 43 years of his life to this project, but it certainly wasn’t his only accomplishment. While reading about the various Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, my first impression was that he was just weird! His buildings are very bizarre, curving and odd-shaped, yet once I saw and read information about the building of La Sagrada Familia, my opinion changed completely. This guy was truly a genius, and waaay ahead of his time. His application of geometry allowed him to create designs so radical that he once wondered if his designs were really possible – he said that if they were, wouldn’t someone else have thought of them before?

After studying various tourist information sites about Barcelona and checking both a city map and a Metro (Barcelona’s underground transit system) map, we came up with a plan. We wanted to see as much as we could without feeling rushed, so this was our plan: once we arrived at the foot of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s long, tree-lined pedestrian mall, we’d take the Metro to La Sagrada Familia. This required that we change trains once, but we were pretty sure we were up to the challenge. We would then spend as much time at La Sagrada Familia as we needed before heading back to the far end of Las Ramblas (the end closest to La Sagrada Familia), then we’d stroll down Las Ramblas, taking slight detours to visit the ancient Gothic quarter as well as the famous food market, La Bogueria.

Because we were so blown away by La Sagrada Familia, I’m going to post some photos today; tomorrow you’re likely to see even more pics of La Sagrada Familia – it was really, really interesting. Oh, and did I mention that it’s not scheduled to be finished until (hopefully) 2026? That would make the total build time 144 years!



La Sagrada Familia




La Sagrada Familia




La Sagrada Familia




La Sagrada Familia



La Sagrada Familia


There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 06, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - Day 3 - VILLEFRANCHE

Just a few pictures of Villefranche, and a short video…


Villefranche, France



Villefranche, France



Villefranche, France



Villefranche, France


Here's another Rick Steve's video highlighting Villefranche:



There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE.

Labels:

Thursday, February 04, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - Day 3 - NICE

If it's day three of the cruise it must be France! Although Nice has its own port, for whatever reason our ship stopped at Villefranche, and we were tendered from the ship to the small town of Villefranche. In addition to Nice, it was also possible to visit Monaco, as well as other small towns in the area. One of the nearby towns is known for its perfumes, so I’m sure this is a busy place when the ships arrive.

Once again we decided not to take one of the ship’s excursions. In addition to being (in my opinion), very over-priced, there’s also the whole group thing to contend with: everybody off the bus, everybody into the shop, everybody back on the bus, everybody into the museum, everybody back on the bus……you get the idea. Also there’s no chance to linger if you find someplace you want to explore further, no time to wander and browse, or just relax and enjoy the view. We had decided to take the bus rather than the train to Nice, based on the advice of people from the CruiseCritics message board. It was a short ride, only cost €1 each way, and allowed us to watch the scenery as we rode.

Unfortunately arriving in Villefranche meant we had to be tendered in, and although the process went smoothly, it was still just another delay. In order to facilitate things, in addition to the ship’s tenders they also used locally operated tenders, which was what we ended up on – much to our dismay. As we disembarked from the tender, the gangway from the tender to the dock was a curved piece of metal, not the usual straight piece with raised edges for ‘steps’.
curverd gangplank
There was a man standing on the dock, presumably to take our hand as we disembarked. He didn’t offer Art his hand, and as Art walked down this curved gangway his feet just slid out from under him and he came down HARD! on his back. I looked at the man and said “Sir! You should be offering your hand to everyone! This gangway is dangerous” His reply? Not “I’m sorry”, not “Sir, are you okay?”, but to me, “Why didn’t YOU help him?” I said, as calmly as I could, “Because he was in front of me, and because it’s YOUR job!” He turned to the woman behind me and said (in French) “These Americans should learn how to walk.” Gosh, I wonder how that stereotype of the arrogant French got started! Welcome to France!

Luckily Art wasn’t seriously hurt and decided that the best thing to do was to keep moving, so we walked up the hill to the bus stop. We wanted to get to Nice as early as possible before the open air market closed, and because this was the off season, we weren’t even sure there would be an outdoor market. The bus for Nice arrived in just a few minutes, and luckily Art was able to get a seat. When we arrived at the bus station in Nice the old town was just a short walk away, so of course that’s where we headed.

Nice FranceThe old town of Nice was very, very charming. Seeing the strings of lights zigzagged over the narrow streets made me wish we could be there at night when it must be magical. We wandered past cute shops, noticing both the differences and similarities in the shops and goods from what we were used to seeing in Italy.


Nice France


Eventually we came to the open air market. I’m sure it was much smaller on that December day than it is in the summer, but it was still a respectable size, and not crowded to boot. Olives and mushrooms, spices, sea salt, handmade soaps, flowers, fruits and vegetables, and of course fish! Through the city walls we could see the ocean, just across the street. All in all a very charming place!







handmade soaps at the outdoor market




spices at the outdoor market





salts
 

 
more olives

Vegetables

fat mushrooms

burnt orange roses

fuschia roses

paella

cafe menu


beachAfter browsing through all the stalls and making a few purchases, we crossed the street to the broad promenade, called the “promenade des Anglais” – “walk of the English”. The curving bay of Nice is beautiful, lined with a rocky beach and going on for what seems like miles. We strolled for quite a while, just enjoying the sun, the ocean and the people.


pumping water

We headed back to the old part of the city to find something quick for lunch, and a bakery window filled with pizzas and quiche seemed the perfect choice. We sat at the one tiny table outside the shop, watching the world go by, including this man who was filling his containers with water from the public fountain.





wine shopAfter lunch we went in search of an amazing wine shop we’d seen earlier. I know very little about wine in general, but this shop was so interesting it didn’t really matter. Art spoke with the clerk, who spoke English, as well as Italian (and of course French), and we bought a bottle of red wine on his recommendation. It didn’t cost much, but later we were glad it didn’t, since it wasn’t really that good.

wall of wines









French wine


We meandered back towards the bus station, and caught the next bus back to Villefranche. The walk back down to the small harbor was pleasant, and Villefranche looks to be a nice town. The cafes were filled with people sitting outside enjoying the sunny day, but by now Art really wanted to take a hot shower and relax a bit after walking all day.

When we got back to the ship we did report the disembarkation episode to guest services, and later in the evening Art stopped by the medical unit. The doctor there was outraged to hear what had happened and how we had been treated. He gave Art some pain medication and a muscle relaxer to help him sleep. Luckily he didn’t feel too bad the next day, as is sometimes the case, so I guess we were lucky that our vacation wasn’t ruined by an inattentive and arrogant boat worker.

There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE.






Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - EATING AND DRINKING

When you think of a cruise what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I think for most people it has something to do with food – as in unlimited food, non-stop eating, midnight buffets and room service. Because people on a cruise ship are more or less a captive audience, the food does have to be good, otherwise, who’d bother? On warm weather cruises I’m sure drinking is just as important as eating, but for now let’s just talk about the food.

The setup for eating during out transatlantic cruise on the Celebrity Solstice was this: Breakfast was available from very early until late in the morning at the Oceanview Café, a large buffet style restaurant with food islands for every type of breakfast food you could want. There were omelet bars and waffle bars, cold cereals, hot cereals, yogurt, breads of every type, sausages and bacon, fresh fruit and more. This is where Art and I had breakfast every day. We usually found a table by the window first, then wandered through the various sections until something struck our fancy.

If we had preferred something more intimate and with table service we could have opted to have breakfast in the Bistro on 5, the creperie restaurant. The Bistro charged $5 per person to eat here, and I heard it was very nice, but somehow we just never made it there.

For an even more intimate and relaxed breakfast we could have ordered room service for breakfast. We would have filled out the menu the night before and indicated what time we wanted our breakfast delivered. I think if we'd had a balcony and the weather was nice this would be a wonderful way to start the day, but since we didn’t have a balcony we never did order room service. There’s no additional charge for room service, but I guess you’d be expected to bump up your tip for the cabin steward at the end of the cruise.

Oceanview Cafe on the SolsticeLunch offered even more choices. In the Oceanview Café each station featured a variety of cuisines, some changing from day to day and others being offered every day. Pizza, sushi, Indian, Mexican. There was a pasta bar, and soup and sandwich bar. You could have a Caesar salad made which you waited, or assemble a selection of cold salads, cheeses or fresh fruit. There was fried chicken and baked chicken, fish, pork, and a roast beef waiting to be carved.

In addition to the three options listed above, you could also eat in the main dining room, the Grand Epernay. Although not stuffy formal, it was still a very nice experience with white tablecloths and table service. You could also opt for a burger at the outdoor bar by the pool, the AquaSpa Café, but tables seemed to be in short supply here – I guess you were expected to take your food back to your lounge chair. There was also an outdoor grill on the same level as the Oceanview Café, but most days it was just a little too cool for eating outdoors.

Dinner of course was the main event. Once again you could opt for any of the above listed options for dinner. For the most part we ate dinner in the ship’s main restaurant. The Grand Epernay dining room was a two level restaurant, and it was very attractive. Each evening when the doors opened the crowds would come pouring through, and everyone was greeted by the wait staff who were lined up to greet us. I don’t like to eat my largest meal at dinner, so it was always a struggle to resist the temptations on the evening menu, especially when we were eating at the late seating.

the Grand Epernay dining room


Grand Epernay Dining Room



In addition to all these options you could also opt to dine in one of the specialty restaurants on board. Blu was available only to those who had booked the AquaSpa class rooms, but the other three specialty restaurants, The Tuscan Grill, Murano, and Silk Harvest were each open to anyone for an additional charge of $25 per person. The specialty restaurants, while not requiring coat and tie, were a bit more discriminating about their dress code, and although you certainly wouldn’t wear shorts and flip-flops to the Grand Epernay dining room, the specialty restaurants were just a bit more formal.

I have to admit that I was puzzled about this ‘specialty dining’ idea. It seemed to me that it was a little insulting to be told that if I wanted the REALLY good service and the REALLY good food I had to pay an extra $25, but a travel agent friend explained the reason to me. In order to keep the basic cruise price down, most cruise lines now offer these specialty restaurants as a way to generate additional revenue, and it must be working. I’m sure there were people who ate in a specialty restaurant every night. The one night we ate in the Tuscan Grill was fabulous – both the food and the service – but still the cost of wine and alcohol is nothing to sneeze at.

This is another area where the cruise lines have upped their prices. Back in the late 1970’s when I cruised on Royal Caribbean I’m sure that soft drinks were included at no additional cost, and that alcohol was cheaper than the average bar back home. Now the only drinks that are included are coffee, hot and cold tea, and water. Bottled water is available for an additional charge, as are soft drinks. For one flat fee, I think $5 per day, you could buy a soft drink package that allowed you unlimited soft drinks throughout the cruise. Similar packages were also available for wine and alcohol, and although I don’t remember the prices, I do remember thinking that in order to justify the daily cost you’d be ready for the next AA meeting as soon as the ship docked.

Daily drink specials were available for $5, but otherwise were no bargain. The cheapest wine I saw was Chianti by the glass for about $8, although up in the Oceanview Café you could get a carafe of wine for a reasonable price. Luckily I don’t require a drink before dinner, or even a drink with dinner, so this wasn’t a problem for us. We did have a glass or two of wine a few dinners, but only because we had our onboard credit.

After being on the ship for a few days I did learn a few tricks, like taking some fruit, cheese slices and bread back to our cabin to enjoy later with a glass of (our own) wine. You’re allowed to bring two bottles of wine on board, which you can of course drink in your cabin. Our steward, noticing that we’d had wine, thoughtfully let some wine glasses in our room for the next time. If we’d wanted to have one of our bottles of wine with dinner there would have been a $25 corkage fee – which would have been more than the bottle cost in the first place!

Celebrity SolsticeI also learned to stop by the ice cream bar to ask for a bowl of peanut M&Ms for a snack, rather than topping my ice cream. Other than fruit and cheese, there weren’t any snack foods around other than the bar munchies provided when you bought a drink. I guess that was good news for my waistline, but still, there were times when I wished I had something crunchy to nibble on.



Murano Restaurant


Celebrity Solstice




Celebrity Solstice

Labels: ,

Monday, February 01, 2010

OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - Day 2

Our first port of call was supposed to be Livorno. Most of the passengers would use this port as their gateway to Florence, Pisa or Lucca. The ship of course offered their own (pricey) tours, others had made arrangements for private tour guides, and others would strike out on their own. Since we’d spent a few days in Florence in October, we decided to take advantage of the morning to explore the ship, and thought maybe we’d walk into Livorno after lunch if the weather permitted.La Spezia. Italy
Everyone’s plans changed dramatically when we discovered that we had NOT docked in Livorno, but rather an hour to the north, in La Spezia!


The storm and resulting rough seas from the night before had resulted in a cargo ship taking our place in Livorno, and we were now anchored off the coast, meaning that everyone wanting to go ashore would have to be tendered, and then travel the additional hour. The seas were still choppy, the skies still threatening, and for everyone with plans to go ashore, there were some serious logistical problems.

La Spezia. Italy
Normally tours offered by the cruise lines are very expensive, but the one guarantee you do have with one of these tours is that if for some reason you’re late getting back to the ship, it won’t leave without you. If you head out on your own and miss the last train, it’s YOUR responsibility to get to the next port where you can reboard the ship. For those people who had booked tours of Pisa/Florence/Lucca through the ship, someone else had been up all night making adjustments to the schedule and figuring out the transportation issues. Those who had arranged for private tours hopefully had cell phones or some way to get in touch with their guides and drivers, but of course no one knew this until first thing in the morning, so I can only imagine the panic and confusion! For those who had planned to take the train to Florence or wherever on their own, they now had to figure out a whole new schedule based on taking the train from La Spezia, and they also had to remember to allow enough extra time to get back to La Spezia in time for the last tender. Although the ship did delay it’s departure an additional hour to compensate for that additional travel time, I’m not sure whether everyone leaving the ship was told this or not. I felt so bad for everyone who had their plans ruined, or at least seriously altered, and I was glad we weren’t affected.

We started out the day as we would every day thereafter, with a light breakfast up in the Oceanview Café, then headed to the gym for an hour on the treadmill. The treadmills were facing the shore, and as we walked we watch the storm clouds roll in, then back out. We watched the tenders bouncing on the waves as they made their trips back and forth from ship to shore. I think it must have been a pretty confusing day, weather-wise, for those on shore.

That evening we had our first dinner at our assigned seating, the late one at 8 o’clock. For those days we were in port, the late seating made more sense because we could have a full day of sightseeing yet still have time to relax before dinner.

We had requested a table for eight so that we could get to know some of our shipmates. Our table for eight turned out to be a long, rectangular table, which doesn’t facilitate conversation nearly as easily as a round table. When we arrived another couple was already seated next to the window, facing one another. We followed suit and introduced ourselves. The other couple turned out to be a woman and her adult nephew, both from Mexico.

We waited for the rest of our tablemates to arrive, but only one other couple showed up, and although the smiled and said hello, they sat facing each other at the end of the table, leaving an empty chair in between us and them. Apparently they weren’t interested in meeting new people!

Our table was tucked away in an alcove, meaning that it was quiet and there was no through traffic except for the wait staff. The menu had a list of ‘standards’ that would be available every day, as well as the featured menu of the day with several choices in each category.

Our service was impeccable that first night: each course was presented correctly and in a timely manner. Water glasses were refilled automatically and unobtrusively. The food was very good – all good signs for the days to come!

When it was time to go to bed the ship was making it’s way from La Spezia to our next stop, Villefranche, France. This would be our gateway to Nice. It was still quite windy, and yes, you could feel some side to side movement of the ship because it’s so tall – 15 decks high. I never found the movement uncomfortable or bothersome, and although Art complained about it, he never felt sick. Our cabin was located pretty much in the middle of the ship, front to back, but we were on deck 10, so rather high up. I think if we had been in the same location on a lower deck the movement would have been much less noticeable.

There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE.

Labels: , ,