Saturday, October 16, 2010

Life continues on....

There is life after cruising....

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, October 9, 2010

P.S. Our Professional Wedding Vow Renewal Photos

May my heart be your shelter
And my arms be your home.
May we walk together through all things.
May you feel deeply loved, for indeed you are.
I give you my heart.
I have no greater gift to give.
My life is complete because I call you mine.
May we feel this joy forever.

We were thrilled to be invited by the Captain to be his guest on the bridge for our sail up the Grand Canal into Venice

The perfect spot on the front of the ship, where we could catch a bird's eye view of that romantic city by the sea

The ship has so many wonderful backdrops for formal photos

He snapped a few in black and white...we love the classic look

Our dream came true, to cruise into the port of Venice on the day we renewed our wedding vows

Another black and white...the photographer did an incredible job

The Martini Bar changes color...he captured us as it was fading to blue

We were getting anxious to be off the ship as the ship pulled into the dock

Almost time to say goodbye to the ship for a few hours, and get ready for our evening exploring in the city

We love the ambiance of Michael's Club on the Century...whenever we are onboard in the future, and share breakfast or have cocktails in that venue, we will be forever reminded of our special day.

It really doesn't get much better than this :)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Saturday--Heathrow Homeward Bound

I'm not going to rehash all the gory details from our experience in Heathrow 2 weeks ago. The fact that we had to relive portions of it, was bad enough. I'd prefer not to put you folks through all of that again, so I'll highlight the good parts of our brief "visit" to the airport-that-will-never-be-forgotten.

Hmmm, the good parts....ok, I guess I'm done, we are finally home...end of blog....nope... I'm didn't think you were going to get off that easy did you??? If I had to go through it....and you've stuck with me through this blog up until now, well then you can suffer through this one last Heathrow post. So here goes....

Thinking back, there may be a bit of important airline info I left out during my initial Heathrow post. Although I know for a fact (after having read numerous horror stories on numerous airline travel review websites) this may have contributed to some of our unfortunate situation, the airport itself deserves very low marks in several areas of operation. Then again, I may just be one of those spoiled Americans, and need to shut up and file it all away in my memory bank as an interesting, although painful, travel experience. When we initially arrived at our gate in Heathrow (you remember--the gate that didn't exist until the last possible moment) at the beginning of our vacation, we were told that although all our tickets, boarding passes, our reservations, and even the actual name on the side of the plane stated British Airlines....we'd actually been booked on an Iberia flight....what the ****????? (insert any dirty four letter word that comes to mind--I think, nope-I know, I actually said one out loud). We had done everything within our power to avoid this low cost, customer serviceless, horror story ridden, cheapo airlines and here we were flying on one of their flights. Thanks so much to BA for partnering with them and leaving us in the dark...literally. Pretty sneaky on their part, we might not have ever believed it, but on our return flight home, after we received our boarding passes, we were sent from the BA checkin counter to the Iberia kiosk (too cheap to even have a proper counter), to pay my additional bag fee. They were so antiquated, they pulled out one of those old fashioned credit card machines to run the metal presser over my card and imprint the receipt. Huh...they still use those things??? That of course was after the clerk went behind the screened partition for 5 minutes to look up in some ancient airline bible, how much to charge me for the extra bag??? I kid you not! Lesson learned, you get what you pay for...guess I need to do more research next time. Expedia, you SUCK! We will stick to booking air directly through the airlines...although that is no guarantee either. We are probably in trouble for 2011, but perhaps I should start researching now for our 2012 trip, guess my 9 months of daily surfing the travel sites, compiling 20 pages of travel notes into a 2 inch 3-ring binder, and posting questions on every travel message board known to man, just wasn't enough.

The one thing I can assure you of...we are never, ever, never, ever going to bring that much luggage again....oops, did I actually put that in writing??? Yes we love to dress up...yes we are both chronic over packers, yes we end up bringing home a few things we didn't wear (the shorts are still clean--who knew the temps would not be warm enough for us?), and yes, while trudging through the airport on this trip, we've both said out loud to each other...NEVER again. Well, we'll see how long that commitment to more economical packing lasts :) or maybe I'm misquoting us, I think we said, we'll just pay for all the extra luggage and forget about the carry-on bags, yup--that was it! Old habits die hard and we are just a couple of old travelers...what can I say?

Ok, back to the subject at hand, if I can even remember what that was...I do tend to go off on a rant now and then...who me?

Getting off the plane carrying our hand luggage, was our first the dark, drizzly night, down a long narrow, wet and steep set of stairs...onto the tarmac, up onto a bus with standing room only, we were eventually shuttled to the gate. The remainder of our evening at Heathrow, as expected, was long in only one respect...the mind-numbing wait to get through immigration. It took about 45 minutes to get through the lines..and we were the lucky ones. When we looked behind us at the streams of people still filing onto that massive room, we knew they would all be there until at least 1 or 2 am. Have I mentioned how the lines moved like molasses? We landed after 10 pm, and we were in a taxi, on the way to our hotel around 11. We were thankful the hotel was very close, and we didn't have to retrieve all of our luggage, so we only had our 4 carry-ons (1 each above the seat/1 each below).

Hotel check in, pick up a quick snack at the kiosk, then off to bed after setting the alarm for our 5 am wake up. The room was good, the mattress soft and we slept like babies.

Somehow, not quite the same and a very sad tradeoff :(

We arrived back at Heathrow in the early dawn, to once again drag ourselves through the maze of security (they hand searched ALL our carry on bags), do self serve check-in for our boarding passes (the line to counter check bags was horrific), exchange our pounds for dollars, grab some food to carry on, and make our way to the gate. Have you ever seen a traffic light configuration for entry into the gate area? It was a first for us...and had everyone in line scratching their heads. It went something like this: four glass doors in a square set leading to the walkway for passengers arriving, one set leading to the gate for those of us departing. However, neither of the groups could be in the same area at the same time. A long line formed behind us, as only a few were let through at a time. Apparently the folks getting off of their plane coming down the walkway, had priority and our "traffic" was shut down over and over. Since when do passengers arriving at an airport have time constraints that take precedence over folks getting onto a plane that is departing??? The glass doors (coded key pad to be punched each time the doors opened and closed) and very slow flow were strictly monitored by guards. It was quite prison like in it's configuration and to say it took an inordinate amount of time to move all of the hundreds of passengers into the gate area, and through the process, would be an understatement. Oh Heathrow....what am I going to do with you??? A true lesson in futility and a test of everyone's patience.

One last leg of our journey, and we'd be home...after a 8 hour flight that is..not really so bad actually. I love daytime flying...never any pressure for me to try to get any sleep. I watched 3 movies, ate A LOT...and got some writing done...all while Roger tried to watch the same 2 movies over and over...poor guy, he just kept falling asleep.

Carbs, carbs and more carbs...did I mention I picked up a chicken panini before we boarded..hey, it's a 8 hour flight...a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do--missed taking a pic of the cookie and pasta salad they delivered an hour before we landed...I also drank about a gallon of liquid...yikes!

We both continued to diligently take our No Jet Lag pills and hoped they worked as well as they did on the way overseas (happy to report-they did). We landed in Miami on time, sailed through immigration quickly (I love being an American on American soil), and picked up all (YES) our luggage before meeting our shuttle back to the Sofitel. The car was filled with our bags...and we hit the road for home. As we approached Ft. Lauderdale from Miami, Rog mentioned that he thought Oasis might be in port, so we took a slight detour to grab a quick peak of her at the dock...holy crap that's a huge ship...maybe someday.

Although I've done my very best at every point of this trip, I still can't truly describe how much we enjoyed our cruise and how very much it meant to us to renew our vows in such an incredible setting. It was a dream come true for both of us...a brief time in our lives we will never forget. Thank you all so much for tagging along, it was my pleasure to share our adventures with each and everyone of you.

Up next....guess you'll have to wait and see!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Barcelona--"Fine Dining" at the airport--or how to use the last few euros in your pocket

By 6pm, we had been in the airport for an hour and our last meal was about 6 hours ago at approximately 12:30 in Montserrat. We had both carbed up with bread, some very tasty sausage and various beans with veggies. Now it was time for what would most probably be our last meal of the day. With the time change and the way things were running, (our flight was already delayed) our arrival at Heathrow and the long painful wait at immigration, we wouldn't be at the hotel until almost midnight. I doubt we would be in any mood for a meal, nor could we count on a place to be open and serving so late.

I was on a quest to find us something nutritious and perhaps a little bit on the healthy side. With only 4.75 euro in my hand, this could be quite the challenge.

Also, we'd gone into a very deserted terminal, so our choices of food service venues, were more than limited. As I set off on my quest, Roger's parting words were ringing in my ears..."don't bring back any chocolate.". Well that's no fun!!! I actually had a stash in my bag from a recent purchase in Montserrat (those monks were good at something that interested me) and I honestly had every intention of finding a decent "meal."

I'm thinking NOT

The only kiosk in our terminal had some sketchy looking prepackaged sandwiches, yuck...and bags of chips. Nope that would not do at all. Around one more corner and I found the usual dry goods travel shop that sells magazines, books and the prerequisite collection of candy. WOW...did they have some nice looking candy....step away from the sweet stuff Joanne!!!!

Did he say "no chocolate"??? Bummer :(

Are you absolutely sure he said no candy...boy this is tough for me...good thing I didn't have enough $$ for any of this stuff

Then, I happened to notice on one corner, there was a small take away shop selling salads, burgers, fries and chicken wraps....would I be forced to settle for the one place I avoid at all costs at home and whenever we are traveling?? I'd been through a last-resort choice for our tour today, and judging by the prices on the menu, it looked like I had no other option for our dinner. After 12 nights of 4 course gourmet meals, our final meal before leaving Barcelona would be from none other than McDonalds...yikes, a new low for me.

Not love here...only affordability I'm sorry to say

I'd been toting around a very nice crusty loaf of french grain bread from a bakery in Toulon, so we were able to indulge in our first course of bread and water before the salad was served

Don't forget to hydrate!

The entree for our dinner was to be a chicken and veggie wrap, which is sitting quite nicely in my stomach.

Ask me in an hour or two how I still's hoping my digestive system will be able to take one for the team.

Next up...Heathrow...can we handle it again?

Friday Afternoon--Barcelona Airport

On our walk back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage, I saw one more shop and indulged one more time before jumping in a cab for our trek to the airport.

It's just meringue, how fattening could that be?? Probably just a bit too late in the vacation to be concerned about calories...ya think?

Not only good, but very sticky :)

The architecture in all of these European cities, never ceases to amaze me..always look up!

Our transition from hotel to airport via taxi went smoothly as planned. Security and checkin was equally so...we found our private terminal, private seating area, and private bathrooms without any hassle. I could get to like's what happens when you arrive at the Barcelona airport 3 hours early.

Clean and quiet...a welcome change from what was to come in Hellthrow oops, I mean Heathrow

A solitary cleaning woman was our only company for quite a while...what the heck was there to could have eaten off the floors!!!

No lines an airport restroom...completely unheard of...have I mentioned how much I love the Barcelona airport?

As our fellow passengers arrived and seats around us began to fill up, it was kind of interesting to watch so many men, dressed in three piece business suits, sleeping sitting up...a lot of that going around this trip, myself included. I've slept in more public places in the last 2 weeks than I have in the last 10 years. Let's be honest, sleep deprivation and burning the candle at both ends can do strange things to a weary traveler. I slept just about anywhere...on the bus, on trains, on the vaparetto, on subways and I really, really wanted to close my eyes at dinner last night...I easily could have put my head down on the table...the gentleman sitting across from me began to blur before my eyes. It actually reminded me of the feeling of watching tv and knowing that in a few short moments, your eyes would close and you'd be sound asleep...right about the time your brain is screaming at you "just give in, it will feel so good"

Unfortunately, we had packing to be completed, which in total took both of us 3 hours over the course of the entire day. Yes, for the millionth time...we OVER there a self-help group we can join for our chronic affliction??? Sign me up!!! Just ask Roger...there are a few times (well maybe a bit more) in my life when I am no-holds-barred cranky...when hungry, tired or when I have to pack a suitcase. You get the picture I'm sure :)

Next up...a few little coins jingling in our pocket...what to do, what to do???

Montserrat Meal--A Transition from Perfection to Palatable

There were a few food choices up on the mountain for a quick meal...cold sandwich type take away, sit down restaurant, or our choice warm sit down cafeteria. Interesting pedestrian food options...we had some fun with it and enjoyed our first little lunch off the ship. Have I mentioned that I was still working on getting my land-lubber legs back? I could swear that mountain was moving, even when I was sitting down.

On the way to eat, we stopped in the shops and food, chocolate made by the that is something I can sink my teeth into..the language of food transcends all religions...or lack thereof

Again more delicious, creamy local goat cheese that I can't bring home with's quite painful..after being "forced" to sample many different varieties (the gentleman was very sweet to offer them even after I mentioned we were flying and unable to bring this type of food home) we moved on back down to the cafeteria

How did they do that??? I wish I was better able to capture the stark beauty of the pictures do not do it justice

Hmmm...meat, meat and meat...need to see it a bit closer

Pretty average offerings

I'm thinking the sausage...Rog followed suit

Is that a RECEIPT for our food??? Back to the real world of actually paying for our meals :(

Still an unhappy boy...still drowning his sorrows....still trying to make me laugh :)

Being homesick for our dining room table on the ship, Roger made a duplicate name stand with our table number and servers names out of a napkin...silly boy, but it made us both giggle :) Yes, we were punch drunk (not really), sleep deprived, probably being affected by the high altitude and very much missing our shipmates, the crew and our lovely bed at many more days till we cruise again?????

I'm smiling on the outside, crying on the inside

Roger...just tell us how you really feel???

At the end of our tour, although we were sad to have missed our cava winery tour and the hours soaking up the sun in that lovely seaside town, we were in awe of what we had seen that day.

Is that a little bit of a smile that I see???

After a few more quick pics, we headed to the bus for our long ride back down into Barcelona. I have to say that although our plans for the day had changed, we truly did come appreciate the magnificence, beauty and historical significance of what the monks had built on the side of that mountain, long...long the beginning in the 9th century.

Next up...a reverse trip through the a a nightmare

Montserrat--our chilly, cloudy day on the side of a mountain

So we sucked up our disappointment when we learned we would be missing the winery tour and our short visit to the sunny shores of Sitges. Instead, we would be on a bus ride, literally up the side of a mountain....with switchback turns that would make even a hardy stomach think twice. I'd survived 10-20 foot waves during our long, windy, rainy sea day, when we missed our stop in Split. Never did I think that I'd wake up half way up the side of the mountain, from my much needed nap on the bus, with a wishy washy tummy. Thank goodness I'd been smart enough to pack my Ginger gum, which immediately put everything right. A large group departed the bus and took the funicular straight up the remainder of the mountain. I'm guessing if we had the paid extra, my stomach issue may have been entirely avoided. Actually, we were never offered the option during the discussion of our alternate tour choice.

Up so high, can't see the bottom..too foggy and cloudy and did I mention chilly...boy I wish we were in Sitges!

We were further frustrated to learn that the tour guide would be speaking in three different languages, Spanish being first each time. Talk about slowing down the group...ugh. Even though we had been on a ship for 12 days with passengers from dozens of nations around the world, we rarely heard any announcements repeated in any other languages. You may think, quit complaining Joanne and just make the best of it...well I will soon enough..and we both did soon thereafter. We followed the group, listened to her speaking, and speaking and speaking for 2 hours, then found a quiet spot to take pictures and grab a bite to eat. The view, or what we could see of it, was quite impressive. The heavy cloud cover, which we later found out was common during most of the year, was allowing us very limited visibility along most of the mountain tops. The folks that had willingly signed up for the tour, were also disappointed when they were advised that they didn't have adequate time to attend the 1pm performance of the children's choir, as we all needed to be back to meet the bus at 1:15. Sounds like poor planning on someone's part to me.

The amazing part of the day...the carved into the side of that mountain

Roger kept wondering how they got building materials all the way up there..I'm guessing the road was built before anything else

You can see the track for the funicular

As we walked under the very first portico which led to the entrance of the interior portions of the Basilica, I glanced up at this statue and decided to snap a quick pic for my Mom...the name almost appeared to say "Joseph" which is my maiden name. I then turned in the exact opposite direction when I noticed the only other statue in the portico...and then just laughed out loud when I saw the name inscribed below that one...."Joannes" oh brother...remember, I wasn't supposed to even be on top of this mountain...a "sign" you might think...not so much's a man...I decided it was time to go find some feeding of the soul here, only feeding of the tummy :)

No matter where we are...I always love to look up

Monday, October 4, 2010

Barcelona--wake up you little sleepy heads

It was with much sadness that we set a wakeup call for 530 in order to get up, get dressed, be showered and out of the cabin by 6am for breakfast. We were meeting in the Elite lounge at the Murano restaurant for 6:30--to be escorted off the ship as part of the early departure procedure. It was our goal to be in a taxi and on our way by no later than 7am--we had a six hour tour leaving at 8:30 from downtown Barcelona, and we still had to make our way back to the hotel we'd stayed at on September 18th, to stow our bags for the day.

My very typical breakfast each morning...I'm thinking things will change as soon as I get home :(

I am very happy to report, our early morning plans went accordingly, and before 7am, we had all our luggage and were in a taxi headed for the Hotel Paralel. The front desk clerk at the hotel kindly pointed out on the map the exact walking directions to Julia's Travel where we would meet up with our tour bus.

Travel Agency...we found it...that was to be the last bit of good news for us :(

Again, our timing was perfect...we navigated through the streets of Barcelona and arrived with plenty of time to spare for our tour. However, we were met with some sad (translation "sucky") news....our 6 hour winery tour and stop in the seaside town of Sitges, had been cancelled due to limited interest in that particular tour. With such short notice and limited options, we chose the only other tour that would fit in with our time constraints for the day--a 5 hour bus trip to the monastery at Montserrat leaving at 9:30. To be perfectly honest, this was the last tour I would have ever, make that...I would never ever have chosen a tour up to the top of a mountain that was famous for it's religious monastery. But, we had at least six hours to kill, it was almost impossible to research and reserve something else at that point, and we had already found the location, in an otherwise confusing, unfamiliar city.

Neither of us were very happy

This did help to ease the pain....

So, we made the best of it, went for our second breakfast of the day (I drowned my sorrows in a very large chocolate croissant) and we decided we would both take a nice nap on the bus while traveling to and from the location.

Our coach for the day...note the name "Century" on the glass...a sure reminder of what we are ironic is that!?!?!

If you look back over the last 2 weeks of our European travels--you may notice a pattern emerging...some plans turned out wonderfully and went above and well beyond our expectations. On the other hand, some plans initially turned out not so wonderful, but we made every effort to go with the flow and make the best of each situation as a few random days changed from good to bad, then back to good. No life altering issues occurred, it was a lesson learned that even the best laid plans can be altered through no fault of our own. Just try to find a way to take advantage of the situation and always remember you are on vacation...a bad day on vacation, is leaps and bounds beyond a good day at work. And to be perfectly honest, we never really experienced even one bad day on our trip...moments here and there perhaps, but never anything more than that.

Next up....are we there yet....or how to get your stomach to the top of the mountain without taking the funicular