Thanksgiving. 11/25/21

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.

Dining room table ready to receive guests
Buffet table from bottom to top, Brussels sprouts, macaroni and cheese, broccoli casserole, roasted stuffed turkey thighs, roasted creamed onions in the covered dish, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry chutney. Gravy and rolls were served on the dining table.
John’s stuffed turkey thighs hot out of the oven

Since of course I forgot to take a picture of my plate because, yum, Thanksgiving, I am posting my leftovers night plate.

Clockwise from top, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, roasted creamed onions, and turkey thigh slice. Cranberry chutney is in the center.

 

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.

It was a great evening!

Wrapping up our vacation. 10/10, 10/11, 10/12/2021

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.

Tidy street on the island of Gozo with stone balconies

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.

The Ggantija Temples museum
Round stones used as ball-bearings to move the enormous slabs of stone.
Artifact from the site
A family of figurines
More artifacts

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.

The Temple comples
Our guide explaining the use of the Temples
More of the stones for rolling at the base of the walls
Room of niches

After our trip to the Temples we go by bus to a scenic overlook spot.

We travel to a scenic spot
Picture of Mary at the scenic spot
John looking scenic

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.

Harbor down below
Our ship at anchor off the coast of Gozo

Later that night we go to the goodbye party where we get lots of tasty treats and champagne.

John at last night party

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.

John doing his last beer pose at the lounge at Malta airport

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!

Sibenik, Croatia. 10/9/21

Since we are home now and I am catching up on the last places we visited, I am just going to document our excursion by using the captions on the photographs.

Since it is windy today we have not been able to park the boat near the city center. We use the tenders to ferry the people on our boat back and forth. Here is our driver. Her badge reads that she is an “Able Seaman.”
We board buses for the short ride to the Sibenik bus station. We pass typical seaside vacation homes.
The bus station is in a rather dismal looking part of town. Our tour guide points out the ugly Soviet architecture and makes jokes about the terrible Yugo cars.
Walking away from the bus station we go along the attractive promenade next to the Adriatic Sea.
Like most Dalmatian cities there are fortifications facing the sea to try to ward off marauding Turks, Venetians, and others. This part of Croatia has seen many conquerors. The Hungarians, Venetians, and Turks ruled multiple times.
We mount a staircase that leads to Sibenik Cathedral dedicated to St. James the Greater. Construction started in 1402.
the front facade of the cathedral
A statue of Giorgio de Sibenico, a Venetian architect, who was responsible for the design of much of the cathedral.
The carved front tympanum
The Baroque inside of the church
We walk into the square that flanks the north side of the church with the so-called Lion’s Gate.
The Lion’s Gate is flanked by two lion’s, one male and one female. They both have manes because the sculptor had never seen a lion. Also of interest are the statues of Adam and Eve above the lions on pedestals. Eve was carved with a belly button which conflicts with her having been made out of Adam’s rib.
Also interesting are the heads carved on a protruding apse. There is no record of who the people are or why they deserved the honor of having been put on the church. It is thought that the circled head is of Giorgio himself.
After walking around the town a little more we board the bus for a trip into the countryside for a visit to a farm and lunch.
The farm has an olive grove.
They raise pigs and also grow grapes for wine.
John enjoying a glass of rakija. Rakija is the Serbo-Croatian name given to an alcoholic drink made from the distillation of fermented fruit. It is a clear-as-water kind of drink, with a percentage of alcohol that can range from approximately 40% to 65%.
I have some too. It tastes sort of like grappa.
they have a dining area where we are served a very tasty bean and pork stew with delicious rustic bread.
The stew is followed by a platter of cured meat and cheeses.
Here’s our group at the restaurant. We sit with a bunch of people from near where I used to live in NJ. They are very into being from the same place in NJ although they are not as bad as another couple from NJ who insist on smoking every chance they get.
During lunch we are serenaded by a folk combo.
We also had this dessert which has cherries in it. I ate it to be polite.
Later, because we had not had enough to eat, LOL, we had this yummy fish dish at Manfredi’s.

Zadar, Croatia. 10/8/21

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.

John by the Greeting of the Sun

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.

The Sea Organ
Mary by the Sea Organ. I am happy to be wearing a mask today because it is keeping my face warm.

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.

St. Donatus Church. How cool looking is that!?

Instead we proceed to the Roman forum which amounts to one column and three stone faces.

Roman column
Faces carved into blocks of stone. Politicians? Gods?

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.

Cathedral of St. Anastasia, deliverer from potions

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.

Caught trying to take a picture of the Madonna and child

We stroll around Zadar for a couple of hours and then head back to the ship. Here is some other stuff we saw.

Fortifications
Central town square in Zadar
John near old wall

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.

Sunset in Zadar

Split, Croatia. 10/7/21

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.

A model of the palace – residence on the right, mausoleum in the center, and garrison on the left  

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.

Entrance through the bronze gate. You can see that the outside buildings are built right into the Roman wall.
This is the Roman basement area. It is full of souvenir shops.
Using part of the Roman building is a jewlery store
Diocletian’s waiting room
Roman road and forum area plus modern restaurant 
Diocletian’s mausoleum expanded and turned ironically into a Christian church. Bell tower a later addition.
Golden gate
Outside wall

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.

Roman aqueduct from 300 AD

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.

Pretty grounds of Stella Croatica
Inside the shop

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.

Dubrovnik, Croatia. 10/6/21

Our excursion today takes us to two wineries after a bus trip over the mountain and some exploration on our own in Dubrovnik.

The trip on the bus takes us zigzagging up the side of the mountain behind Dubrovnik. We have a photo moment of the walled city from above.
Vineyards in Croatia
We were served olives, cheese, and bread with the wine. Wine was made with Malvasia grapes and was okay.
John and I having a good time at the winery

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.

John posing next to the winery sign
Mary at the Karaman Winery

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.

Dubrovnik is packed with tourists. The entrance to the old town is through this gate.
In the Pharmacy Museum we see a page from a Longobard scripture. Aha! I was right. There were Longobards around here. I feel more sure that the stone carving in Kotor was made by Longobards.
There is an old painting of Dubrovnik which looks pretty much the same as it does today.
Also there is a reliquary with St. Ursula’s head inside. Two head reliquaries in two days!

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.

Since taking beer pictures is a Pilat tradition, we stop for a sip.
I am determined to hold this with only one hand today.
We share a Croatian pizza. The crust is a little different than Italian pizza but still really good!
Looking out on to the Adriatic Sea
The walls were built in the 16th century

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!

Kotor, Montenegro

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.”

Coming into the series of bays that lead to Kotor at dawn
Little islands in one of the bays
Our ship approaching the dock in Kotor
Kotor is totally surrounded by walls starting at the fortress on top of the mountain, going down the mountainside and surrounding the town

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.

Main gate to the city with a date when Kotor was freed from the Nazis in 1944 by partisans lead by Tito

Our tour takes us through a series of charming squares. We also visit St. Tryphon’s Cathedral and a small museum.

Charming square
Old clock tower
House construction is like Malta’s, houses flush to to the street with a courtyard in the interior and external stairs from the courtyard.
St. Tryphon’s Cathedral where St. Tryphon’s head is in a reliquary
Due to numerous earthquakes the frescoes are badly damaged
Gold and silver alterpiece
After the visit to St. Tryphon’s we run into our first cat. But more about that later
In the small museum we see the coat of arms of Kotor with St. Tryphon, a fortress, and the Venetian lion
Map of Montenegro with ship’s route in red
Traditional dress

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.

First is have a beer. We have been calling this Nick-sick-o for a long time but discover that it is pronounced Neek-seech -ko today. Who knew?

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!

Martyred St. Tryphon’s head was on its way to Venice when the ship got blown into the Bay of Kotor. The ship tried to leave for three days but was blown back each time. The townspeople decided that this must be a sign from God that St. Tryphon’s head was sent there to protect them. So they kept and continue to keep his head in a silver reliquary and named St. Tryphon patron saint of Kotor.
St. Rocco and his plague spot because who doesn’t enjoy looking at a plague sore
Interesting. The figure on this apsidal carving look like they were made by Longobards. There is no information but we know that the Longobards were definitely in northern Italy and maybe the Istrian peninsula

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.

These two cats sat next to our table while we ate lunch.
Mary enjoying lunch and the cats

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.

Not sure who this is but the cloak and the background is very 13th century, It could be a more recent icon however.
My favorite is John the Baptist holding his own head on a plate

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.

 

At sea. 10/4/21

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.

Bagel and smoked salmon
The tiny dot is a giant container ship when viewed through binoculars
Tonight the chef cooked us special rare duck instead of the over-cooked one that everyone else has to eat.

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)

Is there anything we have missed on Malta? 10/3/21

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.

Our Kop TaCo bus

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.

The lumps in the pavement are the lids to the silos underneath. These are no longer in use but were used until 1962.
Map of Valletta. The city is totally surrounded with the exception of one gate with large fortified walls built by the Knights of Malta
John by the harbor overlook
Mary in a similar position telling John to say something funny to make her laugh
Fossils in the limestone paving blocks

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.

Entrance to Mdina
Tourist horse drawn carriage with feather on horses head to ward off the evil eye.
We stop for a drink of Kinnie, the local soft drink. It tastes like coke flavored with bittersweet orange but is actually made from bitter oranges and extract of wormwood.
Attractive square
View out over Malta from the battlements in Mdina
Another view
Nice house with garden. Gardens in front of houses used to be outlawed because it would make the houses harder to defend
Most Maltese were constructed flush to the street with a large open area and external staircase in the middle
Mary in front of museum
John interviewing knight in armor

Here are pictures of our new cabin which is a lot like the old one but roomier and in the front of the ship.

View of the dining area
View of the living room area
The deck where John and I have fallen asleep twice
View of Malta from our deck

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.

Eggplant parmesan first course
Chilean sea bass with butternut squash purée, asparagus, and a balsamic reduction

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.

 

 

 

A Taste of Malta. 10/2/21

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.

The entrance to Hagar Qim (Sacred Stones) is a trilithon, two posts and a lintel
A surviving side wall which shows that the stones formed a corbelled arch to support the structure’s roof
In the interior there are small apses
Decoration
View of one of the five islands of Malta, Filfal, through an opening in the stones
Altar area
Twenty ton stone
Rocky countryside

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.

John having a beer at the restaurant. I have a beer also. The other women at our table have diet sodas.
Delicious flat breads
In a nod to our diets we both order the fish which is nicely cooked
Sides of vegetables. The Philistines at our table eat the French fries. No picture of the dessert because I was not interested in eating it.

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.

Small boats in the Marsa (harbor)
Mary avoiding the schlock

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.

Really delicious dessert – left to right green tea cheesecake, yuzu creme brulee, and chocolate banana spring roll