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!

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.

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
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

Windy and rainy days at sea. 9/30, 10/1/21

Our stop in Crete has been cancelled as the winds are blowing between 35 and 50 mph and the boat cannot dock safely. We had really been looking forward to learning more about the Minoan civilization and visiting the palace at Knossos. From the pictures of the archeological site it looked amazing. We will have to put the visit to the palace on our to-do list for the future.

We do make a stop in the afternoon on the other side of Crete where the wind is less fierce but there is really nothing to do there except shop. We opt to use the extra time recuperating. Actually that is mostly me with my aching hips, back, and knee from all the walking and stair climbing of the last few days.

So the only pictures I took where ones of food. On 9/30 we ate at the Chef’s Table and on 10/1 at The Restaurant.  The dinner at Chef’s Table is called Lotus  and it is our least favorite of the ones we have had so far.

Goan potato chop – semolina crusted potato, vegetable and cheese cake with a sambal spinach sauce – Meh
Chili soft shell crab – the sauce had so much ketchup in it that you could not taste the crab. John gives it ???
Our palate definitely needed cleansing after the crab dish. This is a granita of lychee and guava, cranberry juice, and lychee liquor
Thai spiced rack of lamb with stir fried purple eggplant, sweet chili, and baby corn
Yuzu cheesecake

Then we had a day at sea on 10/1 where we did very little. The internet was in and out, we watched a little of the Viking stuff on TV. We had to pack up all our stuff and move it to our new digs at the front of the ship. We like this suite much better. It is roomier and has a nice protected deck. If it stops raining and the pool on our deck dries up, we hope to have some outdoor time.  Other than that ate lunch. And dinner.

Kale roll, chickpea purée, pumpkin salad, and very large bread stick

We ate at The Restaurant after negroni time. The ravioli were good. The swordfish less so.

Ravioli stuffed with beef, ricotta, and parsley
Swordfish over a bean thing



Colossal Rhodes. 9/29/21

Today we visit the island of Rhodes. Like many of the Greek islands it has a complex history of early civilizations and conquerors. Rhodes is uniquely situated to control trade between Turkey and the western Mediterranean. So taking the profit motive along with Christian/Muslim intolerance and throw in the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 and you have a dynamic and sometimes tragic set of historical events.

The city of Rhodes is on the very tip of the island and is the capital and most populous city on the island.
Looking up a street in the medieval section of Rhodes
Looking out to the harbor through the old city gate

As we walk through the old city we see festive and memorial squares, a bombed out cathedral, and the juxtaposition of the very old and more modern buildings.

An Allied error in a bombing site blew up this cathedral near the end of WWII
A fountain in a square memorializing the Jews of Rhodes. The Jewish community was founded in Rhodes after they were kicked out of Spain in 1492. In 1944 there were about 2500 Jewish inhabitants in Rhodes who were rounded up by the Nazis and transported to Auschwitz. 147 survived.
Colorful balconies overlooking a square
The watchtowers of the medieval walls rise above the shops and restaurants in the old city

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem defended Rhodes in the siege of 1522 by the Ottomans. They were betrayed by one of their own and defeated.  Most of their buildings have been repurposed.

Hospital of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem
Long street where the eight groups of Knights had their “Inns”
We are having a tour of the Grand Master’s Palace which was rebuilt in 1930s by the Italians
Another view of the courtyard
Mary outside of palace

The tour of the palace began with a trek up a steep staircase with no railings. It was pretty difficult for me and for many of our tour group. In the upper chambers there were mosaic floors which were taken from the island of Kos and cemented into the floor of this building.

Mosaic floor
Medusa mosaic
Sea nymph riding a hippocampus (sea horse)

Now we walk into the area which housed the Muslim population and their mosque.

The mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent with minaret
Since Muslim women could not be seen by any men except their husbands, these boxed in balconies were built so they could have a little fresh air without being seen

Our tour is over and we are being released to go out on our own!! The first thing that John wants to do is get a beer and do some people watching. We settle into a table at Stergios  Corner and each have a local beer called Zythos Vap. We are hot and tired from our excursion and this is the perfect solution.

John with his Zythos Vap
I am not a big beer drinker but this was icy cold and wet, and tasted refreshing and good. (It was too heavy for me to lift with one hand!)
John in front of Stergios Corner

We take our time strolling through the old city and back to the harbor.

Double city walls leave enough space for motorcycle parking
The ship is parked within walking distance of the town walls

Before dinner we head up to the Explorer Lounge for our Negroni Sbagliatos. Tonight they ask if we want our unusual usual.  Allen, the guitarist, pats John on the shoulder. I guess we are becoming known amongst the people who hang out at the bar.

Negroni Sbagliatos and peanut mix

We have dinner at Manfredi’s tonight. We both have calamari fritti and then I have spaghetti vongole which is good but has too many extraneous ingredients and John has eggplant parmesan.

Spaghetti vongole
Eggplant parmesan