Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Our Excursion in Portimao, Portugal

The first leg of our B2B Windstar cruise ended/began in Lisbon, Portugal. Having spent several days there before, we decided to stay on board ship. For a few hours we were the only passengers on board and we felt like we had our own private yacht.  :)

Our next stop was Portimao, a small town on the southern coast of Portugal. We had several options here. The ship was running a circuit bus that went into town, the beach and back to the ship. Here was another place I had hoped to go to the beach, but again, the weather wasn't cooperating. 














So we took the excursion that went to Cape St. Vincent, the southwesternmost point in Europe. We had a beautiful ride through the Algarve region of southwest Portugal and lucked out by being on the bus during the worst of the rain.










Our next stop was Ponta de Piedade, another spot with beautiful sea vistas and golden yellow formations. 

















Our final stop was the charming town of Portimao where we had a chance to stroll, shop and enjoy some gelato.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Visiting Agadir, Casablanca and Rabat, Morocco

Two of our stops on the Windstar cruise were Agadir and Casablanca, Morocco. As a Jew, I had mixed feelings about visiting a Muslim country. We decided to stay on board ship in Agadir except for the included Windstar private excursion being held that evening. During our stop in Casablanca, we decided to take the ship's excursion to Rabat, the capitol.






The private excursion in Agadir was fantastic. We were taken to a beach by bus where tents and tables were set up. The walking area was covered by multiple carpets so we didn't have to step on the sand. We had a delicious multicourse dinner, with as much beer and wine we wanted (remember this is a Muslim country ....), entertainment and a beautiful sunset.  Food was beautiful presented and we had a lovely evening.









And as beautiful and amazing as everything was, even more jaw-dropping was the bathroom area!












Next day we were off to Rabat. I'm glad we took this excursion because we learned a lot about the country. If the tour guides can be believed (and we heard the same from others who took tours), the people absolutely love their king. He is working very hard to improve the financial status of the people, building new apartment complexes to be rented at very low cost to those now living in slums. (Which we saw lots of on our way to Rabat, and surprisingly, each slum complex had an amazing number of satellite dishes!) The country is very ecumenical and Sultan Mohammad V defied the Nazis during WWII in regards to the Jews. Currently there are about 3,000 Jews in Casablanca with three active temples. We even passed one on our way back to the port.



 Rabat is the country capital and we saw a few government buildings. Disappointed that we couldn't go inside. But we also visited the tomb of Mohammad V which was quite beautiful.
 
Our next stop was the old walled part of the city, where we had a chance to wander around some gardens, browse in shops and have some refreshment while sitting at a river overlook.

Our ride back was along the seashore, with many beautiful vistas and where we could also see the construction of more public works projects ... like playgrounds, parks, and even a skateboard park.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Visiting The Canary Islands: La Gomera, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote

The Canary Islands have been high on my bucket list for a long time. With our Windstar cruise, we finally made it to four of them. I've already reported on our days on Tenerife. The visits to La Gomera, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote were short cruise stops.

We elected to take ship excursions on La Gomera and Lanzarote. On La Gomera, our excursion took us to the forest of Garjonay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With parts of the forest reaching 4,000 feet above sea level, we had some fantastic views of the island. As we rode higher and higher into the forest, it got windier and colder. We drove through fog and along narrow roads twisting through the forest. Not what I expected from a tropical island.



From there we headed to a small village, down on the southwest coast. There it was warm with brilliant sunshine and I had a chance to shop in a local market, sit along the seawall and even rolled up my pants at the opportunity to put my feet in the water. We enjoyed the excursion and seeing an island that was very different from what we experienced on Tenerife.



Several excursions were offered for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria but it was the one stop where we had easy access to a Blue Flag beach. A 15 minute easy walk brought us from the ship's docking area to Las Canteras, a beautiful city beach. The weather wasn't optimal for the beach but as long as it wasn't raining, I was determined to go. We got two lounge chairs and an umbrella for 7,50 Euros. The young man setting it up for us knew what he was doing and the umbrella protected us from the wind and what there was of the sun. Jerry took advantage of the time to relax while I walked the whole beach and even got myself into the water ... I was determined!



Our final stop in the Canary Islands was the island of Lanzarote. We took another excursion here, this one taking us to the Fire Mountains, the wine district of La Geria, the salt pans along the coast at Salinas and views of the coastline of Los Hervideros. On Lanzarote, there is still a lot of geothermal activity and we saw examples of the heat reaching the earth's surface with an interesting 3-step demonstration near the visitor's center. First, soil from about 12 inches below the surface is placed in the palm of your hand. And it is QUITE warm. At the next step, brush is thrown into a pit about 2 feet deep, which smolders and then bursts into flame. At the third step, water is poured into a hole, with the result a man-made geyser. At the café in the visitor's center, you can get a baked potato that is cooked over an open thermal pit.




We then reboarded our bus for a drive through the park. A very interesting fact about this road was pointed out to us. The gentleman who laid out the roadway wanted it to have the least impact on the landscape as possible. And it does, with almost no other part of the road visible from the part you were on. And while this island is volcanic like the other islands, it was very different from its neighbors.





Next stop was the beautiful coastline at Los Hervideros, created by the lava flowing into the sea. Love the color the water!


Our final stop on this excursion was the wine country. We have never seen wine grown this way, with the semi circular walls keeping out the wind and keeping in the moisture. Within each semi-circle is one grape vine, planted in a depression in the center of the stone wall. After a chance to sample some wine, it was time to head back to the ship.














 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings

Just wanted to remind readers of this blog that I have another travel blog which can be accessed through this link. While I keep Travel Snippets very personal, Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings. is more general.

For instance, I'm posting here about the trip we just returned from .... cruising the Canary Islands to Barcelona, via Morocco and Portugal. But some tips and warnings about Barcelona City Tours HOHO bus and using ATMs in Europe are posted to Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings.

So if you want to cover all the bases, please also Subscribe to Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings. Thanks.  :)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Visiting Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

The Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa, have been on my bucket list for a long time. Also on my Spain bucket list was the Alhambra in Granada and Barcelona. There are many cruises that do each of these but then I found two back to back segments on Windstar that let us do all three so we booked it.





Our ship departed from Santa Cruz, Tenerife so we flew into Tenerife a few days early to recuperate from the long flights and the change in time zones. The first decision was where to stay. The ship departed from Santa Cruz de Tenerife so that was an option. Also La Laguna, a UNESCO down. Working with Patsy Little (patricialittle@Hotmail.com), we settled on La Laguna, with hotel and transfers (from the airport in the southern part of the island) arranged.



La Laguna is a UNESCO site, an old town in the northern part of the island. We stayed at Hotel Laguna Nivaria in their historic building. We had a lovely huge room and thoroughly enjoyed our stay there. The location was perfect, right on the edge of the historic old city and across from a lovely park. Our first day was just for R & R and we spent it sleeping and eating and strolling around the old town. Weather was a bit cooler than we expected but still enjoyed our meal at an outdoor café. Especially finishing it off meal with hot chocolate and churros.


For our next day I had arranged a guided tour of the island. The tallest mountain in Spain is here, Mt Teide, and the area is a national park. Our guide, Patsy, is an ex pat American from Connecticut. She was a high school teacher of French and Spanish and during the spring semester of her first year of teaching she led a school trip to Tenerife. She went back to the states, quit teaching, moved to Tenerife, married  a Canarian and has been guiding for over 35 yrs.

Pick up was at 9;45, so we were out of the hotel at 9:30 and Patsy showed up shortly after. We got back to the hotel at 5:45 so it really was a full day tour. The national park is amazing.  We have been to many volcanic areas and yet somehow, Jerry and I agreed, this one was different. Very beautiful. At 3,718 meters high, Mt Teide is really all that is left of the northern rim of the crater of the volcano that created Tenerife. The caldera, that we drove across, is 17 kilometers wide! Many beautiful and interesting formations and we were lucky with great weather.




 


We had driven south along the spine of the island to read the park. We returned via the west and north roads with spectacular vistas including the one we had from the restaurant we stopped at around 2 for a leisurely and delicious lunch, Mirador de Garachico. Great having a local with us who helped us pick our lunch items such as recommending we try the grilled cheese appetizer which is literally a grilled 1/2 inch 4 x  4 block of fresh goat cheese. Delicious. Presentation of my main course was stunning. Excellent meal.
 
We returned to the hotel exhausted but very satisfied with our beautiful day. Tomorrow, time to board our ship.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Home From the Windstar Star Breeze and Spain (With a Little Bit of Morocco and Portugal Thrown In)

We sailed two 8-day b2b segments on the Windstar Star Breeze. This is the smallest cruise ship we have ever sailed on (and I specify cruise ship versus boat because our Galapagos trip was the smallest boat), at about 9,500 gr tons and a passenger capacity of about 200 people. And being so small, we did feel motion when we hit some iffy weather in the Atlantic.

On our first segment there were 140 people. On the second segment there were 207. And those extra people were felt when it came to dining but more on that later.


This ship is all-suite. The only difference between most of the cabins is that some have a French balcony, a floor to ceiling window that opens with a railing outside to lean on ... can't sit out there. We had a regular suite with just a large picture window and the cabin was probably the largest we've ever had (except one .... the upgrade Ellen from Sea4Sail kindly perked us on our Holy Land cruise.)






We had a bathroom with a double sink and a full tub/shower. To all intensive purposes, everything looked great.  But ....

Windstar purchased the Star Breeze, along with two sister ships, now the Star Pride and Star Legend, from Seabourn. Word is that when Windstar got the ships, they were in pretty lousy shape and while Windstar refurbished the ships, they weren't stripped down to the hull. We had hoped we'd be lucky and avoid some of the issues that we heard about on the Cruise Critic forum but it didn't turn out that way.

When I turned on the water at the sink, it ran rusty. After a deep breath I decided to just let it run for a while and it finally ran clear and stayed clear. (In spite of that, I did not drink water from the sink and only drank bottled water.)

A couple of days into the trip, the pipe under one of the sinks sprung a BIG leak. Reported that and it was taken care of quickly. Then our toilet stopped flushing. That too got taken care of quickly but the replacement plastic piece just 'hung' off the wall. Looked like it would fall off at any minute but it worked and we didn't want to make any more waves.

Then we heard a gurgling sound in the bathroom. Trying to figure it out I looked into the tub. The picture shows the sediment left in the tub after the water that backed up ran out again. Again, back to reception (now on a first name basis) and that was also taken care of.

Which brings me to a very positive thing about this ship and that is the crew. Service was superlative. I don't think we have ever had better service anywhere. The staff was excellent!

Next in line is the food which ranged from very good to excellent ... except for the breads which disappointed me. The head chef is from India so several nights there would be a special Indian addition to the menu. One of the additions was so good that Jerry had it again on the second segment of our trip.

And of course the cabin .... which was very comfortable. The a/c worked perfectly and quietly, there was tons of room within the cabin and plenty of storage space for clothing.

So ... the dining. Breakfast and lunch is served buffet style in the Veranda Café, a small area on the back of the ship. There is space for inside seating for only about 50 people. Other choices are the open air tables right at the stern, or an outside sheltered area more to the middle of the ship. In nice weather these are great options but on the second segment we had some lousy weather ... chilly a lot of the time, and pouring rain other times. There is no way 200 people could make their way through the Veranda Café or find a comfortable place to sit and eat. Finally, a couple of days into the cruise the main dining room was opened for breakfast and lunch ... it should have been opened sooner. Still buffet style but now lots of tables for passengers to sit at.

And we noticed a definite slowdown in dinner service between the segment that had 140 passengers and the one that had 200.

So were things perfect? Obviously no. But did we enjoy the ship? Basically yes. Would we sail on her again? No and the reason has more to do with the motion of the ship at sea than anything else. (I didn't have any problem but my husband has some balance issues.) I can't say enough about the fantastic crew and it was great the special things this ship can do, like sail up the Guadalquivir River into Seville, which the big ships can't do. I don't know .... maybe if we find the right itinerary that sails in the calm Caribbean ..... :)










Friday, April 1, 2016

Protect Yourself From Germs When Flying

One thing I've known for a long time is that tray table is one of the most germ ridden places on an airplane. I wipe down the tray table as soon as we sit down and also wipe down the back of the seat in front of me so the tray doesn't get germy again when I raise it. I've even had flight attendants smile and nod at me when they see me doing this. Another place pretty dirty is the pocket under the tray. That is harder to clean and I've actually thought about getting something like the Executive TRAYblecloth Airplane Tray Organizer. That would take care of both problems.

Do you reach for the overhead air vent when you sit down in your airplane seat? So do a lot of people before you. Give that a swipe with an antiseptic wipe also.

Oh ... and did you think about the seatbelt buckle? That deserves a cleaning also.

Don't forget to take your antiseptic wipes with you when you go to the bathroom. You probably figure the flush button won't be an issue because you'll be thoroughly washing your hands when you are done. But .... then you touch the bathroom door lock and door knob/handle .... you and everyone else using it. Either use a paper towel to move the lock when you are done or be prepared with an antiseptic wipe to give your hands another cleaning.

And remember that in the terminal itself another place touched by a multitude of passengers is the push button on the airport drinking fountain. The easy way to protect yourself is use a tissue between your hand and the button. Or use hand sanitizer when you are done.

Stay healthy!
 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Beware Marmalade and the TSA

I'm a fan of marmalade. But not the kind you typically find in the U.S. I like the bitter orange marmalade served in Great Britain that is made from Seville oranges. So when I discovered Dundee brand marmalade in Publix, during our stays in Florida, I tried it and loved it.

Sad to say I couldn't find it in any of the supermarkets I popped into when I got home.

So during a recent week's trip back to Florida to spend some time with some friends, I bought a bunch of jars, leaving all except one for them to bring back for me when they drove home.

Plus, I had bought Florida marmalade for my daughter and brought one jar home and both jars were packed in the same bag, stuffed into a croc for protection.

At the baggage carousel, as I pulled off our bags, I saw our locking system (a cable tie) was missing from one bag. Sure enough, I opened it and there was the little note from TSA telling us that our bag was opened for inspection. And I immediately knew why.

Of course it was the bag with the marmalade. And the clothing in the suitcase was a mess halfway down ... right to the crocs and where I had packed the marmalade. Below that the level, the clothes were untouched.

We have an upcoming trip to Spain. I was thinking about Seville marmalade and whether or not I would buy some there. Wonder if I have to count on my suitcase being opened again?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Rome, Italy

Our cruise ended in the port city of Civitavecchia, about an hour from Rome by car, depending on the traffic. Arriving on a Sunday morning, we had clear roads and was at our hotel, Hotel Fori Imperiali Cavalieri, around 8:00 a.m. I had chosen this hotel because of Jerry's one main interest: the Colosseum. I subscribe to International Travel News, a newspaper magazine written by travelers which I HIGHLY recommend, and had recently read a recommendation for this hotel and its close proximity to the Colosseum.

Being too early to check into our room (as I expected) we left our bags and walked out of the hotel, turned left, and at the next cross street looked right and we could see the Colosseum. I had prepaid tickets bought from the web site and we only had to wait a short time because the site didn't open until 8:30 a.m. We discovered that there was a lift to the second level and we wandered all the way around. And then we did the same on the first level. I have been here before but it was a new experience for Jerry and I think



Since our Colosseum ticket was also good for the Roman Forum and the Palintine Hill, we decided to head over there also. After more wandering, and reading literature I had printed off at home, we had some lunch and then back to the hotel to check in and collapse.








Jerry in the back seat of our Rome golf cart
Our next day was going to be special. I had booked a golf cart tour of Rome. Our guide/driver, Roberto, picked us up at our hotel at 9:30 a.m.

















St. Peter in Chains Church
We left the day in his hands and we had a wonderful, very special day, touring Rome, both well known places like St. Peter's Square, to relatively unknown places like the St. Peter's in Chain and the Basilica of San Clemente, where we climbed down two levels to walk on floors estimated to date from 50 A.D. We wandered underground some more at the Catacomb of San Callixtus, where it is estimated 500,000 Christians are buried.

Lunch was at Hostaria Da Franca, a little family owned place on the Appian Way, with no menu ... just need to ask what is cooking that day.

Piazza Novana
And so it went, from the plaza with the oldest farmers' market in Rome Campo de' Fiori, to the only plaza with three fountains Piazza Novana. Up and down streets too narrow for cars. We made a stop that allowed us to walk around St. Peter's Square and the Pantheon. With a final stop at the Trevi Fountain (under restoration), we then headed back to our hotel.

Overall, a very special and fantastic day.



Friday, December 4, 2015

Pisa and San Gimignano, Italy


October 24, 2015

Today we got lucky with the weather. Beautiful sunny day, cloudless sky and perfect touring temperature. We had another tour booked with Rome In Limo and, with the help of the Roll Call on the Cruise Critic forum, there were 8 of us in the van. Stacie and Karen from our Amalfi tour were with us, plus two couples traveling together, Peter and Brenda from Maine and Rose and Trevor from Great Britain. We introduced ourselves to each other and to our driver who told us what our day would be like and asked us about thoughts for lunch. He suggested a winery in the Tuscany hills. If this interested us he had to make reservations. We all said Yes, he made the call, and we were on our way.

Our drive took us through the rolling hills of the beautiful Tuscany region. When we got to the area of Pisa with the leaning tower, we were totally caught off guard. Thinking all we'd see is this old tower sitting in a plaza, what we actually saw was this beautiful green courtyard with the tower, church and duomo. It was absolutely beautiful and we spent a lot more time there than we thought we would.

Our next stop was the winery. The cost was 30 Euros per person and while we got some food with the tasting, what we really paid for was the wine. We had samples of 14 wines, which if purchased for shipping home went as high as $131 per bottle. We also sampled extra virgin olive oil, truffle flavored olive oil and very aged balsamic vinegar. Most of the wines were red and we were all given generous samples. I am not a wine expert by any means, and prefer white, but this was certainly an interesting experience and I'm glad we did it.

From there, there more rolling hills, we headed to San Gimignano, an old walled city on a hill top, known for its many towers. We wandered there for a while, took some pictures and then back to the van for the return ride to the ship. Overall a great day giving us a feel for the beautiful Tuscany region, another item that has been on my bucket list for a long time.


 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Corsica, France


October 22, 2015

We docked within walking distance of the capital, Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon. With plenty of statues and street names like Bonaparte Street, Ajaccio also has a museum in the house where he was born.

We had decided our visit to this island would not be history but, instead, scenery. So we booked a ship excursion to Calanches, in French Les calanches de Piana, found within the Regional Natural Park of the island. Also called calanques, the rock formations are found throughout the Mediterranean and are narrow, steep-walled inlets of limestone, dolomite or other carbonate strata.

We headed north, over mountain passes, on switchback roads, overlooking beautiful mountain scenery.











The ride out there was an experience in itself, with roads barely wide enough for a full sized bus and an automobile going in the opposite direction to pass each other.













But it wasn't until we actually got to the park that we found what all the excitement is about. The formations were fantastic. Everywhere you looked was an eyeful.










Our visit to Corsica was only a couple of hours and way too soon we had to leave the park. We made a quick stop in Porto, a beautiful old town, and then back on the bus to the ship.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Naples, Italy and the Amalfi Coast


October 21, 2015

Rain! Not what we were suppose to have this time of year. But it wasn't going to stop us. Another item long on my bucket list has been driving along the Amalfi Coast and that is what we were going to do today. We soon joined up with Stacie and Karen, two ladies I met through the Cruise Critic forum, who expressed an interest in joining our Amalfi Coast tour.

We left the port area and hit the expressway, passing the exits to Pompeii and Herculean, two areas with displays of ruins. Vesuvius was off to our left.










Soon we were off the expressway, on a narrow road, climbing a hillside, with a great view back towards Naples.










Before we new it, we were over the top and on the Amalfi coast.












Our first stop was Amalfi. It has a small, old town center and we wandered that for about an hour. Did a little shopping and then got back into our van, heading westward on the coast road, a road which .. according to our guide/driver ... has over 3,000 curves.







Our next stop was Positano, a village incredibly built onto/into a hillside. When we got there it was pouring rain but I was determined to make it down to the beach. Not a day for putting my feet in the water but interesting to look back up the hillside.








For lunch, our driver took us to Ristorante da Costantino  where we had the sampler lunch: bottle of water, pitcher of wine, caprese salad (the BEST buffalo mozzarella), pizza, pasta, lasagna, cheese crepe and, for desert, fresh fruit salad topped with pistachio ice cream. And that all finished off with a shot of iced cold homemade lemoncello. WOW!






The view from this restaurant is alone worth the price of admission. We got lucky and the sky cleared just long enough for us to get some nice pictures. Then onto Sorrento where we hit more rain. A short wander there in the old town area and then back to the ship.

The excursion was amazing and the weather, IMO, added 'something' to the scenery and views ... just like we felt in Venice. We loved it and even if we are back in Naples in beautiful weather, I'm not sure I feel we'd have to do it again.