Saturday, September 22, 2018

One More Sangria (Or Gelato) For The Road!

Seriously, the sangria has been absolutely divine EVERYWHERE. I wish I could sneak some onto the plane in my coffee thermos tomorrow and sip it all the way back to America! Sigh… if only. So here we are… sitting on our rooftop on our last day in Barcelona (as well as our vacation). It’s so hard when a trip comes to an end, but we can honestly say it’s been our best one so far. We’ve met so many fabulous people along the way who made our trip so very special, and they need to be named. Cindy & Steve, Helen & Jerry, Linda & Andrew, Lucy & Rick, Angela & Frank, Patrick & Renee… thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You are all such beautiful and kind people and we are grateful you spent time with us on our third annual mother/daughter extravaganza!

Speaking of extravaganzas… we decided on the next adventure, we need to incorporate some downtime at the end to simply sit down and do NOTHING. Meaning, no sightseeing or rushing to squeeze every ounce of culture into our bodies. And if it means we need to do an even LONGER vacation next year to make that happen, then all the better! And hey all the aforementioned people, if you feel like joining us on our travels, you are absolutely welcome!

So where should we go? Iceland/Denmark is on the table but as more people tell us that it rains, like A LOT, I’m thinking “Meh.” If I want grey weather, I can just go to London (which I adore for the record). Australia/New Zealand perhaps? Hmmm… it’s something like a 24 hour plane flight so they might have to hook up an I.V. That delivers bloody mary’s directly into my veins to get me through that long of a ride. (And my mom might need two Xanax instead of her normal one.) Then there’s always Alaska, which I have been told is absolutely lovely to behold. And my mom’s family might even join us which would make it extra fun. Or maybe it’s back to Europe again to absorb even more of its history because, truth be told, I can never get enough of Europe. There’s just so much to do and see and we’re both keen to see Croatia even though neither of us watch “Game of Thrones”. Wherever we go, I just have to make sure that there’s a beautiful beach in Greece at the tail end of the trip. Mykonos anyone? Or Crete perhaps? (If my mother has her way, we’ll end up in Santorini.)

As for today, we still managed to walk four miles despite our best efforts to slow down. We successfully navigated our way out of a labyrinth made up of 750 meters of cypress trees. It was super fun, though my mom came very close to crawling through a hole in one of the hedges and cheating her way out of the maze! (Of course I wouldn’t allow someone who was once an elementary school teacher to behave in such an underhanded manner.) We also saw a hospital designed by the same fellow who designed the Palau de la Música Catalana I spoke of yesterday. Remember him? Okay I’ll remind you—Lluís Domènech i Montaner—the name just rolls right off the tongue. Or not. Maybe that’s why Gaudí is more well known. His name is just easier to say! ANYwhooo… the hospital was yet another spectacular accomplishment by Montaner. Don’t worry, Gaudí, we still love you best. There’s room in our hearts to admire both of your geniuses. Check out my photos and you’ll see that if you’re ever sick, this is the place to do it in. Too bad it closed in 2009 and is now a museum whose primary purpose is to gauge money off silly tourists like us with their exorbitant admission fees.  (And we’d gladly pay it again.)

On a final note, we DID  have paella last night. Sadly, it was still a bit underwhelming. I think tonight we’ll just try to find some tapas we can somehow agree on and let it go at that. We love you, Barcelona. Perhaps we can find the ultimate paella on our next journey here.

And back to journeys, feel free to weigh in on where you think we should go next! Inquiring minds want to know. See you all back in the states!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Put A Fork In Us, We’re Done!

Not really, but we have decided the next couple of days are about doing what we want to do at our own pace. We no longer have to worry about our ship setting sail without us, so why not sit back and enjoy the last little bit of our metaphorical “vacation ride”?

We started the day off at a café near our hotel that had carrot cake pancakes… yes, I said carrot cake pancakes. Ummm, they were AMAZING. Instead of syrup, there was cream cheese filling in between the layers. My mom and I are huge fans of carrot cake and I am an even huger fan of pancakes,  so the merging of the two was like a marriage made in food heaven. I couldn’t even finish them, which truly broke my breakfast loving heart.

Since I was practically in a self-induced food coma after our meal, we immediately got ourselves on the move and took a tour of the Palau de la Musica Catalana. As Gaudi groupies, we couldn’t wait to see yet another masterpiece of this great artist, but alas, it was designed by  Lluís Domènech i Montaner (Try saying his name ten times in a row—I can’t even say it once.) Sorry Gaudi, we still love you best, but we have to admit the concert hall is a glorious structure, the centerpiece of which is a stained glass skylight that resembles a woman’s breast. Am I the only one that thinks that? It’s certainly prettier than the ceiling boob lamps we all have in our apartments in NYC. Anyone that has one of these knows what I’m talking about, but I digress (as I often do.) The building was designed so efficiently that it’s the only auditorium in Europe that is completely  illuminated during the day by natural light. Pretty cool, huh? (Apologies again, Gaudi. You still rock.)

There’s an outdoor terrace on the same floor you enter the auditorium that has picture-perfect columns surrounding you. And I do mean picture perfect. My friend took a photo out there earlier this summer and she looked like a super model. There she was, strolling across the terrace in her flowing, white dress, looking like something out of a magazine. Any moment I expected the photo to come to life and for her to say, “Light Blue… by Dolce Gabbana” (insert your favorite perfume). Hell, I would’ve bought whatever she was selling! And then there’s me… posing on that same terrace for a photograph, but only managing to look like a vagabond surrounded by other camera happy tourists like myself. No one’s buying anything from me. Not today, anyway.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the Gothic Quarter which is the oldest section of the city apparently. It dates back to Medieval times (yes, once again I am a lover of everything Medieval thanks to all the fantasy novels I’ve read throughout my lifetime), though I discovered that much of it was demolished to make way for the 1929 World’s Fair. Sigh, commercialism always seems to trump preserving history. Despite that, it was still fun to wander through all the alleys and not worry about where we were headed. It reminded me a lot of Rome and made me miss my Italian city! While there, we managed to find ourselves in the Jewish section of the Gothic Quarter. It was very serendipitous, since we had no idea it was even there. Visiting a historic temple was the pinnacle of a very relaxing day, and we met a bunch of people who felt just as lucky as us to discover this hidden gem of Barcelona. Shout out to Carrie and Troy, our very special honeymooners.

Tonight, we are trying for Paella for the third time and you know what they say about the third time… Let’s hope it’s our lucky night!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

When Being A Local Is Just Not An Option

Ladies and gentlemen, I am struggling. I feel a bit deflated today. It’s hard to assimilate into a culture that is not yours. I pride myself on being someone who can find my way around no matter where I am. I’ll download maps to my smartphone, figure out transportation options to determine which ones make the best use of my time. But today… I just felt like a fish out of water. It was just, hard. And it’s not a language barrier issue. As much as I want to be a local, i.e. know the best and fastest way to get somewhere, I am NOT in fact, a local.

The hop on/hop off bus is great… ‘til it isn’t. There are just some destinations that are too off the beaten path to be accessed by a fixed route. My mom and I saw La Sagrada Familia today, designed by the amazing Gaudi. It’s still not finished and won’t be until 2026 (one hundred years after Gaudi’s death). Poor Gaudi, never seeing the full fruits of his efforts. It reminds me of our church in NYC,  St. John the Divine (or as some people call it “St. John the Unfinished”.) Construction on both churches were started a mere 10 years apart, in the late 1800s. And neither church is completed. However, they are both still marvelous to look at, and today, my mom and I had the pleasure of gazing at Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece. In case you’re interested, “La Sagrada Familia” means “holy family”. Thank you to one of the guides inside the church for telling us. I said to my mom, “Why is it called La Sagrada Familia?” And my mom said, “Maybe that’s the family who sponsored the church.” Ummmm… NO.

The next stop was Park Guell. That’s where the off-the-beaten-path part comes in. The bus stopped at what they called “Park Guell” but in reality, we had to climb a large hill involving a bunch of stairs, which was not easy for my dear mom. Although the park was ALL Gaudi, you apparently need to buy a ticket in advance to have access to EVERYTHING Gaudi. My mom and I were clearly in the “cheap seats”, and thus, excluded from what they referred to as the “Monumental Zone” of the park. Wow, did I feel like a loser. For all the research we did in advance of our trip, we still failed to understand all the intricacies involved with seeing the sights in Barcelona, what the costs were and how to insure we selected the appropriate options. I think about NYC and how I have the subway map embedded in my brain, and when I want to go somewhere, I can decide in a matter of seconds the best way to get there. Here, I feel like a lost sheep in need of a shepherd. That’s not to say I can’t figure things out, but it’s not second nature to me the way it is at home.

Still, we had a great day traveling around, even if our travels took a bit longer. And we veered off the hop on/hop off bus to take a cab because it was just… FASTER. I tried to find that darn bus stop, but the sun was beating down on me and my perspiration got the better of me and I caved. That said, at the end of my taxi ride I got to see the Cathedral of Barcelona (another Gaudi creation), which was incredible. I feel a bit guilty admitting it, but I kinda like it more than La Sagrada Familia. I guess I’m just a fan of Gothic looking churches.

And now I’ve realized I need to decompress from all this culture I’ve been soaking in for the past two weeks. As my third annual Mother/Daughter vacation starts to wind down, I need to take some downtime so i don’t come home needing a vacation from my vacation! And for that, there’s always sangria. Here’s to all of you and to the hopes I can find some good paella this evening. Cheers to both!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Just Act Like You’re A New Yorker, And Everything Will Be Okay

That was the advice given to us by our cab driver this morning, in Spanish of course. He told me Barcelona is no more dangerous than NYC, so if I keep the same level of alertness as I do at home I’ll be fine. The trouble is, my level of alertness at home is, well, pretty piss poor. I am so busy taking photos of cute dogs or texting on my phone that I often don’t see what’s going on around me. Terrible, I know, but true nevertheless. So if I act like I’m in NYC while I’m abroad, I’m seriously screwed.

That said, I’ve been trying to be more aware of myself and my valuables. So far, so good. But with four days left, I have to keep my attention span set to DEFCON 1. For those not in the know, that’s the Defense Readiness Condition to designate a level of alertness which is used by the U.S. Armed Forces. I actually learned about it while watching the movie “War Games” with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy as a kid. (Great, nostalgic film FYI.) Oh, those Brat Packers! In any case, I have to keep an eye not only on myself but my mom, who has been wandering aimlessly into the street whether the “green man” for “go” is displayed or not. I’ve had to pull her back onto the sidewalk on several occasions over the last day. If mom wants to go, apparently she just GOES. And in her defense, the bike lane is kind of confusing. It looks like a pedestrian lane, and then out of nowhere, someone on a bicycle nearly mows you down! The bottom line is acting like we’re in New York just ain’t gonna cut it for either of us. In fact, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Despite all that, we had a wonderful day touring around Barcelona on our hop on/hop off bus. I always laugh at those busses when I see them in NYC, but when the shoe is on the other foot it just seems like a practical way to get around. So feel free to judge me. (I’m kind of judging myself too.) The bus allowed us to cover a lot of ground and see some really beautiful places. The architecture is so incredible. Check out my video and take a look at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Cataluyna which is breathtaking. Who needs to go inside when you can see their cool light show set to music 5 nights a week? Barcelona has multiple outdoor markets that put New York City’s to shame. Fruit smoothies for 2 Euro? Yes please. The highlight of our day was meeting two of our friends from the cruise, Cindy and Steve, for lunch. Like us, they are staying in Barcelona for a few days. They’re from Canada and oh how I love every time they say, “Ey.” (As in “day”.)

Best part of lunch besides spending time with Cindy and Steve? The BOWL of sangria they brought me for 3 euro. Yes, I mean a bowl. They call it a “copa” for cup, but unless Andre the Giant is consuming the sangria they brought me, there is NO WAY you can call the vessel that held my delicious drink a cup. Steve, for the record, has been trying to get my mom drunk, but so far, no dice. (Good luck, Steve. I’ve been trying to achieve that for years.) Cindy and Steve told us they are cruising—yes, that’s not a term solely reserved for motorcyclists—100 days in 2019. They will be spending almost a third of the year at sea. Hmmmm.. maybe if “at sea” meant aboard my yacht with a live-in personal chef and masseuse, then perhaps I could be down with that. As much as I love the water, I think I also like my feet to be on solid ground too.

Speaking of which, I have transitioned from my big a** balcony at sea to my big a** rooftop in Barcelona quite nicely. Okay, the outdoor pool they advertised online is more the size of a fish tank, but if I can cool off in it, then it will suit me just fine. So on that note… “Last one in is a rotten egg!”

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Spanish For Dummies, But Who Was The Dummy?

Disembarking from a cruise ship is always an experience. Your luggage has to be left outside your cabin the night before and is returned to you the next day at the cruise port. Happily, we got our luggage this morning in a timely manner and got on line for a taxi. The line was way longer than I expected, but I’m not sure what I was thinking. With 2,000 passengers on board, what else could the line be? My mom and I had nowhere we needed to be, but standing in the rain made me antsy, and when you’re dragging the suitcase-from-hell whose wheels only occasionally work, well you can imagine my frustration. When the taxi dispatcher finally got to us, we had been standing on line for over half an hour. “Is that ALL your luggage?” as he looked up and down at our bags with disdain. “Yes, that’s ALL ours,” I replied.  All he said was, “It will be one hour for a taxi.” Okayyyyyyyy…. Do they have Uber in Barcelona?

Turns out, they DO have Uber in Barcelona! I was so excited because the wait time was WAY less than an hour. I easily ordered my car and was patting myself on the back for beating all the other people in line for a ride into the city. Just to make sure everything was okay, I called the Uber driver to let her know how much luggage we had. Our friends were on line with us and we figured all four of us could go together. Now, I would never call myself fluent in Spanish, but I can at least speak in the present tense with some semblance of passable grammar. When the Uber driver, Susana, picked up her phone, I asked her in Spanish if her car was “grande” or “pequeño”. This isn’t rocket science Spanish. I was able to easily tell the driver that we had “quatro bolsas grandes” (four large bags) and she said that was okay. Of course, Susana pulls up in something like a Honda Civic and I’m thinking there is no way all our massive amounts of luggage are going to fit in her trunk. When I remind her that I said FOUR people with FOUR big bags, she keeps telling me Uber doesn’t have a larger car. Ummm… that should have been mentioned BEFORE we got off the taxi line to wait for an Uber. Were Susana and I speaking the same language?

My mom and I split off from our two friends and my driver clearly felt bad. She spoke to me in Spanish the entire way to the hotel and surprisingly, I understood a lot of what she said! Even more shocking was my ability to respond to the driver and subsequently explain to my mom what we were saying. I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I am able to understand. I guess when speaking another language is your only option to communicate, you take the leap and hope you don’t sound like a total moron in the process.

Later that evening we met some of our friends from the cruise for dinner by the beach. Like us, they were also staying in Barcelona for a few days post-cruise. We were all so excited for eating REAL paella by the sea. My mom and I figured what better place to have taste-bud-blowing-paella than Spain? Hmmmm... How do you say “Yuck” in Español? Oh yeah... “YUCK.” If what we ate was really paella, then I don’t know what I’ve been eating all these years at “La Paella” in NYC. And why was the rice BROWN? Isn’t the rice in paella supposed to be saffron, which is YELLOW? I’ve had way better paella at Cafe Española in the West Village. Also, doesn’t paella have an abundance of seafood in it? This dish was a pile of rice with a few pieces of fish thrown in as garnish. And for the record, I don’t like when my shrimp still has eyeballs. No need for my fish to look me in the eye as I eat it, thank you very much. Thank God for eating dessert. Twice. The gelato is amazing here. That’s something, I guess.

Here’s to hoping I dream in Spanish tonight. Lord knows “necesito dormir mucho”. Hasta luego!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Nothing Like A Noodle To Make New Friends

I am not ashamed to admit I brought inflatable noodles on my vacation. Don’t worry, it’s nothing kinky! They’re floaties for grownups... and I love them! I had seen the styrofoam ones that kids use, but when I found out they make inflatable versions, I went right on Amazon and bought a set for me and my mom to use at the beach. Technically, mine are called “Doodles” but the concept is the same. I’m actually a really good swimmer and don’t need a flotation device, but hey, I have no desire to tread water. Swimming is meant to be relaxing, in my opinion. When I see someone swimming laps in the ocean, I’m always puzzled. Why would you want to waste time exercising when you can simply enjoy the scenery? Personally, I save my workouts for the gym! Thus, there was no exercising on my mind when we set off on our catamaran in Palma De Mallorca this morning.

I couldn’t tell you where we went, but it was gorgeous. The waters were crystal clear and everyone was as excited as me to spend some time in the sea. Our friends Linda and Andrew joined us, and when they saw me take the Doodles out of my backpack, they were like “You thought to pack those?” (Clearly they don’t know about my Excel spreadsheet packing list. I never forget to pack ANYTHING.) My mom didn’t want to swim today, so I offered a Doodle to Linda and she was thrilled. I went to inflate mine and Linda looked at me and said, “What are you doing?” I replied, “I’m blowing up my Doodle.” (Truth be told, very little air was going into the Doodle, but I didn’t think anything of it.) She said, “You know you have to squeeze on the valve to get it to open so air can go in it.” (No I didn’t know that.) The catamaran would’ve been headed back to the ship and I probably still would’ve been sitting there with a limp noodle, and no one wants THAT, am I right? (I sure don’t.) Thank you, Linda! I may be a great packer, but I am clearly an imbecile when it comes to anything mechanical… even if it’s something as simple as inflating a Doodle. Let me tell you, those Doodles were the best $10 I ever spent! You could sit on it like a chair and float the day away, while simultaneously sipping on a sangria. For my last day at sea, I couldn’t think of anything better.

Now I’m back on board, and as I sit on my big a** balcony with a glass of wine at my side, I watched the ship sail out of the harbor for the very last time. I have to admit, I’m sad to say goodbye to this ship and all the new friends we’ve made. From trivia to silent disco to bingo, it’s been so much fun and the only thing not making me totally depressed is the 5 days we have to look forward to in Barcelona. Still, I feel a bit melancholy. I guess that just means it’s been a great vacation!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

I Am My Mother’s Daughter

We’ve all had moments where we cringe when someone says “You’re so much like your mother!” After all, as a grownup, you want to be your OWN person. I adore my mom, but we are different people in many respects. Today, however, I saw a side of my mom that reminded me of someone else I know… me. And I couldn’t be prouder.

We arrived in Ibiza this morning, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Ibiza is known for beaches and parties… non-stop parties, hence our 2 a.m. departure time tonight. After last night’s Motown dance session, perhaps my mom and I should “trip the light fantastic” in one of the island's many clubs and listen to a world famous DJ spin some tracks. I guess most of the DJ’s are gone by now, as the height of the summer has long since past. So what should we do?

Well, to DO something we first needed to get into town. We discovered that the shuttle bus provided by our cruise line wasn’t FREE. I was incensed. I asked why we had to pay. The cruise official told me, “Well, we pay the shuttle operator to take you into town, so we have to get our money from somewhere.” I responded, “You DID get my money. You got it when I booked this cruise!!!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Fortunately, we had just booked an excursion so our transportation was included. No shuttle bus for us. And no beach/clubs either.  We were headed to an underground cave!

The Can Marca Caves are located in the Port of San Miguel and are over 100,000 years old. That’s OLD. The caves were used at one time for smugglers to store contraband. Maybe I’d find some leftover gold coins if I was lucky. We didn’t know what to expect, but what the hell? This whole trip is about exploring new things, and an underground cave was certainly new for both of us. The caves were AWESOME. They were located inside this gorgeous cove and to gain access, you had to walk down all these winding stairs on the side of the cliff. People kept saying, “I can’t believe you dragged your mom here.” Dragged? She was having the time of her life! The stalagmites (I think that’s what they’re called) were so cool and at the end of the tour, there was a multi-colored light show with running water set to music.

We did eventually make it to a beach with two other friends we met on the ship. Our friends were equally incensed about the aforementioned shuttle bus and we were able to get a cab instead. I love the water, and it was nice to chill on the beach, drink sangria and chat with our friends. Later, as we walked back to the ship, we saw the guy selling tickets to the shuttle bus. He was talking to an older couple and we all were shaking our heads in disbelief. Something in my mom was triggered by this scene, and she immediately turned around, stormed over to the table and told the couple NOT to buy tickets for the shuttle. She said it was “Highway robbery” and they should just get a taxi at the stand outside the cruise port. The rest of us were hysterical. The ticket guy was giving her the stink eye and trying to convince the couple my mother was wrong. We’re not sure what they decided to do, but all three of us loved my mom’s sass. I was ironically beaming like a proud parent.

My  mom’s spunk and sense of adventure on this trip has been an inspiration to me. After everything we did today, my mom was still game to check out the “silent” disco under the stars. What the heck is that? Well, you get a headphone and you can select what kind of music you want to listen to and then you just boogie the night away. It’s so fun looking around and seeing everyone dancing but you have no idea to what music. Of course my mom and I chose the music of the sixties, and it was a blast. Some of our friends were there and we couldn’t stop laughing. The joy on my mom’s face when she dances once again reminds me of someone I know. You guessed it, it’s yours truly. Dancing lights up my soul and it clearly lights up my mom’s too. Who needs a club in Ibiza when you can dance under the stars of your own ship? What a great way to end my day. Time to boogie off to bed. Buenas noches, all!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

It's PARTY Time!

Today was another day at sea. To some that might seem boring, but for me, it was a chance to stay in one place and just BE for a moment. In other words, it was a GREAT day.

I don’t really have a whole lot to say about today except that it was wonderful. I played bingo with my mom and we didn’t even come close to that $40,000 jackpot. But neither did anyone else. Then, I played trivia which was T.V. theme shows and I totally tanked. I clearly don’t watch enough television. That said, I couldn’t even get the theme song to “Who’s The Boss” right. I guessed “Growing Pains” instead. Ironically, I knew the theme song to “Scrubs”, a show I never really watched. Oh well.

What better thing to do on a day at sea than host a happy hour party on your big a** balcony… even if it’s drizzling. Luckily, half of my balcony is covered. I was pleasantly surprised at how many people showed up. Pretty much everyone was impressed with the size of our outdoor area. It seriously is massive. I guess size DOES matter when it comes to outdoor space. We drank wine and exchanged stories and it was wonderful relaxing with people from different backgrounds and geographic locations. By the time dinner rolled around, I had drunk way too much wine and just wanted to go to bed. I pushed through, however, and my mom and I met a cute couple from Mexico who wanted to speak to me in Spanish during dinner. Time to get ready for my arrival in Spain tomorrow, right? My Spanish was passable but it was clear that I needed to “practica”!

After dinner, I went to a Motown-themed night where I met my friend Halston, who had worked at Royal Caribbean in Miami at the same time as me. She’s a dancer on the ship and it was awesome to see her in action. Boy can she move! My mom and I hit the dance floor too, and we did something she said was the “lindy hop”. It’s not what I would imagine doing to Motown music, but people around us seemed impressed. Or perhaps they just thought my mom was super cute. It seems to happen a lot on this trip. We had such a blast together, and I have to say, my mom is pretty good at leading me around the dance floor. Go, mom!

Now we’re headed to Ibiza, Spain, and we don’t have a plan for the day. Maybe that’s good for a change. We’ll see what mood strikes us when we wake up tomorrow.

Buenas noches, mis amigos!

Friday, September 14, 2018

A Little Spanish Will Go A LONG Way... Even If You’re In France

Yes, ladies and gentlemen... when push comes to shove, Spanish comes in handy. Even in France.

The day started out like any other on this vacation. We woke up at the butt crack of dawn in Séte, a fishing village in France, and had a quick breakfast before disembarking and heading to the train station. I wanted to see Carcassone, a beautiful medieval village in the south of France. It is the second most visited sight in France next to the Eiffel Tower... SUPPOSEDLY. However, since multiple French people I have encountered on this trip as well as those I have met in NYC had never heard of it, I’m beginning to wonder if that wasn’t just propaganda to get a silly tourist like me hyped up to see it. Truthfully, I love castles, so it wasn’t a hard sell. Our ship was doing an excursion to Carcassone, but at $200 a pop, we got cocky (and by “we” I mean “me”) and figured it was okay to go rogue and venture out on our own.

I am usually a planner when it comes to anything that involves travel and a tight time schedule (Carcassone is about an hour and a half by train), but today we decided to wing it. And that’s where the trouble started. Our return train was sold out, or in the ticket lady’s words “Full.” What does that even mean? In NYC, if you can cram yourself through the doorway of the subway car, then it isn't really FULL. In any case, we decided to book a later train, but if anything went wrong, we were going to be seriously SCREWED and all we’d be able to do is say, “Bon voyage,” as our ship sailed off for Spain with our passports and all our valuables on board.

But hey, might as well enjoy the day and think positive, right? And it truly was lovely seeing Carcassone. My poor mother had to use her rescue inhaler once or twice just to make it up the cobblestone path that led to the castle, but I think it was worth it. (You’ll have to ask her if she agrees, but I think she does, now that she is comfortably laying on a deck chair on our balcony.) Gazing at the castle made me want to break into the entire cast album from “Beauty and the Beast”. (The story takes place in France, doesn’t it?) Oh Belle, to be a prisoner in this castle wouldn’t be so bad, would it? My mom kept commenting to people as we walked around, most of whom had no idea what the hell she was saying. But they smiled and nodded politely at her, so I couldn’t help but think mom was super cute (and hopefully they thought so too).

Dogs were welcome in the castle (there was even a sign indicating such), which made me happy since dogs are always welcome everywhere in MY world. And maybe it’s me, but I feel like I’m seeing way more dogs here than in the U.S. But that could just be that I notice them even more here, because I know there will be no language barrier. Dogs speak “Dina” no matter where I am located. Or maybe I just speak the universal language of “Dog”.

Speaking of which, it’s an interesting/awkward thing when you don’t know the native language of the country you are in other than a few catch phrases like “Merci” or “Bon Jour”. I found myself trying to speak English with my faux French accent as if that would somehow make a difference in their ability to understand me. And I never want to disrespect anyone by expecting them to speak my language. One should never assume English is a universal language. When two different people asked me,  “Hablas Español?”, it was music to my ears. Normally I’m timid with Spanish, but in France, my confidence level shot right up and I was firing off sentences as if it was my native tongue. Desperation, people, makes braver than you ever thought possible. (Kind of like liquid courage.)

And how did we get back to the ship, you ask? We snuck onto the earlier i.e. “full” train, that’s how! Yes, we were rebels WITH a cause. A barista in a cafe told us to just get on the sold out train and if a conductor questioned us, to start speaking in English and act confused (aka “American”). After being confused all day, we knew there would be no acting involved. As we boarded the train, I imagined us as criminals on the run, ducking into different cars to avoid the “evil” conductor. When my mom wanted to sit in an empty seat on this supposed full train, I felt so guilty. I kept looking around, waiting for someone to aggressively oust me from my seat while yelling obscenities at me in French. As it turned out, there were empty seats the entire ride back to port. We sat next to a very sweet mother with her toddler child who seemed to love my mom and me, and we never even SAW the conductor. He was nowhere to be found. I almost did a happy dance when we exited the train in Séte, but I figured that might be pushing it a bit. Better to save my dancing for the disco on the ship. The funniest thing was how blasé my mom was about the whole thing. She was convinced we’d get back to the ship somehow. Once again, a mother always knows.

Now we are about to sail out into the harbor and I am truly grateful to be on my deck (I’ve decided it’s too big to be a balcony and hence call it a deck) and not lost somewhere in France.

Bonsoir, France. Aqui vamos, España! (Let’s hope my Spanish speaking skills will fare as well when I arrive in port tomorrow morning.) Hasta la vista, baby.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Medieval Marvels and Delightful Dogs… Perfect Together

What’s better than wandering around a medieval village and encountering cuddly canines wherever I went? Not much, I’ll tell ya. Conversely, what’s worse than having to wake up earlier than when you work a day shift at your restaurant? I’m sure you guessed the answer is exactly the same. Don’t get me wrong—I have seen some incredible things and met some incredible people. But waking up when it’s still dark outside just seems like cruel and unusual punishment when you’re on vacation. So today is all about finding balance… if anyone could tell me where to look for it, I’d appreciate it!

We docked this morning in the port of Toulon, which is located in the Provence region of France. We headed off to the medieval village of Le Castellet. (Perhaps it’s just me, but sticking a “Le” in front of the name of a town makes it sound extra fancy.) It certainly is a picturesque place. I sampled some rosé wine, obviously the specialty of the region, in a local restaurant and it was so good, I paid 14 Euro for a bottle to take with me. I purchased my bottle directly from the owner of the vineyard which was super cool. He gestured across the countryside to show me where his vineyard is located. And of course I made him pose for a selfie with me. I look forward to consuming my bottle on my next day at sea. Wine party on my balcony for me and my sailing buddies (BYOB... Bring Your Own Bottle)!

While sampling the aforementioned rosé wine, a little dog trotted by the table and without asking, my mom scooped him up and just plopped him down on her lap. (Like daughter/like mother apparently.) Check out the photo. We look adorable together, if I do say so myself. After sampling the wine and local cuisine, we wandered around the village and I accosted several other dogs and a couple of cats too, and they were all happy to receive my love. (I am the animal whisperer, after all.)  On the way back to port, my mom and I weighed all our options as to what we could do in and around the port for the rest of the day. The winning plan? No plan. Nada. What a glorious afternoon sitting on the deck by the pool, with my mom by my side. We met some Brits from a fishing village in northern England who laughed when I said I wanted to take a train an hour and a half tomorrow just to see a castle. I guess they get plenty of those where they come from. Still, it was wonderful talking to them. It’s my favorite part of cruising… the new people you meet every day and what you learn from them.

Side note, France’s only nuclear warship is docked in the water right behind me. Hmmmm… not sure how I feel about that. I guess as long as it doesn’t move from that position, all will be good.

Since we have a side note, I might as well have a footnote… I just won 80s music trivia. Wheee!!! Time to celebrate with a drink. Bon nui!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Lost AND Found

I’m never REALLY lost. I’m just temporarily unaware of EXACTLY where I am! (Thank God for Maps – it still works in foreign countries.) Today we arrived in the French Riviera, and thus far, it is every bit as glorious as its Italian counterpart. The colors… ooh la la! Just as beautiful as Portofino. I wish everyone could see precisely how beautiful it really looks. My iPhone camera just doesn’t compare to what my eyeballs are showing me!

Villefranche-Sur-Mer is a wonderful little port and it’s a great jumping off point to explore all of the French Riviera. Unfortunately, we only had one day and thus, seeing everything from Cannes to Monaco was out of the question. We decided on Monaco and were told by our guide that we made the right decision. (She obviously knew the perfect thing to say to an over-analyzer like me!) Monaco is mesmerizing. There are only 38,000 inhabitants and 1 in 3 are millionaires. Maybe this is where Millionaire Matchmaker finds all her clients. The casino in Monte Carlo is magnificent, with painted ceilings and chandeliers everywhere. It almost made me want to gamble. While in Monte Carlo, we ran into our Texan cattle ranchers as well as some of our newfound friends from the previous day's tour from hell. The world is small, and even smaller when you're on a cruise. Bumping into people you know is inevitable... even in Europe.

The highlight of the day for me was Eze. It’s a tiny medieval village on top of a hill, and trust me, the hills are STEEP. Wedge sandals were clearly not the right choice on a day like today. The thing that always gets me when I see these historic places is how old they are. Villages like Eze were there before America was, well, AMERICA. I was so enraptured with this charming site that we/I decided to leave our little tour group and stay in Eze a bit longer. Our guide told us how to take a bus back to Villefranche, and after waiting for almost an hour, the bus finally pulled in right outside the village. But that’s where everything wentkerflooey. Neither my mom nor I managed to tell the driver (who spoke perfect English by the way) where we were going. So, when we finally thought to ask him where Villefranche was, he opened the doors and said “It’s back that way.” Ummm, okay... How far is “back that way”, and where were we NOW??? Turns out, we were in Nice and it was a 45 minute walk back to the tender boat that would take us to our ship. I stubbornly didn’t want to ask for help and wandered around Nice for a bit trying to figure out where to go. “Neece is Nice” is supposedly what Americans say (sorry to all the Frenchies that are annoyed by us tourists) but I just wanted to get the hell out of dodge and get back to our port. No Neece-is-Nice for me today!

A policeman pointed toward a British couple who were headed to a taxi stand. My eyes followed the bouncing bow attached to the back of the woman’s hat as mom and I hustled after them as fast as we could. And as luck would have it, they were bound for our cruise ship too! But try getting a cab to pull over. It’s not easy, especially when you don’t speak the language. We finally managed to get someone to take pity on us and the four of us piled into a tiny car smaller than my Honda Fit! (Uber actually would’ve been cheaper, but I won’t get into that as the cab driver was less than enthused about his competitors.) Ten minutes later, we were back in port and happy to be headed back to the ship ON TIME.

I needed a drink after that fiasco and we ran into our newfound British friends in the Sunset Bar above our cabin. When we pointed to where our cabin was situated beneath the bar, they said, “Someone over there keeps hanging their laundry out on their deck.” Oh dear. I guess they saw my Victoria Secret Very Sexy bra drying off my lounge chair. I felt like a little old Italian lady who hangs her laundry on a clothesline attached to her fire escape. It just goes to show that you never know who’s watching you, even on a cruise ship. At least if I ever get lost on the ship, I won’t need to consult my Maps app. All I’ll need to do is lean over the railing and look for my undergarments. Ah, home, sweet home!

Au revoir!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Sometimes It’s The Company You Keep That Keeps You Going

That’s the theme of today. It was a day that started out like most days on a cruise. You gear up for whatever tour you’re doing, meet your group and your guide and off you go! Only problem is, this tour just never got off the ground. Oh, we went places. Where, I couldn’t tell ya. But the motley crew of travelers along for the ride made this a day to remember.

We started in Portofino which is lovely to behold. The colors are just incredible and can’t be properly captured in a photograph. You’ll have to visit for yourself and see it with your own eyes. And oh, the dogs... so many dogs, including one who rolled over on her back in the middle of a bakery so I could scratch her belly! After Portofino, we hopped aboard a boat that was taking us to see the “Three Pearls”. The Three Pearls of what, you ask? How the hell should I know? My tour guide sure didn’t tell me, and I guess I’ll have to Google it to find out. To put it bluntly, our tour guide stunk like a bag of dirty laundry left all summer in the hot trunk of a car. Yeah, she was THAT bad. At one point a person asked our guide what the origin of the town was, and she replied, “I don’t understand the question.” I’m sure she didn’t. The feeling was mutual. Half the time I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. After a while, it was just easier to tune her out and simply enjoy the pretty scenery.

When we stopped for lunch, they offered us some potato chips and croissants as a snack. WHAT??? If I want potato chips, I’ll just buy them at the Trade Fair down the street from my apartment in Astoria, Queens, thank you very much. During our “lunch” break (and I use that word loosely), I discovered that I was not the only one who felt our tour guide was the pits. The entire group unanimously thought we should cram ourselves onto one of the other tour busses and leave our guide in the dust.

As much as I can be opinionated (as we all know), on vacation I try to play it cool and not let things get me down. But hey, I was with a bunch of New Yorkers from Staten Island (one of whom was the "Can you be serious" shouter from Bingo), Brooklyn and Long Island and their energetic spirit really lit a fire under my you-know-what. I decided to confront our guide. I was diplomatic (seriously!), but I let her know my disappointment in the tour and how everyone joined in my sentiments but didn’t have the guts to say anything. Maybe it’s because I’m the child of two teachers, but I feel like it’s important to learn when you go somewhere new and at that point in the tour, I didn’t even know the name of the town I was in! Someone heard me talking to our guide and came over to back me up. When everyone found out what I had done, they were metaphorically high fiving me. Truth be told, I felt kinda bad, but the guide thanked me for telling her how I felt. Meanwhile my tour companions were planning a group stampede of the shore excursions desk to demand a refund!

As much as this sounds negative, it was actually the opposite. It brought a group of very different people together, who bonded over our lack of a tour and had fun with one another in spite of it. In fact, Frank and Angela from Staten Island want us all to meet in the “Martini Bar” later tonight so it could be an interesting evening if it all comes to pass.

However, complaining about what you want (or didn’t get) can be a double-edged sword. Speaking of which, I’ve been wondering why I haven’t had any towel animals in my cabin this trip. I admit that I look forward to coming home every night to see what towel animal will be sitting on my bed. It could be an elephant, a dog, a sting ray...  anyone who’s cruised before knows what I’m talking about. On one cruise, I discovered a towel bat hanging from my ceiling and it was so amazing! When I asked my cabin steward tonight why there are no towel animals, he shamefully mumbled, “Oh, we used to do it, but now we don’t.” “Okay, but why?” I asked. "Well," he continued, "someone complained to corporate because the towel animal in their room bothered them." BOTHERED THEM? How? In what way? What could possibly be offensive about a towel animal???  Was it phallic? Inquiring minds want to know – or maybe it’s just MY inquiring mind.

I think the point I’m trying to make is perhaps complaining is like a pay-it-forward situation in reverse. Maybe my lack of towel animals is karmic retribution for letting my tour guide know exactly what I thought. Or maybe it’s the glass of wine I just drank. Or maybe I just need to eat some dinner. Perhaps I simply need to learn how make my own towel animals.


Monday, September 10, 2018

B-I-N-G-O, Bingo Was NOT Our Name-O

So today was what cruise lines like to call a “fun day at sea”. And for me, it is fun. Mostly because I have to relax – there’s nowhere to go and nowhere I need to be. I can sit down (something I don’t do often enough) and just relax with a nice cocktail in hand. (I’ve already had two and it’s not even dinner time yet.)

There are always activities to be found throughout the ship, especially on a day at sea, but I had only one activity on my mind. BINGO. When the time came, I was ready, willing AND able, with my mom at my side. As we purchased our tickets, the $20,000 grand prize seemed like a real possibility (or so we hoped). Also there were two separate couples we had met over the past couple of days, who were all from Texas. I do love my Texans. The six of us laid out our boards, eager to do battle against the other passengers and each other. People get seriously competitive at these games once it comes down to the final round and the $20,000 grand prize is at stake. One person bellowed “Can you go slower” at the emcee while another yelled, “Can you go faster?” Someone else (who later became my fellow NY bestie) shouted, “Can you be serious?” Jeez, tough crowd. Everyone was clearly keen to get their paws on that 20,000 bucks, myself included. But alas, it was not meant to be. Twelve game cards between my mom and I, and not ONE of them was a winner. Our companions didn’t fare any better, nor did any of the other players. At least my mom won a beach towel. I guess we’ll have to see what happens at the next day at sea. Maybe the $20,000 prize will be doubled and I can really hit the jackpot!

Other than doing a crossword puzzle together (and cheating terribly), my mom and I did  a whole lot of nothing today, which suits the both of us just fine. Despite our lack of activity, we still managed to walk two miles according to the Health app in our iPhones. I don’t see how that’s possible, but at least it makes me feel better about skipping my workout today. The highlight of the day was seeing dolphins leaping out of the water off the side of the ship. Which side, I do not know. I am a nautical nimwit. Who knew there were dolphins out here? I sure didn’t. I instantly felt shame for mercilessly laughing at my mom yesterday when she asked two people from Australia where all the dolphins were. A mother always knows, after all, even when it comes to the location of mammals.

Tonight the dress code is apparently “Evening Chic”. Is this some new level of fashion that was created by cruise ships to mess with our heads and make us wonder if we are over OR under dressed? I feel like it’s the first day of elementary school and I don’t want to be ridiculed by wearing the wrong thing to class. Here’s what they say about it in the daily pamphlet that’s left in our room each morning: “While dressier than Smart Casual, Evening Chic is intended to be less dressy than Formal Attire.” What the hell does that mean? I’m just gonna throw on a black dress and call it a day… or evening, as the case may be.

And now there’s nothing left to do except admire the sunset from my lounge chair on my beautiful balcony. I can think of worse ways to end my day!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

One If By Land, Two If By Sea

That pretty much sums up my mom’s feelings on hiking. Meaning, it ain’t happening. Ever. But it’s okay. I hiked Cinque Terre in the ‘90s and the thought of taking a break from strenuous activity and seeing these colorful villages by sea appealed to even me. (Especially since I fell through a hidden hole and dropped six feet during my original hike.) Sometimes you just need to sit back and enjoy the ride… know what I mean?

The day was almost a disaster. We woke to discover our excursion with an outside company to these lovely lands had been canceled at the last minute. We rushed to the shore excursion desk, barely out of the shower, and luckily our cruise line had a similar tour leaving, like, IMMEDIATELY. It was time to “throw my ta-ta’s in a bra” and jump on the bus before it left without us!

On the ride to this magnificent place we passed Carrara, known for it’s “marble mountains” and yes, it’s REAL marble used to build, among other things, the Pantheon in Rome. We first stopped in Porto Venere, which is not part of Cinque Terre, but it has the best pesto sauce I’ve ever tasted. Apparently this region of Italy is where pesto comes from. I just wanted to take a bath in it. Yum. It was a charming pit stop and before we left, my mom and I met an Italian couple who are getting married in Central Park of all places in October. They asked if I knew any restaurants to have dinner at after their ceremony. Is anyone the least bit curious if I recommended anywhere in particular? Hmmm. One thing is certain, I gave their adorable border collie a huge hug before heading off to our boat, bound for Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre literally translates to “five lands”. It is part of the Italian Riviera and is absolutely glorious. I haven’t seen the French Riviera yet, but if it’s anything like this, then all I can say is “Ooo la la"! (Or should it be "Ay, dios mio"?) Hiking the five villages is one of my fondest memories of all my travels in Europe, so I was very excited for my mom to experience it too. Well, Cinque Terre was as beautiful as I remembered. Sadly, it’s gotten more touristy over the years. When I hiked through the villages, it was like this undiscovered gem for Americans like myself. In fact, Cinque Terre barely took up a paragraph in my Lonely Planet travel guide at the time, and it was pure luck that I found it. Now, information about the place is everywhere and thus, the crowds and tourist shops have moved in. Tourism can be such a blessing and a curse.

We met some lovely people throughout the day, though I could’ve done without the bald guy that seemed to be my very own “Where’s Waldo?” in all my photos. C'est la vie. My favorite people of the day were a couple from Texas. I do love my Texans! They are cattle ranchers and the husband is also a physicist. Mutually exclusive? Guess not. I also learned as a cattle rancher, you should never name your cows, and I’ll just leave it at that. (I'm sure you can imagine the reason behind that.)

On the way back to port, it was funny listening to some people on the bus talking about food, in accents reminiscent of Daphne Moon from "Frasier". Insert Manchester accent: “Is it chili hot or is it garlic hot, because I don’t like garlic hot.” Maybe it’s because I work in a restaurant, but hearing that made me giggle.

Dinner time is rapidly approaching so it’s time to get ready. And when it comes to MY food, I prefer garlic hot to chili hot, FYI. Bon appetite to you all!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

When You’re In A Suite, You Have To Act Classy

So our 24 hours in Rome were delightful. We had a wonderful dinner last night where we met a mother/son duo from Verona (that’s Romeo & Juliet territory) sitting next to us who graciously offered me a taste of their spaghetti carbonara. (And yes, I happily accepted… it was delish.) Check out the photo of our generous dinner neighbors if you’re so inclined. Interesting thing about service in Italy… it can be non-existent. We had to find someone to pay our bill (as did several other diners) since our waiter was nowhere to be found and we would never dine and dash! My little server heart shattered in a million pieces at the lack of gracious hospitality. At least the food was good. Of course, no meal involving wine would be complete without me doing my famous “smile and fade”. Thank you, mom, for getting us in a cab home before I fell headfirst onto our table. Jet lag is real, people!

This morning, before departing for the ship, we wandered around Rome and visited the Bocca Della Verita. (Mouth of Truth). It’s a 2800 pound disc made famous by the Audrey Hepburn movie “Roman Holiday”. Myth says that if you stick your hand in its mouth and say something untruthful, your hand will be bitten off. Luckily my mom and I have the worst poker faces known to man and don’t fib. As my acting teacher always says, “Don’t lie. You’re just going to get caught.” (Thank you, Matt, for helping me keep my extremities attached to my body!)

Too soon it was time to depart for the ship, but we were eager with anticipation to see our home for the next 11 days. For those that don’t know, we placed a bid to be upgraded to a larger cabin. We were hoping for a balcony, but as a joke, I placed a bid on a suite, never dreaming it would ever come to fruition. Voila! Our bid was accepted and we were upgraded to a “Family Veranda Suite”. The cabin is enormous and our balcony could host quite a nice soirée. (Something to consider for our days at sea.)

But the thing we are discovering is when you are in a suite, you feel like a VIP. We had our own line at check-in, a separate dining room and closet/storage space that puts my apartment to shame. I don’t know if gals like us are fancy enough for this kind of treatment, but I will happily take the larger balcony to dry my bathing suits!

One thing that made me laugh… they are playing the film “Overboard” in our cabins. Is that not tempting fate? I plan on keeping my feet planted firmly on deck, I promise!

Bon voyage!

Friday, September 7, 2018

When In Rome... You Drink Prosecco, Duh!!!

Why yes, that IS a condom dispenser, but I'll get to that later. So here it is… the first official day of our annual mother/daughter getaway. Besides half of my suitcase being drenched by rainwater that may or may not be toxic, it was a nice beginning to our European adventure. We only have one day in Rome since we sail out on our cruise tomorrow, so we tried to revisit some of our favorite spots and fill in the blanks on things we missed out on last year. And as it turned out, we didn’t do anything new… YET. (There’s still tomorrow morning!)

I had to make a stop at the shoe store where I bought the most amazing wedge sandals last summer.  That said, finding the place took some detective work on my part (which amounted to calling my mom’s credit cards in advance of the trip to see what the heck the name of this store was). I held my iPhone while following the directions on my Maps app (and looking like a silly tourist in the process), and miraculously found my shoe store. This year, in case you’re interested, I found a lovely pair of blue wedge sandals I will probably wear to dinner tonight. Don’t you remember when you were a little kid and you couldn’t wait to wear the new pair of shoes your mom bought for you? Well, apparently nothing has changed. My mom bought my shoes and I’m still excited to wear them! (I know. Get a life.)

We had to make a pit stop at the glorious Trevi Fountain while we were out and about. When we told someone we were throwing coins in the fountain and wishing for “world peace”, the person laughed at us. Was that sarcasm, disbelief, or a combination of both? Does it even matter? I think I need some more prosecco while I ruminate.

We also saw Piazza Navona, Castle San Angelo, the interior of the dome of the Pantheon (biggest self-supporting dome in the world apparently) and were accosted by someone trying to sell us a selfie stick. One guess as to whether you think I purchased one or not :) On the way back to our B&B, I couldn't help snapping that photo of the condom machine. It was attached to the side of a building and I remembered seeing it last year. Okay, I admit I went looking for the condom machine to make sure it was still there. I’m certainly glad to know safe sex is important worldwide!

We are so bleary eyed from our travels that it’s hard to express what I’m feeling at the moment. But if I had to put it in one word, it would be JOY. It’s good to be back in Rome. And at the same bed and breakfast with the amazing rooftop from last summer. Sigh, the views of the city up here are incredible. Check out the photos and see for yourself.

Now it’s time to get ready for dinner. Anyone for pasta? Yes, please!

Buona notte!