Vagabonds cross the pond
Truly, Paul and I had no idea what to expect on a 14 day transatlantic cruise. We have cruised together before a few times, but never for longer than a week and not for 6 days without disembarking, well, it was supposed to be four days...
Cruising the Atlantic
The Oceania Riviera is a beautiful ship and we had a great stateroom with a balcony. Thank you to Bill Edwards at Cruise Escapes, my longtime cruise manager for the suggestion. We upgraded to get 24/7 internet access, but the internet doesn't really work on the ship. Don't upgrade or pay extra for internet; this was a common theme among fellow passengers. Our cruise was a repositioning cruise, one to move the cruise ship to a new destination for a new season. The staff proved to be very friendly and the ship very clean. On our days at sea, we played bridge every afternoon and Paul took bridge lessons in the morning. We had a successful bridge cruise, earning over 3 master points and winning the club tournament! Woo hoo!
Beyond bridge, I enjoyed the great fitness center and the Canyon Ranch Spa facilities. We spent time in the hot tub most afternoons, enjoying excellent champagne and cocktails. The dining in the four specialty restaurants was great. However, the best part was meeting people in the bar. Two special couples we met had also planned to stay in Barcelona at the end of the cruise. We were able to join them on land in our last port and again in Barcelona. Bert and Heike run Willkommenhof Bed and Breakfast, a European style guest house in upstate New York. Jim and Robin own Peninsula Park & Island View Airbnb in Wisconsin. Being a part of the hospitality industry, both couples proved to be great consumers of the local scene with us.
We spent Easter on the ship, enjoying a beautiful chocolate display. Paul had great fun pranking with the bunnies after Easter, check them out visiting our stateroom and the lounge on our floor. We took a cooking class, as well. which focused on Arab cuisine. Unfortunately, we weren't very thrilled either with the food or the class.
One evening, I decided to stay in the cabin, order room service and watch a movie. Paul, not being so inclined, set off to try to dine at one of the specialty restaurants. There, he met a woman and her five friends, or the "Sexy Six" as I call them, and had a great evening. Eventually, I met all of the lovely ladies from South Carolina as well.
Ports of Call
In Bermuda, our first stop, we admired the beautiful turquoise water and beaches. After hiking the roadway to the village nearest the ship, we grabbed a taxi and headed to the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse. Paul loves lighthouses. We spent the night in one in September for his birthday. We had hoped to see panoramic views of the island from the top of the lighthouse, which turned out to be closed for repairs. As it was the day before Easter, most of the historic attractions were also closed. So we headed back to the port for lunch and returned early to the ship to lounge at the pool.
Two hits and a miss
From Bermuda we were to spend four days at sea. Crew and passengers alike looked forward to porting in the Azores. Unfortunately, the cruise director had read a different weather report that we had. He predicted cloudy--it was raining. Alas, exploring the Azores was not to be. We experienced very choppy seas and winds of more than 35 knots (over 40 mph). After three attempts at docking, the port advised our captain that it was not safe to land. So, another day at sea, and then another...It was rough! The crew set out party (barf) bags by the elevators on each floor. The seas were so rough that one night, Paul started to turn over in bed and got caught when the ship shifted due to a big swell and was tossed on the floor. Yes, he had been drinking, but not that much!
Beautiful, sunny weather awaited us in Tangier. We disembarked early and took a tour to the resort city of Assilah. The charming old town, practically deserted in early April, welcomes art and beach lovers during the summer months. Artists have adopted Assilah as a place to work and convene to display and discuss art. We walked the streets, observing centuries old buildings that are still in use as summer homes. Murals and decorated walls and doorways were everywhere we looked. Of course, the tour made a stop for sweet tea at a hotel. It was good but the highlight of the stop was viewing nature's dryer, the sun, in use on the grounds, drying hotel linens.
Upon returning from Assilah, we immediately set out for the old town in Tangier. A city of two million people, Tangier unfolds on to the hillsides. The fertile land surrounding the city serves as the breadbasket for much of the country of Morocco. We started our exploration of the old quarter without a guide, but soon discovered that if we hesitated, someone would be there to show us the way, for free except for the required tip! We made the journey from Bab el Fahs to the Bab el Kasbah accompanied by Mohammed, who just wanted us to be sure to visit his father's rug store. He definitely helped us find the Kasbah gate and showed us some interesting streets, all the while urging me--"Take a picture of that. of this, of the loom..." AND, the pressure to buy a rug, you guessed it--intense, but the sights we saw were great. We ran into a wedding party, pre-celebration bands playing music for the day with children and adults following them around. We met some young men at the top of the Kasbah, who wanted their picture taken and put on Facebook. We saw walls painted with beautiful murals. It was an interesting experience.
The unbadged guides who, like our Mohammed, purport that they are working for free, take you through tangled twists and turns on the streets until you feel unsure that you can find your way back (in Oklahoma jargon, discombobulated) and then demand a high tip. When we offered Mohammed what the badged or licensed guide quoted on the front end, 10 Euros, he demanded 50 E for all of the beautiful pictures I had taken. Needless to say, he accepted what we offered but shouted something at us as we left the old city. Interestingly, a couple of the ladies from the Sexy Six had a much better experience with this type of unbadged guide than we did. In a funny coincidence, their guide had taken them to the restaurant we picked out on our own for lunch. And by the way, the next time we are in Tangier, we'll go see Mohammed's father and seriously negotiate for a rug.
Playa de Mallorca
Another stroll through an ancient city--inhabited by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Turks and the Spanish--the blend of cultures creates a unique environment on this beautiful island. This time we met up with our new friends Heike, Bert, Robin and Jim to explore. Plan A was to hire a car to take us around the island, specifically to see the Phoenician ruins. It turns out that there are NO taxis that carry more than four people in Playa. None. We kept trying and finally accepted that fact and opted for plan B, explore Playa on foot. So we headed off to the beautiful and historic Cathedral, Le Seu. Construction began on this Gothic all in the 14th century, and it has the largest rose window in the world, known as the Gothic eye. Updated and added on to throughout the years, the 20th century additions were the creation of the modernist architect Antonio Gaudi. They stand in stark contract to the work of the past and have proven to be controversial. Next on to the Arab baths. Signs abounded, but there were many twists and turns in the streets to arrive at this marvel, where you could have steam, hot baths and even a salt treatment for your feet. Next, finding lunch for six hungry travelers. We ventured across town to the old town to La Llotga. After searching for truly local cuisine, all three couples ordered pizza! And some wine and some very big beers. Very fun day with new friends!
One last day at sea--a manicure, bridge, packing and drinks with new friends. Then, we disembarked in a rain soaked Barcelona. Join us for our three week stay in this city of contrasts.