Tuesday, September 24, 2019

There’s Always Time For Dog Cuddles

There I am in the middle of La Coruña, Spain, when I come across a chubby but loveable dachshund. He was just waiting for me to hug him. For real. Tail wagging enthusiastically and everything. So I did. And the owners loved it. Even a language barrier (though I do speak some Spanish) couldn’t stop these owners from appreciating someone who loved their fur baby almost as much as they did.

After my quick pit stop to hug the dog (who will be forever known by me as “fat dachshund” since I’ve forgotten his name), we continued onto Torres de Hércules. It’s supposed to be the oldest lighthouse in the world that is still in use. The Romans built it in the 2nd century, so yeah, it’s OLD. literally ancient. Lynda and I were the brave souls amongst the four of us who wanted to climb the tower in order to check out the views at the top. It was 230 steps… not bad, I think. I only managed thirty minutes on the bicycle at the gym this morning, so why not get in another aerobic workout and take in some beautiful scenery at the same time? And beautiful it was. WOW. The water in La Coruña is something to behold… a gorgeous aquamarine, turquoise color. So enticing you wished you could just dive into it if it weren’t for the fact that the waves would knock you flat on your you-know-what, and the frigid temperature would probably put most into cardiac arrest!

Still, it was nice to take in the views of the water from the top of the tower. Totally worth the climb. Check out this amazing vista:

 After we descended, we headed back into town and I kept talking about “fat dachshund”. Was he still at the café where we had spotted him, lazing away the afternoon while his owners enjoyed their beers? So of course I wanted to breeze by and see for myself. Besides, Andrew likes his afternoon coffee and cake so what better place to do that where I could also enjoy the company of the cutest dachshund I had ever seen?

Suffice it to say, “fat dachshund” WAS there, and the owners were only too happy to snap that pic of me hugging their enthusiastic tail wagger. Meanwhile, the four of us relaxed for a bit, and I had the most delicious tiramisu I’ve ever tasted (FYI it was more expensive than the glass of Spanish rioja I also enjoyed). You gotta love a country where alcohol is cheaper than food. Yay Spain! As we sail out of the harbor, leaving our final port behind, I wish “fat dachshund” a fond farewell and hope he continues to make other passersby as happy as he made me. Adios mi perro!!!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Sea Day or Sick Day?

You know it’s a rough day at sea when the barf bags are hanging from the ships’ stairwells. So far, I have yet to witness anyone using them, but let’s see what happens later this evening, after everyone’s had a few cocktails. As for me, I don’t get seasick or any kind of motion sickness thankfully. But I guess there’s always a first time and let’s hope it’s not aboard the Independence of the Seas!

Truth be told, I’ve kind of enjoyed the ship rocking back and forth. I found it comforting when I was trying to sleep last night. Perhaps it brought back memories of my mom rocking me to sleep as a child? Nah. I doubt I even had a crib that “rocked”. But I do like being on the water and the movement of it makes me feel peaceful.

Fast forward to this morning, when we arrived a bit later than usual to the upstairs dining room (known on all Royal Caribbean related ships as “The Windjammer Café”) and discovered they were already putting breakfast away a half hour ahead of schedule. Let’s just say Mother Laura and I were not pleased about this, and our cabin number was taken by one of the captains of the waitstaff. On the other hand, I get it. No one wants to stay late when no one is coming in to eat. But the dining room was PACKED and people were still enjoying their breakfasts. Do you really think breaking down the buffet thirty minutes ahead of schedule was the appropriate thing to do? Especially since we are “at sea” and literally have nowhere to go? I think not. Okay, I admit I am on a soapbox here, but working in the industry makes me more sensitive to these types of behaviors… or misbehaviors.

What does our breakfast debacle have to do with the barf bags? Dunno. Hopefully nothing, unless  unless the kitchen is planning something dastardly in retaliation for this morning. Here’s to hoping for a pleasant dinner experience!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Slip Slidin’ Away!

Thankfully we were mainly doing the latter on our wonderful toboggan, courtesy of our pair of drivers.  Welcome to Madeira, an island of Portugal, where toboggans were used back in the day to transport people up and down the steep hills. Now, it’s a tourist attraction and what fun it is (and totally worth the wait)! But to do this, we had to first take a cable car ride to the top of the mountain to Monte. Check out this view along the way:

Once at the top, we lined up for our toboggan rides. I watched from a distance as other people set off down the winding streets aboard their toboggans and I was so excited for my turn! I was reminded of the alpine slides they used to have at a placed called Action Park in Vernon Valley, NJ. Some of my Jersey pals will remember it. You rode a sled down a cement track with questionable brakes and limited steering capabilities. Yeah, cause that sounds safe for teenagers! (Probably why it closed in the mid 90s.) Go to 3:40 to learn all about the skin ripping, sled malfunctioning terror of the alpine slide at Action Park: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x158v48

Annnnnyyyywaaaay, I digress. Luckily we had no mishaps on our sled, thanks to our very skillful drivers. The joyful photo of me and my mom on our wooden toboggan was actually captured by a professional photographer. No, even my selfie stick isn’t long enough to capture that kind of image! They have various photographers planted all along the route to make sure they get a “picture perfect” photo of you and your loved one. And then, of course, they are there as you exit your toboggan with your photo ALREADY printed AND in a beautiful folder to boot for your purchasing pleasure… and purchase it I did. (And so did everyone else in my tour group!)  And for 10 euro, who could blame us? 10 euro for a phenomenal photographic memory of your toboggan thrill ride? Now that’s what I call brilliant marketing.

If only the embroidery shop we stopped at next used the same marketing strategy. I gotta say, they didn’t do anything to inspire us to purchase their wares. That said, does anyone really want an embroidered tablecloth for $6,000? I sure don’t. Half the bus skipped the stop and hightailed it to the ice cream shop down the street. I was super jealous of their savvy. I’ve been craving a scoop of coffee ice cream the whole trip!

At least the Madeira wine shop gave us free wine samples. If you want me to buy alcohol, best way to do that is give me a complimentary taste. The best way to describe Madeira wine is to say that it reminds me of a sweet dessert wine. I don’t think I’ll be purchasing a bottle for personal consumption anytime soon, but I sure didn’t mind the giveaway. Cheers, everyone!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Three Coins In The Fountain

Or in this case, make it one. Thanks, mom, for the coin toss. As an artist, I’m all about wishes. Wishing for roles, wishing for the right words in my writing, wishing that the right feelings come out at the exact moment I need them for a scene. I probably make a wish on something at LEAST once a day. And I’m okay with that. Wishes to me are tied to hope. And personally, I don’t want to live without either. You just have to make sure both are channeled into the right place or else you end up in Fantasy Land (which is great for a day, but not a place I want to spend my life)!

So today was about bigger wishes than usual. It doesn’t really matter what they were about. Just that they were important. I came across that fountain on our way back to the ship. It was so random and unexpected that I offhandedly asked my mom to make a wish. I mean, why not? What could it hurt? But then everything turned around right after that coin was tossed in such a way that I have to wonder, was it really random? People always tease me about my steadfast belief in things happening for a reason, and today’s coin toss shows me I’m not so silly as they think.

So… as I sit on my balcony, feeling the warmth of the late afternoon sun on my face and the peaceful sound of the waves, I want to say thank you, and be grateful for this moment.

Friday, September 20, 2019

It’s A Dog’s Life

I know… who doesn’t love a dog in a basket? Okay, there are those of you who are indifferent to an animal’s charm. I get it. Well actually I don’t, but I at least try to TOLERATE it. However, even those of you animal naysayers out there can’t help but love a dog wearing goggle sunglasses. Seriously. It’s real. His name is Pancho and he lives in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (one of the Canary Islands). And for those of you who are wondering, Poncho’s smile is real too. Pomeranians (which is the breed Poncho is) have what is known as “resting smile face”. I walk a dog named Azi and his smile is as big and bright as Poncho’s. And heck, it beats looking at resting you-know-what face any day. No one needs that negativity!

So, given that Pancho’s smiling face is what greeted me as I left my cruise ship, I just knew it was going to be a great day. And it was. It wasn’t the whirlwind albeit amazing dual excursion of yesterday. No catamarans or a jeep ride around the island. No, today was just about relaxing on the beach. And relax we did. We went to Las Canteras beach and enjoyed sun, and later on, sangria. And no day would be complete without floating in the water on our inflatable Doodles.

Only Andrew, Lynda and I ended up in the water. We couldn’t get my mom to come in. It was nice nevertheless and we ended up talking to some guy who told us he had lived in Virginia and NYC before coming back to the island. He emphatically told me how much he disliked NYC, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that’s where I lived. Different strokes for different folks, right? It was hard to drag ourselves out of the water and make our way back to the ship.

By the way, Lynda and I tried to venture up to the waterslide again but it was closed! Talk about sad!!! We will have to save that for another day. I’m just grateful to be here and making memories with good friends. And so off to dinner I go and then onto an ice skating performance. Gotta love a ship that has an ice skating rink.

Time to sit back and watch the sunset from my balcony:

Not bad, huh? Hope you get to enjoy your own sunsets… wherever you might be!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Who Says You Can’t Be In Two Places At Once?

It’s always been my dream come true… I mean, how much more productive would I be if I could split myself in two? Can’t decide what party to attend? No problem… go to both! Want to make money at work, but still want to get more sleep? Easy. Let one half of  you go make some moolah while the other half stays home in bed. Oh, if only that were possible! Well… imagine my surprise when I discovered it WAS possible. At least on camera anyway. The wonders of technology!

After spending the morning on a catamaran where we drank delightful sangria and floated on our Noodles (actually called Doodles when they’re inflatable apparently), we were whisked away by a professional photographer for a tour of the island. Her name is Antonina and her company, Photo Safari Lanzarote, is AMAZING! The four of us were lucky to have this lovely, knowledgable guide all to ourselves and she took us for a personalized tour of the island. Lanzarote is an island of over 130 volcanoes (all inactive thankfully), and the landscapes and views we were privy to were just breathtaking. It was like being on the moon, but with blue skies! There is no way we could’ve seen and done what we did without the wonderful Toni. And that she gave us photography lessons along the way was an unexpected added bonus we were all truly grateful for.

We kept saying it, but it truly was the best day. I got to sail out on a catamaran in the morning and zip around the island in the afternoon and I didn’t even have to divide myself in two!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Come With Me and Escape

Remember that Rupert Holmes song? The same guy who wrote “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”? (True story.) Isn’t ringing any bells? It’s okay, it’s a 70s thing… all about drinking piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. What does that have to do with me? Not much. I haven’t even had a pina colada on this vacation. The escape part? Well, that IS definitely relevant. Vacations are a form of escape, but so far, I’ve been struggling with the escape part. Real life always looms on the horizon.

So it was wonderful to have a literal escape on our second day at sea, in the form of an escape room. I’ve never done one before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m happy to report they are super fun! It’s a mind bending, puzzle solving experience. Our fabulous foursome joined forces with three other people in an attempt to escape an observatory. But I think the point was to bring the observatory back online. What does that mean? I dunno. I just wanted to win.

We had 50 minutes to escape the room. Again, what do they mean by “escape”? I still have no idea. We did pretty well for the first half, but then it all fell apart. I can’t give away too much about the room, for future escapees. I have to say, it was REALLY hard. I still wasn’t sure what we were escaping from and where we were going when we got out. At the end of the day, we lost. The person running the room claimed only 30% of the people actually get out, but I wasn’t sure if I believed him.

At the end of the day, it was nice to take a break from reality and real life obligations to just have fun. And nothing more. And now… it’s time for bed. Good night, all!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Next Stop Where?

Welcome to Tram #28, supposedly the Mac Daddy tram that takes you all over Lisbon. Both tourists and locals alike use it to get around the city. And trust me, you don’t want to get around by foot. The hills are so steep, it makes a stairmaster look tame in comparison. The tram makes all those silly lists of “Things You Must Do In Lisbon”. The problem was finding it. We hopped on a different tram that was supposed to take us to Tram #28, and a french guy told us we had to get off at his stop. He’s chatting away with us the whole ride and everything seems fine. But as the french guy’s stop approaches, we ask him how to get to Tram #28 and he responds “Oh, I don’t know what that is.” (Imagine the french accent – it makes it all the more comical.) Ummmm… what? Did I misunderstand his English or his accent when he told us we had to get off at his stop? Dunno, but we were lost again.

A local started pointing in too many different directions for me to keep track of, so we finally decided to take a taxi to the tram. I know, I know. We totally took a taxi so we could then take public transportation. Go figure. Remember the not-to-be-missed lists I mentioned earlier!

We finally found the tram, and I must say, it was nice to ride a piece of history and take in all the sights of the city. We caught a glimpse of our ship from the tram (the gigantic water slide is hard to miss) and we figured it was a sign our ride was over. Just in time too. Those trams certainly shake, rattle and roll! We wandered downhill, through the streets of Lisbon and even hit a stand where we could try Ginha, a cherry liqueur that is local to the area. (It was delicious!)

Today was one of those days where you just had to “go with the flow” as Andrew said because from one moment to the next, I wasn’t sure where we were going to end up. But I guess as long as we made it back to the ship before it sailed out, that’s all that matters. And check out this view as we headed back out to sea:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Young At Heart

Oh lord it’s the second day in a row that I’m referencing a Frank song. But hey, it was one of my dad’s favorite artists and it’s fitting of my sentiment at the moment.

Diving into the frigid waters of Samir beach today in Vigo Spain was something I’d do as a kid... “just because”.  The water was freezing and the outside air temperature wasn’t exactly conducive to taking a dip in frigid waters. But when you’re a kid, that doesn’t matter. You want to do those kind of things... just because.

After getting back from the beach, I dragged our crew up to the top deck of the ship to the water slide. It’s pretty massive, especially for a cruise ship. But I wanted to go on it... just because. Andrew and I ventured up first. I have to be honest,  the higher we climbed, the faster my heart began to race (and it wasn’t because of my stair workout). No, I was thinking “What the hell did I get myself into?” I looked out over the railing and said to Andrew “Wow... this is far up.’ And he kind of nervously laughed and said “Yeah, we’re pretty high up aren’t we.” But just like the resolve I felt in the cold water that morning, there was no way I was turning back now. My pride wouldn’t allow it! As we got to the top and the guy told us what to do so we didn’t hurt ourselves, I started thinking, “Oh my god what am I doing?? Maybe I’m too old for this!”  Right before I climbed into my tube, I turned to Andrew and said, “You scared?” He said “Yea, a little” and I said “Me too.” And we high fived and went for it. And I laughed the entire way down like a silly little girl. When I got to the bottom, I convinced Lynda she had to do it with me, she was unsure. But I got her to “give it a go” as the Brits like to say, and up  we went.

And when we got to the bottom, like me, she was laughing like a kid, and then it was Lynda who begged me to do it one more time.

So sometimes you just have days where you need to let your inner child come out and do things... just because.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

(I Did It) My Way

At least that’s what the Jack Pack told me when they sang the famous Frank Sinatra song at their performance tonight. In case you don’t know, the Jack Pack was a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent a few year’s back. Imagine Michael Buble x 4… yeah, totally pleasing on the eyes and ears. Look ‘em up… super adorable.

What I liked about them was that they really DID seem to be doing it their way, and they were having fun DOING it. And that was the theme of my day, albeit not as fun I suspect. I did some exercising, played some Bingo (and lost) and recorded two-self tape auditions in my cabin. Not bad for a day at sea, huh?

A part of me would have preferred parking myself on a deck chair and just reading a book all day, but life continues to happen – even when you’re on vacation - and sometimes  work has to get done. But I guess if I get to end my day with some good entertainment and good conversation with friends, it’s not so bad.

Food for thought to the Jack Pack... apparently they lost in the finals of Britain’s Got Talent, getting only 10% of the audience vote. The song they picked? None other “My Way”. My British friends told me that same song is played at a lot of funerals in England. Hmmmm.... perhaps the boys should’ve picked a song that isn’t associated with death in their homeland? Maybe they would’ve garnered more votes if they had sung something happier like “You Make Me Feel So Young” or “Nice ’N Easy”? Just sayin’.

Good night, all!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Off We Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder!

I know the “wild blue yonder” normally refers to the skies, but it feels appropriate as I look out into the ocean from my balcony. Of course, it’s not the enormous veranda from last year. Suffice it to say, we won’t be hosting any soirées here! No, this is a balcony, and it’s small, but it certainly does the trick. And it’s absolutely delightful to  sit out here at the end of the day and reflect on everything that’s happened.

And what a day it has been! I already spilled a glass of water in my purse before I ever had my first drink, but we need not go into my clumsiness. The best part of today was reuniting with our friends Lynda and Andrew, who we met on last year’s cruise. That’s all of us in the photo, standing on what they call the “promenade”. Royal Caribbean is the only cruise line that has them as far as I know. They are pretty magnificent and you forget you’re on a ship. Think of it as a mini mall, full of bars, restaurants and stores. And yes, automobiles. I haven’t seen the car on this ship yet, but Royal Caribbean ships have an antique car on the promenade. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps they auction it off to the highest bidder. I couldn’t care less. I only care about the sense of nostalgia I feel when I cross the promenade. It takes me back to my teen years in New Jersey, because one thing Jersey is full of is malls.  And anyone that grew up in Bergen County, NJ spent their fair share of time at Garden State Plaza in Paramus.  (You know you did. It’s okay, I did too).

After we visited the promenade, we wanted to watch the boat sail out of the harbor. We asked a bartender if he knew what time the ship was sailing out. And two drunk people at the bar started shouting “Who knows when the ship is sailing out?” This was followed by hysterical laughter from the pair of them. Yes, I imagine you DON’T know what time the ship is sailing out, Mr. and Mrs. Drunky McDrunkerson. You probably don’t know where you are, let alone what time it is.  Never mind the fact that I was asking the bartender, not them for the information. Sigh, sometimes working in hospitality gets the better of me, but I am on vacation, after all. Might as well laugh, and get myself a cocktail and join in on the festivities.

And on that note, it’s time to do EXACTLY that. Bon voyage, all!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Every Hour Is Happy Hour In England!

Well, that’s not TOTALLY true, but it kind of feels like that… in the best possible way. It’s so good to be back in merry old England, especially on the first day of our trip. I’ve never been to Southampton before, but I love how everyone here is so welcoming and kind. For starters, the bartender/manager/concierge of the Inn where we’re staying (The Grapes Inn) lugged our bags up two flights of stairs, and as he was gasping for air, he asked us if WE wanted a drink. And I don’t think he meant water either. (In reality, I think he was the one that needed the drink after his workout.) People here actually want to take a moment and say hi. I saw faces looking OUT, instead of DOWN at their phones.

Southampton is a port town, where cruise ships depart for destinations in Europe and beyond. It is a town that is proud of their naval history. While walking around, we saw the remnants of a bombed out church and the original medieval walls of the city. It’s a city that is also modernizing itself, and they have a big shopping center near the water. It mixes old with the new, but it seems to work.

When we got back to our “inn”, mom was too tired to climb the two flights of stairs to our room right away, so why not have a drink while she worked up the energy? So we sat down and while we sipped our drinks, people talked to us and wanted to know who we were. We loved it. It wasn’t even 5:00 0’clock and the weekend was already starting for many of the locals. It was nice feeling a part of this lovely place. Our Inn is on a cobblestone pedestrian-only area, which makes it feel more cozy.

And if you feel like having a snack with your beverage of choice, feel free to munch on The Grapes’ pub snack... and I’m not talking about peanuts. I mean CRICKETS:

Wait... what? “Delicious insect snacks”... is that a thing? Apparently in Southampton, it IS. They were just sitting in a bowl, waiting for me to sample them and verify their delectability. Sorry... that’s a no. So as we toast with our glass of Prosecco and wine in the photo below, all we have left to say is, “Cheers!”