Mediterranean Magic

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Page Updated:  09/01/2016

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Crystal Symphony

Athens (Piraeus), Greece
to Barcelona, Spain

May 17 - June 1, 1998

Mediterranean Magic

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Itinerary - Click links to jump to specific dates.

Mediterranean Magic - Athens to Barcelona

Sunday, 5/17 - Athens (Piraeus), Greece

Monday, 5/18 - Santorini (Fira), Greece

Tuesday, 5/19 - Cruising the Dardanelles

Wednesday, 5/20 - Istanbul, Turkey

Thursday, 5/21 - Istanbul, Turkey

Friday, 5/22 - Kusadasi, Turkey

Saturday, 5/23 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

Sunday, 5/24 - Sorrento, Italy

Monday, 5/25 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

Tuesday, 5/26 - Florence (Livorno), Italy

Wednesday, 5/27 - Portofino, Italy

Thursday, 5/28 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

Friday, 5/29 - Barcelona, Spain

Saturday, 5/30 - Barcelona, Spain

Sunday, 5/31 - Barcelona, Spain

Monday, 6/1 - Depart Barcelona, Spain - Fly to Los Angeles, USA

Sunday, 5/17 - Athens (Piraeus), Greece - Depart 8:00 PM

Once known for smog, traffic and tacky architecture, Athens is a city reformed thanks to fortunes brought by the 2004 Summer Olympics. Spotless parks and streets, an ultra-modern subway, new freeways, an accessible airport and all signs in perfect English make the city easily negotiable. Meriting more than a stopover en route to the islands, sophisticated Athens sites include many pillars of Western history, from the Acropolis to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, as well as treasures in the National Archaeological Museum.

Disembarkation procedures and the accompanying announcements began in earnest around 7:00am.  It wasn’t too difficult to get out of bed at 7:30am with all the commotion going on in the corridor.  We had breakfast in the Lido.  It’s always fun to watch everyone disembark and be the only ones left on board.

We were just about to leave the cabin to meet the guide at 10:00am when they paged us throughout the ship to report to the gangway, which we did.  Anne was there to bid departing passengers farewell.  She informed us that we, along with “the sisters” have the top number of cruises this time, sixteen.  That means we’ll be introduced on stage and taken to dinner.  Anne was excited, but we’re sort of Prego’d out at this point.  Later, after we realized the “sisters” are the makeup Looney Tunes, we weren’t so sure we wanted to accept the invitation.

Tunde told us later in the afternoon that she had the “sisters” when she was a stewardess and that they are extremely strange.  One of them wouldn’t let her come into the cabin unless she was fully made up.  Otherwise, she would hide in the bathroom and not come out until Tunde left the room again.  To say this woman wears more makeup than Tammy Faye would be an understatement! 

The Crystal people in the terminal were very friendly and helpful.  Someone escorted us outside where a guide and special taxi driver were waiting.  All of the taxi drivers we saw in the terminal were older men, but this was a young, well-dressed man.  The guide, Theran, spoke very good English and was quite nice also.  He was probably about forty.

The first destination was the Acropolis.  Hoards of tourists and busses were already clogging every street and sidewalk in the area, so we were taken to a hill across the street where Theran could give us some information and we could get a good picture of the Acropolis before we climbed it. 

Of course, the monuments are impressive, but they were honestly a bit underwhelming.  The throngs of tourists made it difficult to imagine the structures in their glory.  We couldn’t take as many pictures as we would have liked because there were always too many people in the way.

Basically,there are only three structures remaining on the hill: the Parthenon everyone recognizes, the main gate structure (covered in scaffolding to be restored), and the Erectheion with its porch of the Caryatids.  The Caryatids on display are reproductions.  The originals were moved to a museum behind the Parthenon.  The museum was not open at the present time. Theran gave us lots of history and information that made the tour interesting.

From the Acropolis, we drove through Athens with a stop at the original marble Olympic Stadium.  These days it is only used for the ceremony where the Olympic torch is brought down and passed to the host country. 

After that brief stop we drove a short distance into the hills to visit a small monastery.  The structure was small, but very quiet and picturesque.   The small courtyard garden was very attractive.  It was pleasant to get away from the honking horns and traffic of Athens to this serene forested area.

By this time our four hours was almost up, so we drove back towards the port, stopping briefly to take pictures of the palace guards.  The guide pointed out a few other points of interest and answered a few of our questions about living in Greece.  We made it back about an hour before the new guests began to arrive, which was our plan.  Someone was there to escort us back to the ship, but we stopped to exchange more money in case we want to have lunch tomorrow in Santorini.

Laundry needed to be done and we desperately needed to shower and change clothes.  We wanted to get down to the lobby to watch the new guests arrive, but we took too long to get ready and missed most of it.  Richard said that he thought this batch was worse than the last one, but better than the first.  He also told us that 120 guests were missing their luggage.  Paulo was struggling to stay awake while handing out the hot snacks, literally falling asleep on his feet.

Regula delivered two bottles of wine, two credits for $200.00 each, and two large flower arrangements from the Crystal Society.  We gave both bottles of wine to Regula.  The flower arrangements were much too big for the space available in these cabins.  They really should scale them to fit better.  After rearranging some of the sprays of orchids that were sticking straight out of the bottom, we were able to put one on the desk and the other on the table.  Although the individual flowers in the arrangements were very nice, including some unusual ones we’d never seen before, the combination of colors and a strange variety of foliage created a hodgepodge that was fairly ugly.  We never knew it was possible to create floral arrangements that are literally unsightly, but now we know it certainly is!

Barry spotted us on his way up the stairs and gestured to us to stay there until he returned.  He was thrilled to see us.  We told him about the driver falling asleep on the way to Dover.  He had the same driver to take him to the airport and he dropped him off at the wrong terminal at Heathrow, causing him to miss his flight.  Barry said that he had followed our progress getting to the ship just to be sure we got there.  The ground operator wanted to charge us for the car, but Barry said, “Absolutely not!”  He wants to get together when we are in Barcelona.

We stayed in the lobby until Richard finished his set.  Tunde, Rolf, and Serge are now in the Crystal Cove, so that will be fun.  We moved up to the Avenue Saloon to listen to Perry, but he wasn’t there yet.  Murphy is now assigned to the Avenue along with a new guy and the scary bartender who was at the pool bar.  Rolf wanted us to guess his age.  Bill guessed 22.  Dave guessed 30, which was correct.  The whole point was to tell us that today was his 30th birthday.  Evidently, now we’re his buddies.

Nikki reintroduced us to her parents, Bill and Heather, who arrived today for two cruises.  They seemed just as nice and down to Earth as Nikki.  We chatted with them for a few minutes until Perry arrived.  Perry played obscure tunes and tried to make us guess what they were.  We got one from "Beauty and the Beast", but that was it.  He had to leave early to do a sound check for the show tonight, so we went off to Palm Court to wait for the sailing.

There were two small private parties going on in Palm Court.  The Manila Diamonds were supposed to play for dancing, but they quit after fifteen minutes and never returned.  The couple next to us was quite annoyed by that.

Captain Helge Brudvik was back and in attendance at one of the parties.  He was still there at 8:00pm when we were scheduled to sail.  A short while later he made an announcement that we wouldn’t sail until 8:30pm because we were waiting for some late arrivals.  We already knew from Barry’s conversation that some people were definitely going to miss the ship.

Anne caught us and told us to reserve the night of the Crystal Society party for dinner with her.  She didn’t say anything about the sisters being there, but it stands to reason they would be.  They seem like the type who would relish all of the attention.  Anne was feeling no pain tonight.  However, even after several bottles of wine with friends in Athens this afternoon, she could still put on her perfect hostess face with ease.

We retrieved the laundry, finally, and went to Prego for dinner.  This time the restaurant wasn’t quite as crowded and frantic. The headwaiter that seated us, Giavanni, recognized us, but we didn’t recall when we’d seen him before.  Gianluca was our waiter.  He was amused by just about everything we said and was fun.  Mario, the wine steward, is always happy to see us now even though we rarely order anything.

Neither of us was particularly hungry, so the limited options at Prego made selecting something particularly difficult.  The special smoked chicken ravioli wasn’t very good, the cheese and tomato salad didn’t taste like anything except oil, our filets were very high quality and nicely presented, however.   Gianluca brought us an entire plate of bruschetta.  The ship sailed quickly out of the harbor as we were eating dinner.

We were both very tired after dinner, but we didn’t want to go to bed so soon after eating.  Instead, we went back down to the Crystal Cove to listen to Richard until 10:30pm.  Rolf was chatty because it was his birthday, we assumed.  As we were leaving he discreetly came out to us, so that’s another question answered.  At least we think he was coming out!  Rolf was the third person today to tell us to go to Oia on Santorini, but we’re not sure we really care enough to make an effort to get there by taxi tomorrow.

Monday, 5/18 - Santorini (Fira), Greece - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Glamorous Santorini, in the southern Aegean's Cyclades islands, curves round a giant lagoon, a caldera left by a volcanic eruption. The island's capital, Fira, clings to cliffs above, providing stunning views of the lagoon below. Santorini's nightlife has become as hot as its volcanic past. Ruins, including the volcanic ash- preserved town of ancient Akrotiri, amaze those with a bent for ancient history. Hydrofoils, ferries and catamarans connect Santorini to other islands and the mainland.

We barely heard the Captain’s announcement this morning upon arrival, so it must have been somewhat earlier than scheduled.  There was no rush for us to get ashore, so we dawdled around until everyone else was gone.  More guests remained on board this time than on the previous stop here, but the ship was still very quiet.

After a light snack of pastries in the Bistro, we took the local tender to the lower landing zone for the cable car up the cliff.  The Marco Polo, Wind Spirit, and several smaller local ships were anchored in the crater.  Crystal Symphony was probably at least twice the size of the Marco Polo, the next largest ship.

With all the ships in port we expected to find the town very crowded, but it was much less populous than last time.  The weather was slightly overcast and it was pleasantly a few degrees cooler, as well.  We took a left at the cable car exit and went up the hill instead of down as we had before.  This part of town was completely deserted except for a few local people going about their business. 

The narrow street, really just a cobblestone walkway, was lined with the traditional whitewashed plaster houses.  Most of them offered rooms to let or were guesthouses.  Since it was still early in the season, most were not yet open and several of the larger restaurants and taverns were shuttered as well.  Even so, there must have been hundreds of cafés and bars available to choose from.

At the top of the hill we crossed over to the cliff side and started walking down hill on an even narrower walkway.  The view was spectacular looking down on the cruise ships far below that looked like bathtub toys from this height.  This part of town was obviously the high rent district as the houses hugging the cliff had fancier terraces and landscaping.  It was difficult to tell just how large any of the individual houses were because they all appeared to overlap.

Once we reached the main part of the village, and the crowds, we just kept going to the opposite end where we had seen some interesting restaurants before.  We checked some menus on restaurants with breathtaking views over the cliff, but none of them really clicked with us.  Most were just too bustling with tourists to suit us, although it was much slower than on the previous visit. 

At the very end of the street and up a small flight of steps, we could see a restaurant that had the same spectacular view, but no customers.  A lonely waiter stood looking out at the scenery.  We strolled down to look at the menu and found it a charming place to eat.  One of the shore excursion people from the ship and an older woman came in at the same time.

We took a seat by the edge of the terrace overlooking the town and water below.  The waiter spoke reasonable English, as did most everyone here.  An older man, who appeared to be the owner, bustled around making sure everything was done properly.  We both ordered “Small Crepes” stuffed with spinach and cheese as an appetizer.  Bill ordered pasta with salmon and Dave ordered the grilled salmon filet.  A complimentary appetizer of smoked salmon and capers on an endive leaf started off the meal. 

The small crepes were anything but small!  We each received two full-sized crepes stuffed with a tasty, light cheese and spinach filling.  Both of our entrees were extremely delicious and beautifully presented.  Of course, being Europe, there was no rushing through the meal.  Everything was obviously prepared just for us.  No other customers arrived, so they only had four guests for lunch that day.  In addition to the large outdoor patio, they also had some lovely rooms indoors.

After lunch we browsed a few of the shops, but didn’t find anything interesting.  We did manage to find some smutty post cards, however.  The cable car wasn’t crowded even though we waited fairly late in the day to return to the ship.

We arrived back on board at around 3:45pm and the “mandatory” boat drill was scheduled for 4:30pm.  People were grumbling that they shouldn’t have scheduled a boat drill, port day, and a formal night all on the same day.  They really should have moved the formal evening to tomorrow when the ship will be at sea.

We had some drinks by the pool.  The outdoor pool area was packed with sunbathers.  The covered pool was closed for some unknown reason.  This seems to happen at very inconvenient times.  It really was ridiculous for the pool to be closed on a day with very good weather when the ship was anchored. 

Dave went to the cabin to hide out during the boat drill while Bill decided to be brave and stay by the pool.  A few other people did the same thing, but most left the pool area immediately after the announcement of the boat drill.  Bill said hello to Linda Ellerbee.  She is on board as an enrichment lecturer, but hasn’t shown up on the schedule yet.

We sort of napped off and on until time to get ready for dinner.  Since we had already seen the scenery during the sailing out of the crater, there was no need to stay out on deck for it again.  Captain Brudvik is much more no-nonsense than Captain Maalen, so there was to be no scenic meandering this time anyway.

There was a huge line outside the Captain’s Welcome Reception even at 8:15pm so we knew the start of dinner would be delayed.  When we arrived in the lobby crowds of people were still pouring out of the dining room.  We sat in the Crystal Cove while Richard played and stayed about fifteen minutes beyond the usual hour until the dining room finally opened.  Bill’s Kir Royal erupted into overflowing foam when he stuck a straw in it.  It gushed all over the table and onto the floor so Tunde had to come over and ridicule him.  She said some guests told her that the sisters were pretty amusing as long as you just sit and listen to them prattle on.  We noticed that they have first seating, so maybe they won’t be at dinner with us anyway.

Late seating was packed to capacity again.  Leo, the new Maitre d’ was at the door.  As we thought, we had never met him before.  He was obviously on the lookout for us, but he didn’t talk to us until later in the dining room when he made the rounds carrying the seating chart to every table.

Nemanja has a huge table for twelve now, plus the usual, so he had an extra assistant tonight.  It was Luigi from Prego, who told Tayfun he is our best friend.  He talked too much, but it was fun.  Nemanja’s new assistant is Victor, the man he introduced last cruise.  For some reason everyone calls him Tiger or Tigre instead of Victor. 

Artur was better at the details than Victor in spite of what Nemanja said.  We ran out of silverware once and the courses got mixed up.  That might have been because Luigi was helping and Victor lost track of what was going on, but this might become a problem.  If the table of twelve continues to make special orders, our service will definitely suffer.

Paulo stopped to tell us he was working in the Lido now and not as a deck hand.  After dinner, on the way out of the dining room, Herbert was shocked we were still on board.  Murphy, the cocktail waitress who finds us amusing, now has our station in the dining room.  Chris was at the station next to ours so now he can make fun of us at dinnertime, too.

Since the show was the dreadful “Some Enchanted Evening”, we went directly to the Avenue Saloon to listen to Perry.  There were only about ten people there and none of them was listening to him.  One party of four made some requests then talked through the whole thing, which we know pisses him off.  After that he stopped singing and just played the piano until 11:30pm when he announced he would be back in fifteen minutes.  As far as we know he was supposed to play continuously from 10:30pm – 12:30am.  He chatted with us briefly, but didn’t say why he was leaving.  We finally left after waiting about ½ hour finishing our drinks. 

Tuesday, 5/19 - Cruising the Dardanelles

It rained all day as we sailed through the Dardanelles toward Istanbul.  We were surprised at how lush and green the land is.  Our expectation was that it would be dry and rocky, similar to Greece.

Irik waited on us in the dining room for lunch, which seemed to be a thrill for him.  There was an Asia Café buffet around the Neptune pool today, so the dining room was relatively empty. The Chinese items on the menu were much better than anything served in Jade Garden.

We killed the rest of the day sitting in Palm Court reading and listening as each old couple said they should clean the windows (it is raining, so the glass is wet not dirty).  Three suggested they should have giant windshield wipers (seriously), and another man thought they should turn on the sprayers outside periodically to clean them.  Keep in mind that it continued to rain for the entire day and that nothing would have kept the windows clear.  In any case, it wasn’t as though you couldn’t see out at all, it was just a little blurry.

The few small cities we passed appeared to be pleasant and neat, but there was quite a lot of garbage floating by in the water.  Near one city was a large flow of obviously polluted water coming around the bend and into the strait.  Now and then the onboard “historian” would tell war stories or point out monuments along the way.  There was a concentration of huge monuments at the entrance of the waterway commemorating the tremendous loss of life during the attempted invasion of Turkey during World War I.  Tayfun was annoyed because the history of the war always takes the British side.

There was a screaming child in Palm Court, so we strolled down to see if Nikki was available to book our next cruise.  She was waiting at the bottom of the stairs as though she had willed us to come downstairs.  We booked the Norwegian Fjords cruise for July 1999, plus the two cruises following that to end up in Rouen, France. 

Nikki told us that as far as she knows, the sisters are joining us for dinner on Crystal Society night.  She said they were actually pretty funny if you let them do all the talking, but when we tried to get out of it she literally begged us to go so that she and Anne didn’t have to be alone with them all evening.

We decided to retire to the cabin to finish some laundry.  People have been hogging the machines so getting anything done has been a lengthy process.  It seemed as though everyone brought his or her dirty clothes on this cruise.  The dreary day eventually took its toll and we napped most of the rest of the afternoon.

Dinner was less frantic than last night because the large table for twelve wasn’t there.  We were served so quickly that we were finished by 9:30pm.  The food was great tonight, filet mignon.  We have also discovered that their bread puddings are exceptionally good.  Neither of us had ever tried them before because we thought it sounded kind of gross.  Mario chatted with us for a while.  He’s a bit strange, but once he lightens up he’s kind of funny.  Leo, the new Maitre d’, skipped us during his rounds of kissing up to everyone tonight.  He’s probably afraid of us after what Josef must have told him.  Jacques was eating at a table across the aisle and kept waving and nodding.  The screaming child from Palm Court was in the dining room this evening.

We were finished with dinner too early to go directly to the show, so we sat and listened to Richard for a half-hour.  Rolf came over and asked what he could do to make us feel good.  When neither of us said anything, he added, “in the way of beverages.”

Tonight’s Variety Show consisted of Anne Ramsey singing and Mike Goddard, the comedian.  We asked “Cocktail Lady” (we finally learned that her name is Ann) who was on first so we could decide where to sit in case we wanted to leave.  Since Anne was on first, we decided to stay the entire time. 

It's not that Anne is bad, it’s just that she isn't quite good enough to deserve a headliner spot.  Perry is always so much better, but he never gets to headline the evening’s entertainment.  Mike Goddard was funny, but he still tells the same jokes and does the same routines he has been doing since time began.  If his delivery wasn’t so amusing we wouldn’t bother going to his shows anymore.  It was hilarious when an old lady in the front row, to whom he was talking, fell asleep.  That became his running gag for the rest of the evening.  She’d fall asleep and he’d make fun of her until she woke up.

Istanbul must be pretty ghastly.  J.J., the wine steward, was appalled that we were even going to go ashore tomorrow.  He likened it to India in its noise and grabby vendors. Mario also said it wasn’t a place anyone would want to visit more than once. Mike Goddard asked how many people had been there before, then said,  “and you came back???”  He also said that Athens was really interesting to anyone who loves television antennas and unfinished buildings.

Wednesday, 5/20 - Istanbul, Turkey - Arrive 8:00 AM

Historic and modern, European and Asian — that's Istanbul. The city at the junction of two continents is home to ancient structures like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in the Old City, as well as modern businesses, hotels, restaurants and nightlife in the New City. The sight of mosques and bustling bazaars and the smell of incense and spices are common in Istanbul. Across the Bosporus Strait, the Asian side of Istanbul offers a glimpse into everyday, residential life.

Exotic, frantic, crowded, confusing, historic, beautiful, noisy, two-faced…all of these words describe Istanbul.  As we discovered for ourselves, this could be an exhausting place, as well.

After obtaining our Turkish Landing Cards from the Front Desk, the complimentary shuttle dropped us in the center of the old, historic part of town adjacent to the Grand Bazaar.  No sooner did we step off the bus, there were vendors selling postcards, scarves, Bic lighters, cigarettes, embroidered hats, you name it, they were selling it.  They were polite to a fault, but persistent to no end!  These people would not be ignored.  Even a glance in their direction would bring a barrage of questions.  “Where you from?”, “America?”, “My friend, want to buy carpet?”, “You big guys in America?”. 

Avoiding the constant sales pitch from every tiny shop made it impossible to pay attention to where we were going and we were soon off the beaten track.  Pulling out a map brought another barrage of salesmen offering help…and directions to his carpet shop.  Snapping a picture attracted young men selling postcards (actually a very good price, about 10 for $1.00 or if you started to walk away, double the amount for $1.00) and guidebooks.

Eventually we found our way to a main street we could identify on the vague map we were given on the bus.  Another map we obtained from the Front Desk was more detailed, but everything was written in Turkish, not much help to us.  Neither of the maps was particularly informative, but at least we could figure out the basic direction once we found a street with a tramway in the center that was marked on the map.

The “big three” sights were all in the general vicinity, the Blue Mosque, St. Sophia, and Topkapi Palace.  Once we found the Roman Hippodrome, now a lovely landscaped park with a couple of obelisks plopped in the center, we followed the tour groups toward the Blue Mosque.  By this time it had begun to sprinkle.

Immediately inside the gates, a well-dressed businessman offered to help us find the entrance to the Mosque.  As was every other sales person, he was exceptionally friendly and polite.  We knew right away what was up and told him that we worked on the ship and didn’t have anyplace to keep a carpet.  He still showed us to the entrance and politely sent us on our way.

There were several large tour groups waiting to enter the Blue Mosque, so we took shelter from the rain under a large tree.  Tony and Margaret Long joined us until the line started to move and we all went up to the covered entrance.  We had to remove our shoes and put them in plastic bags to carry with us inside.  There was a funeral going on directly outside the doors complete with the deceased in his coffin being carried by the mourners.

The best way to describe the Blue Mosque is just to say, HUGE.  Other than that, it wasn’t particularly exciting.  OK, so it was covered inside with handmade blue and white tiles, probably millions of them, but boy was this place big!  Wrought iron chandeliers holding nondescript glass candleholders (now electrified) hung barely above our heads, so the lofty interior was brought down to human scale.  It was amazing that something on this scale could be built in 450AD (or something like that), but other than that it wasn’t all that exciting.

Tony, Margaret and the two of us, huddled on the exit porch with a couple of tours as the sky opened up and the rain poured down.  After about twenty minutes the rain let up enough for us to try to reach St. Sophia across the street and through a park.  By now throngs of vendors had arrived selling umbrellas in addition to the postcards and guidebooks.  All of them were equally persistent, but still polite.

St. Sophia was the largest religious structure in the world for 1,000 years.  Other than enormous size, it wasn’t much to look at architecturally from the outside.  The information we had said that all of the gold and jewel ornamentation had been removed by the Crusaders.  We never did see the interior as the line of school children and tour groups was just more than we could handle today.

The next stop was to be the Topkapi Palace, but the rain started pouring down again and we had to duck into the doorway of a restaurant, along with a couple of young Turkish businessmen.  The rain poured for about fifteen or twenty minutes.

We were directly outside the ancient wall of the palace grounds on a quaint cobblestone street lined with more upscale shops than we had encountered elsewhere.  When we reached the bottom of the hill, we thought we had found the entrance, but never were quite sure because everything was written in Turkish with no English translations.  By this time we had decided that seeing whatever sights were here simply wasn’t worth the effort.  Everything was an enormous chore and involved fending off more shopkeepers and postcard vendors.

The street with the tramway in the center was in front of us and we knew we could find the Grand Bazaar again by following it, so we did.  As congested and chaotic as Istanbul is, it is amazing how clean and tidy it is.  Immediately after the rain stopped, all of the shopkeepers came out to sweep away the mud and puddles of water.  Just a few minutes after the downpour and all was neat and tidy ready to attract more shoppers.  On the other hand, the water in the harbor was as polluted and full of floating debris as we have seen since St. Petersburg two years ago.

This major street presented less of a problem with vendors because there were so many people on the sidewalk that they couldn’t single us out.  Strangely, probably 90% of the people were men.  We rarely saw any women and when we did, they were always in pairs.  The men were all dark and unshaven, which translated into either stunningly gorgeous or repulsive.  There wasn’t much in the way of a middle ground in the attractiveness department.  They certainly were polite, but the slightest hint of conversation always led to an invitation to purchase carpets.  Our ship employee excuse worked well enough, but it was just so tedious to be constantly harassed that we became fed up and exhausted.

Back at the shuttle stop, we decided to just take a quick walk through the Grand Bazaar itself to sample the atmosphere.  Of course, just getting down the sidewalk the 100 feet or so to the entrance involved dodging hundreds of shopkeepers and street vendors.  This particular batch was especially persistent because this was the tourist zone.

Once past the machinegun-toting guards and into the Bazaar itself, the vendors weren’t a problem, but hesitating for even an instant in front of a shop would initiate the sales pitch.  A few shopkeepers yelled out to us and would follow us a short distance, but it wasn’t as annoying as it was on the street. 

If the term firetrap applies to any building, it is the Grand Bazaar!  Supposedly there are over 4,000 shops in this tangle of arched passageways.  If you want to buy it, it is for sale here someplace.  Mostly the shops are  selling carpets, jewelry of every style imaginable, intricate silver and gold teapots, glassware, etc.  There are quite a lot of items that would have made nice, quality souvenirs, but none were worth the hassle of dealing with the shopkeepers.  The whole process involves sitting down and drinking tea with them, bargaining for hours, and paying too much.  Forget it!

A person could get lost for days within this labyrinth.  We ended up coming out a different entrance from where we started and had to walk quite a way down the main street to find the shuttle bus again.  Luckily the rain had let up by this time.  Nothing looked better than the inside of that bus!  Everyone on it was strangely quiet.  Evidently, every last ounce of energy had been sucked out of them.

This was the first time we felt that the Shore Excursion department had given us misinformation.  Renato had told us that we needn’t bother with an organized excursion.  Yes, it was true that the attractions were within walking distance of one another, but he didn’t tell us that we’d have to fight off vendors every inch of the way.  He also didn’t tell us that everything would be in Turkish with no information available for tourists.  Rolf had warned us just as we left to be very careful, but the printed information we were given said that Istanbul was “very safe”.  Quite the contrary we found out after we returned!

Tunde was appalled that we had gone ashore at all.  She said we should have talked to her before we went out.  Some crewmembers had been charged $400.00 for some beers on a past trip (we were warned about that in the printed material), so this time they asked the price before ordering and were told $11.00 each.  The three of them had three beers apiece and were presented with a bill for $350.00.  When they objected a bunch of burly Turkish men came out and threatened them.  They ended up just giving them all the money they had (less than $350) and left.

Mario told us that last year a stewardess was almost kidnapped.  Some guys grabbed her and injected her with a drug to knock her out.  Some other people from the ship saw it and summoned the cruise director.  He made a scene and they dropped her, but they had to call an ambulance and take her to the hospital.  Evidently, it is common practice for them to kidnap young women and sell them as sex slaves.  Charming! 

We were standing in the lobby waiting for the dining room to open and Rolf came over to see how we had survived the day.  He was still debating about whether to go out tonight, but we all knew that he would.  He was reminiscing about bringing us drinks on the first segment while we were standing there.  Guess it doesn’t take much to excite him!

Nemanja was missing from dinner tonight.  Everyone told us he was sick, but we’re not sure that’s the real story.  We had two different waiters and three assistants.  Luckily one of the waiters was Chris, so it was relatively coherent under the circumstances.  The table behind us modified every single item they ordered and the table for twelve had a bunch of special orders.  The people behind us had ordered some sort of special fish through their butler that didn’t make it down to the headwaiter.  They didn’t receive one of the items until we were finished with our dessert. 

The service in the dining room has deteriorated considerably since this segment began.  If they are going to encourage so many special orders, they need to make smaller, more manageable stations for the waiters.  Our service suffers because they are always tied up with all the details of carving and serving the special items.  God forbid they should just put it on a plate in the kitchen and bring it out.  NO, they have to put in on a silver platter and present it for carving, even fish, in front of the guest.  At least our dinners were very good tonight and it was fun to have Chris as a waiter for a change.

We went to listen to Richard after dinner. That’s when Tunde regaled us with the horror stories about Istanbul.  She also talked a bit about her life and what’s going on with her on board these days.

Our intention was to move up to the Avenue Saloon to listen to Perry, but the entertainers were hogging all of the best seats, so we passed on it for tonight.  Bill was doing laundry, so we just sat and watched eight people go through the midnight buffet line.  What a waste!  They don’t seem to understand that the reason the buffet is busy when it’s in the Bistro is precisely because it’s up there.  They have it in the Bistro, it’s too crowded so the next night it’s back in the lobby.  Nobody shows up, so the next night it’s back in the Bistro.  Packed again.  Duh!

Kjell and Tunde ridiculed us because we were just sitting there vegetating.  Tunde recalled with horror the Manila Trio who played everything off key until they finally banished them to only playing “Happy Birthday” in the dining room.

The chaotic scene of Istanbul continued into the night as the boats honked and dodge across the busy harbor.

Thursday, 5/21 - Istanbul, Turkey - Depart Noon

Announcements began at around 11:00am begging everyone to return his or her Turkish Landing Card to the Front Desk.  The ship wouldn’t be allowed to sail until all of them were accounted for.  This was just another of those bureaucratic nightmares with no real purpose other than a way for a backwoods government to assert its authority.  The cards never had to be shown to anyone and we could easily have gone ashore yesterday without ever obtaining our cards.

Sailing was delayed slightly due to an “emergency debark”.  An ambulance arrived and a man on a stretcher was removed from the ship and placed inside.  Shortly thereafter, piles of luggage emerged along with his wife who was taken away by the ship’s agent.

The Costa Victoria that has been following us since Venice joined Crystal Symphony at the pier this morning.  Anchored in the harbor was the QEII.   After we sailed we passed the new Rotterdam on its way into Istanbul to take our place.  The ship’s thrusters churned up the layers of polluted water as well as all of the floating flotsam and a plastic oil drum.  Captain Brudvik recognized us from the bridge wing.

A “10th Anniversary BBQ Lunch” was being held on deck by this time.  Of course, this was exactly the same BBQ lunch that was served every cruise before this, but since today was Crystal’s 10th anniversary they decided to fool everyone into thinking it was something special. 

This was not a good day for a deck BBQ.  It was cloudy and occasionally rainy, so the roof over the pool area had to be kept mostly closed.  The result was a smoky and unpleasant atmosphere.  We don’t usually partake in the deck meals, but the BBQ smelled good, so we gave it a try.

The salad selection was identical to what has always been offered and the supply was quite low.  The guacamole was good though!  An extensive selection of BBQ foods was available such as steak, sausages, shrimp kabobs, pork chops, ribs, etc.  The ribs were delicious and cooked to perfection.  The accompaniments were a mix of the usual and the strange.  Corn on the cob and beans, plus fried rice and veal balls!  At least there was something for everyone.

The crowding at these events makes it difficult to really enjoy the décor that they set up.  There is always an appropriate mural behind the serving line and the staff dressed in jeans and cowboy shirts.  But, the incoherent arrangement of the serving stations caused too many bottlenecks and full attention was required to negotiate around the deck.  Since the weather was poor, most of the guests were eating inside the Lido, but we lucked out and found a table on the aft Lido deck.  Out there it was quiet and pleasant.

During the night the exhaust from the ship’s burning garbage had belched chunks of black soot all over the rear decks, so one had to be careful not to touch anything that had been uncovered overnight.  Our shoes left black smudges all over our bathroom floor. 

After lunch we sat in Palm Court reading and watching the rain.  It rained and thundered for a few hours, but cleared up a bit around 6:00pm.  We listened to some inane conversations taking place around us during tea time.  One woman wanted her money back for a shore excursion because she decided to stay on the bus yesterday when it was raining.  She sat there for two hours before the rest of the tour returned, at which time she took her husband and they found the shuttle back to the ship.  She wanted her money back because it wasn’t fair that she didn’t get to see anything. 

Of course, the woman with her, one of the sisters we had to have dinner with on Crystal Society night, agreed with her and told her to go down to Shore Excursions and demand her money back.  The rest of the conversation was equally repulsive, so that evening should be memorable, one way or another.

Dinner tonight was chaotic and unpleasant.  Nemanja was back, but so was the table of twelve, with special orders.  The table of four next to us also had a special order meal.  Basically, that meant that nobody else got any service for the entire evening.  Mario refused to make pasta and the menu selections really weren’t to our liking, but there was no alternative.

All around us people were unhappy with both the service and the food.  It really wasn’t the fault of the waiters, it was a basic fault in the way Crystal handles the dining room.  By encouraging special orders, they end up neglecting anyone who orders from the menu.  The aisles were full of carts because every special order comes out on a silver platter that has to be served in front of the table.  This meant that waiters carrying trays of food or dirty dishes had to lift them over the heads of diners to get past.  The whole thing was ridiculous and unnecessary.

At a table across the aisle, a man tried unsuccessfully to get Mario’s attention to complain about his meal.  Since he was polite, he didn’t succeed in his attempts until well after everyone had finished eating.  Neither of us liked our food either and told Mario as much when he asked us.  Nothing was really wrong with the food per se, but the recipes were poorly executed and weren’t prepared as described in the menu. 

The people behind us also complained about the food.  All of this was far too late in the evening for anything to be done about it.  If the headwater is interested in whether anyone was satisfied with their meal, he should ask earlier so another selection could be served.  At least the desserts were reasonably good.

After we had finished our desserts we noticed that the special order table still had dirty salad plates in front of them.  It was shortly before 10:00pm and they weren’t up to the main course yet.  When they were finally served, it took ten minutes because each plate had to be individually dished up at the table.  One thing to their credit was that once served they didn’t send things back or ask for anything additional. 

That can’t be said for the special order group next to us.  They sent everything back!  Tonight, when one of the women saw another table had special ordered lamb chops, she decided to order that meal for all four at her table in spite of the fact that the other couple wasn’t present at the time.  It’s ridiculous that all these people find it necessary to order something special without knowing what’s on the regular menu first.

These were the same people who demanded that the Maitre d’ find out whether we dock tomorrow at 8:00am or 9:00am.  Their tour tickets indicated that the excursion starts at 8:30am (which it does), but they’re afraid they’ll miss it if the ship doesn’t dock until 9:00am!  God forbid they should read the “Reflections”, or pull their head out long enough to figure it out.  It clearly said that we dock at 8:00am and where and what time to meet for the excursions.  Even the tickets said to check “Reflections” for the time to meet.

We decided to give the “Berlin” show one last chance.  It’s a fairly well concocted show, but the male lead continued to be the downfall.  He simply couldn’t handle the range.  His female counterpart was better, but she seemed to fall short when certain songs didn’t fit her style.  The Galaxy Lounge was almost completely full and most of the audience seemed to enjoy the show.  An attempt by Richard and his cohorts to start a standing ovation failed miserably.

Friday, 5/22 - Kusadasi, Turkey - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Containing a staggering wealth of historic sites, Turkey's inexpensive Aegean makes a marvelous introduction to both ancient and modern Turkey. Buses make easy connections between sites. Picturesque Bodrum boasts hopping nightlife, a crusader castle and the tomb of King Mausolus. The rest of the coast has Roman ruins and Byzantine remains aplenty, including Troy's walls, as well as the monument-strewn WWII battlefields of Gallipoli, the resort town of Kusadasi, fabulous surfing beaches and modern Izmir.

Kusadasi is the total opposite of Istanbul.  A modern seaside resort, the city is small and lovely.  An incongruous bronze statue of some dictator overlooked the harbor from a rocky hilltop.  Probably 75% of the city was under construction and the rest looked to be no more than a couple of years old.  Most of the buildings were attractive, mid-rise, luxury summer homes.  There were several tracts of detached houses being developed, as well.  The hills are forested with wild olive trees and pines.

Our one and only group shore excursion to the “Wonders of Ephesus” departed this morning at 8:30am.  The drive along a modern highway was scenic as we passed several large resort hotels, housing developments and other signs of new prosperity.  Ephesus, begun over 3,000 years ago, reached the height of its prosperity in the 2nd century A.D. when it was one of the principle ports in the Mediterranean.  This was where St. Paul attempted, without much success, to convert the citizens to Christianity.  Also, it is believed that the Virgin Mary came here to live out her final years.

The ruins were not excavated until the 1960’s and only about 20% of the city has been uncovered and restored to this day.  Our tour began at the uppermost level of the city at its administrative zone.  There was a public latrine for the wealthy complete with a mosaic floor.  The city had running water that came from cisterns and through clay pipes, still visible today.  Intricate mosaics, looking as though they were installed yesterday, also lined the pedestrian streets.  It was easy to imagine how grand this city must have been.

A large amphitheater overlooks a colonnaded marble roadway that leads to what was once the water’s edge.  Due to silt buildup from the river, the city now lies several miles inland.  This silting is what caused the city to be abandoned in ancient times.  When the area became too marshy the resultant health problems (malaria) made the city uninhabitable.

We were back at the ship by noon.  Just the kind of tour we like, no wasted time, no extraneous shopping stops, and an informative guide.  The weather was perfect, clear and warm, but cool enough in the shade to keep it pleasant for exploring.

The port city, while modern and attractive, really didn’t offer anything other than shopping.  Since shopping was a hassle even here, we didn’t bother going back out once the tour returned us to the ship.  Vendors selling guidebooks had already hassled us, so we didn’t want to deal with the “real” shopkeepers as well.

Prices were very reasonable for everything we saw as long as you were willing to bargain.  The guidebook we eventually bought started out at 3,000 Greek drachmas (about $7.00).  Our final purchase price was 1,000 drachmas.  As we were walking through the small shops at Ephesus, the price of a selection of spices was $1.00.  After we passed, it went back up to $5.00 to begin the reduction all over again for the next tourists.

We had a very pleasant lunch on the aft Lido deck.  The macadamia crusted turkey fingers with spicy orange marmalade were fantastic. 

After lunch we had a lengthy conversation with Serge about Crystal.  The “Crystalizer” guy was on board to start a training program.  As it stands now, new employees are just thrust out to figure out what to do on their own.  No wonder there’s no consistency in the service.  Serge was appalled about the dining room service.  He also can’t imagine NYK approving a new ship for Crystal when the ship they have running for the Japanese market was fully booked six months in advance.  Crystal has never broken even.  Last year was the best ever and it averaged 85% occupancy, but only due to the Value Collection Fares.  Serge said that people complained constantly that there wasn’t enough activity for them during those cruises.  We all agreed that filling the ships with lower fares was just a gimmick to try to convince NYK that Crystal was improving its performance.  In reality, they are far from making a profit.

Renato called with the information for a car and guide in Sorrento.  We had the option of doing both Herculaneum and Pompeii for six hours, but we decided to keep it to four hours and stick to Herculaneum.  He seemed to think that might allow enough time for the Amalfi drive, too.

Dinner was uneventful for a change, but only because the large party wasn’t in the dining room.  Mario made pasta for our entrée and Nemanja remembered that we wanted the bruschetta from Prego to go with it.  Even the people next to us who always make special requests were happy that the table of twelve was missing.

Richard was honored that we chose to listen to him rather than attend the Liar’s Club tonight.  It was slow enough that we were able to have a lengthy chat with Tunde.  Actually, she did most of the talking, but that was fine with us.  She thinks this will be her last contract, ending in November.  She has a problem with her knee and she just bought an apartment at home, so it’s getting to be time to settle down.  She wanted our address so we could keep in touch and of course we gave it to her.

Tunde told us that working on the ship was much more lucrative for her because the dollar is so strong.  She makes 350,000 florents working on the ship, but would only make 150,000 in an even better job at home.  And, on the ship, she doesn’t have all the living expenses to worry about.

We left a note for Shore Excursions to book the guide for Sorrento and then went up to the Avenue with the intention of listening to Perry for a while.  As usual, we both decided we were too tired to bother once we saw how crowded the room was.  There was room for us if we had really wanted to go in, but it had been a long day.  We’re glad that the clocks get turned back one hour tonight!

Saturday, 5/23 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

With the advantage of the extra hour’s sleep, we were able to get up early enough to catch Linda Ellerbee’s lecture this morning.  The Galaxy Lounge was packed.  She was entertaining and had some enlightening things to say about television news and her career.  Several people left during her talk, which was rude. 

After lunch in the dining room, we stopped to entertain Anne after we saw her yawning and looking at her watch.  We rarely see anyone talking to her, so there doesn’t seem to be any point to having her sit out in the lobby at a desk all morning.  We impressed her with our Easter menu and photo.  She asked for our address so she can contact us when she’s down our way.  Considering what we thought of her in the past, she has certainly improved her standing with us. 

Anne wanted Dave to model a watch she bought for her husband, also a David, for $20.00 on the street in Istanbul.  It had one of those metal bands that sort of flips open to loosen it enough to slip on.  It was a nice, heavy watch, but way too big.  To cut to the chase, when we tried to get it off, we couldn’t.  All three of us were there pulling and flipping, to no avail.  It was like a bad “Lucy” episode.  We worked on it for quite a while, but none of us could figure out how to open it.

The next thing we knew, Captain Brudvik was standing there.  He had come over to say “hello” to us, but Anne enlisted him to help get the watch off.  It only took him a couple of seconds to get it open, so we now know he’s earning his money!  He was very nice to us and was aware of how many cruises we had been on and when he had seen us last.  Anne was amazed because he usually doesn’t have a clue who anyone is, much less how many cruises they’ve been on.

We went up to Palm Court to vegetate until Tea Time rolled around.  Mario came up to chat on his way to set up tea.  We were surprised to learn that he has lived in Bangkok, Thailand for seven years.  We just assumed that since he was Italian that’s where he lived.  He ended up there after working in a hotel when he first started.  He said it’s a great place and it has everything anyone could want.  After that we decided we should nap so we’d be fresh for the Crystal Society presentation tonight.

We received an invitation to the Captain’s Quarters for cocktails tomorrow night.  He didn’t waste any time getting the invitation out after seeing us today. 

As we were wandering through the lobby killing time before the party opened, we got brave and introduced ourselves to the sisters, Linda and Elaine.  Linda was clearly the most outspoken of them and also the more theatrical.  She’s the one Tunde said won’t let anyone see her without makeup.  Elaine looks like a typical New York housewife, but she’s much more eccentric than anyone so ordinary.  Linda looked quite good tonight and was wearing a very attractive cape.

They were talking with Penny, the gift shop manager, about a safari in Africa that was part of a Crystal package.  Linda was appalled that there wasn’t any air conditioning.  She definitely is not the type to rough it!  Her delivery rivals Joan Rivers and was hysterical.  Her sister wasn’t far behind. 

We all went off to the Crystal Society party.  We were introduced first and had our picture taken with Anne and the Captain.  The sisters were next.  We love to see the expression on people’s face when they see how many cruises we have been on.  They always say stupid things like, “Don’t you ever go home?” 

After the party we went to Prego for dinner.  The sisters were extremely funny, but much too loud.  The other people in the restaurant were not happy.  It was amusing for us though.  Linda raved on and on about how wonderful “The Lion King” was.  She seems to be able to get front row tickets to anything. Probably because she’s got the guts to just barge up and ask for them.  She’s also rich, so that might have something to do with it, as well.

The evening went by quickly and we were the last to leave the restaurant.  We were still laughing and carrying on as we walked down the hall.  We chatted for a long time with Rolf about a variety of things.  Ferenc was also talkative tonight.  He’s going on tour to Pompeii tomorrow and was excited to get to do that.

Sunday, 5/24 - Sorrento, Italy - 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM

Land of Mermaids. Land of Orange and Lemon Groves. Land of Colors. This small city in Campania has earned a plethora of alluring names. Famed for its sea cliffs, the town's steep slopes look out over azure waters to Ischia, Capri and the Bay of Naples. The birthplace of Limoncello liqueur offers some good diving, great sea fishing, boat cruises and appetizing restaurants. Excellent hiking trails cross the peninsula. Rent a car or take a taxi if the steep streets look too intimidating.

Similar to Santorini, Sorrento is perched atop a sheer volcanic cliff at the water’s edge.  Mount Vesuvius looms across the bay and its affects could be seen in the thick layer of ancient ash that covers the hillsides.  Sorrento itself was built upon what appeared to be a single layer of ash that had filled in the space between two volcanic cliffs. We booked at car and guide with the intention of visiting Herculaneum, about an hour’s drive away.

Upon arrival at the pier via tender, we had a brief difficulty locating our transportation.  Shortly, we found someone who took us to a parking area where we were turned over to a driver.  Although the driver took us where we asked to go, he did not speak fluent English and there was no guide provided.  The driver didn’t say more than a couple of words to us in the entire four hours.

The first part of the drive was through the congested, winding streets of Sorrento and a few neighboring villages via long tunnels.  Once we reached the Autostrada, the pace picked up considerably as we drove past some working class suburbs on the way to Herculaneum.

Herculaneum is located on the opposite side of the volcano from Pompeii and the site that has been excavated is much smaller.  However, the remains are better preserved because the area was covered with mud rather than hot ash.  Our driver dropped us at the entry gate and told us to return to the same spot in two hours.

From the entrance, it was a long, sloped walk down to the lower level of the city.  The elevated walkway, actually at the current ground level, gave a wonderful panoramic view over the entire site.  Most of the buildings still had remnants of beautiful frescoes, stucco ornamentation and intricate mosaic floors and fountains.

Most of the visitors were local schoolchildren and families, so there weren’t any crowds to speak of.  We were able to wander freely around the site.  All but a few of the splendid homes were open for viewing.  Contrary to the information provided by the ship, we never had to bribe a guide to unlock anything.  The houses that weren’t open were being restored or protected, so bribing anyone wouldn’t have made any difference.

These ruins really give meaning to what it must have been like to live in 79AD.  Since many of the buildings were large, magnificent homes, similar in style to those in Pompeii, we assumed that there must be much more of the city that remains hidden 100’ below the surface of the surrounding city.  There were a few tunnels leading off into the sides of the pit from the half-buried buildings along the outskirts.  In some of them we could plainly see columns and walls still to be excavated.  The problem is that the existing city literally overhangs the edges of the pit, so it would be necessary to remove the modern buildings in order to expand the site. 

Two hours was just the right amount of time to see the city and we returned to the car at the appointed hour.  The driver was shocked when we told him to take us back to Sorrento.  He finally was able to tell us that he was booked until 4:00pm, not 2:00pm as we had requested.  Fearing this was a mistake or a way to charge us more, we showed him the letter we had that spelled out what we had paid for, so he agreed to take us back. He was more than willing to take us elsewhere, but we hadn’t planned on it and didn’t really know what to ask for within the time frame.  Revisiting Pompeii would have taken too long and neither of us was high on energy anyway, so we went back to town.

Being a Sunday, literally everything was closed tight by 2:00pm when we got back.  The area immediately adjacent to the piazza where the shuttle bus stopped had some stores and restaurants available and there were a couple of restaurants at the pier open as well.  Nothing really screamed out at us, so we decided to just return to the ship for lunch.

Because we had to attend a cocktail party in the Captain’s Quarters tonight, we decided to nap and get our act together so we could be relatively coherent by 7:45pm.  After the ship sailed, we passed some breathtaking coastal scenery and the sheer cliffs of the Isle of Capri.

We were the second couple to arrive at the Captain’s Quarters party.  Nikki was happy to see us, as usual.  Captain Brudvik actually knew who we are, which seemed to amaze Nikki. We were giggling and poking about him having to save Dave from Anne’s watch. Linda Ellerbee was there, but she never left the group of women she was talking to initially.

As time went by we kept moving farther back in the room until we were in the corner.  The furniture was different from the other Captain’s collection, so they must be able to choose the configuration of their quarters.  We chatted with a woman who was travelling alone, an older couple who wanted to know about Herculaneum, and a middle-aged couple who agreed with us that Crystal had become too repetitive.  They didn’t like Seabourn because the ships are too small, but they didn’t think Crystal’s food was very good.  They have only been on a few cruises, but they were already tired of seeing the exact same entertainment on every cruise.  They wanted to know whether the lecturers were any better on other cruises and unfortunately we had to tell them they could be much worse!

We requested a photo with Herbert, so the photographer (Derek) brought him over toward the end of the party.  He said we should take the shuttle into Livorno if we just want something to do and that it was a pleasant town.  Of course, he has said that about every city we have visited.

Dinner was very good tonight, but the service was spotty because of the table of twelve and the women next to us who changed everything at least twice during the meal.  It wasn’t quite as frantic tonight though.  Mario wanted the details about Herculaneum compared to Pompeii so he’d have more information when people ask him which one to visit.  We told him people should see Pompeii if they can only choose one of them.

Bill felt like he was getting a cold and we were both tired, so we just listened to Richard until 10:30pm.  Tunde treated us to drinks, which was unexpected.  She said everyone has started to come down with a cold, so it must be going around the ship again.

Monday, 5/25 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

Nothing was on our agenda for today, so we didn’t rush out of the cabin early.  Since this was Gala Luncheon Buffet day, we already knew the lobby area would be a mad crush of people.  But, as many cruises as we have been on, we had never taken pictures of the buffet.  We took several pictures from the balcony of the crowds milling around, then went to the Bistro for a snack to tide us over until lunchtime.

Jacques was sitting near us in the Bistro, but he is recovering from an eye infection and was keeping his distance from everyone.  When we talked to him the other day, he looked pretty bad, but he seemed better today.  Luigi was trying to set up the tables in the Bistro for lunch, but they were all taken and he couldn’t do more than a couple of them.  Didi kept running around telling him to set the tables, but there was no way to do it.  We made an appointment to come by Prego tonight at 6:00pm to take photos of him and the other guys.  He was thrilled.

Nemanja and Victor were standing around together behind the dessert buffet, so we went down to get their picture.  That was easier said than done because Nemanja was in a particularly talkative mood today.  He is leaving his contract early, so he has to pay his own airfare home.  He was interested to know how much we actually pay per day to cruise.  It was amazing to us that he had been here seven years and never bothered to look in one of the brochures.

Didi was quite chatty, as well.  He was kind of appalled at how much food is wasted at the buffets and wondered if we felt the same way (we do).  To us, the midnight buffet was the biggest waste and we continually tell people that.  He said they tried to cut it out, but they got too many complaints from guests saying, “All the other cruise lines do it and we expect it from Crystal!”  Of course, these are the same people who never actually eat anything from the buffet, but they wanted it there anyway.

We finally got the picture of Nemanja and Victor.  Victor asked Nemanja what one of the desserts is and he said, “Everything is cheesecake.  Just say it’s cheesecake.”  None of it was actually cheesecake, of course.

We went up for a quiet lunch in the Lido.  There were only a few people there, mostly back-to-back cruisers.  The food was OK, but not great.  It was still better than the Gala Buffet though.  Pedro was having fun attempting to help us dish up our fruit selection.

It rained lightly almost all day, so everyone was inside.  It seemed like a lot of guests and crew have started coming down with the cold that’s going around.  Bill was feeling tired and Dave was on the verge, so we decided it would be best to rest for the remainder of the day.

At 6:00pm we went to Prego to take photos.  Mario wouldn’t let us take a picture unless we were in it, so that’s what we ended up doing.  Then, Luigi, Gianluca, and Pedro had to do the same thing.  Luigi looked depressed that we were leaving and Mario pretended he was sad, too.  Mario probably really does like us in spite of all the trouble we caused him.

Since we missed our afternoon snack time, we were starving, so we stopped by the Avenue Saloon to get some of the 50’s cocktail food.  They always have tiny hamburgers, hotdogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Murphy was whining about how ugly the 50’s uniforms are, but we think they are pretty cute.  We did agree that the skirts are too short though.  She said that guests had complained about the Caesar’s Palace costumes being too revealing because they make the cocktail waitresses look like prostitutes.

We stopped to pick up our photos.  Linda and the other photo people were hysterical trying to sort the pictures for delivery.  We decided to give them one of our free bottles of wine, which delighted them.  Linda thought we had chosen the type of wine because it’s her favorite, so we just let her believe it.

We made ourselves presentable for dinner and went up to Palm Court to kill a half-hour.  Jim, an Ambassador Host, made a beeline over to chat with us.  For some unexplained reason, he blurted out his entire life history and that of his grown children.  We found out that Crystal pays them a salary and pays for their airfare, so this program is quite different from other cruise lines.  Crystal directly hires their Hosts rather than using a service.  He whined about the long hours and said he was burned out on the job.  Jim talked for at least twenty minutes, virtually non-stop.  We never figured out why or what the point was other than he had seen us get the top-cruiser award the other night.  Maybe he was just supposed to kiss up to us or something, but it sure was strange.

Linda Ellerbee was holding court at a private party as we were leaving.  She came down in the same elevator as we did.  She’s much more full of herself than we thought she’d be, although she did seem to enjoy talking with the guests.  That’s when you could shut her up, of course.

Nemanja had two assistants again, so the service was acceptable.  It was the usual 50’s night food, which was satisfactory.  Mario practically insisted we have his Crepes Suzette for dessert, so we figured we might as well go for it.  It was tasty, but not good enough to warrant all the trouble.

Chris got up the nerve to ask how we could afford all these cruises.  He said he’s been trying to get the nerve up to ask since our first cruise, but figured it wasn’t any of his business.  We gave him the basic story and he was satisfied.

After dinner we were going to listen to Perry, but he was busy with Name That Tune.  We finally landed in the Crystal Cove where we chatted with Serge and Rolf for about an hour.  Anne came through in her 50’s wear looking rather bedraggled.  She returned hauling boxes of junk to hand out as prizes at the Sock Hop later tonight. 

Tuesday, 5/26 - Florence (Livorno), Italy - 8:00 AM - 9:00 PM

Florence is a Renaissance city famous for its art and architecture. You'll find history and culture in every corner, tucked among the city's many piazzas, beautiful churches and fascinating museums. The spectacular Uffizi Gallery houses the works of such masters as Titian, Botticelli, Michelangelo and da Vinci. Don't miss the Duomo, the symbol of Florence, or the sunset over the Arno River and be sure to visit the Chianti region just south of the city for a taste of its famous wines.

We were awakened at around 9:45am by the announcements not to be alarmed by the alarms for the crew fire drill at 10:00am.  Both of us are in the process of catching the cold that’s been going around, but so far it hasn’t been severe enough to keep us from doing anything we want to do.  We had pretty much already decided to stay on board based on what Rolf had told us about Livorno.  And, we certainly had no intention of taking one of the eleven-hour tours into Florence, especially since we did that last time!

500 passengers had gone on tour today and it appeared that most of the remainder had gone somewhere independently.  We had the ship pretty much to ourselves this morning.  Daniel and Paul in the Bistro were joking around with us while we had our morning snack.  Mario dragged in at the end to make himself some espresso and wake up.  Jacques and Herbert came by, but they didn’t bring us into a conversation.  Pasquale, the Cellar Master, stopped to thank us for the tip we sent to the Wine Stewards.  We think that all of the staff who receive notice of pre-paid tips should acknowledge their receipt to the guests.

After checking the lunch menu for the dining room, we took the cameras upstairs to take our usual port photos.  There wasn’t really much scenery to speak of.  The port was strictly industrial and the town looked typical of such areas.  Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas was docked directly in front of us.

We chatted with Luigi, Gianluca and Jesus on the Lido deck for a while.  It was interesting to learn that Jesus came from the Canary Islands.  Luigi greeted a man walking on the deck above as though he was an old friend.  When Gianluca asked Luigi who he was he said, “I have no idea.”  Much giggling and poking followed.

We strolled past the food in the Lido buffet to decide where to go for lunch.  The buffet seemed OK, so we decided to come back up a little bit later.  In the meantime, we went down to get photos of Rolf and Serge.  Rolf was in the midst of the cold we have, but was feeling much worse.  After getting their photos, we went up to the Bistro and took a picture of Mario, Daniel and J.J. 

We ran into Perry and Bernard coming up the stairs from an outing in Livorno.  Perry was all giggly over Bernard.  He’s like a little schoolgirl when he has a crush on someone.  This one is odd because Bernard is at least twenty years younger than Perry, not to mention that he appears to have no personality at all.  There’s no accounting for taste!

Lunch in the Lido was adequate, but not as good as it looked.  There were only about ten guests up there and Daniel said only one person was eating in the dining room.  Didi was frantic trying to get the tables set up for the buffet tonight for the returning tour groups.  The early seating guests will be returning too late for dinner in the dining room.  They do a nice job of setting up the Lido with tablecloths, etc. for these dinners.

Gianluca was standing by the dessert table where we were sitting, so the scenery was pleasant.  He kept trying to force desserts off on us, but only succeeded in feeding us a few cookies before he had to put everything away.  He dropped a glass bowl of mousse that made quite a splat when it shattered.  His contract is over in Barcelona and the last few days are always a drag for them.

Tea was served in Palm Court while we were sitting there composing e-mail, so we decided to have some.  They set up all of the tables in Palm Court, as usual, and only eight people showed up, including us.  Sometimes they go way too far in trying to please everyone.  In this case they didn’t want to limit the choices of where to sit, so they set up everything.

Jespar came over to chat for a while.  He also seemed to have the cold that’s going around.  We didn’t miss anything in Livorno.  He said he just went in, had a coffee, and came back to lie out in the sun on the crew deck.  They don’t heat the little pool in the crew area, so he said it was quite a shocker to jump into it on such a hot day.

We sent the e-mail at the Front Desk, took a photo of Richard and chatted with him for a few minutes.  He has only one more cruise after this one, so he has been on as long as we have.  We had a chance to get Paulo’s photo, too, at the hors d'oeuvre table.

With only a couple of pictures left on the roll, we went looking for more victims and found Murphy, Erkko, and Joseph in the Avenue Saloon.  Murphy is quite a character and loves to make fun of Chris in the dining room.  She also seemed to always have a problem putting all the pieces of a single uniform together as they were meant to be.

Bill took the final photo on the roll of the bartender and servers in Palm Court that we know fairly well, Regina, Jespar, Andrea, Norman, and Christian.

Dinner was satisfactory.  The salad entrée, Cajun chicken over tossed salad greens was larger than expected.  We ordered Chateaubriand for tomorrow’s farewell formal night.

We listened to Richard play after dinner.  The lobby still smelled like burning electrical wires due to the welding that went on behind the fountain this afternoon.  It looked as though all the water had leaked out and stained the custom carpeting in the Crystal Cove, but it wasn’t wet.  We’re not quite sure exactly what happened to the carpet.

Ferenc was excited by his tour to Florence this afternoon.  He went as an escort on the 11-hour all-encompassing tour and loved everything about it.  He was really excited about seeing Michelangelo’s David, among other things.  He told us that he also got to visit Pompeii on his own, which was also a thrill for him.  Kjell told Bill that Ferenc would be promoted to an Assistant Barkeeper when Kjell goes on vacation.

Although neither of us was particularly awake at this point, we thought we should at least make an effort to listen to Perry tonight.  We did stay for a little over 45 minutes, but he wasn’t singing tonight, just playing the piano.  There were a number of people there who appeared to be waiting for him to sing.  We only heard him speak once and he sounded like he might be ill, but he seemed fine this afternoon.  Murphy has been fun lately. 

Wednesday, 5/27 - Portofino, Italy - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

One of the most popular resort towns on the Italian Riviera, little Portofino has just over 500 permanent residents. But that all changes on summer days when the sun is shining and the yachting set drops anchor in the harbor to wander about. Boutiques, art galleries, cafes and restaurants line the tiny streets. Diving, hiking and beach-going are popular local pastimes, and there are even some historic sights like the Church of St. Martin (Divo Martino) and the Castello Brown hilltop fortress.

Back in beautiful Portofino!  This morning was stormy and wet, but it was still warm enough to go without a jacket.  The sea was a bit rough and they were having trouble getting the tenders up to the ship because of the strong currents.  Although the rain didn’t return, the water stayed rough and the sky cloudy.

We weren’t really sure what we were interested in doing today.  Bill still wasn’t feeling great and Dave was starting on the decline.  Again, neither of us was sick enough not to do anything we really wanted to do, but since we had already been here there wasn’t much motivation to do anything.

Our breakfast snack in the Bistro was earlier than usual and it shocked Perry to see us.  He wondered why he hadn’t seen much of us this cruise, but it’s mainly that we have been too tired to stay up that late.  Either that or he’s not singing.  The wine stewards kept coming over one by one to thank us for the gratuity.  They all seemed sincere and it was nice to have someone acknowledge a prepaid tip instead of taking it as a given as the waiters and stewardesses always do.

Since Anne was sitting at her desk looking totally bored, we took the photos of the glass pieces we bought in Venice to show her.  When we arrived, she was writing a postcard to her mother, so we were right about her having nothing to do.  She had inadvertently extended her hours today, forgetting that most of the guests would be ashore.  Once they were printed in “Reflections”, she was stuck.  We stayed and chatted until about 11:50am, at that time she advanced the hands on the wall clock to 12:00 and put her stuff away.  Anne convinced us to go ashore in spite of the weather.

The tender was sloshing up and down at the landing door, but it wasn’t too difficult to get into it.  Radisson Seven Seas’ “Song of Flower” was also anchored outside of Portofino’s picturesque little harbor.  Our intention was to have lunch on shore, but we never found an empty table in any of the restaurants that appealed to us. 

We did make the effort to walk the steep cobblestone road up to the church.  It was a lovely, narrow, winding lane past moss-covered stone walls and iron gates.  There were several secluded villas along the way, but we could see only part of the beautiful terraced gardens leading to them.  The church was small, but pretty.  Unfortunately, bands of school children were screaming around the outside, so it sort of ruined the mood.  But, the view of the rocky coastline on the other side was breathtaking.

Behind the church was a little cemetery lined with marble crypts.  A photograph of the occupant was attached to the front of each one.  In addition, there were several large tombs with statues adorning them.  It was a very scenic place to rest, to say the least.  From here, we continued our trek up a very narrow walkway and into an even more upscale neighborhood.  At the top was a “castle”, but it really looked more like a large stone house than a castle.  Although the gardens were beautiful, we elected not to pay the 3,000 Lire admission fee. 

At this point we decided to start back down the hill.  We took a shortcut down some rather precarious stone steps and ended up near the end of the harbor.  From there we walked back into the little town to check the shops and see about lunch.  At the far end of the harbor we found all of the crew members having lunch, so we turned around.  Mike, from the Casino, said to look him up if we ever get to Halifax.  Considering we have no idea what his last name is, that won’t be likely to happen.   As though we needed an excuse anyway!

We thought it would be better under the circumstances to go back to the ship for lunch.  That way we could crash if need be.  When we stepped out on the pool deck all the deck stewards, groveling and thanking us “for our kindness to them”, immediately rushed us.  It was really nice to know they appreciated the gratuities we sent for them.

It was impossible for us to carry our own tray, fetch our own water, or even to get napkins and silver.  There was a deck steward rushing over to do everything for us except chew our food.  They probably would have done that if we asked them to.  It wasn’t as annoying as it might sound.  If fact, it was kind of touching.

After lunch, Bill needed to nap so we went back to the cabin.  Dave sat out on the verandah and finished the QAP form and took in the lovely view.  The Captain announced that we would be doing some maneuvers close to the harbor entrance so that a photographer on shore could take photos for the next brochure.

Eventually, we both ended up on the Sun Deck to watch the final sailing.  The ship had to maneuver into a rather narrow space between Portofino harbor and Song of Flower in order to block the other ship out of the photo.  We stayed there for a few minutes, presumably while they took the pictures.  We couldn’t see any photographers on shore though.  It was a beautiful sight to be on a ship so close to this stunningly beautiful shoreline.  And, it was sad to know that this was the end of such a wonderful cruise.

We got ourselves together for the final formal night and went down to pick up our last photos.  After that we sat and listened to Richard to avoid the Farewell Cocktail Party.  We finally figured out that the guy we have seen on board this cruise is George Milliken’s, the computer instructor, “friend” Steve.  Steve was much friendlier than George, but he’s just as full of himself.  At least he made the effort to introduce himself.

Our attempt to get a photo of Kjell, Serge, Rolf, and Tunde failed when it became too busy in the Crystal Cove.  For some reason we can’t figure out, they get frantic when they have more than one customer at a time.

Dinner was OK.  There was a lull between our salads and the special order Chateaubriand.  We thought Mario was going to pop a vein because he was keeping us waiting.  Needless to say, we didn’t care since we’d have to wait for the Baked Alaska Parade anyway.

The meat was wonderful, as usual.  More deck stewards, who help in the dining room at night, came over to thank us for the tips.  Evaristo did the same, but he’s always exceptionally nice to us.  The amount of wasted vegetables and potatoes from our order was ridiculous.  We had to force Mario to put more potatoes on our plates, as well as give us the end pieces of the meat.  Even when our plates were full, there were enough vegetables and potatoes to serve at least two more people.

The Baked Alaska Parade was the same as usual.  It wasn’t bad except for the music and clapping along (we didn’t participate, of course).  Nemanja had already asked us if we wanted something else, but we figured we might as well have the Baked Alaska since we’re actually leaving this time.  Strangely enough, it wasn’t too bad.  Not great, but not bad.

This dinner always ends late, so we missed our half-hour sitting in the Crystal Cove after dinner.  We weren’t in the mood for the show, so we just decided to go up and get ready for bed.  We’re worried that we will become more ill than we already are if we don’t rest.

We’ve decided that staying over for three days anywhere after a cruise this long was simply a bad idea.  Neither of us is very excited about the time in Barcelona.  Once a cruise is over, we just want to go home and not have to hassle with staying someplace.  At least this will be on the Crystal plan so they have to handle everything for us, but we still have to find our own meals and all the little things we haven’t had to do for the past month. 

Thursday, 5/28 - Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

Another day of clouds and rain today, but it didn’t make much difference to us.  We’re still at various stages of the Crystal Crud, so there wasn’t anything on our agenda other than packing and getting the pictures we wanted.

Passports were being handed out in the lobby when we arrived downstairs.  The Bistro was too crowded to bother with, so we decided to wait until lunchtime to eat, only about an hour.  We wandered down to the Crystal Cove and found Tunde looking rather ill.  Every crewmember we have seen today has a cold, so someone must have brought it on sometime during this cruise.  Many guests were sneezing and sniffling, as well.

We cajoled Tunde into letting us take a photo of her, but she insisted we be in it with her.  She was appalled that we would want her picture without any makeup, but to be perfectly honest, we hadn’t even noticed she wasn’t wearing any.  Once we got her picture, we were able to get Kjell’s also.  Tunde wants us to send the photo of them together so she can make her boyfriend jealous.

Anne was sitting at her desk looking bored and distracted, so we stopped by to chat with her.  She was happy to have someone to keep her awake.  We ended up talking with her for about 45 minutes and by then it was time for lunch.  Since the dining room is directly adjacent to her desk, it couldn’t have been more convenient.

Most people must have been upstairs because the dining room stayed fairly empty the entire time.  Nemanja and Victor served us.  The food was nothing special, but was acceptable.  We weren’t really feeling very hungry anyway.  One of the shop girls said that we should be sure to go inside some of the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona because the courtyards are just as interesting as the exterior.  She said just strolling around the city would be fun, so it’s not necessary to make any effort to tour. 

After lunch we went up to get started on our packing.  After getting that chore organized and ready to shove in the suitcases, we went up for our afternoon ice cream.  From there we went to Palm Court to get a few pictures of crewmembers we had missed the other day.  Siri and Angela were out in the foyer asking each party that came out of the elevator if they wanted to have tea.  Both of them thought it was stupid, but it’s probably a good idea as far as gracious service goes.  Angela rounded up Jespar and Stefan to join in the picture.

On the way down to the cabin again, we ran across Perry.  He had been wondering what happened to us.  We didn’t have any reason, it just hadn’t worked into the schedule to see him regularly.  He ran away when he found out we had colds.  It’s hard to sing when you’ve got a cold!  Unfortunately, once the bug starts going around the ship almost everyone gets it eventually.

We finished our packing with relative ease.  Our restraint in packing originally helped going the other way.  There was still room for any purchases we might make in Barcelona, although we don’t really plan to buy anything specific.  We divided up the money for tips to some of the bar servers and got the envelopes ready to hand out tonight.

When we arrived in the Crystal Cove, it was still early enough that it was nice and quiet.  Tunde looked terrible and really shouldn’t have been working.  No wonder these colds get passed around so readily.  We were listening to Richard when Jacques came up behind us to wish us well.  Even after our complaining he seems to like us, at least he’s good at pretending he does!  He’s sure he’ll still be here when we come back next year.  Richard gave us his card, shaped like a piano complete with the little stick that props up the lid.

While we were sitting there, George, the lead singer, arrived with the rest of the ensemble.  We know that they aren’t supposed to sing at the Crystal Piano, but it hadn’t stopped him previously and it certainly didn’t stop him tonight.  This time Richard had music written in his key.  He’s so full of himself it’s repulsive, but the guests seemed to love it.  A huge crowd gathered around the balcony and in the lobby.  When Jacques left us he went up to the female lead and spoke to her firmly.  The last words he said to her were, “someplace else,” so we’re assuming he told her not to do this again.  Richard really was just as much to blame because he seemed to encourage the whole scene in the first place.

We handed out tips to Kjell, Tunde and Serge.  All of them were very grateful.  We also gave a bonus tip to Paulo.  He has known our names from the first cruise and never forgets them.  He brought us four rounds of hors d'oeuvre.  Tunde got all misty-eyed when we left for dinner.

Dinner was quick and quiet.  Both of the parties next to us weren’t there, as well as the two big tables on the other side of the partition.  The waiter for that station didn’t have any guests tonight, so he had to help Nemanja. 

Murphy came by to find out where her coconuts were that we promised her last night.  The fruit cup was served in ½ coconuts and we told her she could make a bra out of them later.  She decided she has more than they could handle, which is certainly true.  She was beside herself when we gave her a tip.  She carried on at length about how nice we were and what fun it had been to meet us.  That’s what they all say, so it must be true!

We hardly saw Nemanja all night because he was busy with the nightmare table of twelve with the special orders and re-orders.  We were long finished with our entire meal before their entrees arrived.  Once again, however, Bill didn’t get one of the courses he ordered.  Whenever there has been too much help, something gets lost in the shuffle.

We gave Nemanja a bonus on top of the regular pre-paid gratuity since he has been with us for three cruises.  He was thrilled and seemed genuinely touched.  We left before Victor and Mario came back, but we had already pre-paid their tips.  Another of the Filipinos came over to gush over us about how nice we were to think of them.  They have been the most gracious of all of them.

Our health wasn’t holding up by the time dinner was over, so we decided to just go visit Tunde and give Rolf his tip.  Unfortunately, the serenade was continuing, so we detoured to find Ferenc and Oliver.  Half of the Crystal Cove was full of entertainment, computer university and miscellaneous other staff, smoking in the non-smoking section.

Oliver was surprised and thrilled that we thought of him.  Ferenc got choked up when we gave him a bottle of wine and the tip.  He’s pretty sure he’ll be here next time we come back.  Tony and Margaret Long stopped by to say goodbye to us.

We waited in the Avenue to say our farewell to Perry.  He arrived shortly and gave his blessing for us to leave so we could get enough sleep.  He hugged both of us and we ended up smelling of his cologne for the rest of the night.  Luckily it smells good because he must bathe in the stuff.  He said he’s not coming back to Crystal after Alaska on the Harmony.  He thinks, rightly so, that he should be a headliner, but Pete Johnson won’t give him the job because he can pay him half as much for ten times more work.  All of this is true and he does deserve to be a headliner.  He’s far superior to anyone we have ever seen perform on stage in a solo act.

Another attempt to find Rolf failed and we didn’t want to hang around in the Crystal Cove.  Richard said we had just missed the songfest.  We didn’t tell him we had avoided it intentionally.  There were even more staff people hogging the seats in the Cove and the smoke was literally billowing from the non-smoking section.

Everyone must have gone to bed early because the Starlite Club was completely empty except for Oliver standing at the door with his tray.

When we got back to the cabin, the luggage still hadn’t been collected.  Usually it is gone by 10:00pm at the latest.

Friday, 5/29 - Barcelona, Spain - Arrive 7:00 AM - Disembark Crystal Symphony 9:30 AM

A feast for the senses, Catalonia's capital has a distinctly Mediterranean feel. Its revitalization for the 1992 Olympics made Barcelona the place to be on the continent. A picturesque location, Europe's best-preserved Gothic Quarter, Gaudí's delightfully cheeky architecture and galleries with the treasures of Miró, Tápies and Picasso make Barcelona visually stunning indoors and out. "New Catalan Cuisine" and tapas bars tempt the taste buds, and the nightlife and music are on the cutting edge.

We were out of bed by 7:00am after almost no sleep.  At breakfast in the Lido, the deck stewards continued to thank us and ask when we were coming back.  Luigi kept making excuses to come over to our table and talk, but neither of us was feeling all that great and we were in a hurry.  On the way out we gave him one of our address cards and he looked like he was choking up.

Our designated waiting area for disembarkation was the Starlite Club.  We had to drop of Rolf’s gratuity at the front desk because we couldn’t find him last night after dinner.  Helena was being hassled by an old woman who was scrutinizing every item on her statement.  Helena finally said, “I just don’t know of any other way to explain it to you.”  The woman finally decided to pay it, but she’ll probably complain later.

Linda came out of the Photo Shop to hug us goodbye.  She and Ian are hoping they won’t still be here when we come back next year, but they probably will be.  We finally remembered to turn the tables and take their picture.

People were lounging around the Starlite Club.  Almost everyone has the cold that’s going around, so it must have infected everyone at about the same time.  We were supposed to be called to disembark at 10:00am, but they were running ahead of schedule and we were called at 9:30am.  On the way out, Nikki spotted us and rushed over to hug us.  Captain Brudvik was extremely friendly to us on the way out the door.  It’s a nice touch that the Captain stands at the gangway on disembarkation day. 

Anne was giving everyone her usual fake happy face until we came by.  At that point she hugged us and carried on at length.  The people behind us must have wondered who we are. 

Contrary to what Jacques had said yesterday, the luggage was not sorted.  It wasn’t all that difficult to find our luggage, but the scene was fairly chaotic because you had to find a porter to take it.  We rolled our own luggage outside to the truck, but we had to have a porter actually put it up there.  They told us that the reason we had to claim our luggage instead of it being sent directly to the hotel was due to customs regulations.  The customs agents were just standing there talking and smoking, so the real reason must have had something to do with the porters getting their tips.

The obnoxious people who sat next to us at dinner decided to continue the experience and sit in front of us in the bus.  For some reason they think we’re all friends now although we didn’t speak a single word to them for the entire cruise.

The itinerary of the city tour was the same as the one two years ago except this time the guide accompanied us through all of the sights.  The bus took us up to the top of a hill where the Olympics were held.  There was a great view of the entire city and our hotel from there.  We drove past the sports facilities and several museums were pointed out.

After that we continued to the Spanish Village, a recreation of architectural styles from all over Spain that was built for an exposition in the 1920’s.  The guide pointed out all of the different styles and the time there was brief.  Last time they dropped us there for an hour, which was way too long.  There were some nice shops, but there wasn’t time for any shopping.

We drove up La Rambla and past all of the various street vendors and performers.  The guide warned us never to buy flowers from gypsies, especially near our hotel, because they will steal money from purchasers.  She repeated the warning as we drove up to the hotel, so it must be a problem.

This time we were able to leave the bus and walk around outside of La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous uncompleted cathedral.  It really was a sight to behold and well worth the stop.  From the cathedral we drove past several other famous buildings and architectural wonders.  The city is a showplace for the Art Nuveau style.  Even the ordinary buildings are interesting to look at.  The Gaudi structures were breathtaking.

After that we stopped at the cathedral in the Gothic Quarter.  We had seen it before, but it was worth seeing it again.  The other guests were starting to give up and stay on the bus for no particular reason.  Of course, there were a few women who had no clue they were on a tour and were complaining to one another that we were being driven around in circles.

The Hotel Arts is a very modern, but lovely skyscraper located in the center of the former Olympic Village.  It overlooks a marina and an outdoor shopping area full of restaurants.  Across the highway are the zoo and a large park.  A 50’ long waterfall that resembles falling rain flanks the entrance and all around the ground floor is a reflecting pool and waterfalls.  There was no room for the bus to maneuver into the hotel entrance so it had to drop us across the street.

We were supposed to wait for the guide to show us where to go.  A number of other busses arrived, so we headed for the entrance on our own.  It was easy enough to follow the crowd and find the Crystal desk.  Barry was there attempting to sort the pile of luggage, without much success. 

Once Barry spotted the guests starting to arrive he began directing everyone upstairs to the registration desk.  He was asking whether people were on the Crystal Classic Plus program, the regular program, or independent.  The people who were independent were annoyed because they had to go up to the reception desk.  What did they expect when they booked on their own?

Since we were on the “Plus” program we were taken away with another couple by a special hostess.  Everyone else had to wait in a huge line for their room assignments and many were still waiting long after we had ventured out to look for lunch.  At least we could see what we were paying extra for!  We had to use our key in the elevator to get to the Club Floor where there was a private check-in desk plus a lounge with free food and beverages all day.

We weren’t sure at this point whether the breakfast we were entitled to was the one served in this lounge (that’s what the check-in person said) or if there was another breakfast buffet somewhere.  We were supposed to get a “full American breakfast” with this plan, so if the continental breakfast served in the lounge was it, that’s a reason to complain.  We were assigned to room 3115 with no delay whatsoever, as promised.

A woman was ranting in the hallway that her key wouldn’t work.  An unlucky, but extremely handsome, bellman attempted to help her.  Eventually he just had to point her in the direction of the reception desk because she wouldn’t listen to him.  We would find out that the handsome bellman wasn’t an exception!  In fact, every man employed by this hotel was stunning beyond belief.  It was as though the management had raided a model agency for their staff.

The corridors were beautifully decorated in light woods and interesting art.  There was a bowl of apples and newspapers on a table by the elevators.  In addition, outside of every room was a built-in, spot-lighted crystal vase with stunning white lilies in it. 

Our room was no less attractive with blond wood furniture, an elaborate entertainment system including TV, VCR and combination CD and cassette player with speakers built in over the beds.  Also, there were remote controls by the bed for the blackout shade, a variety of lighting schemes and speakers in the bathroom.

The marble bathroom had a separate stall for the toilet and bidet, shower with three heads, and huge bathtub.  Strangely, no washcloths were provided and only a liquid bath gel rather than bar soap for the shower.

Our view was spectacular.  We could see all the way up a lovely beach to the port where Crystal Symphony was docked until 11:00pm tonight.  We could see the entire city at our feet.  The view was worth the price of admission in itself.

By this time, we were run down both from lack of sleep and our ongoing colds.  The free lunch in the Club Floor lounge was too picked over to be of interest.  Besides, the gross people from the table of twelve were there, so it kind of ruined the refined mood the hotel had tried to create.  On top of that, a man was literally screaming at the concierge and demanding to speak to someone from Crystal.

We had a bit of a problem finding the casual restaurant in the large lobby area, but eventually we did.  People from the ship were wandering all over the place, including the couple we met at the Captain’s Party who seemed to like us for some reason.  They said their daughter lived here for a few years and it was a great city.  We saw most of the major sights today on the tour, so all we really planned to do was stroll around when we feel like it.

The small but attractive restaurant was jammed with people waiting for their transfer to the airport.  It was a mistake to bring them to the same hotel as those guests who were staying because it created too much chaos for everyone.  We got the last available table.  The hostess turned away several others who followed us.  The scene was reminiscent of the problem we had in Copenhagen after a cruise, but this time we weren’t affected by it.  The service was a bit harried, but the food was very good and the price surprisingly reasonable for a Ritz-Carlton property.  Lunch took a couple of hours, so we decided to just go back to the room, shower and try to catch up on our sleep. 

Saturday, 5/30 - Barcelona, Spain - Hotel Arts

Surprisingly, we were able to sleep until 9:00am even though we had gone to bed around 8:30pm last night.  Unfortunately, all that sleep didn’t really help Dave’s cold, so we didn’t really want to do anything too strenuous today.

We decided to take a chance and go down to the breakfast buffet in the Verandah Café rather than the Continental breakfast in the Club Lounge.  This must have been the correct choice because we were never presented with a check.  There was an ample selection of fruit, exceptionally tasty pastries, trays of cheese and sliced meats, etc.  Also, there was another section devoted to hot items such as Eggs Benedict, made-to-order omelets, potatoes, bacon, and a couple kinds of sausage.

Our table was outside on the patio in the direct sun, but it was cloudy most of the time and the temperature wasn’t unbearable.  After breakfast we explored the grounds of the hotel and found a large Jacuzzi and pool.  There was also a nice bar adjacent to the pool.  We received a letter under the door this morning explaining that this weekend there would be concerts in the neighboring shopping area and beach.  Basically, they were telling everyone in advance not to complain about the noise.

On the way in through the bar, we found Barry talking to a representative from the hotel.  He asked if our room was satisfactory and we joking said an emphatic, “NO!”  He knew we were joking, but the hotel person didn’t.  Barry told him he’d better keep an eye on us because we’re incapable of catching a bus on time.  He said he was going to spread our reputation around Europe so they’ll be ready for us next time.

We checked with the Crystal desk about our flight arrangements.  The representative said we would leave at 10:15am and we would receive a letter telling us what time to put our luggage in the hallway, probably around 9:30am.  They offered a map and advice, but we really didn’t have any plans to make much of an effort to do anything in particular.

The weather really was perfect for strolling.  It was sunny most of the time, but a cool breeze off the ocean kept it reasonable. We discovered that the shop across from the entrance to the hotel was actually a three-story department store that had gone out of business.  As a result, the other stores in the multi-level center had also failed.  It was too bad because the design was quite pleasant with the water theme of the hotel carrying through the lower part of the plaza.

We walked down the wide beachfront promenade along Barcelonetta beach toward the port area and the Aquarium.  The beach was well attended, but it wasn’t crowded.  There were lots of people strolling along the walk.  The men here are probably the best looking bunch we’ve ever seen.  Some of them were truly breathtaking.  Too bad the same can’t be said for the women!

As we got closer to the artsy neighborhood of Barcelonetta, we could hear music from marching bands and could see crowds in the streets.  Once we reached the lower part of it we joined in watching a strange sort of mini Mardi Gras celebration.  There was definitely a theme of some sort because every different “clan” had pitchforks, axes, and other paraphernalia.  Otherwise it seemed as though they were competing against one another as the Samba groups do in Rio.  This wasn’t nearly on that scale, but everyone seemed to be having a good time and it was a quaint slice-of-life for us.

From there it was a fairly short stroll along the lovely marina to the Aquarium.  We couldn’t figure out the IMAX schedule, so we skipped it.  The aquarium was very nice and modern, but it wasn’t as good as others we have seen before.  It was a pleasant diversion though.

By this time, both of us were really starting to fade.  We had already been out walking in the sun for a couple of hours, but we decided to continue the short way to the Columbus monument to take some pictures in case the weather was bad tomorrow.  The shopping center close to the Aquarium was less interesting than we had hoped.

The walks were full of local people out for a Saturday afternoon stroll, so it was pleasant being out and about today.   There was a small flea market going on in the plaza, but it seemed to be near its end point.  We got a few pictures of the monument and some elaborate buildings in the area.  This city is so beautiful that a person could take a picture of just about any structure and it would be worth the effort.

We walked back toward the hotel along the waterfront, but decided to take short cut through the Barcelonetta neighborhood.  This was somewhat of a mistake and we were uncomfortable in a couple of areas just because we were the only non-locals there.  Shortly though we ended up back at the beach, so we were again among the many people of every kind out for a day at the beach.

We decided that we should find some food, but it was more difficult than we expected.  The restaurants close at 4:00 – 5:00pm and don’t open again until 8:00pm.  Out of the 45 restaurants in the marina shopping area, only McDonald’s and Pizza Hut were open.  The others were only serving drinks and tapas.  The tapas wouldn’t have been so bad except they were mostly deep fried sardines and other weird things we wouldn’t eat on a bet.

One thing we did accomplish was to purchase a dish with a Gaudi design on it.  We were afraid that the shops would be closed tomorrow because it will be Sunday.  They appear to use any excuse to close the shops around here.  Everything was closed between 1:00pm and 4:00pm as it was.

We went up to the Club Lounge to get a beverage and recuperate before going out to look for an early dinner.  The view from the hotel is breathtaking to say the least.  There is a long stretch of beach directly across from the hotel.  The former Olympic village is now deluxe housing, so the entire area is extremely upscale.

It was impossible to find any restaurants that were appealing and we were really running out of gas.  There were a few somewhat interesting restaurants along the beach, but none were serving this early (5:00pm).  Finally, we ended up at Planet Hollywood and had a good, but expensive meal that would hold us over until tomorrow morning.

When we arrived back at our room, the maid had delivered the extra Kleenex box Dave had requested in Spanish.  At least his rudimentary Spanish came in handy for a change.  She had also hidden the T-shirts we had left hanging over a chair and on the coat rack.  It took us probably fifteen minutes of searching through all the closets and drawers in the room before we found them folded and put in our suitcases.  There were Godiva chocolates on the pillows, bottled water and glasses on the nightstand, the lights set for a pleasant evening, music playing on the stereo, and the TV control and channel listing arranged on the bed.

We raised the electric shade so we could look out at the view while resting before showering.  An enormous Royal Caribbean ship was just pulling out of the harbor where the Symphony had been yesterday.  It’s always sad to be left behind when the Symphony leaves.

Concert venues were set up in the park below the hotel and the beachfront promenade had filled with people out for the evening and the music.  Neither of us was in any mood to go out and only wanted to take a shower and relax, so that’s exactly what we did.

At around 10:00pm the action outside really started to pick up.  We could hear announcements and music, but it wasn’t loud enough to be annoying.  Just as we turned out the lights, we heard fireworks directly outside, so we had to open the shade and look.  Although we could see the flashes of light on the support beams outside our window, the fireworks were on the beach in front of the hotel and out of our sight range.  The revelry lasted well past midnight.

Sunday, 5/31 - Barcelona, Spain - Hotel Arts

Last night’s weather forecast was for rain today, but it was clear and beautiful the entire day.  Again, perfect for walking around this exquisite city.  After the breakfast buffet at the hotel, we set out for the park behind the Olympic Village near the hotel.

We didn’t really plan to be out all day walking again and we didn’t want to spend much more time in the sun.  That’s the reason we chose the walk through the tree-shaded park.  First we passed through part of the village built for the Olympics.  Strangely, this area was defaced with quite a lot of graffiti in spite of it being a very upscale neighborhood.  The area wasn’t run down, but it was jarring to see the slogans in a city relatively devoid of such eyesores.  There were local people out strolling with their kids, young couples, etc.  This city is fairly prosperous, so it wasn’t surprising that the people were well-dressed and obviously middle class and up.

We had to walk the entire length of the park to find the entrance, but the street was lined with shade trees so it wasn’t unpleasant.  It was interesting to be out among the locals, as well.  Along the way there were some old apartment buildings and an enormous old brick factory, now deserted.  The park was built when a fort was removed in the mid 1800’s.  Only one building remains of the original citadel and it now housed museums and part of the local government.  All of the imposing monuments in the park were built for the International Exposition of 1888. 

The most impressive structure was the Grand Cascade, an enormous, monumental fountain sporting colossal water-spouting dragons, and several grandiose statues.  Basically, the monuments were what one would expect from something built in 1888 to impress and overwhelm visitors.  We walked up the grand staircase to the top of the cascade.  The two-story building attached behind it had “Aquarium” etched above the doorway, so that must have been the original purpose of the structure.  Apparently the building itself is not used for anything now.

There was a band playing in a gazebo in front of the fountains and hundreds of local families were milling about enjoying the park.  On a small, picturesque lake, people were rowing around in small boats along with the ducks and swans.  We took a walk around the lake and started back up to the main entrance of the original exposition, a huge brick Arc de Triompe at the end of an immense promenade.  On the way we checked out some small greenhouses from the same era, but the plants inside were nothing outstanding.

Our original intention was to turn back at this point, but we decided that the shaded streets were comfortable to stroll.  We turned down a main street toward La Rambla.  Literally every shop was closed today, but there were enough people out walking that it wasn’t disquieting being out.

The ornate apartments and other structures along the way were fascinating and the time went quickly.  Soon we were at the Placa Catalunya, the centerpiece of the city.  It features two enormous fountains and a grand paved area where a variety of musicians and other “artists” were performing. 

From here it was short walk and we were on La Rambla along with thousands of locals out for their Sunday stroll.  This historic pedestrian thoroughfare features several different sections, one selling small pets, another flowers, etc.  Along the way would be an occasional street performer, including a living statue of Elvis.  All of the shops were closed, as was the lavish central market, but the street scene was at a fever pitch.  When we reached the end at the Columbus Monument, we decided to retrace our steps back to a secluded plaza the tour guide had pointed out.

We didn’t take the most direct route and ended up in the winding streets of the Gothic Quarter.  This area is reminiscent of Venice and it is very easy to get lost.  We found the square we were looking for relatively quickly.  It is a nice slice-of-life kind of place with old ladies gossiping on park benches and such.

Our walk continued through the Quarter.  All of the shops were closed, but the bars and restaurants were booming.  We didn’t feel comfortable walking in the narrow streets so we headed for a more major street.  That route eventually took us to the restored train station we could see from our hotel window.   We went inside to check out the Victorian era station and took a Coca-Cola break while sitting in the platform area.  It was an impressive sight with the train yard covered with an enormous iron and glass canopy.  We also had the place almost entirely to ourselves.

Next to the train station, we re-entered the park and then had to go back up to our original entry point.  By now the crowds had dwindled, but there were still a fair number of people out and about.  It was about a fifteen-minute walk back to the hotel where we rested for a while decided what to do about dinner.

The view from the Club Lounge was so stunning that we thought a video from there would be nice, so we went up and took care of that task.  We took a couple of bottles of beverages to drink in the room.  As we were snacking, the maid arrived to turn down the beds so we went down to check on the plans for tomorrow.

We confirmed that we have to put our luggage out by 9:45am and be down at the Crystal desk at 10:10am to be transferred by limo to the airport.  The representative tried to reach Delta to reconfirm the flight, but this being Sunday in Spain, the office was closed.

We decided to go to Planet Hollywood again so we could be finished with dinner easily and come back and re-pack to be ready to leave tomorrow.  The food this time wasn’t quite as good, but it was easy and pleasant.  It was about 8:00pm when we left the restaurant and the local people were just starting to arrive for their evening entertainment.  Most of the restaurants here don’t even start serving dinner until 9:00pm and are open well into the early morning hours.

Monday, 6/1 - Depart Barcelona, Spain - 12:25 PM - Fly to Los Angeles, California, USA

It was just a matter of having breakfast and getting our luggage out into the hall by 9:30am and we were ready to go.  By 10:00am when we left to check out in The Club Lounge, the luggage was already gone.  Check-out was easy because of the privacy of the lounge.  The final bill was only about 10,000 pesetas, so we paid with our remaining Spanish currency.

When we arrived downstairs, the Crystal desk was gone, but we found the representative outside loading up a small bus and herding the few remaining guests onto it.  When she saw us, she had us point out our luggage and it was pulled out and put on a separate cart.  To the amazement of the other guests, we were ushered to a waiting full-size limousine.

The drive to the airport took only about twenty minutes along a well-maintained highway.  There were a lot of new office buildings going up along the way and it appeared that the area was doing fairly well economically.

At the airport, our driver gestured to a Crystal representative at the curb and she rushed out with a porter to take our luggage all the way to the Delta check-in counter.  She stayed with us until she was sure we were in the right place and taken care of.  The line at the Business Class check-in was very short, but there was quite a crowd waiting at the other counters.  We had to pass a battery of questions regarding security before we were even allowed to approach the counter.  After that we were given a pass to a VIP lounge where we could wait for our flight.  The airport was modern and efficient.

In the departure area, we found the VIP lounge in one corner of the large, glass-walled hall.  It appeared to be sort of an afterthought and wasn’t really large enough to accommodate demand, but it was acceptable and offered free beverages.  We were notified when it was almost time to board, so once we left the lounge we were able to immediately board the plane.  Before presenting our boarding passes, we had to pass another series of questions from the same security person who was at the ticket counter.

Our seats were in the center section of the 767, but this turned out to be more convenient for getting in and out to the restroom.  Delta didn’t offer individual video screens yet, but they did have movies you could order and watch on a small video player at your seat.  This was nice, but didn’t give the variety that the in-seat videos offer on other airlines.  The seats were leather and very spacious.  There was plenty of legroom even with the seat in front fully reclined.  Bill watched the main movie “As Good As It Gets”, while Dave saw “In & Out” on his personal video machine.

We immediately ingratiated ourselves with the flight attendants by rolling our eyes over the antics of three women who had been on our cruise.  They seemed to think they were still on the ship.  When someone asked what the year was on a bottle of wine, Dave said, “You’re on a plane.  Just drink it and shut up.”  The stewardess thought that comment was hilarious and must have told the others because they all fawned over us the rest of the flight.

The food was barely acceptable, but better than it has been recently. Still, it was barely edible.  Dinner was served about two hours after take-off, with a snack of sandwiches and salad served shortly before landing in New York. 

The plane did have the Empower system for laptop computers, but the time went by fast enough that it wasn’t necessary to drag out the computer.  The flight was actually kind of pleasant. 

We arrived on time in New York. Our luggage was already on the carousel when we got there, so it was just a matter of claiming it and dragging it through Customs.  That was very simple, as was the passport check.  Everyone was surprisingly pleasant.  Once through Customs, we gave our luggage to a representative who tagged it for transfer to the next flight.  It was all very easy and convenient.  From there we followed the signs through Delta’s modern new terminal to the Business Class Lounge.

The lounge was huge and one of the most comfortable we have encountered.  A full, complimentary bar was available and food, such as finger sandwiches, cheese, etc., was offered from a small buffet.  The lounge was empty when we arrived, but by the time of our next flight two hours later, it was jammed and people were screaming at the reception desk for service.

The next flight was also on time and we arrived just as boarding was about to begin.  Although this was the same type of aircraft, we were seated in a bulkhead row in the center.  This made our legroom somewhat less than it would have been otherwise, but it wasn’t unbearable.  Contrary to the information in Delta’s literature, the seats were equipped with the Empower system.  A stewardess told someone behind us that it was only activated during international flights, but the green light was on.  The service was far less gracious than on the international flight, so she probably just told him that because she didn’t want to be bothered finding the adapter for his computer.

Although the service wasn’t surly by any means, it wasn’t nearly as attentive as on the previous flight.  Food was served shortly after take-off, but was delayed a few times when we encountered turbulence.  The airlines must be more sensitive to roughness these days because the moment the plane even shook, they would require everyone to sit down.  Seatbelts were required to be worn at all times in any case.

The food on this flight was about the same as the previous one except this time the menu was more limited and we received the same options as First Class.  Headphones weren’t handed out until just before the movie began.  This time we weren’t interested in the main movie and the individual machines weren’t offered. 

We were never offered additional beverages after our initial water until the very end of the flight.  By the time the meal service was over, we were both tired enough to sleep fitfully until almost time for landing.  There was some turbulence now and then throughout the flight, but it wasn’t worrisome.

Since the Customs hassle had been finished in New York, all we had to do was claim our luggage and be on our way at LAX.  That only took about fifteen minutes and the van arrived minutes after our call.  The drive home only took about 45 minutes, so we were there before 11:00pm.

Pictures from ports visited during these voyages may be found in the Photo Gallery.

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