Amsterdam part the first

So the cruise is finished, and we leave the ship, and head off on Vueling (which is a Spanish economy airline) for Amsterdam.  Not a bad flight, but little leg room and no free snacks or drinks. We took one photo crossing the Pyrenees out of Spain into France. Then before we knew it we were on the ground in Amsterdam.

No immigration, no customs (thanks to the open borders EU- I can see the huge danger the European populist parties complain about in this). I managed to buy train tickets into Amsterdam, validate them, find the train and drag on the gi-normous suitcases. Finally, we get to Amsterdam Centraal and get lost. Hideously lost. Not that it’s a big station, but we’re lost anyway. We go out the wrong door and I’m thinking– okay, this looks nothing like the scenery I saw on my stalker-like special ops mission on Google maps, when I traced the trip from the station to the apartment (some of my facebook friends will remember that I got lost in the middle of that). Duh nimrod- you went out the wrong door. It only took me a couple seconds to figure that out, then back through the station, out the OTHER SET OF DOORS and we’re there.

Not there-there, but on the right side of the station with the church that looked suspiciously Russian Orthodox, was even called St. Nicholas, but is neither Russian or Orthodox and comes into this Amsterdam story later. So we start walking more or less along the Google Maps Stalker Route. And we’re doing okay. Sure, it’s raining a little, and bicyclists are tying to run all the pedestrians and the cars off the road, but that’s okay. Cross one canal. Street blocked, so go down a little side street. Mistake, but keep on walking with two maps, not just one, to guide us. Another canal. Then another. Okay, it’s got to be around here somewhere…

Well, it’s raining, I’m dead tired, feeling sick, completely lost since we’ve long been off the Google Maps Stalker Route. Finally, I see something that looks like the name of the street, though I know it’s not it. However, remembering that similarly named streets run into each other over in the Jordaan- I think, “Why not? We can’t get more lost…” And we didn’t. Found the street, then the building within five minutes. We ring the bell, the owner, who’s not there, rings us in by some sort of technological miracle, tells us we’re on the top floor, and then we open the door to see the most severe set of steps in a house I’ve ever seen. Like steps on a navy ship- practically straight up and down and narrow. And us with gi-normous suitcases…

So I drag them up the first flight, because if they’re in the entryway we can’t shut the door. Then, we drag them up, flight by flight, until we’re at the top. Apartment is nice. Things are in order. We unpack, call home, go get some really good pizza down the street, after which I climb the ladder to the loft and pass out. Then I come down to throw up. Three times. Great start to our visit in Amsterdam, yes?

But we managed to survive a trip on the Spirit Air of Europe, no crashes, no lost luggage, just a lot of steps.

first flight, minus four steps

Second flight, minus three steps

Last flight, minus three

The luggage

Ladder to the loft

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Monkeys! Monkeys! Monkeys! (or Apes!)

And a big rock.

And lots of stores. Lots of them.


Welcome to Gibraltar. We had just arrived when we got up on deck around 6:45. We wanted to tour the Rock early before the crowds hit, so another woman on board arranged a tour for a bunch of us by taxi. Probably a bit of an overpayment, but it was easier than haggling our own price, hauling into town, etc.


Anyway we started out pretty early. Had a great driver, named Arthur. An older English gentleman who pointed out the statue commemorating the evacuation of Gibraltar during World War II and told us he was born on a boat going to Jamaica, and named after the captain. True or not, good story. The roads were similar to Madeira, but the drop offs didn’t seem as steep.

Since Europa Point is under construction, we went to the Pillars of Hercules. Or one of them. And there we stood and looked across the strait to see Morocco, and the Spanish city of Ceuta. That got me thinking about the agitation on the part of Spain for the British to hand over Gibraltar, and my solution, were I the PM of the UK would be this, “Look, you give the Moroccans back Ceuta and Melita and then we’ll talk.” But I’ll never be in that position so my opinion really isn’t worth much. Probably not even the bandwidth it takes up.

Next, we were on to the Rock. More steep roads, which ascend (and descend, as we were about to find out) in a zigzag style up the front of the Rock. Next stop: Saint Michael’s cave, which is a nice sized (not too big and overwhelming like Carlsbad Caverns), pretty cave. No bats, unfortunately, but they do put on concerts. And they were playing Pachelbel’s Canon when we were in there. I would have chosen Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, but again, no one asked me, and I’ll have to wait until I get my own cave to do something like that. This was our first encounter with the Barbary Apes, who were climbing all over the cars, railings, etc.

Finally, we get to the top. Or near the top. I think it’s as close to the top as you can get without riding the cable car. That’s when the fun with monkeys began. There were tons of them squatting on the rocks above where the cars parked. Then, they came swooping down. They were everywhere, jumping from car to car, then onto people. I have to be honest here. It has never been a goal of mine to have a monkey on me. I did say if I went to Marrakesh I’d hold a snake, but I honestly didn’t ever plan to have a monkey on my head. But today, I did. Though he was more precisely on my shoulders. Poor Monster One couldn’t get any monkeys to jump on her, but not to worry, I gave her mine. My head still itches thinking about it.

Of course there were the requisite jokes on the part of Monster One, about apes liking me since I married one. See, we make fun of Dad of Monsters and his mixed heritage (ape/human) even when he’s not around to enjoy it.

That really was the highlight of the day, and the visit to the remains of the Moorish castle and the Great Siege Tunnels were just bland as English food after that. Except for the snakes on the scooter.

We bought some souvenirs, then made our way back to the ship without taking advantage of anymore of the many VAT free shopping opportunities. Now we’re back, watching the giant yachts leave, and the cargo ships mainly just sit and do whatever it is they’re doing. And there are a lot of them fanned out on both sides of the Strait.

Next, another day at sea, then Barcelona overnight on the ship, and we’re on our way to Amsterdam. Pending the behavior of the volcano.

Found out the giant yacht in the slideshow is Roman Abramovich’s M/Y Eclipse, which is the largest privately owned yacht in the world by a foot and some inches than the one owned by Sheik Muhammad, the ruler of Dubai (hey you Al Sauds, better get on this and get yourself a  bigger boat). So if anyone out there is looking into a present for me, I’d be happy with something like this.

Gibraltar pictures



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(written 5/23/2011)

Last thought upon leaving the ship this morning: Bugs Bunny and The Rabbit of Seville (a portion of the cartoon follows)

Rabbit of Seville

Today was a port day, Seville. Now those of you who know geography will be wondering how did the ship get to Seville? Technically, it docked in Cadiz and we took a bus. Not a public Spanish bus (which is what we’d usually do, rely on public transportation because we’re cheap), but we paid for the fancy Disney charter bus so we wouldn’t have a repeat of the almost-missing-the-ship thing like happened in Rome last year.

The countryside between Cadiz and Seville is pleasant enough. A lot of green things growing, but I’m not sure what (I know corn and wheat, anything else I’m not too clear on), and sunflowers. There were also a few horse ranches and herds of sheep. Nothing exciting or exotic. Didn’t have long to tour in Seville, but we did manage to visit the cathedral, the Alcazar, and the Jewish Quarter.

The Cathedral was very nice. Better from the outside than the inside, honestly. The work on the façade is amazing, inside it’s a lot like the other Gothic churches we’ve seen, soaring, with bright glass (not much, if any, in a strictly medieval style which is something we Medieval snobs look for in our cathedrals). Some of it looked like it was painted (gasp- horror). The Doors of the Assumption were impressive, the High Altar was very big and golden, but not all that impressive, otherwise. I found the Plata to be more attractive, personally. But the highlight of the actual cathedral itself (for me) was the grave of Christopher Columbus. His son Hernando is also buried in the church, but doesn’t have such an impressive tomb.

And then there’s the bell tower. The cathedral at one point was a mosque, and I’m pretty sure (I can check if, or someone else can fact check my butt on it) there was probably a church or other religious structure there before the mosque, as that’s the pattern of conquest. When the cathedral was designed, the minaret and orange tree garden were incorporated into the new plan. You can walk up the thirty-four set of ramps and one flight of stairs to get to the top where there are brilliant views of Seville. And we did. All I could think of was man, the muzzein probably stayed up there all day because he’d be too out of breath to do the call to prayer after he went up all those stairs. Same with the bell ringers.

After wandering aimlessly looking for somewhere to eat, we finally settled on one little bar/restaurant and paid way too much money for food that wasn’t really that good. Should have listened to our server, Simoun, who told us, “Don’t eat outside. It’s not safe,” and taken a sandwich from the ship. Unsafe food doesn’t scare us. If he had said “too expensive” I’d have been back at the breakfast buffet grabbing rolls and ham and cheese, I tell you.

After lunch we headed off to the Alcazar, which was the palace built after the reconquest of Seville. It’s still the official residence of the King when he visits there, but he wasn’t home that day so we common folk got to tromp all over his historic rooms all done up in lovely Mudejar (the mixture of Moorish and Gothic/Spanish so popular throughout the south of Spain) style. It was a lot like what we’d seen in Morocco, but with some differences. The gardens, also, were amazing, so be prepared for pictures of flowers, trees, bushes, fountains and ponds, as well as tile and iron work.

Unfortunately, the visit was a little rushed due to having to get back to Cadiz and do some souvenir shopping. Last stop before going to the meet up spot was to take a picture of the statue of El Cid, even though he actually fought for both the Christian and Islamic sides, Hollywood not withstanding.

Funniest thing was, we called home from Seville and the first thing Husband/ Dad of Monsters said was, “Did you see any rabbits?” Still thinking the same way after twenty-five years.

Interesting aside: perhaps Monster One’s luck is changing. Read today the Spanish conservatives had big victories in a set of local and regional elections. Maybe she’s bringing good luck instead of disaster. No word on the volcano, though.

Seville photos

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Written 5/22/2011

Madeira is a beautiful island. Hilly, winding roads. Lush vegetation (including banana farms). Great views. We went on an organized bus trip with people from the disboard, something we don’t normally do, but it was a good day. If we hadn’t done it, we’d have stayed in the capital city of Funchal and not done a whole lot.

Instead, we saw volcano caves, sweeping seascapes, had a nice lunch in a touristy little town on the south side of the island, then went over to the north side as well. This is another place, like Malta and the Amalfi Coast, I would like to come back to and spend some time in.

Interesting point- the tour guide was talking about how the island is losing population. She said younger people get their education and then since there are limited jobs on the island, either go to mainland Portugal or emigrate to South America. I also wonder if part of it was the overall low rate of native European population growth—aka the failure of Europeans to have children at anything close to replacement rate. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the island is faring ten years from now

Pictures follow.

Tonight is pirate night, with the usual pirate party and fireworks on deck, followed by a huge buffet which I will be skipping because I’ve gained back an immense amount of weight.

Tomorrow: another day at sea rounding the northwest of Africa and into Cadiz the following morning.


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Day Six at Sea

Written 5/21/2011

From the Captain as of 12:00 (Five hours ahead of US Eastern time)

Position: 33.19 N, 22.26 W
Heading: .093 true
Ship speed: 17.42 knots
Wind speed: 15 knots
Water depth: 17,000 feet
Distance in 24 hours: 463 nautical miles
Distance from Castaway Cay, Bahamas: 3706 nautical miles
Distance to next port: 336 nautical miles

As the Transatlantic part of our vacation is drawing to an end, I’m reminded of something my father—who was a merchant seaman in the 1930s and in the US Navy in the 1940s—said. I mentioned wanted to sail Transatlantic to Europe and his comment was, “Why the hell do you want to go back there? Your family—both sides—left Europe for damn good reasons.”

When I asked, “Well, don’t you have any interest in going and seeing it? Seeing where your family came from?”

His reply, “I didn’t leave anything there. Why the hell would I want to go back?”

And I understand this point of view entirely. I even sympathize with it, strongly from time to time. My interest in travel is purely historical-cultural. And sailing across the ocean, well it just seems like something good to do if you get the chance. Like in the Muppets, “sailing for adventure on the big, blue wet thing.” Of course, besides the Plagues of Insects, Crispy Burned Red Skin, Vomiting in a Formal Dress, Having to Pay at Least Six Dollars for an Alcoholic Beverage, Crazy Filipino Server, Headwaiter Vampirism (okay- I’m reaching for plagues here), everything has been great.

Weather is overcast today. Feels warmer, but I think it’s because there’s less wind. Sea is looking better, wavy and dark blue.

Had a nice talk with the Third Officer today about his career, his job, etc as arranged by the captain. It seems that if you’re set on a sea career (not necessarily the degree that comes with USMMA or one of the state schools that provide a similar education) other countries do it differently, where you’re a cadet then take formal university training, then serve as an officer. Don’t know if this is an option in the US or not. But it would be an interesting way to see if you wanted to do a job like this.

I mentioned liking Filipino food yesterday (specifically pansit) and really, really hope Simoune doesn’t show up at the table with food from the crew galley. Not that I’d mind eating it, just seems like an awful lot of trouble for him to go to.

I realized today I forgot all my notes and maps on Seville, Cadiz and Gibraltar. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick something up in Seville, though I know the things we mainly want to see are close together. Unfortunately, forgot the name of the restaurant/ tapas place I wanted to try. Oh well, we’ll just look for some cheap place with a decent (cheap) menu.

Random at sea photos


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Day Five at Sea

(Written May 20, 2011)

From the Captain as of 12:00 (Five hours ahead of US Eastern Time)

Position: 33.42 N, 42.33 W
Heading: .091 true
Wind speed: 15 knots
Ship speed: 21 knots
Distance from closest port: 497 nautical miles from Florez, Azores
Distance from next port: 799 nautical miles

Weather is deteriorating. Had some rain, and now have choppy seas (looking dark and New Jersey like, but not quite that greenish-brack color I’m used to at the shore there). Very overcast in the morning, clearing a little as the afternoon continues.

Had a funny conversation with Ali (who is from Turkey), one of the head servers in our dining room, and husband to one of our former servers (now office staff), Laura. I was asking if it was possible to get a recipe for a cake they had served at lunch, and he said yes.

I said, “Great, I’ll ask the vampire then.”

Monster One says, “She means the head server. She says everyone from Romania is a vampire.”

Of course I had to clarify, “And the Serbs and Croats.”

Ali laughed and said, “You know, I call him Vlad.”

And I said, “Like Vlad Tepes?”

And that resulted in a very interesting conversation about Ottoman- Wallachian/Romanian relations and history, beginning with an apology about how young Prince Vlad was held as a hostage in the Turkish court, because unfortunately, “we were uncivilized then and that’s what we did”. So being that gracious, I didn’t talk about how it was at that Turkish court that Vlad learned all about the fine art of impalement (according to a few of his biographers). See, I can be diplomatic when the situation calls for it. But hearing a Westernized Turkish view was interesting. “We were enemies, sure, but he was a little crazy” is what it boiled down to.

Now of course, I have my own peculiar views on Prince Vlad. These are based on my reading of Radu Florescu and a few other sources, and working briefly with a Balkan expert in grad school named Traian Stoianovich- who suggested a few interesting dissertation topics for me (knowing my interest in the collision between folk religious beliefs and the official teachings of the Church then various Protestant denominations) concerning the Germans in Balkans. Too bad my languages were so horrible. I could’ve had a great time, and apparently in the West back then, it was a wide open field.

So I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees “Romania” and thinks of Vlad Tepes. Makes me wonder how the crew get along so well. And following their example, I was on my best behavior, and didn’t tell the crew member with the tag that said he was from Kosovo that that wasn’t really a country. (As you see, all of my good behavior will be used up by the time I hit Europe, so look out.)

The real Vlad Tepes, not our headwaiter Sorin

Update: Saw the premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean Four. Interesting. Monster One saw all four and said she liked it better than two, but not one. She said she didn’t think it was a funny and was much darker/scarier. By the time this gets posted, I’m sure everyone who reads me who is going to see will have, so if I post any spoilers, won’t ruin it for you.

Jack is Jack. Funny, stupid. Barbossa is brilliant, and I really liked him in this one. The mermaids are freaky-scary. I liked it, especially the Spanish at the end. You get to see some late-empire Catholic Kick Ass.

There’s also a missionary- and surprisingly- the writers are very kind to Christianity, though they don’t quite get it. There’s a lot of talk of redemption and being saved from one’s own evil, but not in a snarky or condescending way, and I was pleased by that.


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Captain, Don’t Go All Quint on Us: Day Four at Sea

(Written May 19)

Happy Birthday Madalyn!

From the Captain as of 12:00 (four hours ahead of US Eastern Time)

Position: 33.22 N, 42.34 W
Heading: .085 true- slightly north of east
Wind speed: 20 knots
Ship speed: 21.5 knots
Water depth: 10,000 feet
Closest land: Florez, Azores at 650 miles
Distance to next port: 1296 nautical miles

Little reference to Jaws in the title there- where the captain of the shark hunting boat goes stark raving mad (as opposed to his usual slight insanity) and smashes the radio so they can’t call back to shore until the shark is caught. And well, we know how that ended up for poor Captain Quint—eaten by a giant shark.

But the captain of the Magic hass done this before, and been sailing for thirty plus years, not to mention he sounded pretty much rational when he gave his noon report from the bridge, so I guess we’re all right and not stuck in the middle of the sea with a captain who’s a raving madman. Now our wait staff, those guys I’m not too sure about…

Okay, only the  first say, twenty-thirty seconds are relevant, but you get the point.

Saw some flying fishing and a container ship. Other than that, smooth seas.

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