Land ho! Madeira, Portugal. 4/6/19

After a reasonable night’s sleep we are ready to explore the beautiful island of Madeira, Portugal. What a change from St. Martin. Our ship pulls in at about noon and we are scheduled to take a tour at 1:15PM. I am feeling much better today and we are so happy to get on land.

Arriving in Madeira
First impressions are favorable

After a delightful ride through the city of Funchal and the countryside with its terraced farming gardens we arrive at the Cabo Girão Skywalk. The skywalk is partially a see-through section down the cliff and spectacular views of the island abound.

Bird of Paradise plants on the walk out to the skywalk
Wow, what a view
It’s a bit windy up here
John’s hair does not move in the wind

Later we travel down to the fishing village of Camara de Lobos where we are treated to the local drink, poncha, a combination of rum, lemon juice, and honey. We have a brief time to walk around as well.

A street in the small fishing village of Camara de Lobos
Our group bellying up to the bar for some poncha
The bar crew squeezing the lemons, muddling the rinds, and straining the poncha
John enjoying his glass of poncha
Look! I found a little church to visit
The small natural bay at Camara de Lobos
Noah’s Ark landed here
Portuguese fishermen playing cards by the bay. The stones keep the cards from blowing away

Finally we end up in their biggest city, Funchal. It is clean and lovely. There are flowering trees and shrubs everywhere. We had hoped to see their early 16th century cathedral but it was closed by the time we get there. Unfortunately we get to this last site late and only had 20 minutes to explore. Otherwise this is one of the better included tours we have been on from the Viking Ocean trips.

Statue of Joao Goncalves Zarco (1390-1471) He was a Portuguese explorer who established settlements and recognition of the Madeira Islands and was appointed first captain of Funchal by Prince Henry the Navigator. (Wikipedia)
This is the early 16th century cathedral in Funchal that we did not get to see
Fancy bank building
Downtown garden across from our location

Later we have dinner at The Restaurant. The food is seeming repetitive at this point. Everything comes with a garnish of watercress. They must be out of everything else.

Seared foie gras with watercress garnish
John starts with a scallop ceviche
We both have the Bergen fish soup which is much like the fish soup we actually had in Bergen
My dish of dried out chicken with watercress garnish
John has a quick seared piece of tuna with a watercress garnish

 

 

Atlantic crossing, day 6. 4/5/19

This is the worst day of our trip, mostly because I cannot imagine a worse one for me. After a night of almost no sleep due to, once again, a lot of pitching and yawing, and shuddering of the ship. We get up bleary-eyed to have breakfast.

Good morning, Atlantic Ocean. You look so benign but I know you are not.
Huzzah, land now appears on the tracking screen

I have decided to have corn flakes because I have been having a lot of eggs. Now I know that I am somewhat lactose intolerant but I figure that the amount of milk that I will put in the cereal will not be a big deal. I was so wrong. By the time I am only part way through breakfast I tell John that I am not feeling well and need to lie down. I am having severe pains in my stomach which ultimately leads to a breakfast explosion. This was followed later in the day by a good deal of intestinal distress. Like I said this has to be the worst day of our trip.

(Aren’t you glad there are no pictures of this part!)

Needless to say I miss the 10 AM lecture and the Trivia contest where my team takes uncontested first place by answering 15 out of 15  questions correctly. Go team!

At 4:30 PM I pull myself out of bed to go to our special invitation-only tour of the kitchens. We see everything that the culinary team does and the Head Chef is our tour guide. But by the end of the tour I am having a hard time paying attention since the lower half of me is now experiencing lactose intolerance big time. I manage to get to the bathroom in time but just.

Head Chef Gary leads our tour
The kitchen is staffed 24 hours a day. Chef says that they work 4 hours and then have 4 hours off and then work another 4 hours. This is The Restaurant hot foods kitchen.

After napping again I feel better and we go to dinner at the Chef’s Table where the menu is Mexico. It pretty much is not Mexico at all but is tasty nonetheless.

Our amuse bouche is tostados de pulpo.(octopus) It is fairly tasty but does not taste even remotely Mexican. It has a bunch of fennel on it and no lime or salt. We ask for lime and salt.
First course is at tamalito de pollo. John says the masa in the tamale is UGH. And it is dressed with watercress instead of cilantro and has feta cheese on top. I am less judgmental.
Our palate cleanser is nopales con limon. It is really good.
The main course is a piece of short rib in a mole-esque sauce and also sweet potato purée. It is really, really good even if the sauce does not taste like mole.
For dessert we have a chocolate presentation which is pretty good. That is high praise from someone who does not like chocolate.

I am hoping tonight we will sleep. Since I am writing this the next day I know the answer to this hope is no hope. The seas are really rolling and even our furniture is moving around.

Atlantic crossing, Day 5. 4/4/19

Our hopes for a better night’s sleep are completely dashed by the roughest seas so far. We sleep about one hour at the beginning of the night and then wake up at 1:30 AM. There is a loud noise and a big shuddering of the ship. We lie in our bed frozen wondering what will happen next but it is just more of the same all night long. Around 6 AM we fall back to sleep exhausted for a couple of hours.

Not happy skies or seas this morning

Normally we would be having room service for breakfast but since our cabin is in the extremely rocky part of the boat, we opt to eat down in The Restaurant. It’s fine but not as comfy as sitting in our pjs having breakfast in our room.

At noon we go down for Trivia where we are back in our usual position of second. Once again there are no NASCAR questions so my extensive knowledge goes without use.

During the Captain’s announcement he addresses the big bang and shuddering of the ship the night before. He says we hit a water mountain and it was just the ocean’s way of reminding us who is boss out here. The other guests were as discomfited as we were and it ends up with a very quiet day aboard ship as people try to catch up on lost sleep and improve their queasy stomachs.

Mid-afternoon we have a special tour of the bridge. There are two second officers, a third officer, and a lookout taking care of the running of the ship. Somehow I imagined a large crew bustling about taking measurements, logging events, and watching  screens and the sea. Certainly I expected the Captain or the First Officer. Apparently they are only called when it seems like there could be some sort of trouble.

Two second officers, a third officer and a lookout run the show
Lookout seaman who scans the horizon and uses the binoculars once in a while. Seems pretty low tech
What the lookout is seeing
Emblems of different ports
The second office who gives the talk. He looks about 16.

Dinner tonight is at Manfredi’s. They have an excellent assortment of breads and a couple of specials as well as their usual menu. We like the sound of their specials until tomato sauce or some other “American” ingredient is added which really does not fit at all. We cobble out what we want from the existing menu. Our dessert (not shown) is the remnants of our basket of bread, some parmesan cheese, honey, and a glass of grappa.

Octopus carpaccio – the best!
John is looking pretty dapper in his duds. A guy complimented him in the elevator.
My first course is capellini with shrimp – good!
John’s pasta fagioli rates an okay
John has the swordfish with watercress which he enjoys
I have meal varsala known more popularly as veal Marsala when presented properly. It would seem that they have a dark btown sauce that they use for multiple purposes by adding bits of flavoring. Does not work. No mushrooms. It is sad.

Finally, advancing our clocks one more hour forward so that we are up to seven from Pacific Time, we head for bed really hoping that the seas will let us sleep tonight.

Atlantic crossing, day 4. 4/3/19

So, we are still crossing the Atlantic Ocean which is really big.  It is Wednesday and we do not get to Madeira until Saturday. The waves and wind have picked up and now the waves are 3 to 4 meters. You really have to pay atttention when you are walking around or you will bump in to someone or something. Today, instead of eating in our favorite places, favorite seats, we are opting for dining in the lower decks of the ship near to the middle where the motion is not as extreme. The boat makes a lot of creaking noises and every once in a while there will be a slamming into the side of the ship. Bad for sleeping.

Dear Ocean, please calm down a little.

The highlight of the day is that we tied for winning the Trivia contest! Go our team. The questions were easier than the days before. But we get a bottle of champagne and our team captain, Steve, says we will all share it at 4PM on Deck 1. We go but no one else shows up. Hmpf!

Since we did not sleep much last night we spend the day fitting in little naps. Hopefully tonight the pitching of the ship will not be so bad.

We eat at The Restaurant tonight which John has taken to just calling The. Both at lunch and dinner it is getting a little harder to find something that we really want to eat.

Crispy calamari
My veal loin
John’s very large sheep shank
Cheese plate for dessert

 

3 meter waves, Atlantic Ocean crossing, Day 3. 4/2/19

Our Captain who comes over the intercom every day at noon with a jolly “Good afternoon, good afternoon, good afternoon!”, tells us that the seas are a little higher today at 3 meters but that everything is great, the weather is beautiful, and the ship is performing beautifully. Plus it is the friendliest and happiest ship on the sea. Our room, however, being on Deck 5 all the way aft is rocking and rolling a little more intensely today.

The Atlantic Ocean

We make our way down to the Star Theater for the cooking demonstration at 10 AM and especially enjoy the head chef’s explanation about what they do with waste. They have two refrigerators one that is a longer term refrigerator and the other which is a 4 hour refrigerator. Any food moved into the 4 hour refrigerator must be used within that time period or thrown out. They do their best to estimate how much the passengers will eat and move that amount into the timed refrigerator, after that, any of the food at the buffet or one of the restaurants along with whatever is left in the 4 hour refrigerator has to be ground up and ultimately dumped at sea. It seems wasteful but these are U.S. health regulations.

Star Theater set up for a cooking demonstration
Head Chef Gary and Chef Aldo make beet carpaccio, risotto, and fresh pasta carbonara and pesto

At noon we are back to try our hand at trivia again. Once again we get 10 out of 15 correct. Our goal for tomorrow is to get 12 out of 15. I have been studying up memorizing dates of historic happenings and NASCAR winners in case there are any questions along those lines.

Since it is too rocky up on deck 7 for me to eat the lunch buffet, we decide to have lunch in The Restaurant which is centrally located on deck 2. It is disappointing. I order gnocchi prima vera but it is definitely gnot gnocchi but a shaped pasta. There are a lot of peas in it. Not my fav. John has a Reuben on incredibly thick bread so he has to deconstruct it to eat it.

Our lunch starts with a chicken spring roll
I have gnot gnocchi
John’s thick Reuben with not French fries

Before heading back to our room we make a detour to look over the Viking exhibit. There are various Viking artifacts and a video about the Bayeux Tapestry. The Tapestry depicts William the Conqueror’s invasion and conquest of England. William who was a Viking became King of England. We have seen the Bayeux Tapestry in France where you stand on a moving walkway and zip by. Having a slower explanation makes the Tapestry really come to life.

Viking artifacts
Video of Bayeux Tapestry

We spend the afternoon reading and napping. We have dinner at Chef’s Table at 8 PM. Tonight’s offering is Asian Panorama. It’s pretty good and we have a table by the window so I can look out at the horizon.

King Crab amuse bouche
John taking notes
Chicken and lobster shu mai
Sort of Peking duck
Trio of desserts left to right, green tea cheesecake, creme brûlée, and chocolate banana spring roll

Sleeping tonight does not bode well. Our end of the ship is shuddering and pitching. It is noisy with the hangars in the closet banging around and the bedroom making creaky noises. I imagine I will be tired tomorrow.

Mal de mer, Atlantic crossing, day two. 4/1/19

Today, as you can see from the picture, the seas are a little higher with some whitecaps. I start feeling sick right after breakfast and spend most of the day in bed. I need the extra sleep though because I am thoroughly boat lagged and only had about 3 hours of sleep last night.

Higher seas today

Here is our position in the Atlantic Ocean. #2 is St. Martin and #3 is our next port of call in Funchal, Madeira on Saturday. Boats do not go very fast.

Position of the boat

I encourage John to leave me alone and go down to play Trivia where without my stellar help they do worse than yesterday. He also braves lunch alone and brings me back a roll and a cookie. Later he goes to a talk about pirates. Yaarr….

I am feeling better at dinner time and discover that at our restaurant, Manfredi’s, which is on Deck One in the middle of the boat, that there is almost no movement at all. Maybe I need to spend more time down in that area!

Manfredi’s, the Italian restaurant, prepares our dishes to a good or very good standard. The service is better here too. When we leave at 9:45 PM there are still 7 other tables full in our room and no one is trying to shoo them out. Here is what we eat.

First they bring a yummy basket of bread
While we munch on bread, John records our experience in his ubiquitous little notebook
I sample the wine
First course for both of us is octopus carpaccio. It is spectacular!
Then I have tortelli with ricotta and truffle.
John has snail risotto which arrives without the snails
Problem remedied!
Next I have swordfish with watercress. I share this with John.
His entree is mussels with crab in a saffron cream sauce
I order a pistachio torte but it is sweet and dry so John and I share the orange pieces and whipped cream.
John asks for one of his favs which is parmesan and honey

Later as I am lying in bed it seems like every little movement of the boat is amplified. Maybe that it is because I am experiencing it over the length of my body rather than just through my feet. It would be hard, though, to sleep standing up.

Atlantic crossing, day one. 3/31/19

Unless I can figure out something other than water and food to take pictures of, my blog is going to be very repetitive and not so interesting until we get to Madeira on Saturday.

Here is the view out the back of the boat from our cabin.

Atlantic Ocean day one

We do a lot of lazing about today probably destroying any progress we have made with boat lag. After having breakfast in our cabin the first thing we do is play trivia with our Canadian pals and two random ladies who are looking for a team to be on. We come in second but it is fun and everyone agrees to meet tomorrow for another try.

Then it is lunchtime. The offerings today are not as good as yesterday and I opt for a slice of pizza after not eating my first plate so much. We split a cookie for dessert.

First plate of lunch had some cod, dried out Thai pork, mushy cauliflower, some beans, and a vegetable skewer

Nothing interesting going on this afternoon so we read books and nap.

For dinner we are eating at The Restaurant again. We go down at 8 PM. Although the food is good the service is quite rushed. It is like they don’t want you to linger over anything since the servers and the rest of the restaurant staff want to get out of the restaurant. When we don’t like our desserts and ask for a cheese plate instead, they are especially unhappy. They bring our cheese and continue setting up for breakfast around us.

John and I both have the very good corvina and shrimp ceviche.
For the main course I have porcini dusted venison with green beans and maple pumpkin. All good although the beans are cold. My favorite part is the pumpkin.
John has braised halibut with a celeriac purée and a side of creamed spinach. They are doing a really good job cooking fish.
For dessert I try this thing called a Lamington roll which is some sort of Australian dessert. Thumbs down.
John has some semi curdled creme brûlée

 

 

 

On the way out I explain to the hostess that we would like slower service without your entree coming before you have finished the first course. She replies that most people complain that the service is too slow. Ah, well, we will try again another night to slow things down.

We go to bed around 10PM and I sleep until 2 AM and then I am awake for the rest of the night.

St. Martin. 3/30/19

Today our destination is St. Martin. While we are having breakfast in our room we approach the island. It is not what I expected. I thought of lush tropical greenery but St. Martin is a volcanic and limestone island and does not support a lot of plant life naturally. Plus it is very tiny although divided between two countries. So I have to adjust my thinking to populated desert island. It is not very attractive. This is made worse by the devastation created by Hurricane Irma. So populated desert island with lots of previous buildings turned into scrap and still lying around.

Yacht in the water approaching St. Martin
First view of St Martin
Closer up

Ours is not the only ship here. We watch as behemoth ships do a delicate dance getting a space at the barre. Then a lot of mostly white, mostly older people are disgorged from the ships. Much like when we went to the small towns of Alaska, there are too many tourists to be absorbed.

Boats maneuvering into their parking spaces
Boat alley
Our boat. Our cabin is in the back on the right-hand side in the next to last highest level

We are taking a bus trip around the island stopping here and there and getting a running commentary from Dahlia, our island tour guide. She says how appreciative they are of the tourists because it is their main industry. And they certainly need dollars since everything is imported to the island. There is no agriculture on St. Martin and it is really too mountainous and dry to raise animals.

View from the bus
Another view from the bus – the sea is a brilliant turquoise!

Our first stop is on the French side at an air conditioned shopping center and a marina. This a much better kept area than anything we have seen along the way. We are offered what I think is a papaya drink and an opportunity to use the rest rooms for $1. I think the drink is awful but John gamely drinks his. We go outside where it is hot and humid and take a few pictures.

John with his papaya drink
John and Mary near the marina
Another view of the marina

Next we stop at an old carousel where we are invited to take a ride. There is also a place to buy ice cream. After crossing back into the Dutch side our third stop is at a look out point where we are admonished not to climb up to the lookout point because we might fall on the way down.

Some of our shipmates on the carousel
Border crossing from French to Dutch side of the island showing 300 years of peaceful co-existence 
View of St. Martin from the lookout area
View towards the French side

We return to our ship after about three hours glad to be off the bus and in the air conditioning of the ship. We wait a while before going to lunch hoping to miss the crowds but are only slightly successful.

Tuna sandwich for lunch!

After lunch the boat departs and now we are on the ocean until next Saturday. We take advantage of a couple of talks. One is “Explorers—The Age of Discovery”and the other is “The Moorish Influence in Spain.” Both are interesting. Many of the places in Spain with Moorish architecture we have been to and it is fun to see them again.

We take the plunge and eat at The Restaurant tonight waiting until 8 PM to go down to dinner. It is still fairly crowded at that point but mostly everyone is at dessert and the place clears out while we are there. A loudish woman is sitting next to us decrying homeless people and sanctuary cities. Her dinner companions can barely get a word in edgewise. She finally stops when she sees that the woman across from her is falling asleep. They leave and we have the restaurant pretty much to ourselves and enjoy a really good dinner of foie gras and duck with a delicious potato dish completed by a tasty cheese plate.

Yum, foie gras!
Duck and potato dish
Cheese plate for dessert

TransAtlantic Cruise begins 3/28-29, 2019

Our cruise takes us from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Barcelona, Spain. Today and tomorrow we spend getting to San Juan and then familiarizing ourselves with ship.

Our flights go smoothly. We change planes in Dallas and are lucky enough to catch a ride between gates with a friendly driver whose job it seems is to pick up bedraggled seniors. The flight from Dallas to San Juan has a dinner that is not horrible and includes a vanilla/ice cream cone crumble dessert. I sleep a bit and we arrive in San Juan around 10:15.

Short ribs with macaroni and cheese with sad green beans-not terrible airplane food!

John’s luggage arrives well before mine and that causes a moment of panic on my part. We are anxious to get to the hotel because it is warm in the terminal. But it is much warmer and humid when we step outside! Wow, we are not prepared for the humidity. It is 11 PM and still 81 degree and very damp.

The luggage carousel in San Juan. John calls it luggage roulette.

Our hotel, Embassy Suites is still recovering from the hurricane but it is pretty basic regardless. We have a large-ish room that has very little furniture – a bed and dresser and a small low table with two plastic chairs. It is very minimalist to say the least.  We turn the air conditioning on full blast and try to get to sleep but are bodies are still on Pacific time and it is hard to sleep.

View from our window. We can see the ocean!
Embassy Suites minimalism

In the morning we go downstairs for breakfast which is not great and later catch a taxi to the ship. The taxi driver talks about the troubles that Puerto Rico is still suffering from the hurricane, the mean things that President Trump has said about the island and its inhabitants, and how the Governor of Puerto Rico would like to punch Trump in the mouth. So, no love here.

Yay, we are on the ship and in our nice suite!

Living room
Bedroom
Closet/dressing area
Bathroom

We go down to lunch and introduce ourselves to the receptionists, wait staff, and bartender. Everyone is super nice.

John having a beer at lunch
My lunch of salmon and salads – Very good!

After lunch we go to the Explorer’s Lounge where one of the staff recognizes John. Unfortunately most of the staff who were on the ship the last time we took a cruise have moved on to other ships or are on vacation. But we will make new friends.

Mary tries one of John’s favs, negroni sbagliato

After a much needed short nap it is time for the safety drill. We follow the safety drill with a visit to the Explorer Lounge where we have a celebratory sail away negroni sbagliato.

Sailing away from San Juan (in the upper left)

Dinner is at the Chef’s Table where we have the Xiang menu. All of our friends have moved on to other ships here too. But we are busy buttering up the new staff. I hope it pays off.

Amuse bouche – hot and sour soup paired with a Marrenon Blanc
First course – fried prawns and Quinta da Aveleda, an Albariño from Portugal
Main course – wok fried beef and Donnafugata Sherazade from Sicily

There is also a yummy mango tapioca pudding for dessert.

Finally we end up in the Living Room where there is a pianist and we enjoy an Irish coffee. We meet some Canadian folks who are nice and want to draft us on to their team for trivia. We say sure.

After a long day we are happy to go to sleep in our bed which has been provided with some smaller pillows and a top sheet. Yay!

 

Mini-vacay to Indian Wells. 3/2-3/7/19

John and I decided quite a while ago that we would take a little vacation to Indian Wells to see the beginning of the tennis tournament. The first two days which are mostly the players practicing and qualifying rounds are free. We now have the exciting incentive of driving our new car!

Originally we were going down the coast road, CA-1, but the weather has changed our plans. It is either raining or blowing or threatening all along our route so we are going to take US 101 southward and cut over at some point to go to Bakersfield for the night.

Our first stop is at Soledad for lunch.

Welcome to Soledad

When we first used to visit this area to hike in the Pinnacles the town’s motto was  “Catch the Momentum.” Now it is the much less exciting “Gateway to the Pinnacles.” Our favorite Mexican restaurant has closed so we decide to try a new one, Taqueria Pacheco. Surprisingly it is in the La Placida grocery store.

Taqueria Pacheco

John orders a chorizo taco and a tripe one. I have two shrimp tacos. John says his are great but mine are a little overcooked. The roasted jalapeños are delicious! We are the only gringos there.

As we travel further south the sky is fabulous!

Traveling through the orchards of almond trees, the fallen petals look like a dusting of snow.

Almond orchards

We pull into Bakersfield and John unloads our suitcases. After a dinner of eggplant Parmesan at Macaroni Grill, we read and enjoy an early night.

John unloading the car in Bakersfield
Yum! Eggplant Parmesan!

The next morning we are ready to complete our trip to Indian Wells. At check-in at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel we are asked if we would like to participate in their “no housekeeping” program  for a bonus of 500 Marriott points. What!? They claim it is a “green” initiative. Sounds like bullshit to me. How does my making up my own bed and wiping around the sink translate to helping the planet? I think they are just trying to not pay their staff more in a very competitive labor market. For over $400 a night someone can clean my room!

Our nice room at the Marriott Renaissance, Indian Wells

We go down to their very nice lounge for some drinks and sushi. We spend all our evenings here having a kind of snacks and drinks dinner at the hotel. We are not keen on driving in the dark plus we get to see random pro players who are also staying at the hotel. After dinner we spend some time hanging out at the fire pit in rocking chairs. So relaxing!

Edamame and hamachi!
Fire pit

In the morning we catch the shuttle bus over to the Tennis Garden. During our two days here we watch some practices and lower level matches. It is such a pleasure to be here on days when it is not so crowded.

Indian Wells practice courts
Feliciano Lopez talking with his coach during practice session
Milos Raonic serving

On our trip back north we can see the beginnings of the super bloom in the desert and encounter torrential rain, dense fog, and local flooding – an exciting ride home!

Flowers blooming in the desert along I-10