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Posts tagged ‘Norwegian Gem’

Insights from Italy (and beyond)—Day 14: Another day at Sea

Today is our last day of the cruise. We dock in Venice tomorrow morning. It’s been a great week. We’ve  seen and done so much; its seems longer and yet the week has flown by.


Celebrating 25 years


Last night we celebrated our anniversary (again) by going to one of the specialty restaurants on the ship. La Cuisine, an Italian restaurant was charming and the food was delicious. After eating Italian food, I now love pasta. I’ll have to learn to make it the way they do!

Ron is a romantic at heart.  At dinner, he bought me a red rose and then during dessert, he took out a piece of paper on which he’d written out the wedding vows from my second book, A Song of the Heart. We read them to each other and then made a toast. Funny, it felt more significant and meaningful than our vows 25 years ago (can’t even remember what we said back then)

After dinner we enjoyed an hilarious vaudeville act at the theatre. We closed off the evening once again by relaxing in the hot tub.

The sea has been rough. Last night we left the balcony door open and listened to the waves splashing. The boat rocked me to sleep. I love that feeling.

The  cruise has been wonderful. the food is delicious and plentiful! The service is great. Other than super slow internet service that we had to pay 40 cents a minute for, we can chalk this up to a fun, successful and memorable week.


Chocolate Pharaoh


The chocolate buffet I missed turned out to be a zoo (Ron’s words) but he brought me a plate of delicious bites and has some pictures of the incredible sculptures.


Leaning tower of chocolate


Oh, yes, there was one other mix-up on our cruise. It was quite funny. When we first checked in, they told us we were registered with a tour group. We told them we weren’t, but the girl at the desk seemed to believe the computer rather than us and informed us that ‘our’ group was meeting for a welcome party on the second day of the cruise. We decided to check it out – more out of curiosity than anything else. It was a formal event, so we dressed up, but still felt out of place when we saw the other couples who were there. As we arrived, we were immediately served drinks and appetizers. We heard a couple near us speaking to one another in French and didn’t think too much of it until we realized that everyone was speaking french and not a word of English could be heard. No one seemed to pay any attention to us, but we didn’t want to have to try and explain why we were there so we left as inconspicuously as we could and barely suppressed our laughter as we exited the lounge. We’d enjoyed the drinks and the appetizers were really good, but we never did find out  how we got put in with a French tour group.


Insights from Italy (and beyond)―Day 12: Izmir, Turkey

A beautiful walk along the Bay

Another beautiful day. We’ve had fantastic weather for the cruise―sunshine and 25+ degrees. We arrived at Izmir at 8:00 this morning. Izmir Bay, where we’re docked is a large bay lined with high-rises as far as we can see in both directions. The city before us is large and modern looking.

A short walk from the ship, as we follow the crowds, is the city’s promenade―a picturesque stone walkway flanked by green grass that follows the water for several kilometers.

Locals fish off the short wall that separates us from the calm blue water of the bay. An information pamphlet tells us that Izmir itself is 3.5 million, but that the city of Pergamum is along the bay as well and part of the long stretch of high-rises we saw coming in.

We opted not to join the throngs headed for Ephesis, which is a ninety minute drive. That will have to be another trip. I’m happy just to stroll along this seaside walkway. It’s not too hot yet and the breeze off the bay is refreshing. We check out the Kemeralti Bazzar and the clock tower in Konak Square, then chill with a latte at Starbucks.

Konak Square

Ron by the Gem

Afterwards, we find a small deli and decide to try some authentic Turkish food. There are several tables outside the deli with benches on one side and stools on the other. All the seats are covered with brightly patterned rugs. A man invites us to sit down and we enjoy the next half-hour learning about his country and answering his questions about Canada. He’s a learned man, he speaks English well―an IT professional, but is now working in construction because of the recession.

It’s interesting watching people. Men walk arm in arm, when they’re in deep discussion―a sign of sincerity rather than fondness for one another, I think.

Sad dog

Again, there are dogs everywhere. The man at the deli explained that many of them belong to the people in the apartments, but they’re not allowed to keep them indoors, so they roam free. I noticed cats in abundance, too. They sit all around the perimeter of the outdoor cafes, seeming to know their boundaries, but nevertheless, hoping for a morsel or two.

It would have been interesting, on some of our outings, to wear a pedometer to see just how many miles we walked. I ordered two appetizers at dinner tonight (they both sounded good and I couldn’t decide) explaining to the talkative waiter that I’d worked up an appetite, having walked halfway to Ephesis that afternoon. It felt that way.

We really liked Izmir over-all. Cities here are not as clean as we’re used to and a clean WC (toilet) is a rarity. I found a public one today after searching for some time and was not surprised to have to pay .50 Euro. I was surprised, however, to find a hole in the floor (women squat here?) and no toilet paper.

Now I’m sitting out on our balcony, enjoying the night air. We just returned from the pool deck where we had the whole place to ourselves. Funny, I thought the hot tubs would be busy at night when the air starts to cool. On a ship with 2400 passengers, it’s a rare thing to find any common area not crowded.

I’ve been doing some contemplating as I sit here and getting some valuable insight. I realize I have a bad case of the ‘shoulds’ on this trip. Last week, I wrote about feeling like I was being led around on a leash. Now I can see that I was the one pulling the leash. There are so many amazing things to do and see, I’m afraid I’ll miss out on some ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience. The problem is, those once-in-a-lifetime experiences are back to back, end to end, piled high and stacked three deep! And…there’s no end in sight (except maybe when we step off the plane in Calgary next Friday).

Tonight there’s a grand chocolate buffet in the Garden cafe. World class chefs are creating luscious, decadent, mouthwatering masterpieces―all from my favorite ingredient! I want to go, but I’m tired, my feet hurt and this quiet space is ministering to my soul. The nagging shoulds keep taunting me. “Ron’s going; I should at least check it out.” “He’ll come back and tell me how incredible it was and I’ll kick myself for being lazy.” “How often do I get an opportunity like this?” …yada, yada. All valid reasons, but where does it end? When do I say no? When do I listen to the voice inside that says, “Enough!”

I think that time has come. The voice I hear is telling me it’s time for bed. This ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience will have to wait for another lifetime!

Insights from Italy (and beyond)―Day 11: Athens

The Acropolis in Athens

We climbed the Acropolis today. A steep climb but the view was worth it. You can see Athens spreading out for miles in all directions (a city of 4,500,000 inhabitants). Old and new blend almost seamlessly here―the ancient alongside the modern everywhere you look.

Dogs are everywhere here. Unlike Venice where every dog was attached to his master, here they simply follow the crowds of people or lie in the shade. I watched a few, curious to see if they belonged to someone, but no one seemed to pay them any attention. Some looked sad. Others relaxed in the sun. Some appeared to be guarding something―like the one we saw atop the acropolis, just lying near the Temple of Athena watching the crowds pass by.


Guard dog on the Acropolis

Arriving at the port, we experienced what was to be the theme of the day―confusion! No clear direction. Even the English signs and English speaking people in the terminal weren’t much help. So we headed out the main doors, hoping we might see which way to go. There, we were met with swarms of taxi drivers, ascending on unwitting and disoriented tourists, like wasps at a picnic. And just like the wasps, I felt like swatting a few of them!

Someone from our cruise ship had told us of a city tour bus aptly named ‘Hop on, Hop off’ so we kept walking away from the terminal until we found it. It wasn’t far and soon we were seated on the top of a brightly colored double decker bus. Perfect. If we had understood the man who sold us the ticket (and we were confident we did) we could now just sit back and enjoy the sights, listen to an English tour-guide on the earphones and hop off at any point to have a closer look at the tourist attractions on our route. We really only wanted to get off to see the Acropolis and the rest we were content to view from our open-air seats on the bus.

Herodeon Theatre

Ten minutes later, the bus stopped and we were told we had to get off because the bus we were on was going back to the terminal. The one we needed was across the street and would take us on the Athens tour. Okay, fine. We crossed the street and again managed to get a seat on the top deck. The Acropolis was the second stop, but getting to it involved a slow drive up a narrow street following a line of other tour buses. We could see our destination, but were inching our way there and breathing in diesel fumes. Another couple got fed up and asked the driver if they could get off and walk. We followed them.

Finding shade near the Parthanon

In my mind, Athens is one of those places that you go to see because it’s famous, it contains one of the seven wonders of the world, it is the birthplace of philosophy, democracy and drama… yada, yada, yada. But having seen it, I have no desire to go back. The marble is lovely (and plentiful) the columns are impressive, the architecture is to be appreciated. The history is fascinating.

Anyway, it was an experience―one we will laugh about as we reflect on the day spent in Greece’s capital. Getting back on the tour bus, we were looking forward to a relaxing and informative tour, but it was not to be. We had three and a half hours till we had to be back at the ship, which should have been enough time to take in what they advertised as a ninety minute tour. (I think they clocked it at 2:00 AM when the traffic was light) In reality, it took us 45 minutes to go 9 blocks and we realized that at that pace we could potentially be late getting back. Traffic there is much worse than Rome. I’m glad we weren’t driving. Busses cut across several lanes blocking traffic, cars squeak in at the smallest opportunity and motorcycles drive on the sidewalk to get around jams. Then they honk at the pedestrians to get out of their way! So we hopped off once more and crossed the street. (The street I’m referring to is six lanes of bumper to bumper traffic with pedestrian walk-lights that only get you to the median in the center)

Hadrian's Arch

Waiting at our stop on the other side was a large crowd of disgruntled people. Apparently they had been waiting awhile. Several busses had come and gone, but were mostly filled so only a few people were able to get on. Things worked out (as they always do) and we got back to our cruise ship on time. We even had time to stop at Starbucks near the terminal for a frappachino. We were hot and tired and thoroughly enjoyed the icy cold beverage as we left the confusion of Athens and were greeted by the smiling faces of our cruise ship personal.

Athens at first light

Insights from Italy (and beyond)―Day 10: Relaxing at Sea

Enjoying the pool!

As I sit to write, we’re rounding the southern tip of Greece, passing between the mainland and the Isle of Crete. It’s dark out but I can see strings of lights and luminous clumps from our balcony, so we must be close to land. It’s been a full day at sea as we make our way to Athens. The weather was perfect; we took advantage of the swimming pools and deck chairs on our floating hotel.

Ron decided to be adventurous and did some wall climbing. He scrambled up the medium level with ease, so decided to try the advanced climb. The old guy’s still got it! It was no easy task; we watched people much younger give up half way up and come back down defeated.

Ron wall climbing

The entertainment on the boat is great. Last night we watched a husband and wife team doing an acro-balance performance. They’re called Crazy Horse and have to be seen to be believed. They’re phenomenal, already holding records for some of their feats. What impressed me is the ease at which they lift and balance and hold their stances. They not only make it look effortless with no sign of strain on their faces, but they manage to move so smoothly to the music as they balance, it could be compared to a sexy Latin dance. The woman can hold her husband’s full weight (he’s a big muscular guy and she looks small beside him). As she stands with knees bent, he sits on her legs, puts his feet on her shoulders and then they both slowly lean back. Both bodies are parallel to the floor and all the weight is on her lower legs. Wow!

Earlier tonight we watched Jonathan Kane impersonating Sir Elton John. Really talented! I’d have to say he sings Elton John’s old stuff better than Elton does now. He looks like him, too, with the wild suits, dark glasses and distinctive gap between his front teeth. It was fun. Ron and I had fourth row seats and even got up to dance on the stage as he sang his encore.

We’re enjoying the cruise thus far. Food is good. Norwegian offers free-style dining which means we don’t have assigned seating in a formal dining room each evening. There are many restaurants to choose from: pool-side casual to ultra formal. We plan to enjoy them all.

The sights are beautiful. Rugged hillsides, jagged coasts and spectacular sunsets. The color of the water is different here than we’ve seen other places. In Mexico we saw a brilliant turquoise. In Alaska, it was dark jade, but this is the bluest water I’ve ever seen. As we looked down from the wall in Dubrovnik yesterday we could even see through the clear water.


Blue water off the Croatian coast

The staff on the boat are friendly and smiling, encouraging everyone to chill out and have fun. Even the clocks on the pool deck offer great advice.


Clock's wisdom

My favorite part so far, however, was enjoying a sunrise from our bed this morning. Without even lifting our heads off the pillow, we watched the early morning sky light up in shades of orange and purple as the sun slowly inched it’s way to the horizon. Hard to get any better than that!


Precious time on my computer

Insights from Italy―Day 8: Cruising!!

Sipping mojitos

In my mind, I hear Smokey Robinson’s Cruisin. I like his version of the song best. “I love it when we’re cruisin together.” I could get used to this life! As we leave Venice, the sun is setting and we have a magnificent view from the back of the boat. We’re sipping Mohitas, watching the Grand Canal, the tower in St. Marks Square and the Doge’s Palace slip away. From our vantage point high up on top deck of the ship, we notice a couple of towers are leaning, evidence that the city is indeed sinking. I hope engineering technology can fix the problem; it’s sad to think this gem may not be around for future generations to enjoy.

Leaning tower

St. Marks Square and Doge's Palace

Our stateroom is nice―a king-size bed, sitting area and private balcony. We’re port side, so we’ll have a nice view of the Croatian coast as we approach Dubrovnik tomorrow.

Our first visit to Venice was surreal. In a city with as many tourists as residents, we felt right at home. Most people we encountered spoke English and were very helpful. Getting around in a city without cars was easy and maybe part of the reason I enjoyed our stay so much. Cars whizzing down narrow streets, pedestrians having no right of way except at light-controlled intersections (and even then motorcycles will scoot right by if they can) makes navigating Italian cities a little stressful to say the least.

In Venice, people stroll. Very few seem to be in a hurry. There are a lot―a lot!―of dogs here. Most are the cute, small breeds, but we’ve seen some big dogs as well.

We sat at an outdoor cafe for lunch. It was fun to watch people pass and listen to the variety of different languages being spoken. I like Italian. It sounds romantic, no matter what’s being said. A simple red house in North America is Casa Rosa here…how pretty. Please is per favorè. Even a busy train station sounds appealing when its a stazionè del tranō. It has a rhythmic elegance to it. Then there’s the fun, playful sounding words like scuzi (skoozie) for excuse me and ciao (chow) for hi, then repeated two or three times (ciao, ciao, ciao) for bye.

Anyway, we said ciao to Italy for a week and we’re off to see three more countries. We’re thoroughly enjoying our time here, the wonderful new experiences and of course our time together celebrating our anniversary. Life is good!

Enjoying one of the ships many restaurants

Venice from the ship

Sunset over Venice


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