Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Intro to At the Whim of the Gods

TRAVEL THERE: SOMETHING FUNNY HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO A WEDDING

1994 was a big year for me.

I got married in May and our honeymoon was a Hawaiian cruise. That should be enough to make any year big, but it was just the beginning of our adventures.

I had six weeks to update my passport with my new name, because Bill’s best friend was getting married in Wiesenkirche Zu Soest and we were on the guest list. We weren’t only on the guest list for the wedding, though. We were also invited along for the honeymoon.

The Way the World Was

Today life is framed by smartphones and social media, but in 1994 we somehow managed to live without either one. There was an internet, but we called it the web and it was just a place for nerds to go.

A computer with Windows and a mouse was a novelty, because most systems ran DOS. Our monitors were CRTs. People owned copiers, not printers, because printers were these loud dot matrix things that produced voluminous reports we called print-outs. We sent faxes, not emails, because email was also a novelty and texts weren’t a thing. (Watch the movie You’ve Got Mail.)

Every home had a land line, with multiple phones around the house and depended on an answering machine to get their messages. There were cellular phones, but they were very limited, because you actually subscribed to a particular set of cell towers. You actually had to pay extra to get Dallas-Ft. Worth service, instead of Dallas or Ft. Worth. When you got out of your cell, then you went on roaming which was astronomically expensive, so you just didn’t use it. There was no camera, no texting, no wi-fi, no internet. You just made and received calls. For all these reasons, there were more people with beepers than there were with cellphones and when you weren’t working, you left your beeper at home. Believe me, it was lovely.

When you traveled you used maps, atlases and travel guides, because GPS was something for pilots and the military. If you needed to make a call, you used a pay phone or you waited until you got to your hotel. Getting away from it all could actually be accomplished.

It Should Have Been a Breeze

I’ve been fortunate in my life. My vacations with Bill have been one Trip of a Lifetime after another – the Caribbean, Egypt, the Danube, the Mediterranean, cruises, road trips, you name it and I hadn’t exactly been sitting around on my keester before I met him.

Still, the itinerary for Tammy and Ludger’s wedding trip was like something out of a movie. Tammy was a flight attendant for an international airline, so all of our flights were comped. Ludger’s company owned the gorgeous hotel where the wedding party stayed, so our five star accommodations were comped. Limos were supposed to pick us up at one airport and whisk us to another, where we’d party in one of those restricted lounges. There would be days of rustic folk celebrations in Ludger’s small German village and the wedding would be in a spectacular cathedral. And that was just the beginning, because then we’d set out on a road trip to see the wonders of Bavaria.

But you know me! If something is going to go awry, then I’m probably on that train. Before this trip was over I would live some of the most spectacular moments of my life. It was remarkable in every possible way, but most remarkable and most frequently recounted is the disaster of a commute we made from DFW to the small town of Dortmund in Germany.

At the Whim of the Gods was Born

I turned these adventures into a manuscript sometime in the early 2000’s. I wasn’t sure then what I’d do with it. I just had the inspiration and went with it. I still had hopes of being the next Victoria Holt back in those days. At first I wrote it like a play, inspired by the Greater TUNA plays by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, which were popular at the time. Then, someone in a writing group said it would be more fun as a narrative. That captured my imagination and I did a rewrite. I had actually forgotten the rewrite until I was looking back in my files to retrieve the play.

I didn’t actually think I was going to be the next Victoria Holt. I just wanted to be a published author. I’d written a comic novel about a retirement home romance, but somewhere after the 50th rejection letter I found myself embroiled in the drama of being the primary caregiver for three failing senior citizens and I lost my momentum. Life went on and while I did manage to get some poems published, I’ve moved on to other dreams.

Now, I’ll share At the Whim of the Gods with you. I decided the narrative version is the more interesting of the two, even though it was never actually finished. Who knows, maybe I’ll get inspired again? Maybe I’ll finish it up by sharing the end of the play.

One small warning – there won’t be many images. Bill had his camera bag, but remember, these were the days before we had smartphones and we didn’t break out the camera for the small moments, or our meals, or much of anything, except the sites.

I’ll break the narrative down into easily digestible chunks and make this post sticky, so that if anyone happens upon my blog they’ll know what’s up.

The Blurb on the Cover

If this story was on Amazon, there would be a paragraph to introduce it. It would go something like this:

What if the huge pantheon of gods from the ancient world are still with us? Since we stopped worshipping them, perhaps they’ve gotten a little bored. Taking a cue from humans, the gods and demi-gods watch reality shows on their scrying bowls. The favorite show might be Jagged Journeys, where human contestants have no idea they’re just entertainment fodder for Mount Olympus. Bill and Jane Sadek are real people who went on a real vacation in 1994. All these things actually happened to them. Was it just bad luck or were they AT THE WHIM OF THE GODS!

I really do hope you enjoy it. Come back next week for the first excerpt!

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

The Long Stretch Home

a luggage conveyor inside airport
Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

TRAVEL THERE:  BACK TO DFW EVENTUALLY

So after a very long wait in Montreal, we took off for Toronto.  We were almost home.  Just one easy overnight layover and we’d be there.  Only it didn’t turn out exactly like that.

Late Night Luggage Woes

We arrived in Toronto much later than our original 9:32 PM ETA.    I can’t remember ever being so zombie-like from travel.  We disembarked and made our way to baggage claim, but there was no baggage to claim.  The carousel went around and around and occasionally an odd bag would show up, but no one from our flight got any luggage.  Since it was just a commuter flight from Montreal, most of the passengers trotted away with their carry-ons.  We were all so tired it took us awhile to comprehend what was was going on.  We were at the right carousel, because the sign on it listed our flight, but nothing from our flight was showing up.

Bill got in the lost luggage line and as we waited, I made an inventory of the entire baggage claim area, just to be sure we were in the right place and weren’t missing anything.  How does an airplane even fly without having anything in the cargo hold.  There was only one Air Canada employee in sight.  They were behind the lost luggage counter and the counter was besieged by customers, so there was no chance to pop in and ask a question.  I also noticed there seemed to be a lot of luggage just sitting around, some looking as if it had been lined up and organized, but other piles looking as if it had merely been tossed there and forgotten – decades ago.

The line took forever.  The employee said nothing was arriving from Montreal that evening and our luggage would be delivered to our home.  Bill explained that Montreal was not home and we would be traveling to DFW in the morning.  The guy said, “Great, just come back here in the morning.”  Had we had our brains screwed in properly we would have recognized a problem with that, but our brains were as lost as our luggage.

Best Laid Plans Go Awry

So our plan for saving money had been to spend our layover at a bargain suite hotel.  The room for the three of us would still leave us with a significant savings on the airfare, but that savings was getting less valuable as the troubles added up.  If things had gone our way, we’d have caught a little of the hotel’s happy hour and gotten a great breakfast buffet.  As it was, we got perhaps four hours of sleep, but we all needed at least twelve.

Back at the airport, it was one headache after another.  We stood in a lot of lines that morning and none of them helped at all.  We would stand in one line and they would send us to another.  Finally, after hearing our luggage woes, someone sent us back down to baggage claim to get some document we should have received the night before.  Have you ever tried to reach the arrivals baggage claim area from the departure area of the Toronto airport?  Just give it up.  It ain’t happening.  It took most of the airport to get us back there and when we did it was a total fail.  The morning staffer was overwhelmed by the mess he’d been left with by the night crew and our problem was the last one he wanted to handle.  We did however end up with the requisite piece of paper and a lot of free time.

Needless to say, we did not connect with our luggage in Toronto and actually wouldn’t see it for days.  We could have gotten a few more hours of sleep if we’d known that in the wee hours of the morning, not so long ago, but we weren’t given any good breaks along the way.  We actually had to wait quite awhile to even check into our flight.  Since there weren’t any other bags to worry about, we checked our carry-ons so we wouldn’t have to mess with them.  We didn’t care about anything we owned at that point.  We just wanted to be home.

Home

The flight itself was uneventful and our checked carry-ons arrived without any trouble. The Park & Fly Shuttle took us to our car, which was intact, right where we left it.  We dropped Deb off on our way back to Heath.  And then we were home.

Bill got right on the luggage thing once we were home and the next week would have been funny, if it were happening to someone one else.  I’m not even going to bother you with it all, because I don’t even want to think about it.  The only good thing to come out of it for me was that while we were shopping for some replacement items we had to buy, to get the maximum reimbursement, I found a great after-5 dress that Air Canada ended up buying for me.  It’s the least they could do after what they put us through.

After it was all over – the year of planning dominated by a remodel gone wrong, the highly active and not at all relaxing travel, the beautiful vow renewal ceremony, all the amazing times we had, all the incredible things we saw,  the hassle over the photos and the hellacious trip home – for about 10 minutes, I thought, “This is just too much damned trouble.  I never want to travel again.”  Then I came to my senses.  That’s when we got a letter from the Westin offering us a bargain vacation to come check out their property in Scottsdale AZ.

So, come back next week and we’ll head to the Westin’s Kierland Villas!  See you, then!

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Flaming Fingers, Fantastic Footwork and Farewell

TRAVEL THERE: FLAMENCO ONBOARD THE CELEBRITY EDGE

As we planned our shore excursions, we were disappointed when a Flamenco tour on Mallorca was cancelled.  My bestie, Deborah, adores all dance and Flamenco is a particular favorite of mine.  If we’d known Celebrity had something Flamenco-flavored planned for us, we’d have been a whole lot happier, but the Flamenco show was nice addition to our final day.  We discovered that along with other perks, like the wine tasting at the Monaco Yacht Club and a private tour of the Prince’s Palace, cruising with the Celebrity’s CEO offered some nice treats. 

A Return to the Ship

After the Tapas tour all of us tired tourists returned to the boat.  Jim and Melanie went to the buffet and then on to their cabin.  The rest of us hurried to our cabins to get ready for dinner and the Flamenco show which was held on the pool deck.

I have mixed reviews.  It was nice to get both the Tapas Tour and a Flamenco Show, but in truth, I think I would have been happier to have had the original Flamenco Show we had planned.  I think it would have been more dramatic to be in a darkened room, with a formal stage and better acoustics.  As it was, the music was over-amplified and the Flamenco dancers had to contend with dancing among tourists clumped about taking pictures.  It sort of compromised the mood.  No fault to the dancers or the musicians, though.  They did a spectacular job in a challenging atmosphere.

Since I failed to journal my final day, I’m not sure where we had dinner.  I keep turning it over in my mind.  I am pretty sure Bill and I ate alone.  Perhaps it was in the Cosmopolitan or the Cyprus.  Perhaps we just went to the buffet.  Obviously, it was unremarkable since I can’t even remember which it was.  I was just about over eating anything by that point.  Way too much food on this trip.

If you are a cruiser, then you know this was the evening I had to place most of our belongings out into the hall to be picked up and select the few items we’d keep for our carry-on bag.  This is always a challenge for me.  You have to balance what you might need with what you can actually have inside a carry-on.  I’m always a little stressed out about it, which in turn stresses out Mr. Bill.  Not enough that I want to quit cruising, but enough that I wish there was another way to end a cruise.

woman walking on pathway while strolling luggage
Photo by VisionPic .net on Pexels.com

Embarkation in Barcelona

The next morning we woke up in Barcelona.  Just as with Rome, I wasn’t going to get to see anything.  Jim and Melanie would be spending several days there, but the rest of us were going back to the real world.  Deb, Bill and I were among the first to head out.  Viktoriya’s flight was a little later.

For we three amigos it was one travel mishap after another, from the moment the bus dropped us off at the Barcelona airport.  Somehow, we got separated from Deb in the security lines – the eternal security lines, I might add.  We kept looking at the line ahead of us and looking at our watches, wondering if we were actually going to make it and wondering if Deb was having the same concerns.  When we got to the plane, Deb had already taken the seat I had intended for Bill.  The Air Canada website did not exactly make seat selection a user-friendly experience and Bill was officially assigned a seat in the middle of the row, but I knew that wasn’t going to work.  Before the plane took off, he was on the aisle, but there were a few tense minutes as his claustrophobic mind contemplated a transatlantic flight mid-row.

Our return flight was actually on Qatar Airways, not that it really mattered to us, but they ran into some delays in leaving.  That worried us a little, because we had a pretty tight layover in Montreal, but the delay was small, so we weren’t too worried.  We should have been very worried.  It was a smooth flight, the food was fine and we made it to Montreal fine.  We were a little tired by then, but ready for the next leg.

So, the small delay in Barcelona and a head wind did slow us down a bit.  Add to that a busy Saturday at a busy airport and you have a long layover.  See, I’d worked hard to get us the cheapest possible flights and in doing so, created a mess.  From Montreal, we had to fly to Toronto, spend the night and then fly to Dallas.  The savings seemed so great when I booked the flight.

There was no happy chattering among travelers.  We all stared at our phones, tried to stay hydrated and ate junk food.  We told ourselves that the delay meant our luggage would have time to catch up with us.  We really just wanted to go home and I was sort of wishing that I actually lived alone, because I was thoroughly tired of the entire human race.

Come back next week and I’ll tell you what happened next.

 

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Restaurants & Bars, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

The Last Day of Cruising

Palma de Mallorca, Tapas Walking Tour, Beewi Tapas Bar
Spanish tortilla mushrooms in a sauce patatas bravas and a typical Mallorca sweet cake at Beewi in Palma de Mallorca

TRAVEL THERE: TAPAS TASTING IN PALMA DE MALLORCA

Confession, this is where my travel journal ended.  For some reason I happily journaled all through the trip and just quit after our day on the French Rivera. Another confession, while I blogged about most of this trip in the weeks right after the cruise, life got busy and I took a break that lasted longer than I anticipated.  So eleven months after the cruise, here I am finishing up the last few posts of this trip.  Glad you are still with me. 

Large Storm in a Small Teacup

While traveling is fun, it is also tiring and while traveling with your friends has a lot of benefits, after the trial by vacation we’d been on, it was time to go home.  Everyone needed some personal down time, but it was still a few days away.

One of the things that got my visit to Monaco off on the wrong foot was a scheduled meeting with the photographer.  Bill hadn’t wanted to have a photographer at the vow renewal ceremony in the first place, because he thinks the onboard photography thing is a racket – one that charges entirely too much.  However, the photographer was non-negotiable.  Since he didn’t want the photographer there, he really wasn’t interested in a meeting with them to look at the photos and when it conflicted with his desire to go visit Monaco, well, Monaco won.  I’m so ruled by the things that I am supposed to do, that I wasn’t able to blow off the appointment with as much aplomb as he was, especially since there was no way to contact her and let her know what was going on.  We just stood her up.  I felt bad for the photographer.  She was just trying to do her job.  

Eventually, she got in contact with us and I was able to apologize.  The appointment was reset for this day.  If we had gone in Monaco, then we would have gone on our own and quite possibly would have said thanks, but no thanks, except for perhaps a few as gifts to our friends.  As it was, we ended up with the whole crew of us in the very small space of the photo office and not everyone was on the same page.  It was also the very last moment.  If we didn’t make a decision right then, there would be no photos for anyone.

The photos were beautiful.  The price was astronomical.  Some folks thought that I should have every single one.  Bill was paralyzed with sticker shock.  I just wanted it to be over.  We arrived at a compromise that wasn’t quite what anyone wanted, but we moved on.

The Shore Excursion

Everyone went their separate ways after the photo storm.  We knew we’d be seeing each other at 2:15 for the Tapas Walking Tour.  The meeting place instructions changed and even after we started gathering on the pier, there seemed to be some sort of question about where we were supposed to be.  I think our crew was almost as ready for us to go home as we were.

The good news was our guide was somewhat better on this day.  She loaded us on a bus and delivered us to  Bellver Castle.  It was really just a photo op with a great view of the harbor.  From there, they parked the bus and we set out on foot.

Our first tapas stop was El Pesquero, a sea-side patio restaurant.  The food was delicious and the patio was amazing.  I personally could have just stayed there and been perfectly happy.

El Pesquero was in the shadow of the old cathedral, so our walking tour began there.  We passed lovely plazas and canals along the way and then we arrived at Beewi.  Beewi was just a small cafe with nothing much to recommend it, besides the food and what they served was delicious.  Deb and I agreed the view in the cafe was also quite nice, if you like to look at handsome Spanish men.

Next up was Es Rebost where we were able to order whatever we wanted.  I went for something with beef, since we hadn’t had any of that yet.  Then it was time to head back to the boat, where an absolute delight waited for us.  Come back next week and see what I mean.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

It’s Nice in Nice!

Travel There: Lunch and Shopping in Nice

Life on a cruise:  another bus ride, another meeting point and another meal.  That about sums it up, but come on with me and enjoy Nice.  While I’d still take Cap d’Antibes over Nice, there nothing not to enjoy about the city.

An Dining Opportunity

One thing I can easily say about this trip is that we bought more food onshore than we usually do on cruises.  Some of that may have been because our shore excursions were such marathons and not all of them included a meal.  However, I think it also had a lot to do with Jim and Melanie.  One of their primary interests at every stop was where to eat and drink, while Bill and me on our own tend to find other things to do.  I’m not complaining though.  It was fun.

Though it seemed as if we’d just left the sidewalk cafe in Cap d’Antibes, the first order of business in Nice was to find another sidewalk cafe.  This time it was Le Gande Balcon and we were getting more than a snack. 

Bill and I both had prawns and oh my goodness, I have rarely seen such big ones.  Mine came with pasta and Bill’s came with risotto.   Glasses of wines and adult beverages were enjoyed by all.

A Shopping Opportunity

Le Grande Balcon was in the middle of a shopping area.  Nearby shops filled the sidewalks with their wares and a little further down was an open air market.  We’d all been so busy being tourists, very little shopping had been happening, in spite of all the shopping opportunities the guides had forced on us.  Those opportunities usually came with a pretty heft price tag.  Though there was one more day of touring left, no one wanted to get home without the requisite souvenirs, so after our wonderful meal, we hit the shops.

The shop closest to the restaurant had laminated place-mats and for some reason Bill was all over them.  He picked out four odd place-mats – two with roosters and two with cartoon cats.  They were the absolute last thing I would have chosen as a souvenir of this trip, but hey, Bill rarely shows any interest in any souvenirs.  So, if he wanted plastic place-mats, by golly, I thought he should get plastic place-mats.

Further down I found a shop of linen goods.  They had a darling dress I knew my sweet next door neighbor would love, so I had to get that.  Continuing down the street we wandered into the open air market.  I found a delightful vendor offering gifts of lavender sachets in the printed cotton which Provence is known for.  That’s where I bought my souvenirs.

Visiting the Beach

There wasn’t much time left, but we wanted to get a few pictures of the gorgeous beach.  We headed back to the meeting point, which had been across from the beach.  We wished for a few more hours to explore the area, but we had minutes, not hours.  Another reason for us to head back to the French Rivera someday.

After having time for just a few photos, it was time to get on the bus and ride back to the ship. We had a quiet afternoon in our cabin.  Bill napped.  I caught up on my journal and did some reading.

That evening the rest of the gang had decided to fork out big bucks to eat at Eden.  They say it was fabulous and for the first time in his life, Bill actually admitted that he wished he’d had any idea it would have been so good.  He actually wished that he had spent the money.

Instead, we had dinner at the Cosmopolitan, which was actually the third time we ate there.  I was surprised Bill didn’t want to go back to the Italian or French restaurant, but I think it may have had more to do with proximity than anything else.  We enjoyed the downtime.

After dinner we took in a show called Gilly and Girl in the Theater.  It fit the easy-going mood of the day – just a couple doing love songs and ballads.  We strolled the shopping area where various events were supposed to be happening, but it was all just a come on to get passengers shopping.

Even the shopkeepers didn’t want to participate, so we just went back to our cabin.  Guess what!  We’d both left our keycards in the room and had to go back to guest services.  We giggled all the way there and all the way back to the room.  We’ve traveled entirely too much to have both made that mistake on the same evening – but that’s just what we’d done!

One day of touring left.  Come back next week for Palma de Mallorca.

 

 

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Welcome to the French Rivera

TRAVEL THERE: CANNES, CAP D’ANTIBES AND NICE

The French Rivera surprised me.  I thought my favorite day would be Florence, but it turned out to be this day.  Travel always brings surprises.  Come enjoy this day with us.

Relaxing and Fun

Don’t faint.  We didn’t have a single museum or historical site to visit today.  I’d done some research and hadn’t been able to find much to get excited about it.  In fact, I had lobbied for a bus tour to some Provence Villages or a tour of the Provence perfume industry.  I was voted down and I am so very glad.

It was another early morning gathering in the Theater and then a ride to shore on a tender.  From there, we boarded a bus.  The tour guide was in a dead heat for last place with the lady in Florence.  In fact, this one didn’t even rate as a tour guide.  She was more like a room mother on a field trip.  Nice, but not much else.

Cap d’Antibes, the “S” is Silent

We got off our bus in Cap ‘d Antibes.  Our guide trotted down the street a bit with us, pointed us toward a cobblestone path and then told us when to come back.  

The picture above shows us wandering along the water’s edge unchaperoned and not quite sure what we were looking at.  If the view had not been so fantastic we might actually have minded, but we didn’t.  We could have gone to the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, but we didn’tWe could have gone to a Pablo Picasso Museum, but we didn’t.

Instead, we decided to find a sidewalk cafe and just enjoy ourselves.  It turned into a bit of a trudge, but the weather was ideal, the scenery was amazing.  I particularly fell in love with the house with the blue shutters.  I am quite certain I could spend several weeks there, reading great books on the patio and enjoying the view.

Eventually, we found a sidewalk cafe and to our delight, there was a sort of street market going on.  Since we didn’t have a guide, I can’t tell you whether it was the usual thing or just something happening on the Thursday we were there.

We communicated our dining needs to our waitress and were glad they had a restroom we could use.  We had our coffee and/or sodas and then headed back the way we came.  There had been a sort of Farmers Market going on and we decided we wanted to mingle a little with the locals.  Except for a pickpocket thinking Viktoriya’s bag was a potential target, we enjoyed the time we lingered there.

Too soon, it was time to meet our non-guide.  I would have happily continued to wander Cap d’Antibes.  At the meeting point, by a marina, local kids were having a go at something that resembled a boccie ball game.  People wandered back in a leisurely manner, but I had none of the hurry-up attitude I usually possess.  You know, let’s hurry up and see this so we can see the next thing.  I could have sat there for an hour watching the kids and their game.

Eventually, we sauntered back to the bus and headed to Nice.  I couldn’t imagine that Nice would be any better in any way than Cap d’Antibes, but I was also too lazy to begin some sort of campaign to stay, which would involve figuring out how to get back to the boat.

Nice was nice, but, as I had anticipated, it didn’t beat Cap d’Antibes for me.  In fact, of all the places we went on this cruise, Cap d’Antibes is the one I would be the quickest to return to.  Yes, I need to go back to Rome and see all the sites I missed.  I’d like more time in Florence.  I think Capri has the potential to be wonderful.  but Cap d’Antibes?  I just want to go be there.

However, I didn’t get to, at least not yet, so come back next week and let’s take a look at Nice.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Music, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Visiting Monte Carlo’s Prince’s Palace

TRAVEL THERE: THE GRIMALDI’S PRINCE’S PALACE

Black SUV’s whisked us from the Yacht Club to the Palace.  That’s probably the last time I’ll be able to say something like that about my own travels, so perhaps it was worth the splurge.  Since we weren’t actually VIP’s, they parked about a block away, near the Cathedral and we strolled over to the palace.

Visiting the Palace

Virtually anyone can make day visits the palace during the summer and fall, as long as it’s not Grand Prix weekend.  However, the tourists are shuffled off at closing time.  We had after-hours access, which means we went to the same places, just at a different time.

The Grimaldi’s were gracious hosts to us cruisers.  We didn’t see any of them, but they gave us the run of the state apartments and provided some very nice young ladies to act as guides.  The run of the state apartments did not include taking any pictures, so to see what we saw, you’d have to go to the website.  My general impressions were the apartments showed a great amount of good taste, a good bit more than some of the gaudy displays of some state apartments.  However, they were at the same time smaller than most I’ve seen before.

For Americans, this palace is almost a must-see, because evidence of our own American fairy tale, Princess Grace of Monaco, is in plain sight.  Having just watched a Hallmarkish commoner-meets-and-marries-a-prince movie last night, I know we are still very much in love with the story of this lovely lady.

Photo Opportunities

Before and after the tour we were welcome to take photos of the outside the palace.  The red carpets and kneelers are not part of the every day look.  They were setting up for some kind of religious ceremony and around the corner at the cathedral there was a lot of activity, so no telling what that was about.

All that was left was to get back into our SUV’s and travel back to the ship.  Our day in Monte Carlo was over.

Grabbing a Show and Dinner and a Show

Back on the boat, Deb, Bill and I went to Hype with Marcus Terrell at the Theater.  We weren’t much impressed.  His greatest asset was volume, but he was surrounded with lots of energetic gyrating dancers.  Nothing as fascinating as Hot Summer’s Night we’d seen a day or so ago.

After the show, it was time for dinner and all of us met for dinner in the Cosmopolitan.  It was the same menu they had offered for their embarkation lunch.  This is the weakness of their dining plan.  Sure you have a variety of dining rooms, but once you’ve eaten in one, there’s no reason to go back.  That’s probably because they are trying to encourage you to drop a few bucks in their specialty dining rooms, but with all we’d spent already, that wasn’t happening.

Our companions were ready for bed when the meal was over, but Bill and I wandered into the Club and saw an acrobatic show called Mirage.  It had some good parts, but their tricks all began to look the same after awhile.

Still not ready to call it a night, I pulled the daily newsletter out of my purse and unfolded it.  They had something called the Color the Night White Party happening on the Resort Deck, so we decided to check it out.

I don’t know about you, but I am just about done with the whole White Party thing.  Isn’t it time to let that one die a natural death?  The Edge was trying to jazz it up some, with a variety of colorful lights, but as you can see, it’s a pretty dead scene.  I must not be the only one tired of White Parties.

I think if there had been anything else to do, we might have continued to wander, but it seemed the ship was rolling in its sidewalks – unless you wanted to sit in some bar and rack up some beverage billing, so off we went to bed.

The next day our stop was Cannes.  Come back next week and I’ll share my favorite shore excursion with you.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Celebrity Cruises’ CEO is a Nice Lady

TRAVEL THERE: RUBBING ELBOWS WITH A BIG WIG

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, is not the reason I went on the Wine Tasting/Prince’s Palace Shore Excursion, but she certainly made it a special event for us, because she is a very, very nice lady.  She’s also a great hostess.

Hostess with the Mostest

This picture may not look like much of anything to you, but in it we are getting the star treatment.  We’re up on the mezzanine and the waiters are bringing us refills and snacks.  That’s not happening on the main floor.  You see we’re on the mezzanine with the Lutoff-Perlo family!

As we entered the Wine Palace, a very nice blonde lady, who matched the picture we’d seen on a brochure, was greeting everyone, but we sort of dodged the receiving line.  As I said, we weren’t there to rub elbows with the CEO.  We were there for the yacht club and the palace.

Before long however, the nice blonde lady made her way over to us.  She wanted to meet the couple who had the vow renewal!  How did she know we were the couple who had the vow renewal?  Well, come to find out, she had been in the salon herself, while us girls were in there having such a good time.  The salon was a fairly small space, so she would have had a hard time missing us.

She was, as the CEO, very interested in how our ceremony went, if we’d liked the salon services and such.  I raved about the team in Florida, the folks in the salon and Eddie, the cruise director. I did not mention my meltdown on the first night, because I didn’t know whether the problem had been caused at the Florida end or the Edge end and I didn’t want to be one of those passengers who is best known for their complaints!

The Egypt Connection

But the lovely Ms. Lutoff-Perlo, who asked us to call her Lisa, was interested in more than our opinions of the crew.  She wanted to hear a little more about our marriage journey and that’s when she found out Bill is Egyptian.  Come to find out, her husband, Andre, was also born in Cairo.  Lisa immediately went to find him and brought him over.

Bill and Andre hit it off immediately.  They started comparing notes about where they lived, went to school and the like.  It was sad to discover Andre left Egypt decades ago and never returned, because he is a Jew.  That’s a sad legacy for Egypt.  I have been to what was the Jewish quarter and the beautiful synagogue, that is now a museum, because there is no longer a congregation of Jews to support it. Andre understood, better than most people can, what Bill’s family suffers, as members of the Christian minority.

About that time Lisa said, “Why don’t you guys go upstairs to the mezzanine, to meet the rest of the family?  That’s where they are hanging out.” So, that’s what we did.  We wanted to see what the rest of the Wine Palace was like and Lisa had been so gracious, we certainly wanted to reciprocate her hospitality.

We went up the stairs en masse, went through the introductions and had a nice chat with her wonderful family.  What we didn’t realize was we’d just entered an entirely different level of service than we’d had below.  Downstairs, there was a table set up to serve tastes of wine and on it was a platter of snacks.  Upstairs, we were brought our own bottles of wine and plates of assorted snacks were delivered. Yep, the star treatment!

Next up, we climbed back into our black celebrity-style SUV’s and headed for the Palace.  Come back next week and go with us.

ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Monte Carlo Redux

TRAVEL THERE: DOING MONACO RIGHT

While I may never get a chance to undo my unglamorous daytime visit to Monte Carlo, I did get to have some time in the city without regrets.  In fact, I traveled to the Prince’s Palace in a caravan of black SUV’s with the CEO of Celebrity Cruises.  I thought that was pretty cool.  Join me for this very fun shore excursion.

Opportunity Knocks

Our originally booked shore excursion in Monte Carlo never really had the Museum Girl Stamp of Approval.  Then one day, not long before the cruise, I got an email informing me of new events aboard our cruise ship.  The CEO of Celebrity was going to be on board and there were going to be special events just for her.  I’ll confess, I’m not a very good groupie, even of people like Samantha Brown that I adore.  I’ve seen her in person, but I wasn’t willing to stand in line to meet her personally.  I don’t go to concerts.  I don’t collect autographs.  I don’t buy sneakers based on a celebrity spokesperson.  So, the idea that I had the opportunity to meet a corporate big wig meant virtually nothing to me.

However, when said corporate big wig can provide me with access to something I would like to do, that I’d have no access to otherwise, well then, said big wig has my attention.  So, when Celebrity invited me to a wine tasting at the Monaco Yacht Club and a private showing of the Prince’s Palace, well OK, I’m in.  The price was a bit of an ouch, $304 per person, but I was still holding on to $151.20 of on board credit, so with Bill’s permission I booked it – as did the rest of my crew.

Meet Me at The Club

The Club on Celebrity Edge wears many hats.  At night, it’s an uber-cool disco that plays host to various entertainment, including acrobats.  During the day, it serves as a meeting place for shore excursions.  For this very special event, The Club was our gathering spot.

I could tell right away this was not going to be your run-of-the-mill shore excursion.  No brightly colored stickers, guides with signs or earpieces for this shore excursion.  Instead, we were given attractive metal badges in the shape of the Celebrity “X” logo.  Ours were orange.  I don’t know about everyone else.

From The Club, we made our way down to the tender-loading area and on to the port. No wandering around lost this afternoon.  Instead, we were shown to our celebrity-worthy, luxury black SUV.  

The Monaco Yacht Club Wine Palace

So, they had me at Yacht Club and sealed the deal with Wine Palace.  The Celebrity website said, ” Revel in the late-afternoon sunlight as it illuminates the terrace of the Wine Palace of the Monaco Yacht Club.”  I want to tell you it really was a lovely event, but I also have to tell you that whoever wrote that sentence had never been to the Monaco Yacht Club Wine Palace.

I imagined a lovely open air terrace, in the harbor of Monte Carlo, with the salt-flavored breeze lifting my hair from my shoulders.  Waiters would wander among us offering tasty tid-bits while a sommelier offered sips of wine.   What I got was a small two-story wine boutique with not so much as a balcony.  It was a nice wine boutique, but I have no idea what it has to do with the Yacht Club.  It is, however in the same building, so what do I know.

After I let go of the picture they had drawn for my imagination, I was able to have a very special time, but I do wish I hadn’t had to do the mental exercise.  Things got better from this point and I want to tell you about it, so come back next week.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Tourist Tales of Monaco

TRAVEL THERE: SCENERY TO DIE FOR AND A CASINO

There’s a reason Monte Carlo is a playground for the rich and famous.  Everything is pristine, beautiful and very, very expensive.  I rode along in the tourist train, eyes wide open, taking pictures as fast as I could with my phone.

Gawking at the Other Half

All the boats are yachts and all the cars dreams on wheels.  Beautiful people stroll along the streets with tiny little well-groomed dogs and chat with one another in shady cafes.  It is not crowded.  Normal people can’t afford to be there.

The train left their parking area across from the Jacques Cousteau Aquarium and first wandered down a hill past the harbor where all the yachts were docked.

The streets wound around the harbor offering spectacular views, like this shot Bill got of our ship.  I rode along, primarily people watching and not paying too much attention to where we were, because Bill had informed me we’d be staying on the train and hurrying back to the ship.  That was fine with me.

Quick, Get Off the Train

Suddenly, Bill was impatient with me, because I was not getting off the train.  I thought all that had been decided.  I knew our friends were getting off to go to the casino, but I failed to see what that had to do with me, since I was under the impression we were going to stay on board.

Things had changed and I hadn’t gotten the memo.  Soon the whole crowd was standing on a sidewalk deciding what to do.  Without map or guidebook I didn’t have a clue.  I was just there.

The crowd trotted off and we followed.  Come to find out, we were headed to the Casino.  I hadn’t wanted to be in Monte Carlo in my lounging pajamas in the first place, but I really had no desire to go hang out in the Casino during the day with all the tourists.

I had hoped we’d get all dressed up and visit the Casino in the evening.  I understood there was only a slim chance of this, but it’s what I wanted.  I’m still allowed to dream.

The Casino

We went up the stairs, had our bags checked and entered through a bunch of fancy glass doors.  The lobby is all about giving tourists someplace to hang out so they can say they have been to the Casino in Monte Carlo. It is also the only place the tourists can go.

Here it is.  This is what it looks like.  The building is absolutely gorgeous, but you can’t see it for all the tourists and the giant gambling display.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether the beautiful people glide past this in the evening or they just have the display up during the day.  I guess I’ll never know for sure.

The Rest of the Tour

After wandering around the lobby, snapping a photo I shouldn’t have and taking a potty break, we went back outside, waited for the tourist train and rode back to our starting point.  Finding our way back to the infamous escalator was easier than finding it in the first place.

At the dock, the tender loading station was set up with beautiful flowers, cold washrags and lots of fruited water.  In spite of my chagrin at being on a tourist train, looking my worst and my disappointment at being a tourist at the casino instead of a patron, I still have to admit, it was a gorgeous place.  Enjoy these photos and come back next week for a different sort of look at Monte Carlo.