Monday, March 30, 2009

Mr. Griswold, meet Prince Rainier

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night. All through dinner last night, we watch as sheets of rain raced down the deck, the wind blowing mist and miscellany past the window. The foul weather continued throughout the night and, as the song says, “Rock and roll was here to stay.” The bow of the ship seemed to bounce more than the stern and the comic had some difficulties maintaining his balance during the late show. We, in turn, were rocked to sleep by the motion of the ship, grateful that our cabin is down low and mid-ship.

We have gained another hour [Lucky us!] because the rest of the world has caught up with Daylight time. We are now six hours ahead of WPB. We are hopeful that the next time change will be for a 25-hour day as we chug back to Florida, but we don’t know about time zones in the Black Sea.

The weather in Marseilles was better this morning although it was still very overcast and quite chilly. We were hoping the temperature would break into the 60s today and were grateful for the HAL jackets. We went ashore around 11:00.
Our original plan for today had been to spend time with our old friend Maria who now lives in the area part-time, but she returned today to London from a business trip. We changed gears when we found this out just before we sailed and decided to spend time walking around the old harbor and enjoying the view, the people and maybe a gelato or cappuccino. Although the weather did not cooperate, HAL did, sort of. We may have had the prime position at the Barcelona docks, but in Marseilles we were so far out of town we could walk to Monte Carlo. HAL ran a shuttle bus into town and the terminus was [ta da!] the old harbor. If we couldn’t have a pretty day, at least we didn’t have a long walk.

The bus ride was short, actually, but it would have been impossible to walk because of road construction, lack of sidewalks and a maze-like route. The bus took maybe 10 minutes. We were let out on the north side of the old harbor. The harbor itself is small, but it was crowded with sailboats and a few yachts. The road on the north side was chock-a-block with cafes, each with its outdoor section deserted because of the weather and the hour. There would be customers at some when we returned for the ride home.

We walked to the east side of the harbor, the closed end, along with just about everyone else on the bus and found ourselves in the middle of a throng of locals buying fresh fish from vendors who had set up little stands by the water. There were more than a dozen fishmongers most of whom were selling the same types of seafood. We could not identify all of them but think that “the ugliest fish in the world” was really a monk fish. The vendors were lopping off their ugly, toothy heads as they sold them. Ick! We also saw small squid; something that looked like small conch; and seahorses as well as just plain fish. There was also one lone vegetable stand with what appeared to be the world’s largest string beans along with more normally sized cucumbers, carrots, etc.

We were really pleased to find this market, especially on such a dreary day, because there was almost nothing else open except cafes and Mickey D’s. We have become fans of foreign markets ever since we saw the Morning Market last year in Hakodate, Japan. We followed that up with markets in Zhouzhaung [China], Ho Chi Minh City [Vietnam], Bangkok [Thailand] and Siem Reap and Pnom Penh [Cambodia]. Watching the people and seeing the differences and similarities in the offerings gives us a look into the cultures of the countries we are visiting.

We wandered a little more, found a carousel and another HAL couple, and then headed for the shuttle bus stop. Just as we approached, the bus pulled away from the curb, but the driver saw us waving and stopped for a red light and opened the door. We were aboard in a flash and started to thaw out. When we returned to the ship, by a route which would have stumped a lab rat, we looked in the tchotchkes stall set up by the ship. MA found some herbes de Provence which we bought to replace some we bought in 2001 and then gave to Jon and Briton.

As an aside, we have noticed that almost all automobile parking in Barcelona, Gibraltar and Cartagena has been underground. True, there are on-street, curb-side parking places, but most cars are taken to underground garages, unlike the US where so much of the surface of the cities is taken up with above-ground garages. We waste too much space through short-sighted decisions and a lack of long-term planning.

By now it was lunch time, so we went to the Lido, then back to the room, then off to trivia. We were bridesmaids again, so we don’t have to worry about packing more umbrellas. MA and D had the answer to the bonus question but the hand that held the pencil was sure, once again, that we were wrong. We may lead a palace revolution.

After trivia, we went for an iced latte for MA in the Java Bar. She carried it to the Queen’s Lounge where there was a special pre-dinner dance program. The performers were from a Provencal dance troupe, part of an ongoing series of cultural/folkloric programs we are seeing on the cruise. The instrumentation was interesting, especially compared to the flamenco show. In the earlier program, the dancers were accompanied by a large group of guitarists and singers. This afternoon, the four musicians played drums and penny whistles simultaneously. The drums hung by straps from their left elbows while the used their right lands to strike the drums and their left hands to do the figuring on the whistles. The whistles are probably descendents of reed whistles ages from ago. Anyway, there were several “courtly” dances and several courtship dances. It was easy to follow the plots of the latter as there was good deal of burlesque in the gestures and facial expressions. All of the dances, including one in which the company recruited audience members, were lively; most were large group dances [there were ten dancers altogether]; and we and the performers were exhausted when they were finished.

Dinner [pasta with mussels/prime rib] was quiet; we chatted with Mary as we usually do. Afterwards, MA sat in the Explorer’s Lounge and listened to the string trio while D made his nightly pilgrimage to the casino for 30 minutes or $20 worth of blackjack. So far he’s a little ahead but, unlike some of the high rollers, doesn’t keep track; that would take some of the fun out of it. Tonight’s featured performer was a vocalist who sang some opera and some pop as well as playing the piano. D thought it was a little over-produced with too much reverb and too loud drums. With the start of our tours tomorrow, we will not be seeing many of the evening shows for a while.

We are in the middle of a long stretch of port days. We’ve had Gibraltar, Cartagena, and Barcelona back-to-back-to back with Monte Carlo, Livorno [Pisa and Florence], Rome and Naples scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We are being met [we hope] by private guides in these last three, marking the real beginning of the trip in our eyes. Now we have to start getting up early so we can be on the dock as early as possible; in Rome and Athens, we hope to be outside as close to 7:30 as the captain will allow.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Griswold’s visited again today. We had no plans for Monte Carlo since we had been here before and taken the tour. It was a cold and blustery day with temps around 50 and leaden skies. After breakfast, MA did a load of wash and D took a tender into town. The Prinsendam is anchored just outside of the harbor so the larger Oosterdam can use the lone cruise ship pier; it’s much bigger so the local officials can collect more in port taxes.

The ride in was quick and uneventful. D walked around the harbor area, walking up and down a hillside on the south side path to take pictures. Once in town and back to sea-level, he continued to walk the west and then the north sides, going uphill again on the last leg. As he passed the Clinique Cardio Vascular, he thought he might have to stop in for a checkup.

Monte Carlo is built into a cliff and rises in levels with only selected roads traversing the up-and-down. There are tunnels through some of the rock and tunnels under buildings. From a distance, it looks like a solid wall of buildings, some low-rise mixed in with a few high-rises.

The Grimaldis have been the ruling family in Monaco for generations. They are known to Americans mostly because actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier several decades ago. The younger members of the Grimaldi family have gained their own notoriety in recent years.

At the “second level” sits The Casino which has been seen in James Bond films and others. The roadway D walked up ended at the Casino level, practically in front of the Casino itself. He took pictures of the area, as he had on the ascent and then entered the Café de Paris adjacent to the Casino. The Café included a restaurant, a newsstand and a smaller casino which featured “jeux Americain,” American games, which really means slot machines. He converted 5 euro in coin to a 5 euro bill and picked a machine at random. He ran his 5 euro up to 9 euro and cashed out, deciding that being a winner in Monte Carlo was worth some bragging rights.

D found a switchback stairway down to the harbor level and walked to a water taxi called the Bateau Bus [bateau means boat in French]. Although the posted schedule said the boat would appear at 12:20, it was almost 12:45 when it showed up. Five minutes later, he was on the other side of the harbor and waiting for a tender back to the ship. Two separate tour buses arrived just then, so the tender waited until as many passengers as possible had been crammed in before casting off. The five minute ride back stretched to 30 minutes as the pilot fought high seas, crashing waves and crosswinds. It was the bumpiest tender ride D had ever experienced and toward the end he was regretting the cup of hot chocolate he had had while waiting for the tender. Waves were crashing over the top of the tender and it was bobbing up and down like the proverbial cork. Wham! Slam! Slosh! Whee!

He was soaked when he finally got to the cabin, not so much from the high seas but from the combination of a heavy sweater, the HAL jacket and adrenaline. He changed his sopping shirt, rested a few minutes and then went in search of MA who was found eating her lunch in the Lido. We returned to the room where D rested while MA read and worked a crossword puzzle. We joined the TT group for a 3:30 match which we lost horribly [What 2 people who have nothing to do with baseball are in the Baseball Hall of Fame? What event has the highest percentage of postponed races?].

More reading and computing followed the rout. We have to be up for an 8:00 tour tomorrow, so we skipped the show and went to bed early. [Actually, D is writing this before dinner, but his powers of prediction are amazing].

Tomorrow – Pisa, Florence and Fabrizio

No comments:

Post a Comment