Time for a new house

Time for a new house
Time for a new house

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Home to San Diego January 17

01_12_Huatulco (68)

Mo and Sue cruising on the Celebrity Constellation

We arrived in San Diego early Sunday morning, with clear cool skies and fresh air. Even though our ship docked at 7am, we didn’t disembark until after 10 am. Once more the heightened terror alerts seemed to slow the process way down, at least that was the excuse given. With a plane to catch before noon we were both getting a bit stressed, but we didn’t realize that the airport was just a few blocks from the dock. Everything went smoothly and we made our flight in time. It helped that our flight was delayed a bit.

Thinking back on the cruise, we decided that we liked many things about Celebrity. Little things cruise 068matter, and the service throughout the entire cruise was impeccable. We especially appreciated the little things like fresh water and ice in our room every single morning and evening and not having to buy bottled water. The fancy folded towels were missing, but water meant a lot more than towel animals on the bed at night! We were also provided with comfy terry robes which were replaced each time we used them.

Our cabin was very spacious and comfortable, the beds were great and the bathrooms were especially roomy.

01_14_Formal (9)The food was fantastic. This was my fifth cruise and it was the first one that met the ideal of what I imagined '”cruise food” to be. The Grand Buffet’s twice at brunch was a great idea. The Seaside Cafe salads were always amazingly fresh and tasty. The food in the dining room at dinner was always very good and the service was wonderful all the time. Ice cream was free, but it certainly wasn’t Ben and Jerry quality.

The ship was small, but still felt roomy, and there were lots of places to hang out that didn’t feel crowded. Sometimes it seemed as though there really wasn’t enough entertainment, with the two mid ship bars often closed and dark. We used them anyway to play cards, but it would have been nice to have some afternoon music and light in them.

cruise 063 The production shows were fabulous, top quality shows, with excellent talent. Perry Grant in the piano bar was funny and entertaining, but it would have been nice to have more entertainment overall. It was a quiet ship with an older clientele. I think we saw less than 10 children on the ship, maybe less than 5, and only one baby.

The lectures were informational and entertaining. They had a scrapbooking class but it seemed expensive. They also had language lessons, but the timing was often wrong for trying to get in on the lectures. What I would wish for on a ship would be art classes, watercolor painting, pastels, or something like that. I would also love some cooking classes, and would like for things to be scheduled at different times so you could actually enjoy everything.

cruise 065 We loved the fact that the ship had excellent elevators with clear signs and maps in good locations showing exactly where you were on the ship and how to get where you were going. Getting around was very easy, without having to wonder whether we were fore or aft, port or starboard.

Overall, it was a good cruise and a lovely ship. However, I still find myself looking forward to going again on one of the really big ships like the Oasis of the Seas. It’s funny, when it all comes down to it, some things are good, some not so good, and most cruise lines I have been on have something to enjoy. I think maybe Princess might be my favorite for the time being.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cabo San Lucas and our final day at Sea January 15 and 16

01_15_SeaDay (35)
Mo and I visited Cabo San Lucas on my daughter’s wedding cruise in 2006 and were unimpressed. On that cruise, we did a sea kayak trip to Lover’s Beach. It was crowded and the tandem sea kayak was heavy and unwieldy in the big waves compared to our sleek personal kayaks. We initially thought we would just stay on board this time and not bother doing anything in port. However, during our previous sea day we decided that another good snorkel trip would be fun, and probably more worthwhile than trying to find a place to snorkel on the crowded beaches on our own.



01_15_SeaDay (32) We signed up for a Zodiac boat trip to a snorkel site with a bit of whale-watching thrown in. What a day it turned out to be! The port at Cabo is touristy, busy, but still fun to walk and explore a bit. We saw what we could on foot, and then found a great little waterfront cafe for beer and snacks and people watching.
Our tour didn’t depart until afternoon, so we didn’t feel the least bit rushed. The Zodiac rubber boats are fast and stable, used for rescue work and tourists. By the time we boarded, the wind and waves were getting wilder, and we remembered kayaking through those waves the last time we were here. The boatman was a young, slim boy who seemed to be at home with the boat and as if he knew what he was doing. He took us over the big waves out to Lover’s Beach again, and then along the coast to our first beach snorkel site. The snorkeling here was excellent, with clear water and the waves were gentle. After 45 minutes, the guide took us to another beach where there were more fish. Again, the snorkling was decent, nothing too spectacular, and the water was a bit murky because of the wind and not very warm. We did see some beautiful schools , some Queen angels and other varieties, and there were more fish in this location because they were fed at this beach. By the time our guide whistled us back to the boat, the waves were big and strong and Mo and I were close to the beach. The swim back to the boat was wild and rough, and I was really glad I had a snorkel on or I would have swallowed a lot of water.

01_15_SeaDay (41)Back on the boat, we headed south along the shore, in the opposite direction of the port. It was obvious that the waves were so big that the boatman was afraid to turn around. He went a long way before finding just the right swell to turn us. We whipped around, bounced high, and held on tight. It was a very wild ride, and the next day our bodies were sore but not bruised from all the holding and bouncing. It was great fun.




01_15_SeaDay (4) Our final day at sea was quiet and relaxing, with our usual schedule of eating, walking, playing cards, sunning, reading, and knitting. The morning walk was especially beautiful as we rose before sunrise to see the sun coming up in the eastern sky over the ocean. The rest of the day was sweet. The cruise was a long one, but every single day was a treat, and the extra sea days gave me the chance to really, fully, completely relax. What a great beginning to my life of retirement!
The rest of the photos of Cabo San Lucas are here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Acapulco, Mexico and then a day at sea January 13 and 14

01_13_Acapulco (3) We arrived early in the morning at the port of Acapulco to foggy, hazy, smoggy skies. Getting from the ship through the gauntlet of hawkers was a bit daunting. Unlike Huatulco, there were no rules about keeping away from the tourists, and we were bombarded with people trying to take us somewhere or sell us something. It was overwhelming. 01_13_Acapulco (9)We crossed the very busy main street to check out the Fort of San Diego, high above the bay. I was wishing that my iPhone could work in Mexico because it was hard to tell where the streets were leading.
We managed to follow the poorly drawn map through the main square, but the entertainment there was some kind of puppet show, and didn’t seem to have a Mexican theme at all. We checked out the Byzantine white church in the square.



01_13_Acapulco (17)We then wandered up the steep streets to the area where the cliff divers jump. It cost several dollars just to stand and watch them, and the show wasn’t going to happen for hours. We walked along the cliffs, found a place to sit and enjoy the view, and tried to cool down a bit. Acapulco was very hot and smoggy and didn’t feel that great. After a bit of thinking, we decided that seeing the cliff divers wasn’t really worth the long wait for a few seconds of diving and we wound our way back down to the beach.






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01_13_Acapulco (26) 01_13_Acapulco (23) It was lunch time and both of us thought that some good Mexican food would hit the spot. We walked and walked along that famous beach, and couldn’t find a single restaurant that was open. Finally, after some miles, we found a little open air place that was a fish restaurant, and instead of chips and salsa they gave us bread and salsa. geez. We did at least manage a good Pacifica beer. It was surprising that the beaches were empty and the restaurants closed. Not once while we were in any Mexican port did we hear the traditional mariachi bands that used to be everywhere in Mexico. I missed them a lot, remembering long days at Puerto Vallarta and the sound of the constant music.
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Hot and tired, we went back on board to nap, and managed to miss dinner again because we didn’t wake up in time. I found myself feeling grateful for one last lovely day at sea before our cruise was over. Later in the evening, as we reviewed our photos, we were amazed at how lovely Acapulco looked. The smog wasn’t evident, the sands looked lovely. It was a good lesson in tourism; photos can be very misleading!

Saturday morning we woke to our usual gentle rocking sea, and planned another round of our normal sea day routines. Breakfast, walking, checking email, back to the pool deck for hot tub and swimming, then a good read. One of the nice things about gentle sea day cruising is the opportunity to converse with new people.  While in the hot tub we met a very interesting woman from the Peace River Country in the Northwest Territories of Canada.  She was a wheat farmer, an artist, and a teacher, and told us some delightful stories about her life, her husband, and her farm.  The Peace River Country has always been a place I would like to see, so I especially enjoyed meeting her.

01_14_Formal (4)During the late morning we went up to the 11th deck to tan in the cooler breezes. Lunch at the Seaside cafe was a surprise with a great Mexican buffet, best Mexican food we found on the trip. Spent our afternoon in the Martini Bar playing cards and Mo won again! Back to our room for showers before our last formal night, and we had a ton of fun and laughed ourselves silly taking photos in the mirror of our “dress-up” selves.
More photos of our day in Acapulco are here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Sea Day and Huatulco, Mexico January 11 and 12

01_11_SeaDay (3) This morning we awakened at 2 am with very high seas. Even though I haven’t been sick at all on this trip, I thought maybe I should be prepared and put on half a prevention patch. I probably could have done without it, though, and by 7:30 I took it off. They just make me feel too strange. The waves were so high that they sloshed all the water out of the swimming pool! We went to the library and I picked up a couple of books, then decided to do our sunning in the morning before lunch so it wouldn’t be so blazingly hot. We tried lunch in the San Marcos restaurant for a change, but were seated at a huge table for 10 and it was so weird that we got up and left and went instead to our usual salad buffet at the Seaside.


Another day of walking, checking email in the computer lab, playing cards in the Champagne Bar, and knitting. Lovely. After another evening walk we listened to some nice music as the sun set. We previously purchased an excursion for Huatulco that included another crocodile river trip, but decided to trade it for a snorkeling excursion. Neither of us particularly wanted to see more crocodiles, and we knew that good snorkeling might not be easy to find on our own. At first the excursion personnel said we would have to take our chances, but within an hour they sold our old tickets and sent new tickets to our cabin. Excellent service. After dinner we went to the casino, and decided to skip the theater show in favor of an early evening.  Our stop in Huatulco was to be a short one, with the ship landing at noon and our snorkel excursion at 1 pm. We skipped breakfast because there was another big brunch planned for the day from 10 to 2. This time we knew what to expect, and how to decide what to eat and where to find it in the midst of all the extravagant offerings.


01_12_Huatulco (37)The city of Huatulco is a perfect little port, perfect little town, perfect weather. It is situated near the older town of Santa Cruz on one of nine beach-ringed bays along 20 miles of pristine coastline. It is part of the Mexican government’s first eco-tourism resort, with an ecologically sensitive plan including strict building codes. Seventy percent of the area is held in ecological reserves to preserve the natural habitat. There was no sewage visible, no pollution going into the bay, and all the drinking water is distilled from sea water. Huatulco was the first port we visited that required a tender to go ashore, but the ride was short and interesting as we traveled into the coves and harbors of the main port. Everything seemed clean and fresh, including the air, with crystal blue skies. Mo and I both said we would enjoy spending some more extended time in the future.

01_12_Huatulco (47) Our tour was via an open air bus/van and instead of just snorkeling, the guide took us to the lighthouse so that we could have a view of the Sierra Madre mountains in the east and the ocean. It was lovely, warm and windy. We then traveled to a small bay with an open air restaurant where we snorkeled with the guide. We saw some queen angel fish, Achilles tangs, blue damsels, and parrot fish, but again the fish weren’t anything as wonderful as what we saw in Kauai last year. The guide led the group into an underwater cave but I had no desire to do that so I just swam back on my own. It was nice to swim without a life vest or fins, and I really enjoyed the snorkeling and the clear water.
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After a beer at the beachside restaurant, we went shopping for some nice cotton dresses, and then headed back to the ship. We missed our formal dinner seating and instead had a great burger and fries at the poolside deck. Since a big tropical pool party was planned for 11 pm, we went back to our room for a nap. Our trusty alarm woke us in time to head up to the top deck for the party. The deck was decorated with trees, flowers, palm leaves, and a fabulous fruit buffet.
We had a great time at the party, enjoying the good music
and fresh fruit. I even joined in the obligatory Conga line, and had a great time dancing. The photo is blurry, I know, but I was dancing so fast, as the old saying goes, "As if No One Was Watching". We didn’t get to sleep until after 2 AM.


More photos of Huatulco are here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Another Sea Day and Costa Rica January 9 and 10

01_09_2 (2) We wakened at 7am to the clear fresh skies of the Pacific Ocean and another peaceful day at sea.  Up to the track to walk our morning mile, then down to the rear deck of the seaside cafe for an excellent breakfast.  Spent some time in the computer lab checking email, went to the theater for an interesting talk on the plants and animals of the rain forest, and spent the afternoon sunning and swimming.  Typical for a day at sea, and I barely remember the details.  The day just completely fell into the rhythm of eating, walking, reading, knitting, and just sitting in the sun.

01_10_Costa_rica (3) After a peaceful night at sea, Sunday morning dawned, our day in Costa Rica!  I looked forward so much to this part of the trip.  Mo has been to Costa Rica before, but for me this was just a little taste of a country I hope to visit more in depth.  We were in port by 7am, with the mountains misty and beautiful all around the bay.  We landed at Puntarenas, a small beach town/fishing village on a peninsula on the western coast.  The outing we chose stayed on the drier side of Costa Rica, in order to experience the more rural countryside instead of the hugely popular zip line/canopy tours in the rainforest. Costa Rica is a small country, just about the size of West Virginia but it has three mountain ranges and such an abundance of flora and fauna that almost one quarter of its total land is held as national parks or private reserves. Most Costa Ricans reside in the fertile agricultural plateau in the heart of the country, many near the capital city of San Jose.  We traveled in the western part of the country, the dry side (with only 120 inches of rainfall).

01_10_Costa_rica (11) The day was lovely, with a long bumpy bus ride through small towns and 01_10_Costa_rica (42)villages, on rough dirt roads.  We stopped at a small store and restaurant along the way for coffee and a visit with the wild macaws that live in the trees.  Only partially wild, since they were happy to be hand fed by the tourists while we took their picture. Since it was Sunday, there were people around, hanging out on porches, sweeping floors, leaning on brooms and shovels, and watching us watch them. 

01_10_Costa_rica (79) When we arrived at the Tempisque River, we boarded a long narrow wooden boat with our fellow tourists and the guide to see crocodiles and look for bird life.  It was a bit scary, since the wind was high and the river was wild and muddy.  The boat seemed entirely too small for the rough waves, especially with large crocodiles in the river!  When something appeared on shore, silly tourists were all rushing to one side of the boat or the other, tipping it precariously in the wind and waves.  I wasn’t at all sure that this boat was made for the number of people on it, especially dumb people, and especially in the wild winds! 

01_10_Costa_rica (85) We enjoyed the ride in spite of the scares, hearing howler monkeys, gorgeous birds, a brilliant roseate  spoonbill, huge iguanas, and a very big crocodile.  After we landed on shore, we were herded into brightly painted oxcarts and hauled across the open countryside to an animal reserve. The cattle in Costa Rica, in this part at least, are all brahmas, beautiful soft faced cows and bulls, with muted colors.  I think they were the prettiest cows I have ever seen.  At the reserve, we saw many rescued animals, ocelots, monkeys, toucans, tapirs, peccaries, and some very huge crocodiles.  Our lunch was typical Costa Rican food, beans and rice and wild tasting but good chicken. 

01_10b_Costa_rica (49)On the  way back to the ship, we had hoped to shop for some Costa Rican coffee, but since it was Sunday, all the shops were closed.  We arrived in Puntarenas at sunset for boarding our ship and sailing out of the harbor.  Beautiful.  I would truly love to spend some more time in this country.  The day trips from a cruise ship are such a tiny taste of what is part of a magical, tropical country.

The rest of the photos of our day in Costa Rica are here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Transiting the Panama Canal January 8

01_08_Panama (4)Waking up on Friday morning in the dark was exciting. We were entering the Panama Canal zone and beginning the transit that was the focus of our entire cruise. We could see the pilot boat coming alongside to escort us into the locks. (Thanks to several pre-transit lectures, we knew that it was a “pilot boat”.) The lights of Colon sparkled in the misty air as we dressed and headed up to the top decks to watch our entry. The weather was warm, cloudy, and humid, with a stiff warm breeze blowing from the east. We watched the sun come up through the palms of the tropical forest, shimmering on all the lush tropical leaves.

The Panama Canal is truly one of the world’s great wonders. As an engineering achievement, it has few parallels. In its strategic location between two oceans, straddling two continents, it has changed forever the way the world manages trade. Most of us learned a bit about the canal during the mandatory 8th grade exposure to US History, and I even made a model of the locks for a science project. The learning faded considerably in the past half century, and I spent a few months reading about Teddy Roosevelt’s commitment to finishing what the French started. As a result of my research, I also read more about Teddy Roosevelt, and developed a real appreciation for his character, and his place in American History.

01_08_Panama (7) The transit is fascinating and exciting, even for experienced cruisers. As we approached the canal in the morning light, the huge scale of the project is apparent. The man-made miracle of lifting a ship 87 feet into a tropical rain forest lake, and setting it gently back down in a new ocean is amazing. The beauty of the locks is in the simplicity of how they work. Water, provided by the abundant rainfall of Panama, and gravity, and of course, the engineers who figured this all out. The canal first opened in 1914 after many years of frustrating work, first attempted by the French beginning in 1880 and completed by the US. Many workers died from cholera, dysentery, malaria, and yellow fever. The loss of life was huge, with more than 20,000 people dying in just 10 years. During the transit we had the opportunity to learn the details of how the locks operate and some of the engineering difficulties that were overcome as the canal was built.

Approaching from the Caribbean side, Mo and I stayed on deck until we passed through all three of the 01_08_Panama (9)Gatun locks. We watched as the “mules” (huge engines that keep the ships between the walls of the locks) were attached by ropes to the ship. Another large cruise ship was going into the left side of the locks just before our ship, and we could watch as the locks were opened, closed, filled, and emptied, and watch the huge ship rising gently to the next level. After our third lock, we entered man-made Gatun Lake, at an elevation of 87 feet above sea level. Creating this lake was the only option for building the canal, because moving the massive volume of earth required to reach sea level was impossible. The water of the lake was brown and murky, and the islands left from what were once mountaintops are covered with thick vegetation and filled with birds. We watched for crocodiles, but didn’t see any. Finally, succumbing to the heat and humidity, we escaped to the air conditioned Edge of the World Bar to watch the rest of the crossing. We ate lunch inside and played cards in the Rendezvous. It was incredibly steamy outside, and we were grateful for someplace cool to hang out for the latter part of the day.

01_08_Panama (50) A high point of the transit is the nine mile section called the Culebra Cut. This area presented the main engineering challenge throughout the entire 40 years of construction. The Cut crosses the continental divide, and even though the elevation is only some 400 feet or so, landslides were and still are a constant problem. On one occasion in 1907, 500,000 cubic yards of soil slipped back into the canal, burying miles of track and equipment.

As we approached the final Milleflores locks that would set us back down to sea level in the Pacific, we again went outside and down to the front of the ship on Deck 5. The ships officers opened the heliport that is usually closed to passengers while we transited so people could see the locks up close. After eight fascinating hours we emerged from the canal, cruised past Panama City, and entered the Pacific Ocean.

01_08_Panama (103)There are now over a million people in this city, and huge skyscrapers emerge from flat land fill man made peninsulas. From some viewpoints, it looked as though they were emerging directly from the sea. Watching Panama City emerge from the ocean like a mirage was fascinating. As it receded into the distance and the air began to cool, we found deck chairs on the shady side of the ship and spent some perfect snooze time watching the skies and seas.

The Atlantic/Caribbean side of Panama seems much prettier than the Pacific side, but the Pacific ocean feels so incredibly familiar. The water isn’t as blue, but the air smells more fresh, like the ocean I am used to. Later, after dinner, we made it to see Perry Grant in Michael’s lounge. The show was usually so full we couldn’t even get into the lounge, and after seeing him it was obvious why he was so popular. He sang and played very old fashioned music and joked around a lot and was very very funny, very gay, and very out about it. We went to bed early , completely worn out after a long hot day, happy to be gently rocked to sleep in our cabin.

The rest of the photos are here.

Another Lovely Sea Day before our Panama Canal Transit January 7

01_07_at_sea Sea days are one of the great pleasures of this longer cruise. I love them. Time for deck walking, watching the sea, sunning on the upper decks, true relaxation.

On this day, the Constellation held the signature cruise midnight buffet at brunch! What a stellar idea! Who wants to eat all that food at midnight anyway. As we entered the dining room the array of food before us was mind boggling. There were the obligatory ice sculptures, many of them, and rows and rows of gorgeous food, fruits, carved watermelons, anything you could imagine to eat was available.

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The sushi was fresh and beautiful, and I saw people with huge plates of fresh prawns, fresh salmon,Bavarian waffles freshly made, and an omelet bar. I 01_07_at_sea (13)don’t think we even made it to the dessert table for this buffet with all the other amazing food to eat, but the chocolate waterfall looked impressive.

After eating our fill, we spent the afternoon sunning and swimming, and Mo managed to get a sunburn by falling asleep on her stomach in one of those great deck chairs.

With all that great food for brunch, we decided to skip the formal dinner in the dining room and went instead to the Seaside for pizza and salad. That evening Diane Cousins from01_07_at_sea (6) Wales finally made it and while she was OK, it certainly wasn’t deserving of all the prior buildup. After the theater show we visited the talent show in the Edge of the Earth disco bar, but it was a bit boring. There are not enough people with talent on this ship, or maybe it is an older crowd and no one wanted to stay up until the 10:45 starting time. Everything is scheduled so late at night that it’s hard to stay interested while waiting around for things to happen. After a little bit of entertainment, and a few laughs, we ambled off to bed to get a good night’s sleep.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Another Day at Sea, and Visiting Cartagena, Colombia January 6 and 7

01_04_at_sea (2)On Tuesday morning I woke to the gentle movement of the ship and a lovely sunrise outside my window. I so love the gentle rocking, the ocean sliding by, the low hum of the ship’s engine in the background. Somehow the combination of movement and sound and vision is completely relaxing. On this morning, we tried the healthy breakfast at the spa, with oatmeal, fruit, flaxseed, organic mango rolls and jam, yogurt, melon, and green tea. Perfect. We sat out on the promenade deck for some breezy knitting and conversation with an interesting lady who was also knitting, and claimed to be self taught. Without a book, even. Amazing, I haven’t a clue how someone could do that.

01_07_at_sea (16)At 11 we took in a lecture in the theater about the Panama Canal. The lecturer was born in the “zone” and was so interesting and informative. We again enjoyed a perfect lunch at the Seaside, with luscious Caesar salads, fresh fruit and vegetables, and great desserts. Back to the cabin for a mid day nap, more ocean sliding by. Went up to the pool deck in the afternoon for a swim. The seas were rough with 9 to 12 foot waves so the pool was sloshing around like crazy. It was great fun swimming against the waves and getting thrown around in the pool and swimming against the current, great exercise. Afterward I went for a dip in the hot tub to relax a bit before afternoon cappuccino in the Kove Patisserie. We spent the rest of the afternoon in a deck chair relaxing in the warm sun and reading. Dinner was casual, but again delicious, and we topped off the evening with some gambling in the casino after the show. The days slide so gently by, just like the water sliding by our window on the port side of the ship. We love our walks around the upper deck, 5 laps per mile, and we promised ourselves at least a mile after breakfast, and a mile before any other meal!

01_06_Cartagena (4)A relaxing day at sea was perfect preparation for our long day planned in Cartagena. We set the alarm for 6 AM in order to watch the ship sailing into the harbor. At the harbor entry, old Spanish forts guard the way, with local fishermen in small colorful boats forming a great contrast in the misty early morning light. However, as we approached the city itself, the crumbling decay of some of the skyscrapers was obvious. The new city is built on a peninsula, at sea level, and the Old City can be seen through the skyscrapers as the ship approaches. We heard that many of the floors in the buildings are empty, and are used simply for money laundering schemes. 01_06_Cartagena (11)

Cartagena de Indies was, for two centuries, one of Spain’s most prized New World ports. It is now a United Nations World Heritage Site, and within the old walled city are many examples of Colonial architecture, shady plazas, and narrow cobblestone streets. The forts and stone walls were built over time to defend the port against pirates and enemy fleets. The city’s history is a bloody one, with sieges and sackings that go back to it’s fall to Sir Francis Drake. Today Cartagena has a population of more than a million people and is actually considered a island of peace in an otherwise troubled country. We were really looking forward to visiting this interesting city in a country where we have never traveled.

01_06_Cartagena (23)We planned an early excursion, “The Best of Cartagena”, and boarded a bus for “Old Town”. The bus stopped at the magnificent old fort of San Felipe de Barajas, but actually entering the fort wasn’t included the tour, something in the fine print that we neglected to read about this particular excursion. In fact, at first the tour guides only planned to let us see it through the windows of the bus, but relented and did allow us to walk around a little bit. Men and women were trying to sell leather goods, and jewelry, and were fairly aggressive as they approached. I just kept saying, “No”, since any kind of comment would engender more hawking. Even “No” didn’t usually work, and we had to learn to completely ignore these people and make no eye contact. It’s the price of being a tourist in a tourist place, I suppose.

01_06_Cartagena (74)Wandering along the old streets was fascinating. Since the early days of the city, people have immigrated from the Caribbean, and many of these people keep their culture alive and have a 01_06_Cartagena (53)strong ethnic pride in their background. Women whose heritage is originally from the West Indies, called the “banana ladies” are amazing, balancing huge fragrant baskets of fresh fruit atop their heads while they dance and smile and seduce you into paying a dollar to take their photo.

Our next tour stop was the Church of San Pedro Claver, named for a Jesuit monk who was canonized 200 years after his death for his life’s work defending African slaves in Colombia. The religious art at the church was fascinating and the tropical gardens were lush and beautiful. The Colonial architecture of old town was dramatic, with the dark rich ochre yellow color and rusty orange popular colors. The Inquisition endured for 200 years in Cartagena and we explored the Inquisition Palace and saw the window where parishioners could place anonymous letters condemning anyone they wanted to accuse of heresy. I chose to avoid the torture museum, but enjoyed the beautiful architecture and gardens. There were sloths in the trees that were almost impossible to see with their protective coloring and stillness.

01_06_Cartagena (87) We later traveled by bus along the Boca Grande beaches to Pierino Gallo Shopping Center. The beaches were busy, but not particularly beautiful, with murky water, brownish sands, and cheap shelters that could be rented for a fee. The mall wasn’t particularly interesting, certainly not upscale, and the tour guides insisted we should stay with them as they paraded us through the jewelry stores hawking the famous Colombian emeralds. Mo and I went the opposite direction, found another street and did a bit of shopping on our own. Our choices included a five dollar watch, a small stone box, dollar bracelets, and a ten dollar bag, items closer more within our spending budget than emeralds! Even at the numerous shops at the Dungeons, I failed to find much of interest that gave some kind of sense of the culture of Colombia. There was no music, no local ethnic food, nothing but cheap tourist items that were the same in every little store. Examples of the famous embroidery and artwork of Colombia were few and far between.

For more photos of Cartagena, go to my Picasa site here.

We returned to the ship in the mid afternoon for a late lunch, unimpressed with Colombia and glad to be back on board. The port was hot and noisy and even on deck at the pool I was definitely ready to get back to sea. Late in the afternoon we found a ping pong table and had a great time laughing ourselves silly. Mo was beating me badly most of the time, and once she said, “You need to move around more, you look like you are standing in concrete”. Who knows why that was so hysterically funny but we just about split our sides laughing.

We decided we were too tired for any kind of fancy dinner and opted instead for a hamburger on the pool deck, a simple perfect end to a long day.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Off to Miami for our cruise January 3 and 4

Since I currently live in California, Mo and I planned our flights from San Francisco, flying to Miami to embark, returning to San Diego for our final port, then flying back to San Francisco. The South San Francisco Travelodge has a park, stay, and fly package that is a great deal for these kinds of trips. With a stay on either end of the trip included, and parking for the entire time we are away, the cost is much less than even the economy lots at the airport. The shuttle is free both ways as well. Our room was warm, roomy and comfortable. Especially with the cold, wet fog of San Francisco, we were happy to be cozied up in a decent place. Arriving in South San Francisco early in the day gave us some time to do some shopping, enjoying lunch and wine at the Maceroni Grill. Later in the evening we drove down to the wharf and had a great dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. I had to try the key lime pie, in preparation for our upcoming trip to the Florida Keys in March.


Our flight was scheduled for 11 pm so we went to the airport to wait. The red-eye flight was uneventful on American Airlines, and we had great seats again, on the 2 seats per row side of the airplane. I slept well and the flight went quickly. Morning in Miami was cool and sunny, and getting to the pier was uneventful, but the boarding of the Celebrity Constellation was really slow. With all the extra security due to the Christmas Day bomber, it took much longer to clear the incoming ship for immigration. The lines were long and the wait was more than a couple of hours. Very tiresome. We hoped this wasn’t setting the bar for the rest of our first Celebrity cruise!

Finally on board, we settled into our cabin. It was very roomy and comfortable, with a large bathroom and shower, the biggest yet in our experience. We decided to explore the ship and with only 11 decks, it seemed very small. For a moment, we wondered how it might be to have to spend 14 days on this smaller ship. This was my first cruise longer than 7 days, although Mo managed a 21 day cruise to China several years ago.






Our first evening in the dining room wasn’t especially memorable. Although we requested a private table for two, we were seated with two other people, an obnoxious woman and her husband who never stopped talking and carrying on a very negative conversation throughout the entire meal. However, after dinner we enjoyed the entertainment at the very lovely Celebrity Theater We explored the ship some more after the show and began to adjust to the size. It certainly didn’t take long to find our way around.


On Monday morning we arranged for a room service breakfast, served right on time, but decided we didn’t need to try that again. The food was very boring, with tasteless bacon and sausage and dry toast. Ugh. Since it was a sea day and we were exhausted from our previous travels, we snuggled back under the covers and slept in until 10 AM. The skies were cloudy and gray and I just watched the sea slide by my window for a long time. Amazingly, I wasn’t the least bit seasick and found myself really enjoying the gentle movement of the ship. When we got up we checked out the shops and computer lab. Sadly, my ACER Netbook refused to boot up, so all my plans for photo management and blog writing during the cruise were nipped in the bud.



Later we enjoyed a truly delightful lunch at the Seaside Buffet, eating by the main pool area. After checking out the spa on the 11th deck, we settled in to play cards in the game room, had a snack at the Kove Patisserie, played some bingo in the afternoon, went to the Casino, had a drink in the Rendezvous Bar, and again explored the top decks of the ship. Sounds like a typical cruise trip, doesn’t it!

The evening was formal, and again dinner was impressive. We insisted on our requested table for two, and after some confusion we settled in to a table in a narrow part of the dining room near the galley. Although not a perfect location, we never again had our dinner spoiled by irritating table mates. I especially enjoyed the many courses offered at dinner, with an amazing beef capriccio appetizer, cold fruit soup, spinach salad, sea bass, and cherries jubilee. Off to the theater for another Broadway type production with great music to end our first full sea day.