First of all, let me assure you that this is the bare bones version with minimal photos. It has taken me this long to get the laundry done, reassure Smokey that everything is going to be back to normal soon, start readjusting to Central Daylight Time, sort of organize the 900+ pictures, replenish the grocery supply, update and balance the bank statements, and think about doing some basic housekeeping.
There are so many images, so many little stories, so much to tell.
All of our airplane travel was amazingly smooth. There was not a single flight delayed, not a single bag lost, not a single connection that was not easily made. Considering that we used three different airlines I find this remarkable. We never had trouble in security, although my carry on bag did get searched by hand in Lisbon when we were coming home. This did not surprise me one little bit, considering the large quantity of miscellaneous crap it contained: including rocks from three countries, our European cell phone with all its accomanying apparatus, my camera, my T-mobile cell phone and its charger, my Tarot card deck, my jewelry in three different cases, blah blah blah.
Interestingly enough, the ONE thing in all that mess that caused the x-ray technician the most heartburn was our folding portable cribbage board, which is made of wood and has a metal slide covering the spot where you store the pegs, also metal. Apparently this looks a lot like a block of plastic explosive with a detonator. The guy searching my bags was amused by my rocks, fascinated by the Tarot cards and portable altar equipment, and scurried off with the cribbage board open to enlighten the poor security personnel who was having conniptions over its presence amongst all my gear.
But that was at the end of the trip.
We began by being transported to Ft. Lauderdale via air, spent the night in a hotel, ate amazing Italian food at Sal’s Restaurant, and proceeded to board the Seabourn Pride right on schedule the following morning. We knew things were going to be a lot different on this cruise line from any other cruise we had ever been on when we were whisked straight off the dock into the show lounge aboard ship to await processing onto the ship. No cattle car scene in the cruise terminal, no screaming children, no confusion. Just competence, cordial welcomes, quiet elegance, champagne (or whatever libation you desired) and elegantly presented gourmet snacks and cookies.
I finally had enough courage to step on my scales this morning, and was delighted to find that I have only gained 5 pounds over the course of this vacation. Considering the amazing tapas in Seville, the wonderful cheese that is available all over Spain and Portugal, and the haute cuisine available aboard ship, not to mention the large quantities of alcohol (which unfortunately is not devoid of caloric content) available there as well, I was absolutely astonished that all I gained was five pounds. The reason for my astonishment can be found below.
Towards the end of the cruise, we were treated to a buffet that was set up in the ship’s galley. This gave the galley crew an opportunity to put on a tour de force de cuisine that was astonishing in the extreme, while the guests aboard had an opportunity to wander through the place where all the amazing food we had been plied with was coming from. A small sample of this buffet:
This picture was taken far enough into the galley that I had passed the caviar/frozen Absolut vodka station. If you walked along and turned the corner, you were presented with this table containing a selection of cheeses.
I was able to restrain myself from absconding with the wheel of Gouda and contented myself with a few slices from the board offering. Directly opposite this was a display of breads and rolls, including sculptures. You had to negotiate the sushi selection, the table full of dried and prcessed meats and sausages, avoid the pasta station where they were creating fresh pasta to order, and the spot where all the delectable fried foods including soft shell crab, chicken and the most amazing french fries you have ever met in order to get to the dining room, where the dessert table was located.
The swan was made of solid white chocolate. This picture does not include the amazing baked alaska sculpture, or the tower of tiny cream puffs, or the … oh I forget.
The beginning of our cruise was marked by extremely rough seas. Apparently there was a storm off to the northeast of us that included heavy seas and hurricane force winds. The first week of the cruise was spent bearing south of the original planned course in an attempt to avoid this monster. We were rocking, rolling, pitching and yawing in a most amusement park fashion. Since Jim and I both have great sea legs (and stomachs) we were loving the motion. However, well over half the passengers were not, and the Captain’s Gala Welcome-aboard Reception gave the impression that there were really not a whole lot of passengers aboard. I was able to rocket myself into completely unique status upon meeting our charming and handsome Captain by telling him how much I was enjoying the exciting motion on the ocean. He looked at me in complete amazement and said (in an inimitable Norwegian accent), “I don’t believe I have ever had a passenger say that before.” What’s the point of being at sea if you can’t tell you are there?
I know, I know. I am a sick person. Just not a sea-sick one.
The seas never really calmed down on the whole crossing. It made dancing quite an adventure, I can tell you. The pool and jacuzzis stayed drained almost the entire time. The ship was rocking too much, it would have been incredibly dangerous to try to swim in the pool, which was resembling a wave tank more than a swimming pool. The water in the jacuzzis was spilling out across the deck more than staying in them, so they just finally drained them for the duration.
After 10 days, we docked in Funchal on the island of Madeira. We were enthralled by a city of over 100,000 people that had agriculture going on right in the middle of it along with all the other commerce and expected urban activities. We visited the local Botanical Garden, took the cable car across a canyon and descended through the city in a wicker sled/toboggan. They we took tea at the Reids Hotel, a pretty swanky joint. I will be posting about this later. For now, a view of Funchal taken past the roof and chimney of a house located at the end of the toboggan run.
We landed in Lisbon a couple of days later, collected our rental car and drove to Seville, Spain, where azahar and Nog met us to show us the way to our apartment. Thank Goodness they were there! I am not sure we would have ever found the place without them to show us the way, or to tell us how to get into Seville and find the nearest parking garage for our car. I can’t stress enough how wonderfully helpful azahar was during our stay, and if you haven’t visited her tapas blog and are going to Seville, you have made an error in judgment that you must correct immediately. I can testify from personal experience that the photos and descriptions and judgments she has made about those places and the food they serve are accurate. Make sure you take clothes that will adjust to your expanding girth if you go to Seville. The food is amazing.
Right away after we had deposited our bags in our apartment, we went off to sample some of that food. Then we were taken to the Cathedral square to view the edifice as the sun was going down and its illumination by electric lights began.
Seville is a beautiful city, and I will leave you with that single image as a teaser for the future post(s) about it. We made a couple of side trips while we were in Spain, down to Donana National Park to watch birds and out towards one of the White Cities, Ronda. That too will get a post, but here’s a little taste of the town:
We sadly left Spain and drove back to Lisbon by way of Cabo de Sao Vicente, the most southwest point of Portugal. It has several very old fortresses, some of them dating back to Roman times, and lush wild flowers growing out on the cape. This trip will also get its own post, but I just have to post these pictures of the fields of wild flowers that were growing amidst the cork orchards.
Then it was on to Lisbon, where we did many of the usual touristy things. We walked up to the Castle, down to the Monument to the Discovers, the Tower of Belem, and visited the Mariner’s Museum. We drank port in the Society for the Promotion of Port’s wonderful bar, ate fish every day. Here is the teaser photo, a view of the Alfama quarter of Lisbon:
The only glitch in our trip came when we arrived in Miami and took a taxi up to our hotel in Fort Lauderdale. I was so jet lagged I tipped the cab driver 25 dollars instead of the 10 I intended to. No wonder he was so happy. I didn’t figure it out until the middle of the night when I woke up to go to the bathroom.
Oh, and when we called our friends who were going to pick us up in St. Louis they informed us that our air carrier had gone bankrupt while we were in Europe. Thank heavens they were wrong about that! Their confusion is understandable, the carrier who went bankrupt was ATA and we were flying on AirTrans Airlines. Not the same airline, and it only took us a frantic ten minutes to confirm that we had an airline and its flights were flying on time.
And they were too. And so home, driving past swollen rivers and sodden fields, thanking our good sense in not living on a flood plain.
Tomorrow I have to start giving massages again. I guess vacation is over.