Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi and a Day in Haifa We Didn’t Expect

We had scheduled a full-day trip to the Golan Heights today, sort of a sentimental journey for our curiosity. We often visited a site in Jordan, Umm Qais, overlooking the Golan Heights from the east. We thought it would be fun to see it from the west side.

After our trip to Acre, we decided the last thing we wanted to do was to spend a full day on a bus with largely unmasked people who were coughing and sneezing, and it was not a location that mattered a lot to us, so we canceled.

We felt really good about our decision. I slept well and I got up early and had the laundry room all to myself, got a load started, then went up to the Horizons Lounge to have some hot coffee and watch the other passengers depart.

I put the clothes in the dryer and went back to the cabin where AdventureMan is awake and ready for breakfast. He is coughing and sneezing a little now, too, and we both drink pots of mint tea at breakfast. 

I grab the rest of the laundry as it finishes drying, we quickly fold and put away and head for our happy place on board, the spa. Most of the passengers seem not to be early risers, so when we go, before we start our day’s activities, we have it all to ourselves. My old turquoise swimsuit balloons when the jets of air hit, but no one is there to see and I will toss the suit when we start packing for our return and will never miss it. I hang on to old swimsuits just for this purpose, to get rid of them and not have to worry about transporting a damp suit. This time, hmmmm, I actually wish I had brought a newer suit that’s not saggy! I tell myself it’s OK, no one else is around this early in the morning, but – I live in fear.

After our spa time, we take our time getting ready to catch the shuttle for Haifa. The crew emergency drill begins, and we head for debarkation and wait for the shuttle. I meet a couple from near Bruges, Belgium. He is 59, and had a stroke. He has all his facilities; hears and understands but cannot communicate except by facial and hand expressions. His wife tends to him in his wheelchair and is taking him into town for the day. We have a great conversation; I am reading a book from a series right now about Bruges during the commercial explosion of the late 1400s as Bruges and the Netherlands led the way in international trading. 

The Shuttle drops us off in front of a hotel just by the main street through the Colony.

We explore the old German Colony of Haifa, and look for the Arab Market, which we discover is not open on Sundays because most of the Arabs are Christian. I do find pistachios, for which I have been searching, in one Arab quick shop which is open. They take Euros, and the nuts are very inexpensive.

Look at these wonderful old trees!

This large cathedral is St. Elias, in the center of the Arab Quarter, where everything is closed because it is Sunday.

We find a restaurant, the Gardens, for lunch and have a delicious lunch with freshly baked bread and cheese, lemon mint iced drinks, and a baked eggplant dish with tahini, finishing with Arabic coffee. We were definitely in our happy place.

The bread is still too hot to touch, full of a salty cheese, fresh out of the oven. We can hardly wait.

As we sat there, a photographer was preparing foods and photographing them for the tablet menus they are using to show their very international clientele what the dishes look like. A hungry cat and her adolescent offspring wandered the restaurant looking for handouts, and avoiding dangerous feet. 

My eye is caught by the patterned fabric they are using on the table 😊.

After lunch, we caught the shuttle back to the ship, went through the facial recognition process, and put our goods through the inspection machine, very TSA like, to get back on board. We also had to turn our passports back in as they will need them to get our Egyptian visas for the upcoming Suez transit and visit to Sfaga and Luxor.

As we boarded the bus, we talked with a New Hampshire couple who had been visiting with old friends overnight and had so much to tell us about their very different way of life but similar challenges, with children fighting old expectations and grandchildren underfoot. She also shared a cracker made with all kinds of seeds that was delicious. I’d love the recipe.

We got back at ship around 2:30. 

We took a snooze. That’s what cruises are all about, sleeping, eating, (for some, a lot of drinking) and a little bit of touring. Many passengers took long day tours to Jerusalem or Masada or the Dead Sea and are not back yet, so we made a last-minute decision to go to tea at 4:00 while there isn’t such a crowd. Great decision. Very low attendance, most tours were not back, and our friends Ed and Alan were there. We chatted with them, had some tea, listened to a string quartet, and spotted a submarine monitoring the harbor. Yes, really.

I can’t believe what I think I am seeing:

We stroll along the walking deck. I had thought this would be a place full of runners, but runners are few, and most of us are walking at various paces. We go back to our cabin and read. Time to read is such a wonderful luxury.

We love ordering dinner in our cabin. Ashok brought Gary the fois en croute with a reduced port sauce he loves so much, and a French Onion soup. I had Thai soup and some very chicken. It was quiet and so private – and so wonderful. Another luxury – privacy!

We split a Creme Brulee for dessert. Ashok wants us each to have one, but I have diabetes, and AdventureMan helps me stay on track by splitting desserts with me.

We hear groups of our passengers returning, and we watch another cruise ship depart:

It’s Sunday. On some cruise ships, they have religious services, but not on the Oceania Nautica. At one point, AdventureMan asked me about this man named Bill, who has a group that meets every single night in a part of the restaurant. I explain to him about Friends of Bill W and the meeting for recovering alcoholics, and how glad I am to see that like-minded people can meet and strengthen one another on a ship where every day the cruise director tells us to “Grab a drink and make a friend.” I wish there were an Episcopalian group.

I feel great during the day, but when I lie down at night I get all stuffy and it sticks in my throat. I wonder if it is the cleaning supplies they use? I am constantly waking up, and have fevered dreams, although I have no fever. Finally, around three in the morning, I applied a hot towel to my sinuses and moved to sleep on the little couch, so I would be more upright. It was the right thing to do – I slept until seven thirty in the morning.

January 26, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, Entertainment, Food, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, sunrise series, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: A Stop in Haifa

First, a little orientation. On the map above, in the upper left corner, you will see Acre, and just south of Acre you will see Haifa. At the bottom central, you will see Jerusalem / Bethlehem / Hebron and a short distance to the east of Jerusalem you will see Amman, Jordan, where we lived for two years several years ago.

Early, early in the morning, we make port in Haifa. It isn’t picturesque, the port, and we are instructed that every person on board has to make a face-to-face immigration visit even if they are planning to stay aboard.

Those of us on trips have to do it en route to our tour bus. It is bureaucratic and annoying. The lines are long. There are two other larger tour boats in town, an Azamara and a Costa (full of Italians) so there are a LOT of people processing, and there is also a lot of noise.

The lines more quickly, and we find our bus, which is fairly full, and . . . there is more coughing and sneezing. Some of us are masked. My forehead and upper cheeks feel a little tight, like some little allergen is bothering me.

The trip is to Acre, an old Crusader stronghold with a fascinating history, but we don’t get a lot of the history, but we do get a lot of the guide’s perspective on Israelis and Arabs and threats to Israel, and generalities about the medieval times.

He takes us first to a large souvenir shop with two meager restrooms, and lets us spend a long time there before even beginning our trip.

We spent our time wandering around – nearby – and taking photos. It was a waste of our time, and there was so much we could have seen.

He won’t tell us where we will meet, does not want us wandering off, and because we don’t know when and where we have to meet, we have to stay with the group, my least favorite thing. He may have known a lot about Acre and the Fort, but he failed to convey the significance of what we were seeing, and he failed to place events in their context. “This is the Knight’s Hall” he would say, and let us look at a barren room with a slide show.

We found a map to help us out – except that it was in Hebrew

When we left the fort, the guide led us to the Arab market, we had about an hour. We could hear the call to prayer. Everything was about to come to a halt and we were starving. AdventureMan found a really good – really busy – falafel stand. It took us about half an hour just to get the meal, but it was so worth it – lots of vegetables, pickled eggplants, onion, etc, and the falafel were fresh out of the pot for each sandwich. That, and being able to watch all the regular customers as they ordered take-out for their families, was a lot of fun, and the best part of this trip to Acre. 

I have visited Acre before. It is an old city, with a long history, back and forth. It was a sleepy old seaport, then a Crusader Citadel, then the site of a lengthy battle, which the Moslems won. A few Crusaders escaped alive through a secret hidden tunnel. I was so looking forward to visiting this site. I feel short-changed. If I had it to do over again, I would skip the Oceania tour and take the local ferry to Acre (Acre is a very short distance from Haifa) and we could wander at will (it is not a large location) and take the ferry back and see the things we want to see at our own pace.

When we got back on the bus, it was a hassle getting out of the lot, one couple was missing, and a lot more people were coughing. I couldn’t wait to get back to our quiet room on board. I also had allergies, or sinus, an almost-sore throat and I was just tired.

We considered ordering dinner in our room but decided it would be quicker to just run up to the Terrace buffet and grab something quick. We both had the asparagus salmon soup (not a lot of salmon) and I had a variety of vegetables – a pickled rolled up eggplant called involtini, a little mousse of sweet red pepper, some olives. 

We ate outside – we have a table we like a lot to the far right, shaded from the breeze. It was actually warmer eating outside than inside. I drank a lot of mint tea with lemon and honey for my throat and head. Moustafa, our Turkish waiter, told us about farming practices near Ephesus, where he is from, about yoghurt, and fat content, and wanted to know about the varying kinds of cattle in the US. We didn’t know a lot, he was asking really good questions. We love those kinds of conversations.

By the time we got back to the room, all I wanted to do was go to bed.

I slept poorly, my sinuses swollen, not able to breathe well, feeling like a cold was coming on, until some point I got up and went to the couch where I could sleep in a more vertical position. It worked. I could breathe again, and when I woke up, I was feeling pretty good.

January 26, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Hot drinks, Middle East, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

At Sea: We Need to Talk About Ashok

Those of you who know AdventureMan and I personally know that we are relentlessly self-reliant. With all our years of moving and living in a variety of countries, we have needed to be, but in truth, we are wired that way. You will laugh when I say I am uncomfortable even introducing this topic.

Our beautiful room comes with a butler.

It has been an awkward dance, but Ashok, our butler, is a pro at assessing people and working with their preferences. We don’t need a lot of service, and he has found ways to make himself useful to us anyway. Discovering I like Ginger Beer, he scoured the bars, alerted his contacts, and made sure our little refrigerator was well stocked with AdventureMan’s Coca Cola, and my Ginger Beer. He was always polite and pleasant.

The night we had decided to have dinner on the balcony after our day in Taormina and had saved parts of our sandwiches from lunch, we also found a generous tray of hors d’oeuvres waiting for us when we arrived late back to the ship. We had to admit, it was really nice, he had intuited well what we might like.

When we got tired of dressing for dinner and asked to have dinner in our room (part of the perks), he served us with elegance and grace, and made it so much fun that we indulged every few nights.

When AdventureMan wanted his laundry done professionally, Ashok made sure it came back very quickly.

In spite of our self-reliance, Ashok learned how to make himself invaluable to us. And, in truth, we really liked him, and loved our discussions with him. We were impressed with his resourcefulness, and his delight in making things happen. He seemed to delight in delighting us.

We are at sea for two days, en route from Messina to Haifa, Israel.

I was wide awake by five, so I got up quietly and dressed, grabbed my computer, found a cup of coffee at Barista’s, and headed up to Horizon’s, the forward observation lounge to check e-mails. Over 300 e-mails, horrors! I spent a while just deleting, then responding to the few requiring attention – requests from Air France for rating how I liked my flights, and a couple e-mails from friends. Most of the time, in this large lounge, it was just me and one or two others. I did get a nice photo of the sun coming up; it looks a lot like the day before.

When I headed back to our cabin, AdventureMan was just getting up, so we went together to breakfast where I am so delighted to find marinated herring and smoked salmon, two of my favorite things in the world. (It’s my Swedish blood talking.) AdventureMan finds herring abhorrent, and so does the Indonesian lady dishing it up; when I say a bright cheery “thank you!” her response was meant to be a smile, but it was a little twisted by disgust. I also had my virtuous oatmeal, with virtuous fresh blueberries – so much temptation, but my blood sugar is well within normal and I want to keep it there.

After breakfast I introduced AdventureMan to a new thrill – the spa pool at the front of the ship. It is just below the Horizons Lounge, and we had noticed that if you enter the pool by the stairs, you are visible to the people in the lounge. It doesn’t bother AdventureMan, but I figured out how to enter from the side, so as to remain unseen. The spa is very warm to hot, and can be made to bubble, so we had a wonderful twenty minutes in the hot tub in the fresh air, then we headed back to our room.

This early morning trip to the spa, having it all to ourselves, became another guilty pleasure. So lovely, so indulgent.

This quiet sea day, I napped a lot. I meant to read. I meant to update this journal. I napped. I don’t even feel guilty, it felt so good. 

Our cabin as all shades of grayish green, sea colors. The walls look almost gray, but there are streaks of green in the wall paper. The upholstered headboard is a very pale shade of sea-green. The furniture and pillows a little bit darker shade of green, and the two pashmina throws to keep us warm are almost an exact match to the furniture. It’s all very soothing.

There is a little “couch,” really more of a love-seat, where I can fall asleep very easily.

Space is smartly allocated so that there is plenty of closet space, with doors that open so you can see everything, and enough hangers. (Enough hangers! I didn’t have to ask for more!) There are enough drawers to stow things in neatly. The bathroom has two upper-side cupboards, and two lower cupboards with shelves, too. There is more cupboard space in the bathroom than we need; we can keep everything in cupboards, out of sight. (This is a first.)

The ship is very silent. We don’t hear the motors, or the anchors dropping or lifting. We feel little sways and jerks now and then. At one point the weather changed briefly, we had rain. At night the ship swayed enough to cause some to have problems with balance, but it wasn’t much. We can feel the boat rock side to side, just a little, now and then. It is like being a baby again, held against your Mama as she walks about, feeling safe and secure. I napped a lot.

Dinner this night at sea was an Italian Market special, and we ate once again in the casual restaurant but dressed up a little. As it was a little cold and windy, we ate inside instead of at our usual table on the back terrace. It was one of my favorite meals – grilled Italian vegetables (mostly eggplant and peppers) and a big bowl of an Italian kind of Bouillabaisse, a fish stew, and it was wonderful. 

In the restaurant, I could overhear a conversation I longed to join, two tables away, about Amor Towles and A Gentleman in Moscow. I tried to see who the people were, an assortment of six, but I am not sure I would recognize them again. Another woman, seated nearby, was very blonde with a bright red pashmina wrapped around her shoulders – I’ve always envied that drama, and know it isn’t really my style.

Even though I napped a lot during the day, I slept well this night for the first time since Barcelona.

We slept fairly well through the night, awakening around five but getting back to sleep again for another day at sea. Nice breakfast on the Terrace (my virtuous oatmeal, this time with fresh raspberries), followed by another early visit to the spa, where at that early hour, we have it all to ourselves. We were out in time to get ready for the Veteran’s Day/ Remembrance Day Ceremony at 9:15 in the Nautica Lounge. It was simple, short and sweet.

We were back at the Nautica Lounge just a short while later for another enrichment lecture on the Knights Hospitaler and Knights Templar, which helps put everything in context for our upcoming trip to Acre while we stop in Haifa. 

We nap and read through the quiet afternoon as we pass south of Crete and Greece, never seeing a speck of land. Tonight is dinner at Toscana, the ship’s specialty Italian restaurant; we have dinner reservations at seven. We know a waiter who works there, Buti, and he has been waiting for us to come see him. 

The problem, for us, is that by late afternoon we are already closing down. We’ve always been this way, but when we were younger, we really didn’t know it. We dress, I wear the one little black dress I have brought for special evenings, with a red scarf, my own toast to a little drama. When we get to Toscana, there is a line, the restaurant isn’t open yet so we go into the library. Shortly, the Jewish Shabbat began, and we left to give them privacy, got in the line, and very shortly got in and asked to be seated in Buti’s section.

Buti treated us like gold. We felt so special. When I ordered, he insisted I add a small dish of pasta, angel hair aglio oglio, and when he brought it, it was perfect. He also brought a small bowl of sambol oelek sauce, which I know from Kuwait and Qatar, spicy hot peppers in a little vinegar, absolutely divine. I also had Veal Marsala, and AdventureMan had a Caprese Salad and Linguini Cioppiono. Altogether, it was a lovely meal. All around us people were laughing and talking, a single man at the next table was reading Saul Bellow, and as nice as it all was, it was slowly elegant and we got restless. We skipped dessert, which is a really good thing, because my blood sugar was 123 the next day, which gave me a good wake-up call. 

I loved the sambol oelek, and I loved the angel hair pasta. It’s hard for me to be gracious after five at night. When we got home, we were exhausted. Everyone is so kind, wanting to make us feel so special, and I just feel tired and happy to be back in my room getting ready for bed.

January 25, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Civility, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Education, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Taormina! and the BamBar!

As we were waiting – and waiting – and waiting to actually take this tour, the three long years of COVID, we spent time doing research on various aspects of the itinerary. One of our very favorite resources was Gary Bembridge’s Tips for Travellers, and his amazing cruise ship videos.

Gary Bembridge and his partner really like Oceania for it’s passenger service and care, and for the dining options they offer, and he says that for people who are destination serious, the line that has the best tours and onboard lecturers for content and information is hands down, Viking.

My Mother had a great sense of humor; she once said “have you ever noticed that people with good taste seem to have tastes that agree with your own?” I’ve never forgotten that. As I recommend Gary Bembridge and his videos, it is my OPINION that his opinions are really great, but it is probably because I agree with most of what he says.

He says it is important (I am paraphrasing here) to know who you are and to know what you like and know what is important to you as you choose a cruise line. Do you want entertainment? Do you like casinos? Do you want to take your children?

He compares ship packages – tours, drinks, ship credits and helps you find what is right for you. He advises on choice of cabins, cabin locations, and cabins for people inclined to sea sickness. If you have never cruised, or if you have had a disappointing cruise but are willing to try again, Gary Bembridge and his videos can help you make choices that will be a great choice for YOU.

We also watched a lot of YouTube videos about Taormina (and Barcelona, that’s how we narrowed down our choices for our short time there.)

We are the bane of a tour director’s life, AdventureMan and I. We prefer to wander off on our own. I like to take photos not crowded with people. I have some attention deficits; I can only listen for so long, and I can only absorb so much.

So we signed up for a tour called Taormina on your Own, and it turned out to be very right for us.

It was getting close to 1:55 and we headed for our bus. Our friends Alan and Ed came on board, too; we had met them in Barcelona and they sat behind us and we got to know each other a little better. They said mostly they had been eating and catching up on sleep. 

Before we got out of Messina, we got stuck in the middle of a very cultural moment; school got out and parents, drivers, and taxis were all very aggressively picking up students from their schools. There was no regard for lanes, and there were cars coming straight at us in our lane! There were students stepping in front of the bus, knowing we would stop! It was chaos, and it happened every single day in Messina.

Here is a policeman, doing nothing.

Our guide, Julia, gave us all sorts of great information on Messina and Toaramina as we drove the twisty roads en route to Taormina.

The day was already fading as we arrived at a giant parking lot and Julia explained how to get into town and where we would meet to return to the ship. She said we would meet at 5:30, but we were supposed to be back on board at 5:30. She said, oh no, that the ship wasn’t leaving until seven, so we had plenty of time. OK.

AdventureMan and I headed out, and it was familiar territory from all the YouTube videos we had watched. We found there were not too many tourists, and the light was beautiful.

We had learned, from YouTube, of a Taormina legend dating back to early times where a princess had a lover who was unfaithful. She cut off his head and used it as a planter for her basil, which thrived. If you know the legend, you see the planters commemorating this legend everywhere,

Pomegranates! And a pomegranate juice maker! I wish I could stop, but we are headed for the BamBar, and their famous Granitas.

We quickly found the Twin Set where we headed right and strolled down to the Bam Bar. There was one empty table waiting for us.

We ordered granita; chocolate for me, pistachio and brioche for AdventureMan, and hot tea for me. The chocolate was divine, thick and intense, probably full of calories, but how often are we in Taormina?

We continued down the main road and went outside to look at the old Roman Ruins.

On the way back, we headed to see the Greek Theatre, but the gates closed just as we arrived.

It wasn’t a great loss to us; we’d seen it so often on YouTube we felt like we’d been there, and we had other panoramic opportunities to view Toaramina.

These musicians were very good. I can imagine they made good money from tips from appreciative tourists.

Back in Pensacola, pre-trip, a not un-typical conversation:

AdventureMan, hollaring from his office “Hey, there’s an airport up on the hill. We could hike up!”

Me: (thinking why would I want to hike up a hill to the airport? Looking at the map – I can see that it is not an airport. It is an old fort.) “It’s NOT an airport!” I holler back.

AdventureMan, coming into my office with a very confused look on his face: “What do you think I just said?”

Me: “That we could hike up to the airport on the top of the hill.”

AdventureMan, laughing so hard he can barely stand up: “Arab Fort! Arab Fort! Not Airport, Arab Fort!”

We still laugh about that one. We had a great view of the Arab Fort from the BamBar.

We also got to see Mount Etna spewing lava in the distance.

It was another gorgeous day on our trip. We met up with our group, getting to know some of our fellow passengers a little better, then headed to the bus.

As we departed, the moon came up, giant and blood-red in the distance, truly glorious. Arriving back in Messina, at almost 6:40, there was a long line to get back onto the ship, but they had facial recognition programs that identified us and allowed us to process quickly. 

We got to our room, changed our clothes, and took our dinner and a bottle of wine out to our balcony.

We were eating and chatting and watching the passengers straggle back, and at some point, the ship silently pulled away from the dock and it was so gently done we didn’t even notice until we were about ten meters away. We still have a full moon!

What a lovely way to make a departure. The temperature was so warm that we were perfectly comfortable out on the balcony watching as we departed Sicily, faced toward Italy until we lost the view and we retreated back into our cabin.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Chocolate, Cultural, Food, Italy, Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

First Stop: Messina and Taormina

We had a surprise, learning our Taormina on Your Own tour will not be leaving until 1:55, but we sailed right into the heart of Messina, past the beautiful Christ blessing ships at the entrance to the harbor.

I’m such a kid, I love watching the pilot boats arrive to escort us into port.

The early tours depart.

We have a quiet breakfast out on the Terrace and learn that not everyone is getting off the ship; some people are staying aboard. It boggles my mind. This is an amazing itinerary, it’s why we chose the trip. How can you stay on the ship?

I am beginning to find my way through the buffet. I can have oatmeal – AND smoked salmon. Much to AdventureMan’s disgust, I can also have pickled herring. The Swedish part of my heritage goes deep.

The Norwegian Star is about five times the size of the Oceania Nautica!

Once the early tours are gone, there are no problems walking off the ship, so we decided to go into Mesina to see the church with the horological clock, the biggest in the world. Exiting the tourist terminal, there were many people offering taxi rides, but they were not overly aggressive, and we were able to escape quickly. We crossed the street with a Sikh and his wife who very agreeably told us we needed to be more aggressive and to “think like Italians.” They were very kind. 

The church was mere minutes from the ship; we could see the ship many times through the streets to the waterfront.

At the church, there were few people, hucksters selling cheap souvenirs and Indian-made shawls, and two open Hop On Hop Off kinds of buses. We asked about one, and it had a 45 minute tour for 10 Euro, so we bought tickets and five minutes later along came a bus. It was almost full, but there was one seat, and, as it turned out, I was on the good side for taking lots of photos. 

Behind me was a woman who said “Quick! Look up! There is a great photo” so I looked up and it was.

She and her husband were New Zealanders, newlyweds, who had intended to take a cruise for their honeymoon when COVID struck. They decided when COVID ended to take their trip, but in the three years, added several other loops onto the trip, and it ended up being three months full of adventure. They were having a wonderful time; they were on the Norwegian Star, parked with the Nautica on the waterfront.

There were all kinds of Messina tours on offer.

I love this view; you can see how close Sicily is to the mainland of Italy. There is a ferry that goes back and forth; it is common to live on one side and work on the other.

Lots of representations of Poseidon/Zeus, God of the Sea

Just before exiting, we saw a very old church with wonderful stonework, so we decided to take a look. The church was partially built into the old Greco-Roman wall around Messina, squat and sturdy.

AdventureMan said “Look, we can go in!” and I said no, but he kept saying he thought we needed to go inside so I agreed. Great call, AdventureMan.

Annunziata dei Catalani Church

Oh, what I would have missed if I had not gone in! It was a very old church, and in the back was a handmade Messina-specific creche, with all kinds of villagers convincingly portrayed. It was one of the most elaborate creches I have ever seen, and I was thoroughly enchanted.

The church is thought to be the oldest church in Messina, with Arabic influences in the stonework, probably it was once a church, then a mosque, and is now a church again. Entrance is free – there is a small box for donations.

As we walked back to the ship, we learned we were supposed to have photo ID with us. I had my driver’s license (our passports were on board the ship) but AdventureMan had nothing. Then, suddenly, he realized he had photos of his passport page and other ID, which he showed the customs police, and it sufficed. There were others who had nothing, and it was a big problem for them to get through the Border Guards and back aboard.

There was also a woman just catching up with the Nautica. Her husband, and the bags, were stuck at the immigration shack. She and a bag were trying to get on board. She was very tired and very annoyed. “Worst start of a cruise EVER” she told us. It turns out there were twenty couples from England in the same situation, some of whom didn’t catch up until we got to Haifa. 

We had been disappointed to be leaving so late for Taormina, but it turned out to be a really good thing. We really like exploring on our own, and had a wonderful time exploring Messina, and meeting people from other cruises, other countries, and other ways of life. We loved the funny little Hop On Hop Off bus and its one-hour circular route allowed us to see Messina and get back to the ship in time for our tour to Taormina.

We had a quick lunch at Waves, the outdoor grill. We had the panini, and it was a lot, so we saved half our sandwiches so we could just eat in our room at the end of a long day without needing to order from room service.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Italy, Living Conditions, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

At Sea On U.S. Election Day

It is wonderful to be at sea in the turmoil of this year’s election. No one is talking about it onboard. What a relief.

We are told there are passengers from 39 nations on board, and crew from more nations. The entire day, we hear not a word about the American election.

The demographic is very much our age group. If anything, we are younger than most. Hard to say, but we see some very old but still adventuresome travelers, which gives us hope for our own future travels.

We were wide awake before seven. I got up and went to get some coffee. We can have it delivered to the room, but on these relaxed days at sea, we don’t like to commit to a time and it is just as easy to go get my own cup at the dedicated coffee bar. Actually, coffee is available in many places on the ship, and the smell of coffee early in the morning wafts everywhere.

We had decided to try The Grand Dining Room for breakfast, wanting to be less formal in a very formal environment.

The waiters are all white-jacketed and very pleasant. The menu is lovely – the tastiest item was smoked salmon with cream and capers and white onion, a great way to start the day. AdventureMan shared with me. The fruit platters were large enough for two; I cut most of mine into small pieces to stir into my virtuous oatmeal. Don’t you think smoked salmon is virtuous too? I think I prefer virtuous tasty smoked salmon to virtuous oatmeal. 

I am not complaining. I eat oatmeal every day at home. As a diabetic, it is great for keeping my blood sugar levels down. The Nautica had really nice oatmeal. And oatmeal just pales in comparison to all the lovely choices available for breakfast, all the beautiful pastries, croissants, breakfast breads, all the lovely foods with a lot of fats and sugars. Yes, even on a cruise, I pay attention. I will try not to whine again.

After breakfast, I grabbed some of my hotter weather clothes to iron – the compression bags puts some serious wrinkles into linen clothing.

The laundry room is much smaller than it appears on the ship map, but the iron was hot and efficient, and there were other passengers doing small loads of washing and drying. It is handy that it is all free. There is a laundry on board, and although we have laundry service I prefer doing my own laundry. We have a line in the shower where we can hang items we have hand laundered in the sink, and we found little detergent slips on Amazon that are very compact and efficient for hand laundry.

Then we walked the walking track, windy, invigorating; we have a lovely sunny day, warm enough but sometimes the wind was so strong it blew me into AdventureMan. I am happy we packed some of our cool-weather gear; when we are at sea, it can be windy and chilly. We checked out the gym, where AdventureMan found mats available for stretching as I look eagerly at the outside spa overlooking the bow of the ship. Heaven!

Back in the room, AdventureMan naps as we wait for the eleven o-clock enrichment lecture on the Origins of the First Crusade, in preparation for our time in Sicily and Israel. I am excited we will be going to Acre, the old Crusader stronghold, the day we arrive there.

 The lecture was well attended, probably four hundred or so passengers.

And then off we went to lunch at The Terrace restaurant.

We have found a table we love; sheltered by a small wall but still with a good view out over the aft of the ship. The Terrace is the ship’s buffet restaurant, except that it is not like a buffet where you dish up your own portions. There are very pleasant wait-staff every few feet who put food on your plate. You can say “a very small portion, please” or “could I have a little more of that?” and they will give you exactly what you wish. Don’t you love having choices?

It all feels so indulgent.

After lunch, I read while AdventureMan attended an afternoon lecture on How Man Learned to Navigate by the Stars, which he said turns out to be very complicated. Here is the truth, I will admit it, I needed a nap. I am not yet fully adapted to the time change. The little couch is a perfect size for me, and there is a soft sea-green throw I can cover up with and I am out like a light.

Dinner this night is at the Polo Grill, and, sadly, while these reservations are greatly coveted, by dinner time I don’t care. I don’t much want to dress up; I wish they would just deliver the dinner to the room, but this is part of the Oceania experience and so we dress and go up for dinner. The code is “country-club casual.” There are many interpretations of what that might mean. Here is ours.

I had a shrimp cocktail, tomato salad, and lobster, AdventureMan had the Lobster Bisque, Fois Gras en Croute, and the lobster, and we split a Creme Brûlée. The Creme Brûlée was very good.

It is a lovely kind of evening, and we enjoyed ourselves because we do this so rarely. The night is sweet and warm, the moon is full, and we can’t resist a lap or two around the walking track before we go to sleep.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Diet / Weight Loss, Eating Out, Food, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

We Sail Away on Oceania’s Nautica

AdventureMan made a good call. It feels like forever since we have gotten up without an alarm, and had time to take time. We got up, dressed, made sure our bags to be picked up and transported to the Nautica were ready to go, and headed down to breakfast. At a nearby table, I spotted two men who had also sat near us the day before. I noticed them because they were kind to each other, and seemed to have really good conversations. Sometimes you just have a feeling.

Our 10:45 departure actually took place at close to 11. We had been ushered to a separate lounge downstairs, as other cruisers – maybe from other ships, too – were all sitting in the lobby and there were no seats. We got to the bus and and Alan and Ed, whom we had seen at breakfast, were sitting behind us. We had a nice chat – they are long-time Oceania cruisers. About our age, they have been many places, including Swaziland, and are on the ship all the way to South Africa, more than 30 days. They also both use the same camera I am using. It was a fun conversation, and we ended up running into them often, and always had good visits.

The boarding process was smooth and unhurried We checked in to our muster station, which was the Nautica’s main lounge.

We decided to find a shady spot by the pool while we waited for our staterooms to be ready.

They called our level around 12:30 and I got a nice surprise when we got to our suite – it is larger than I expected. It has more storage than I expected. It has larger closets and more hangers than I expected The bathroom, while small, has a lot of storage.

It has lovely shades of sea green, a dining room table with two comfy chairs, a small couch with coffee table, and a comfy, firm bed with good linens. The balcony is large, with comfy reclining wicker furniture. 

You probably wonder why I am showing you these details. Everyone had different priorities, and this will be a long trip. We put a little extra money into a larger room so we would be able to move around without annoying each other. We know we will be spending a lot of time in this room. So to enter, and to find that it is lovely and spacious matters to us. We can breathe in this room.

We put away clothes and make ourselves at home, then go for lunch at Waves, a casual restaurant near the pool where I had salmon – not that great – and AdventureMan had an ahi tuna sandwich, which he said was pretty good. My salmon was overcooked and dry.

We explored, then headed back to the cabin for some quiet time around four. 

The library had all the newest best sellers and great travel and reference books about the places we would see.

These signs below are everywhere. At first, it can be hard knowing which way is foreward and which is aft, and whether you are on port or starboard, but the signs keep you informed. One of the crewmembers told us when we come off the stairs to look for the telephone; our cabin is on that side.

Below is Bhuti, one of the first people we met on board. He would always go out of his way to make sure we had the things we liked, including an Indonesian sauce called Sambol. He treated us like honored guests. I think the staff must have entered information in computers everyone could check, information about the passengers, because everywhere we went, people knew what we liked. It was actually kind of fun to be taken care of so hospitably.

As we left the cabin, we met Miguel, our next-door neighbor. Miguel and Maria are very quiet. They had only a day in Barcelona but had hired a private guide who took them everywhere. Miguel’s face lit up as he told us about their adventures during that day. We learned also that they met when they were sixteen, and married in their early twenties, and you could see, after all these years, how devoted they were to one another. Whenever we met up, we would have great conversations. It’s amazing to me that the people we liked the best on the trip were people we met at the very beginning. Running into them and having these animated discussions made the ship feel like a village.

The ship was due to depart at 6:00, so we went out to the highest deck to watch.

Finally, we decided to go eat, at the Terraces restaurant, where we found a seat out on the aft terrace, lovely, uncrowded, warm, and not windy, and we could watch Barcelona recede into the distance as we sailed away. The ship had left while we were in transition to the restaurant and we didn’t even feel it. 

We wanted to eat light; we are both still getting used to the time change, so I looked for the pumpkin soup and finally asked a server who was standing by a big black cauldron – full of pumpkin soup. There was a platter of paella, too, so I had a small amount of that. Sitting outside watching the lights of Barcelona grow smaller in the warm evening with the full moon was delightful. 

After dinner we came back to the cabin and I figured out how to work the internet. We can only use one electronic device at a time. I meant to update this journal but found nearly 400 emails I needed to delete and eleven to which I needed to respond. Meanwhile, AdventureMan, exhausted, fell asleep, so I decided to read for a while until I was sleepy – I’m having trouble getting to sleep. It will get better.

The ship is amazingly quiet. We don’t hear the engines. We didn’t even know when the ship pulled away from the dock, it was so smooth. The ship doesn’t rock, at least not much. The corridors are quiet. The dining rooms are full of people, but conversations are quiet. There are no children on this ship. It looks to me like we are right at the median of the age on board. There are much older folk, and then there are some in their fifties. There are a few with mobility issues.

January 18, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Food, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Tapa Tapa; Sidewalk Dining in Barcelona

Have you ever noticed it’s never the issues you worry about that happen? I had a concern that with jet lag we would be hungry when places weren’t open. As it turns out, our own schedules are so off that we fit right in with the Barcelona late-dining set.

We wanted something light for dinner, so decided to walk around the corner.

Just out the door and around the corner of our hotel, we came across this:

It’s just a little convenience store with a variety of small things, matches, snacks, little laundry detergents, etc, so you must wonder why it mattered to us? After all our years of living in the Middle East, our grandchildren adapted “Baba” as their special name for AdventureMan. He loves being Baba (a common for a father or grandfather in Middle Eastern communities) and he loves having a little grocery store named after him in Barcelona.

A couple blocks up, near the Gaudi house, we found Tapa Tapa, and what hooked us was they had pictures of the tapas. I ordered mussels, my husband ordered stir-fried vegetables, both were delicious (we shared) and light. By the time we walked back, we had done almost 14K steps.

Gaudi House

So much garlic! It’s a good thing we were sharing!

We were really hungry for vegetables, and these were tasty and delicious.

Can you see the pictures of the meals on the mats under our dishes?

It was a lovely, mild night as we strolled back to the hotel. Sometimes you really are just happy and you know it.

As we packed our bags for a 0900 pickup and got ready for bed, we decided we didn’t need to get up early and go to the Santa Catalina Market the next day. Santa Catalina had been the one market I really wanted to see, a market area where real people shop for groceries, or have a little breakfast, not like Boqueria, which is a very social quick-food place. Santa Catalina closes down Saturday afternoons and is not open on Sunday, so I didn’t get to go and I was disappointed. There is a part of me that would have liked to get up early and rush to the market to experience it, then rush back to the hotel for our transfer to the ship.

Sometimes I hate being older and wiser. And the grown-up part of me knows that rushing and not giving yourself time to pay attention to the details is a recipe for disaster. I used to take more chances. When did I become this person with good judgement?

January 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, Restaurant, Travel | , | 1 Comment

Wandering in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

We return to Place Cataluñya. We got off at La Rambla (now you can see it in the daylight, above) and we need to figure out how to get to the Barcelona Cathedral, in the Gothic section, where I had thought we might have lunch.

We’ve had three years to research this trip and there aren’t enough hours or days to do all the things we want to do in Barcelona. And every now and then, something happens that no amount of research might have prepared you for.

When we got to the cathedral, there was some kind of elder celebration. There were big circles of people dancing, having a wonderful time. It was unexpected. It was joyful!

I love that this was some kind of church-sponsored activity, not for tourists, not for us, but for them! And they were having a wonderful time, dancing!

The famous Not-Roman arch . . . not even old, not antique, more a seasoning.

We wandered, then found a little tapas place, not one of the places we had so carefully researched, but at this point, we are REALLY HUNGRY. It is cute, and full of antique Spanish antique pieces. AdventureMan, full of courage, did the ordering. I had a plate of thin jambon and cheese and he had a bowl of sausages with bread. This is not the kind of food we normally eat, but this place had nothing resembling a vegetable. It did have olives.

The beer was Estrelle, really good and cold.

And here, AdventureMan ventured to have a glass of vermouth. I wish you could have seen his grimace! He did not like it at all. We were glad we hadn’t picked up a bottle from the Carrefour to take on the ship. It would have been wasted on us!

Now that we are not urgently hungry, we have time to look for the place where AdventureMan wants to have Barcelona chocolate with churros. He knows exactly where we need to go.

On the way, we run into a large demonstration for a separate Basque nation. It is peaceful. I guess we all have our divisions.

The Gothic quarter is fascinating, full of unexpected messages and art, so we wander, but with purpose and direction. We find Petritxol Barcelona, for hot chocolate and churros for AdventureMan. I had some kind of coffee and chocolate heaped with non-sweetened whipped cream, chocolate overload. We’ve done 10K steps today, 11K yesterday. I feel no guilt eating this decadent, lucious chocolate. Later, I only wish I had bought more chocolate to take with me.

The sidewalk and street surfaces are very hard and after the chocolate, we were ready to wander back to the hotel for an afternoon snooze. My husband is talking about taking it easy tomorrow – breakfast, packing up suitcases for delivery to ship, bus to ship, checking in, leaving again for lunch in Barcelonetta, then reboarding. I am eager to get unpacked, check the wrinkling of my clothes, and get acquainted with the spaces on the ship. 

The walk back is full of interesting sights, places, were we not so tired, we might linger, have a glass of wine and watch people, buy some local cheese.

A modern take on a Spanish penthouse. You can almost guess how elegant it must be inside.

I’ve worn the same navy striped linen dress for three days – with a T-shirt while we flew and a different t-shirt in Barcelona. It goes everywhere. It has no nationality. I had put on the green French terry dress to wear today, but when we went to breakfast, I discovered it was too hot, so I changed back into my linen dress. Very comfortable. Tied my navy hoodie around my shoulders, and was glad to have it riding on top of the bus. It is sunny, but cool in shade or breeze.

Back in the hotel by mid-afternoon for a rest, my husband snoozing. So far I have felt no effects from jet lag. I will try not to nap so I can sleep tonight. Sleeping on the overnight flight worked well for me. 

January 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Cultural, Food, Photos, Political Issues, Restaurant, Travel, Weather | , , | Leave a comment

Hop On, Hop Off in Barcelona

The first time I ever rode a Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus was in Barcelona. I was attending an International Quilt Show with two other friends, and we had a ball. I’ve raved about it for years, eager to get AdventureMan to Barcelona. I knew he would love it.

Leaving Sagrada Familia, we hopped back on the HOHO bus. It is the most beautiful day, sunny, warm but not too warm, and Barcelona is full of the most idiosyncratic architectural detail. I am in heaven.

People-who-know tell us we MUST drink Vermouth in Barcelona. I think my parents used vermouth when they made martinis, but I have no idea what it tastes like. We are intrigued.

Imagine, just for a minute, living in this house. It must have high ceilings and spacious rooms. Imagine the added space, up on the rooftops, where you can have drinks or dinner, or put out the clothes drying racks where no one can see.

Fresh roasted chestnuts! They smell so much better than they taste (my opinion)

Of all the jobs I wouldn’t want, replacing huge plates of glass far above the ground would be one of them.

Gaudi apartment building; the same architect who drew up the plans for Sagrada Familia.

We returned to Place Cataluna, starving. We had a great breakfast, but it has now worn off and we want something light to eat for lunch and some famous Barcelona chocolate!

January 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Building, Cultural, Living Conditions, Travel | , | Leave a comment