A Travellerspoint blog

Dec 13 - 22 Transatlantic Passage

Bucket List Item - Check! I didn't mind spending 9 days at sea, looking out at and endless horizion for days on end, (usually) with a gentle rocking of the boat, not to do (which could be a good thing)...

Our cruise ship was 1,068 feet long and 145,655 gross tons, so was certainly large enough to cross the Atlantic in the winter (presumably also seaworthy). However there was a storm in the North Atlantic and the Captain didn't want to mess with the reported 27' waves, so he took a more southerly route and skipped the planned stop in the Azores. I had been really looking forward to visiting the Azores, but agree that we needed to skip the rough seas. There were portions of the trip where the waves were reported to be 11'. It was hard to tell since in the open ocean you mostly sea swells as opposed to waves, but 11' didn't seem too bad (might have been for a small boat however).

Our cabin was #9186, on the port side just above a covering over the outside seating.


We did enjoy a few afternoons out on the balcony. Vivian had ordered chocolates before the trip, which didn't last long. I also ordered a cheese trays and also a fruit tray at different points, which made our balcony time very pleasant, and finally Vivian hit up the bake shop for Macaroons and chocolates (I also visited it, but decided it was too expensive for my taste), but she indulged & shared.


Not sure it' s worth posting, but here is a pic of my cabin:


Notice I said "my" cabin vs "ours"? We we all three stayed in here the first night, but Que and Vivian had a lot of problems moving around in it, as they have a lot of problems moving anyway (especially Que), so Vivian was able to request a switch to an ADA cabin once we'd started out to sea. Fortunately they left me in the original cabin, so we all had a lot more space than is usual on a cruise ship - and they could still come down and visit the balcony from time to time (the ADA cabins are in the center of the ship without access to balcony's).

Anyway, once we left Lisbon, I took a more thorough walk about the ship just for fun. This was a December cruise, so we didn't avail ourselves of the water activites very much (a couple of times in the hot tubs), but this ship has plenty, including water slides.


Oops! I took a picture of the swimming pools and hot tubs, but forgot to upload it so will have to include it later.

One area we had to visit periodically was the Guest Services desk in the Atrium area. That's where you try to resolve problems with your account, room, etc. The lines could sometimes be bad, but the 'lobby' certainly looks impressive.


One of the things I noticed when I first boarded the ship is that the kitchen staff had constructed several Gingerbread Villages throughout the boat, keeping with the holiday spirit.


One of these was in a central section with a spiral staircase and chandelier. One of the staff was kind enough to snap a pic for me.


During our free time (a lot on a 9 day sea passage), we took advantage of some of the free shows on the ship, most were so so but Elaine Gray (Soprano) was vary good.

We also signed up for a couple of painting classes, similar to the Bob Ross one's we taken back home, but these were by "Canvas by U" and are in Acrylic. They also only last about 90 minutes, but are still fun.


And of course, what is a cruise without the food! This ship had three main dining rooms (one large, two smaller). When we first started out, we got a nice pic of the three of us during our first meal onboard.


We also tried several other dining area's, some that charge, some free. One had so-so Italian food (for a charge) but also had an outdoor dining area. As the weather got warmer near Miami, we ate outside at La Cucina one night - just divine atmosphere.


They also had Le Bistro, a french restaraunt (for a fee). For some reason we hadn't bothered with it until just before we got to Miami. Big mistake, it was fantastic. Vivian had the lobster, I had duck (for the first time). I forgot what Que ordered, but I'm sure it was good. And when they brought out our main dishes, three waiters came out with the plates under covers, put them on the table, and removed the covers at the same time. The only thing missing was the drum roll! Of course I didn't get pictures in Le Bistro, but I did take a picture of their wine cabinet?


And of course, spending so much time out at sea offered plenty of opportunities for sunsets. What better way to finish off a travel blog then with a sunset or two?


Posted by jl98584 18:04 Comments (0)

Dec 12, 2021 - Lisbon Portugal

I took a Panoramic Tour of Lisbon with Que and Vivian, after which I went shopping and relaxed at a cafe', before reboarding the ship enjoying a pleasant sunset on the deck of our stateroom.

sunny 64 °F

Our port of call today was Lisbon, Portugal, a new country for us. Also because of a storm in the Atlantic, the cruise skipped the Azores so this is our last port of call before returning to Miami.

As the ship neared the port, we had a nice view of Lisbon. However a word of caution, the body of water here is not the Atlantic Ocean, but the very wide mouth of the Tagus River! In fact, it's about 10 miles across at this point.


Que, Vivian and I all signed up for the same tour (we did try to take a few together), the "Panoramic Bus Tour" of the city. This was only a two hour tour, so ours was one of the last buses to leave the terminal. Oddly enough, one of the first buildings we saw after leaving the port was covered in grafiti. In fact it was fairly common in Lisbon, some better than others.


We were soon on our way though as the bus drove along the waterfront and the lower part of the city for a bit while the tour guide pointed out things and told us a little bit about the history of Portugal. He told us about the 1755 earthquake which could have been as high as 9 on the Richter Scale, one of the largest in history. Lisbon was devastated. Afterwards, the city was rebuilt and all the structures were the same height (to limit damage if another quake were to hit) and of similar design, which you can kind of see in this shot, although I think these are newer buildings - they all seem to be limited to the same height.


Many buildings have ceramic tile facings, a practice at least partially influenced by the moors but then adopted and expanded by the Portuguese.


I also especially liked the ironwork on some of the balconies.


The first stop on our tour was at the Belem Tower. This was built between 1514 and 1521 on an island in the Tagus River. It is now on the waterfront of the mainland. The earthquake actually moved the river bed and then over time and filled in land in between the island and the previous shoreline, a distance of about 250 meters. There is now a nice park between the road and the waterfront. One of the vendors was selling roasted chestnuts, which I indulged in.


A short walk south of the Tower is a more recent monument to aviation, which isn't mentioned in my tourist guide for some reason.


Just offshore from the Belem tower appeared to be a small sailboat race going on, which looked like fun.


A bit further downstream from the Belem Tower is a more modern sculpture, the Monument to the Discoveries. It represents a stylized caravel entering the Tagus River with Henry the Navigator at the prow commanding 32 illustrious navigators, poets, warrers, etc. It was built for the 1940 Exhibition of the Portuguese World.


Around the Monument was a square sporting the traditional Portuguese wavy pavement.


I also liked this particular vendors stand, I just thought it was cute.


There are three main squares in Lisbon, the Commerce, Municipal, and Rossio Squares. I’m not sure about the Municipal but I think we drove by all three. There was a Christmas market set up in Rossio Square but unfortunately I didn’t take the time to go back to it (which would have required a Taxi at least). The Portuguese are as fond of statues as the rest of the ports we visited, this on of King Dom Jose' I being in the Commerce Square (Terreiro do Paco).


Our tour also included a drive through the higher (newer) area’s of Lisbon and pointed out some of the parks and richer homes and consulates. Unfortunately most of my 'shoot it quickly from a moving bus' photo's are not worth sharing here. I did get a shot of a very modern building just to contrast with all the old buildings I seem to photograph.


However as we reentered the lower town (older sector), I did get a good shot of one of the Yellow Trolleys, which are a beloved Lisbon tradition.


We ended at the Monastery of Jeronimos (Jerome?) which is considered a masterpiece of Portuguese Manueline Art. It was constructed between 1502 and 1601 in order to celebrate the Portuguese discoveries. Unfortunately, our tour only gave us 20 minutes to spend here and I needed to use the facilities, so I didn’t have time to make it all the way down to the main entrance, but a couple of photo’s give you a sense of the size of this building.

Side view

Front view

When the tour ended back at the cruise terminal, there was still almost three hours before the ship was scheduled to depart. I was in sort of a foul mood and was just going to go back on board, but as our tour guide was pointing out to a couple of other passengers, there were café’s and shops a very short walk from the terminal – I could see them clearly from where we got off the bus. I couldn’t resist it and decided to wander around a bit more on my own. A short block across the street from the terminal was the beginning of the old Jewish quarter. Like in Seville, the Jewish people were no longer a presence her, but the narrow, winding streets were still the norm here in addition to hills.


I thoroughly enjoyed more souvenir shopping before heading back towards the ship. As the streets opened up into a small clearing, there were several small café’s with people enjoying the day which had gotten warmer as it wore on. A busker was singing to a battery powered speaker with traditional Brazillian or Portuguese music, which provided a very pleasant atmosphere. So even though I wasn’t really hungry, I couldn’t pass up the chance to enjoy just a little more of the local ambiance, so ordered a small pizza, mineral water and sat back and enjoyed the scene.

I had plenty of time before the ship left, so walked casually back across the street, there was a very small harbor right next to our cruise ship with a couple of unusual looking sailboats, I'm guessing just for tourists.


There were also snazzy little tuktuk's all over the place you could use in place of a taxi. This one seemed to be enjoying the fairly mild winter sunshine.


I took a few more pictures and boarded the ship in great spirits.

The afternoon had really warmed up to the mid-60’s, so I invited Que and Vivian over to enjoy the balcony while waiting for the ship to depart. Several sailboats came by, sometimes back and forth and waving as if to wish us well on our journey.


A very long bridge, the 25 April Bridge, spans the river near downtown. This bridge is so high up that our gigantic ship could actually pass beneath it! Which it did as the sun was gently setting. We had a nice evening view of both the bridge and the giant statue of Christ on the opposite bank of the Tagus River.


Posted by jl98584 16:43 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Dec 4, 2021 - Colosseum & Forum

Toured the Colosseum and Forum today, including the Palentine Hill. Both area's very much in ruins and surprisingly busy and full of tourists considering it's December and travel is also still affected by Covid!

sunny 50 °F

Like yesterday, I had also signed up for a commercial tour of the Colosseum and Forum before leaving home. Today's tour was by a different company then I used yesterday and it didn't work quite as well, but I did get to see both the Colosseum and Forum.

First I almost missed my tour even though it didn't start until 10. We were all having some trouble sleeping, probably due to the long trip over, jet lag, or whatever. I hadn't set an alarm clock so didn't wake up until 8:30. But I got dressed quickly, skipped breakfast and dashed off to meet my tour outside of the Colosseum metro stop. This was only about a mile away so I decided to walk today. It's pretty easy shot down a major street and I enjoyed passing all the local shops and cafe's along the way. I had plenty of Trail Mix with me still, so it helped serve as both breakfast and lunch and was quite refreshing. There were quite a few others from the NCL cruise in the tour group, so we got a bit more acquainted. Some of the others in the group were going to the Vatican after the Colosseum and Forum - I heard from them later that they put in about 15 miles and were quite exhausted. I'm really glad I did these tours on separate days!

While waiting by the Metro station for the tour to start, I noticed some very green parrots in the trees. I saw some again later near the forum, so there probably native to this area, but I don't know


Unfortunately between the tour guide's very strong accent, fast speech, poor radio quality (or my old ears), I could only year about 10% of what she said. A good book or YouTube video's will help fill in the gaps. There were also a lot of informative signs however the tour moved too fast to read signs. I was able to stay in the forum after the formal tour ended and read/photograph a number of signs there.

What is there to say about the Colosseum? Even though it's a shadow of it's former self, it's also easy to imagine how impressive it was during it's heyday. Even by today's standards, it's big. Nowdays most modern stadiums can easily fit 50,000 people - but this was built 2,000 years ago! And of course it was built without the benefit of modern cranes, tractors, power tools, etc., just manual labor.


Here are a couple of shots of the interior and also showing some of the erosion, over 2,000 years I suppose some of that is to be expected (I doubt if may of our structures will last 500 years, to say nothing about 2,000!


By the way, if you ever plan to visit Rome and tour the Colosseum and/or Forum, be prepared for lots of steps, sometimes steep/slippery/narrow! I thought yesterday would be the big day for walking (I did cover 13.5k steps or 5.5 miles at the Vatican), today actually covered more distance. I walked about a mile each way from the Hotel to the Colosseum (referencing the map hardly at all this time!), but in total walked 15.5k steps, 6.4 miles. I took pictures (lots and lots of course), but am not sure my photos of the steps were worth uploading to the travel blog, we'll see.

Outside the Colosseum and fairly close to it is the Arch of Constantine.


One advantage for visiting the Forum in person is that I finally understand the concept of the seven hills of Rome. These are quite small to us now, but to the original settlers of Rome, they were about right for small villages. People settled on the hills first as the lower elevations were originally marshy. Hills were also defensible and made perfect locations for little farming villages. "Rome" was founded in part by uniting the villages on the separate hills. Later when the marshes were drained, the Forum was constructed in the valley between the hills.


Here is also a shot showing the Palatine Hill on the right (actually both shots show it somewhat).


Unfortunately I didn't make it to the Palatine Museum, but here is a picture of the ruins of the House of Livia on the Palatine Hill. There is still a fair amount of archeological excavation going on, so they may discover even more about the ancient origins of Rome, but most of the hill was cut up and built over for homes of some of the emperors so not much may be left of the really old stuff.


The main feature of the earliest forums were open squares where people could meet, discuss the issues of the day and perhaps exchange goods and services. Although everything in the forum is in ruins now, you can still see where the original squares were.


Then fairly early in the life of Rome and continuing on into the 300's AD civic leaders started building impressive temples to either appease the gods or thank them. One of the earliest was the Temple of Saturn. While there isn't much left of it today, there's more surviving than for some of the other temples.


Also surviving, albeit with significant rebuilds over the years I'm sure, is the Senate, or Curia Hostilia. It was actually only one of many places the Senate could meet. However in the AD 600's, it was converted to a Christian Church, which of course helped the Curia to survive. Unfortunately it is closed to the public today, but our guide said she had been inside years ago and the original floor and stone seats around the walls survive. The doors are replicas.


I'll try not to bore you with too many temple ruins or details, but here are quite a few more shots of what the forum looks like today (OK, it's probably worth quite a few shots).

Temple of Antoninus and Faustina


Temple of Vesta

Temple of Romulus

Palatine Hill - Base from Temple of Apollo

Horrea Vespasiani

One of the largest ruins in the forum was also the last major structure built, the Basilica of Maxentius, begun in 308 AD and completed by Constantine.


Finally just a quick note about touring the Forum - make sure you bring good shoes! Most of the paths are very uneven and difficult to walk - at best. Here is a small example:


So anyway, we finished the formal tour (which was of very little value as I couldn't understand hardly a thing the tour guide said), so I hung around the Forum another hour or so. I'd like to have stayed longer - but my back and foot just hurt too much to take advantage of the extra time, so I decided to head back to the hotel (again on foot). I met up with Que and Vivian at the bar downstairs and enjoyed a pizza, latte and later a dessert while discussing our various adventures. All in all, we each enjoyed our time in Rome, although in different ways. We'll have to move on to the Cruise ship tomorrow however...

Posted by jl98584 12:54 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Dec 2, 2021 - Arrived in Rome

We are in Rome, Italy, in the Hotel Room, some walking about town (me only). I've included a few other pic's from Rome taken on different days that don't have anything to do with the Colosseum or Forum, so make more sense to put here maybe.

storm 48 °F

We're all very tired from the 23+ hour travel time. Que and Vivian are sound asleep and I'll b heading off to bed shortly. We are in the Golden Tulip Hotel Piram in downtown Rome. On of the first things you notice is how small the cars are here vs in the US - we could take a few lessons from the Europeans! Of course, all aren't as small as this one, but there were several of these around.


This is right across from the main train terminal and Diocletians Baths (now a church and museum).


After a bit of a walk about, Que and Vivian decided to stay in the hotel today and have some real food, they were quite tired so also napped. We all found the building at the end of our block interesting and the Fontana Della Najadi (fountain) was quite nice.


I decided to walk along the side of the train terminal because it looked like about a mile away was a nice section of the original old Roman wall and Aquaduct. The weather was OK when I started out, but about 1/2 way into my walk it started pouring! I made it to the wall but it was coming down so hard, was difficult to stick around and enjoy it much. I had purchased rain boots before leaving home but hadn't brought them with me since it wasn't raining when I left the hotel. I did manage to snap a couple of pictures of the Porta Maggiore gate and old wall.


By this time I was so soaked that I decided to take a taxi back to the hotel to dry out Then I also took a nap for about three hours. I didn't take many pictures of the hotel, but found a couple of interesting things. One is an older style elevator, I tried to use it but the door wouldn't open when I got to my destination, so I took the stairs. The other unusual thing is that they had Selfie mirrors in several places throughout the hotel.


I got up at 7pm local time and decided to head back to the train station to find an ATM. Having successfully loaded up on some cash, I stopped at several small shops to pick up a few souvenirs, then stopped at a local pizza restaurant (very small, off the beaten path and they did NOT speak any English) - but the pizza was good.

I wasn't 100% how to get back to the hotel and I hadn't bothered to bring any maps with me I decided to try Google Maps. Sure enough, it pointed me exactly to where the hotel was. The nasty rain kind of messed up my plans, but I managed to do a fair bit in spite of it.

I have a 6am wake up call tomorrow to get to my Vatican tour on time Will make one more stab at uploading photos, then call it a night.

Posted by jl98584 17:14 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Dec 3, 2021 - St Peters and the Vatican Museum

Today I walked about 5.5 miles on a tour of St Peters and the Vatican Museum. This included climbing up 330 steps to the top of the Dome and also spending about 40 minutes just sitting in the Sistine Chapel.

overcast 55 °F

...Sort of a place holder until I can get my pictures uploaded...

Our tour guide said that before Covid hit, on a normal summer day the Vatican Museum can have as many as 38,000 tourists, second only to the Lourve in Paris. Sometimes pandemic's can have hidden blessings as there weren't nearly that many people visiting today.

I had purchased a commercial tour package for the Vatican before leaving home, wanting to make sure I got maximum value for my limited time in Rome. The tour started at 8 AM so I took a taxi from the hotel to make sure I got there in time (and also save some energy for the tour). I got there a little before the tour started, so took a few minutes to walk around Vatican Square. It is hugh - this photo only shows the left side!


I also had a good view of the facade and statues around the square, this one of St. John.


Then once the tour started, we walked by several famous doors on the inside of the facade and a swiss guard to a side entrance.


We then started our climb up the dome at St.Peters. It was actually built as two domes, one inside the other for strength, an elevator took us up to the roof if St. Peters, then we were able to walk around the inside of the base of the dome for a bit, way above the inside of the church. The stairs themselves are in between the two domes.


The climb involves several different types of stairs, no handrails, 330 steps in all. This was just the last section, the other sections weren't quite as bad (but none particularly good I'd say).


Overall the climb wasn't too bad but I wish I was I better shape! The views from the top are quite good, but maybe a bit limited today with some low fog/clouds.


After a steep climb down, our tour group spent at least an hour inside St Peters Basilica. It's impossible to convey how huge this is, not just huge, but absolutely covered in beautiful marble, statues, floor marbles, etc., just a feast for the eyes. First, a look at the dome area where we had walked around earlier during our climb. Can you see the walkway way up where the wall meets the dome? (Hint, it's a thin black line just below the windows)


You can also see the top of the Baldachin here, which is a giant (29 meters tall) brass structure over the alter area where the Pope presides. Here's a better picture of the Baldachin itself.


There are too may famous and/or beautiful art works within the church to discuss here, and even though I took many, many pictures, I probably only captured a small fraction of the total. However a couple of shots may convey some of the grandeur of those. First is perhaps the most famous, Michelangelo's Pieta, carved between 1498 and 1499. In the second statue, the material that looks like draped cloth is all stone!


Here are a couple more views of the interior of St. Peter's Basilica, but these can't possibly convey how large this church actually is.


Finally at the far end of the church is the sun window, or "The Gloria and the Holy Spirit". While this does allow light to shine through it, it isn't made of glass or stained glass, but rather very thin slices of marble and alabaster. It really is rather inspiring!


We also toured one of the basements where you are not allowed to take pictures because it's a cemetery with some small worship areas and a few pieces from the original church Constantine built that was later replaced by St. Peters. The first part of the tour ended and gave us a hour break before moving on to the Vatican Museum. I spent my hour revisiting St. Peters, just to take it in and then visiting a couple of souvenir shops for books. One thing you can't help but notice is a very large, brick medieval wall coming out from the Vatican. This was built so the Pope could escape if St. Peter's was attacked, using the wall to get to Hadrian's tomb, which was more secure as it was then a fortress.


Inside the Vatican Museum is a double spiral staircase, apparently the one that inspired Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Guggenheim in NY. There are miles of long halls, or galleries, and one of the most expansive collections of art and artifacts in the world. A two hour tour is barely a short overview! We started in a room of giant tapestries by Rafael, not always included on this tour.


We also passed one painting by DiVinci (the only one in the museum by him),


There are too many other paintings by many artists that we passed by so quickly that I could scarecly snap a picture, rarely had time to view the placard and make a note of the artist. There were galleries of antiquities, many statues from Rome (many Roman copies of ancient Greek statues).

Here is an example of just one of the Galleries, this one of ancient Roman statues. I found the busts of heads with different hairstyles interesting, our guide said that was one way they could date Roman statues and portraits based on when certain styles were in fashion.


One gallery I found especially interesting was of Maps. In the 1600's one of the popes commissioned artists to paint maps of many of the European areas from history, including maybe a large map of the region with a small insert of the medivel town.


Finally we got to the end of the organized tour and the guide gave us a choice, go to the right to go through the Sistine Chapel (again, no pictures allowed), or go to the left to go through the rooms painted for a pope by Rafael, then go through the Sistine Chapel. By this time both my feet and back were in pain, so of course I went left. There are books with wonderful photo's of all this artwork (of which I've purchased a few), but the books can't convey what it's like in the rooms. The art fills the walls and ceilings and just surrounds and envelopes you.


And then I did finally make it to the Sistine Chapel, which is what most of tourists visit the Vatican Museum to see. While there were a lot of people touring the Vatican Museum by then, there were occasional open spaces on the benches around the Sistine, so Itook advantage of them to just sit and admire the art (as well as rest my back and feet, which were still in pain). They restored the whole chapel a few years back, and the colors really jump out at you now - quite impressive of course. While photography is not allowed in the chapel, there was a photo outside of the college of cardinel's electing a pope in it, which shows a bit of the chapel and I also found interesting in it's own right (as that's someting none of us can normally see).


Once I got back outside, I enjoyed a Panini and cola in the lawn area, then headed back towards the hotel.


I had decided to walk back and try to take in a few more sights. I did make it as far as Hadrians tomb and crossed the Tiber river,


... but a few blocks further I walked by a tourist exhibit called 'Discover Rome', a few exhibits and film showing ancient Rome superimposed over modern Rome. It was interesting and informative, but I found myself dozing off during the film and it was dark by the time I got out, and my back and feet were really in pain, so I decided to grab a cab the rest of the way back to the hotel. I have to say, riding in taxi through traffic in Rome, even with slightly lighter tourist traffic, is quite an experience in itself! At the hotel, I met up with Que and Vivian for dinner and caught up with our various activities. They had taken a 'hop on hop off' bus and were also able to see several high points around the city. They bought 48 hour tickets, so will continue their adventure tomorrow. I have another organized tour tomorrow, this time to the Colosseum and ancient forum.

Posted by jl98584 16:48 Archived in Italy Tagged museum rome vatican sistine Comments (0)

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