Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate in the U.S. I hope your dinner went well and you were able to enjoy being with your friends and relatives this year.
John and I hosted 10 people and the preparations were done a lot in advance so that actual Thanksgiving day was easier (except for all the dishes and glassware.) We set out a buffet style table and then sat at our dining room table for dining.
Since of course I forgot to take a picture of my plate because, yum, Thanksgiving, I am posting my leftovers night plate.
Everything turned out well and everyone brought something to share. Sarah made the onions, Jonathan made the broccoli and rolls, Ryan and Leigh collaborated on Martha Stewart’s macaroni and cheese, and Rose and John H. brought three delicious pies, pumpkin, mixed berry, and cranberry walnut.
The last three days of our vacation we were a day at sea that we spent mostly organizing getting packed and eating and drinking, a day visiting Malta’s island of Gozo, and a day getting home.
Malta actually consists of five main islands. Two of the islands are completely uninhabited, a third has a population of two, the main island is Malta, and the island of Gozo has thirty thousand inhabitants.
We traveled down many of the tidy streets of Xaghra where our guide pointed out that the Gozans are so tidy that they hang their garbage up in bags out of animals’ reach and it is collected every day. She made a very big deal out of the garbage.
Our main touring site is the Neolithic Ggantija Temple ruins. These are the earliest of the Megalithic Temples of Malta and are older than the pyramids or Stonehenge. They date from 3600 BC which makes them over 5500 years old and they are the second oldest man made religious structures on earth.
It seems to be a ceremonial site in a fertility rite. There are numerous figures and statutes that have been found on the site and are displayed the nearby museum.
After viewing the museum we walk outside and over to the temple site. The stone structures are massive and are built with apses and altars.
After our trip to the Temples we go by bus to a scenic overlook spot.
The island of Gozo is a big chunk of limestone sticking out of the Mediterranean Sea. It is reminiscent of the white cliffs of Dover except gold in color. There are no natural harbors just sheer limestone walls so they built a breakwater and carved outa little harbor for the ferries and pleasure boats.
Later that night we go to the goodbye party where we get lots of tasty treats and champagne.
On October 12 it is time to leave the ship for the airport in Malta. However since our flight is not until 1:30 PM and we have to be off the boat by 8 AM, we get another scenic tour of Malta. We have seen a lot of Malta and we really did not need two and a half hours on a bus before nine hours to Newark, a layover, and then six hours to SFO.
Our first flight is great except for our landing spot. Newark Airport is horrible and the workers there are unpleasant and unhelpful. We will try to avoid Newark in the future. Our flight to SFO is the most turbulent that I have been on in a long time. Everyone including the flight attendants have to stay strapped in for about three hours. But the best flights are those that land safely and we do.
It was a great trip with lots of interesting things to see. It was well organized and very safe from a COVID point of view. We were tested daily, tracked, and masked when needed. The staff members on the ship were fabulous, always helpful, friendly, and charming. I would definitely take another cruise with Viking if I could figure out where to go!
Wow, is it windy today! This is the Boro wind we are told and it is the good north wind. The Yugo is the southern wind and it is considered bad and makes people do evil things. I wish there was no wind because wind and chilly temperatures equal brrrrr.
We head out onto the promanade next to the Adriatic Sea. There are some cool things here. One is called the “Greeting of the Sun” and it consists of 300 multi-layered glass plates and photovoltaic solar modules. At night it puts on a light show. It is daytime so it is kind of hard to know what it would look like.
The other attraction is the Sea Organ. It is an architectural sound art object which uses sea waves and tubes beneath a set of marble steps to make musical sounds. When we first arrive it is making low moaning sounds but later in the day it is much higher pitched as the wind and waves change.
We walk along the windy promanade looking out over the sea and to the nearby islands. Croatia has over 1000 islands. We make our way to the old Roman Forum and St. Donatus Church. The church was built in the 9th century and I am hoping we go in, but, no. It is possible that most people are not as avid to see early Christian stuff as I am.
Instead we proceed to the Roman forum which amounts to one column and three stone faces.
The next building we view is the Cathedral of St. Anastasia. The origins of this cathedral date back to a basilica built in the 4th and 5th centuries although most of what is in view today is the Romanesque style church of the 12th and 13th centuries. I am furiously flipping through my “saints notes” to find her. She is not on my list! She is more venerated in the Orthodox Church for being a Great Martyr.
Our guide goes up to the door because we are supposed to be going inside but the door is locked. So two interesting churches that we cannot see.
Next we go to the archeological museum where there are a lot of reliquaries and old paintings. We are told we cannot take a photo of anything. I turn off the sound on my phone and try to take one on the sly. I am caught by a patrolling nun and admonished.
We stroll around Zadar for a couple of hours and then head back to the ship. Here is some other stuff we saw.
Alfred Hitchcock who once came to Zadar said the sunset in Zadar was the most beautiful he had ever seen. John helpfully went out on the deck and took a picture of the sunset. It is pretty nice.
Today we are taking a tour called the Flavors of Dalmatia. First we go into Split and so a walking tour Diocletian’s Palace and then we ride into the countryside to see a working farm which produces organic olive oils, sweets, and cosmetics. The second is basically a shopportunity.
I do not know what my notion of Diocletian’s Palace was but it was certainly not what we saw. Diocletian, infamous for creating quite a large number of Christian martyrs, had this palace built in 305 as a vacation and retirement home. It consisted of a palatial home, a mausoleum for him after he died, and a military fortification.
The palace continued to be used after Diocletian’s death in 312 and was still in use as late as 480. In the 7th century the expelled population of nearby Salona took refuge inside the now abandoned palace and organized a new city building their homes and businesses inside the basement and on the walls. So when you walk into the palace grounds you find a mishmash of shops and restaurants inside. It is kind of weird.
At this point it starts to rain very heavily and we battle our way down the narrow streets crashing into oncoming umbrellas. Our next stop is at an olive oil manufacturer. Along the way we see an Roman aqueduct which is still functional.
We get off the bus at the Stella Croatica factory in Klis. There we have a tour in the pouring rain. We are given snacks, a very fast tour of the olive oil museum, and the main event, time to spend money at the shop. We buy a bottle of olive oil. There are also candies, tapenade, and cosmetics which the owner, Pasko, assures us will make our skin wonderful and eliminate bags from under our eyes. He has obviously spent a lot of money developing the site and the pandemic did not come at a good time for him.
We are pretty weary and wet when we get back to the ship. We take a nap, have our accustomed negroni sbagliato which the bar team have perfected, listen to Allen, the guitarist, and have dinner at The Restaurant.
Our excursion today takes us to two wineries after a bus trip over the mountain and some exploration on our own in Dubrovnik.
Then we proceed to another winery where the owners had nurtured three vines after the devastation of the “Homeland War.” The entire area had been razed by departing armies. We listened to her long story in Croatian which was then translated. I accidentally nodded off a few times.
We have been to Dubrovnik before so we decided to just have a look around on our own. We go to a pharmacy museum that also includes some art, go into an uninspiring church, eat some lunch, and look out over the sea.
Time for a late lunch! It is a pleasure to have a quiet lunch with some of our favorite things off the boat. After a while the lunch food on the boat gets old.
We get back to the boat fairly late in the afternoon. It is good that we do not have dinner reservations until 8 PM. At dinner I order veal Marsala. It is not great. I mention to the server that the sauce does not taste much like a Marsala sauce. He, of course, scurries off to tell the chef. The chef comes out to talk to me. It is the same chef that John complained to about the duck. Now he wants to make something better for me tonight or some other time. I should have kept my critique to myself!
Today we visit Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor is a small, fortified town with a population of around 25,000. In fact in all of Montenegro there are less than 700,000 people. It was formerly part of Yugoslavia. We find that we have been pronouncing Kotor incorrectly all these years. It sounds like “couture.”
We are taking a guided walking tour of this small town and then we will do a little exploring on our own. Kotor was settled by Illyrians in the 4th century BC. The Montenegrins were ruled for a time by the Romans, the Venetians, had to fight off the Ottoman Empire numerous times, were part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, became part of Yugoslavia after WWI, and after the break-up of Yugoslavia, Montenegro became independent in 2006. Unlike much of the former countries of Yugoslavia, Montenegro achieved its statehood peacefully.
Our tour takes us through a series of charming squares. We also visit St. Tryphon’s Cathedral and a small museum.
At this point we depart the walking tour and decide to 1) have a beer in the place where we had one with Karen and George many years ago, 2) give a second look at St. Tryphon’s and a quick visit to St. Luke’s, and 3) eat lunch at a restaurant and have some traditional Montenegrin food.
Once we are back at St. Tryphon we buy a ticket to see the church museum, often the best place to see some interesting art. We also heard that the reliquary holding St. Tryphon’s head is there!
Now it is on to lunch. The guide suggested a restaurant not far from St.Tryphon’s. We order salad and grilled squid. John’s dish is Montenegrin style (stuffed) and mine (pictured) is not stuffed.
A word about the cats of Kotor, one of the emblems of the city. Cats had a very practical application in Kotor. Since the cats killed rats in this port city it helped protect the population from the plague. The city has adopted the many types of cats that exist here by feeding them and even providing small homes for them. The cats all look healthy and see the tourists as a way to get a small snack.
After lunch we head to the old church of St. Luke built in 1195. It is quite tiny with a single nave. In a side room there is a painted panel. It holds several full length portraits. I do not know who painted it or what year it was done but the folds in the material looks very 13th century.
After returning to the ship, we have some quiet time, have a drink and listen to Allen, the guitarist, and have dinner at the Chef’s Table. All the dinners at the Chef’s Table are repeats now but we still enjoy going there.
Today we are sailing partway from Malta to Kotor, Montenegro. The only exciting things to report are having bagels and lox for breakfast, eating some sort of lunch, playing a variety of games on the sports deck, seeing a large container ship on the horizon, listening to Allen, the guitarist playing some of the tunes that John requested, and eating dinner.
We played mini-golf, shuffleboard, and ping pong today. I was actually friendly to a couple of other people. The all important scores are Mary 2, John 2 in mini-golf (I credit playing a lot of miniature golf as a child in Asbury Park, NJ), Mary 7, John 0 in shuffleboard but to be honest we did not really know how to keep score, and John won ping pong 21-10. He is a hard man to beat at ping pong. Really though, the scores do not matter. It is all about the fun. (NOT)
In an effort to see everything possible there is to see on the island of Malta at least three times, we are signed up for two excursions today. On the first one, Malta’s Capitals, Old and New, we head into Valletta to do the city walk again followed by a trip to Mdina, the old capital. Our transportation is by our favorite bus line, Kop TaCo, obviously also the place where the police hang out in Malta instead of Dunkin’. Or, if you don’t elect me there will be a Kop TaCo bus on every corner. John and I like to amuse ourselves.
Mostly we see the same stuff as we did at the beginning of the first cruise but our guide gives us an interesting explanation of the Maltese language which has evolved through various conquests to contain Arabic, French, English, and Italian. It is a Semitic language basically but written in the Latin alphabet with some extra letters and diacritical marks.
Since Malta has been under siege quite a few times in its long history, our guide points out the silos for grain and cisterns for water that are underneath the pavement. In fact there is a whole system of underground “streets” where the Maltese hid during the bombings of WWII. Malta was the most bombed place in the war because of its strategic location, a great natural harbor, and the fact that the British had their fleet there.
Now we head off to the old capital, Mdina. It was mostly destroyed by the earthquake of 1693 and then rebuilt. It is home to only 280 people.
When we finish with this tour we decide to cancel the afternoon tour which would have been a walk around historic Valletta. We feel pretty expert on all things Valletta by now.
Here are pictures of our new cabin which is a lot like the old one but roomier and in the front of the ship.
Finally we finish the evening with dinner at Manfredi’s where we have an eggplant parmesan first course and a Chilean sea bass entree. We finish the night in the Explorer Lounge for some more upbeat music from the guitarist. Everybody is singing along to the oldies (since most of the people are oldies as well.) We are not permitted to dance due to COVID protocols.
An older gentleman wanders into the Lounge and asks us, “Is this the Explorer’s Lounge?” I answer, “Yes, and we are the Explorers.” Sometimes it is just too difficult to pass up these opportunities.
Since we were able to move into our new cabin on Friday we are free to join a special excursion for people who are doing what is called a “butterfly cruise,” or two back to back cruises. The excursion is called “Taste of Malta.”
The first thing we do is take a short ride to Hagar Qim, a site with pre-historic megalithic structures that date back 6000 years. These stone temples are among the most ancient religious sites on earth and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a large stone structure dedicated to the Goddess of Fertility dated from 3200 B.C.Nearby are other temples. We walk through the site and our guide fills us in on what we are seeing.
Next we go to Birzebbuga, a typical summer village.We stop for lunch at a restaurant, Ferretti, in an old Knight of Malta fortress. We are really not expecting anything great but the food turns out to be really good. John and I want to eat all the flat breads but the other women at the table are moaning about how it is so much to eat and how they never eat anything, blah, blah, blah. So I feel like I have to keep my eating to a minimum. One woman is especially annoying and just talks a blue streak about herself. She and the third woman at our table are doing what I like to call the travel sweepstakes. She’s been here and they’ve been there and oh they have gone on so many cruises. John and I mostly keep quiet. I want to tell her to shut up but I control myself.
Then we proceed to Marsaxlokk which is pronounced Marsa-schlock, an apt name. Marsa means harbor and I can only guess that schlock means useless souvenir trinkets. We walk along the harborfront and look at an array of small boats and run the gauntlet of souvenir booths selling their schlock. No doubt most of the stuff is made in China.
We get back to the ship around 3:30 PM and unwind for a bit before taking showers and heading down for Negroni sbagliato time. I think the word is out that we tip in addition to the standard tip that you have to pay up front. All the staff is bending over backward to help us out and make sure we are happy. Even the guitarist comes over and asks us to make a list of songs we would like him to play and how he is going to take the note that John wrote him about our appreciating his playing home to his wife to read. It is all a bit embarrassing.
We eat at Chef’s Table and have a repeat of Asian Panorama. I am not going to post any pictures with the exception of the superb dessert which I forgot to take a picture of last time. John asks our waiter if we can have the duck a little less well done and the answer is that it is pre-made. Then the manager comes over and the chef and the waitstaff to see how they can make us happier.So now we are going back on Monday when the chef will make us a special duck. I think everyone on the staff will feel happier once we have completed our two cruises.