Like last year, I will interrupt my vacation postings to acknowledge our wedding anniversary today. We have had an amazing year together and the adventure continues!
I love you, Brandon!
Saturday, 18 December 2010
Today was another sea day, but once again we managed to stay quite busy! We got up around 8am in order to get ready and eat breakfast at the buffet. We also picked up our passports with our Egyptian visas. (We’re very excited to have another stamp in our passports!) All this had to be done in the morning because we took the “Behind the Scenes” tour of the ship at 10am. This 3-hour tour took us to the Provisions area, Environmental area, the main Galley, the Laundry, the Bridge, and backstage the Stardust Theatre. It was all very interesting to see how the Norwegian Jade is operated and learn more about crew life. Here are some of the interesting facts we learned:
After our tour, we grabbed some lunch at the Great Outdoors on Deck 12 aft. This was the first time we ate outside and it was a gorgeous sunny day! Then we attended the second art auction at 2pm. It was pretty similar to the first one, but they did show some different paintings. Nothing even tempted us this time though. We left before the very end to go back to our stateroom and took a much-needed nap before dinner.
Dinner tonight was Asian at Jasmine Garden. We both enjoyed the Crab Wontons. Dessert was also delicious. I had Chocolate Cake with Green Tea Ice Cream and Brandon had three Asian Crème Brulees. Our reservations were at 6pm, so we had time to go back to our stateroom to pack for our Egypt overnight before going back to the Stardust Theater for the Maestranza Spanish Ballet at 9:30pm. This show was similar to one we had seen in the Canary Islands, but it was still fun to see the dancers with their colorful costumes and castanets. Normally, we call it a night after the performance, but tonight we made our way up to the Spinnaker Lounge for another comedy show by Paul Adams. Again, he was pretty funny, even if he was still wearing the same clothes!
Friday, December 17, 2010
We arrived at Izmir, Turkey today around 9am. From the Freestyle Daily:
Known in Turkey as “Beautiful Izmir,” the city lies at the head of a long and narrow gulf furrowed by ships and yachts. The climate is mild and in the summer the constant and refreshing sea breezes temper the sun’s heat. Behind the palm-lined promenades and avenues which follow the shoreline, the city, in horizontal terraces, gently ascends the slopes of the surrounding mountains. Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey and its port is second only to Istanbul. A cosmopolitan and lively city all year round, Izmir bursts with an added vibrancy during the late Summer International Fair.
Our shore excursion today was entitled “Magnificent Ephesus.” This historical site was an Ionian Greek city in ancient Anatolia, founded by colonists from Athens in the 10th century BC. Today’s archaeological site lies 3 km south of the Selçuk district of Izmir Province, Turkey. Ephesus hosted one of the seven churches of Asia, addressed in the Book of Revelation (2:1-7). It was here that St. Paul preached and legend has it that St. John the Evangelist came with the Virgin Mary at the end of her life.
After Ephesus, we stopped at Carpetium, a Turkish Carpet Outlet. We were given a demonstration of how the carpets are made by hand and then shown many of the beautiful carpets while we drank Turkish wine and other drinks. Since we just purchased a carpet at the Hohenfels Bazaar in September, we didn’t intend to buy another; however, we found a small one that we both liked. They folded it up and put it in a small bag that we could carry on the airplane. (We used that bag to carry more than just the rug home. Our luggage was overweight to begin with, so we needed to carry on as much as we could!)
After Carpetium, we made a brief stop at a leather outlet and then headed back to the ship. You can see all our photos from Turkey here.
That evening we ate dinner at the Grand Pacific Dining Room and then attended the Spotlight Showtime entitled “Showdown.” This was described as “American Idol meets a Motown X-Factor – and YOU, the audience choose the winner of tonight’s contest!” There were four contestants (production singers) and the audience judged by applause. In my opinion, the best singer was eliminated in the first round. Basically, whoever went first ended up being eliminated because the audience always applauded the loudest for the last contestant. However, the “winner” probably did have the best voice for Motown.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Today we were supposed to stop at Piraeus (Athens), Greece, but these plans were changed due to another general strike and potential riots over the debt crisis in that country. Based on this article, I think it was good that we weren’t in Athens that day! Instead, the Norwegian Jade docked at Iraklion, Crete. Here is how the Freestyle Daily (our “news” on the cruise ship) describes it:
Iraklion (or Heraklion), is the largest city in Crete and the capital of the island. It’s also the fourth largest city in Greece. Iraklion is a busy town, a communications hub that receives and distributes most tourism traffic arriving on the island, but has light industry and agriculture in the periphery. Iraklion is located in the middle of the north beach, really close to Knossos and has one of the most interesting archeological museums in the world. The city of Iraklion still enjoys its reputation as one of the most attractive Mediterranean capitals. It has enough to offer that the cultural tastes and shopping needs of both the visitors and the residents are fully catered for. It is no accident that it has always been the business and social center of Crete throughout the ages and that status is maintained today. It plays host to many interests and activities as well as providing a very pleasant way of life.
This change in plans also made me thankful that we had booked our shore excursions directly through Norwegian. We had looked at the excursions offered by Cruises.com, but I have no idea how we would have cancelled and gotten a refund through them. With Norwegian, they automatically refunded our Athens excursion and gave us options to rebook in Crete. We chose the tour entitled, “Knossos & Heraklion City.” All the Norwegian shore excursions met in the Stardust Theater. Our tour met at 10:30 and we were assigned to a bus as we were dismissed from the theater.
Our bus drove straight to the Minoan ruins of Knossos, which is 5km southeast of Iraklion. It has been suggested that this palace is the source of the myth of the labyrinth, an elaborate mazelike structure constructed for King Minos of Crete and designed by Daedalus to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half man and half bull. Most of what can be seen today is actually a reconstruction and not original. Unfortunately, almost as soon as we got to Knossos it started to rain pretty hard and there was little shelter to be found. Thankfully, Brandon and I had our rain jackets and umbrellas, but many others in our group were not as prepared. Some wanted to go back to the bus, but we are hardcore tourists and stayed with our guide.
After Knossos, the bus took us back to the center of Iraklion. Our guide showed us the main shopping area (for both locals and tourists) and gave us the choice to meet back at the bus in about an hour to return to the ship or simply walk back to the ship ourselves. Brandon and I decided to spend some extra time there, so we opted to find our own way back to the harbor. Since it was already after noon, our first stop on our own was an outdoor café where we enjoyed some bougatsa with mizithra cheese & honey and tea/beer as a light snack. Then we explored the shopping street and found some small souvenirs, including some garlic olive oil, local wine, and a pashmina (shown below). It was not very difficult to find our way to the harbor and if there was any question, we could just follow the other tourists! We easily found the complimentary port shuttle and made it back on the ship by the “All Aboard” time of 17:30. To see all of our photos from Iraklion, go here.
We had a very busy evening back on the ship. First, we went to dinner at the Alizar Dining Room. They have the same menu as the Grand Pacific Dining Room, but it’s not as formal. (Shorts and casual shirts are allowed.) Then we went to the early Spotlight Showtime at the Stardust Theater, which was British comedian Paul Adams. He was supposed to board the Jade in Athens, but since our itinerary changed, he also had to change his travel plans. Of course, the airline had lost his luggage in the process of getting him to Iraklion. The only clothes he had was the shirt and jeans he was wearing. Needless to say, he worked his travel ordeal into his very funny act. After the show, we went to the Atrium for the Dixieland Jazz Jam – music from New Orleans. I thoroughly enjoyed my Pumpkin Pie Martini while listening to the group. The clarinetist did a great job and it was a fun way to end the evening.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Today was another sea day. We lost an hour of sleep because we crossed into the next time zone during the night. We went up to the Garden Café buffet for breakfast and stopped by the Library to pick up the daily Sudoku puzzle. We were also able to see land on both sides of the ship as we passed through the Messina Strait between Italy and Sicily. The rest of the morning, I worked on my assignments that were due today while Brandon scanned receipts with our new portable scanner. (Yes, we are both nerds!)
I took a study break to eat some lunch with Brandon and attend our first art auction together. I registered to get a bidder number in order to enter the raffle drawing and we each picked up a free glass of champagne. It was interesting to watch the auction and learn more about the art. The very first piece auctioned was a 17th century impression of Rembrandt’s Angel Appearing to the Shepherds. It was sold to Bidder #116 (who we later learned was from Omaha) for about $38,000! This was obviously out of our price range, but there were other pieces that caught our eye. However, the only thing we walked away with after this first auction was a raffle prize. I won a picture of the Norwegian Jade from the Photo Gallery!
After the auction, we stopped for coffee/chai and pound cake before heading back to the room so I could work on my paper some more. We ate dinner at the French restaurant, Le Bistro. The food was delicious and Brandon was thrilled to have crème brulee for dessert!
The Spotlight Showtime at the Stardust Theater was Gary Lovini. All of the promotional materials simply stated that it would be a spectacular, energetic and entertaining musical show, so we were surprised to discover he was a violinist backed up by the Jade Orchestra. He played a variety of classical and popular music and really engaged the audience. This was definitely one of the top three shows we attended on the 12-night cruise!
After the performance, we had to go straight back to the room so I could finish my assignments and enjoy the rest of the cruise homework-free!
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Today was our first port stop in Italy. The boat docked around 07:30 and we proceeded ashore around 08:00. All of the shore excursions covered the major sights in Rome, which we had just seen over Thanksgiving, so we decided to do our own thing and visit Ostia Antica. A complimentary shuttle bus was provided by the Port Authorities from the pier to the terminal gate. From there, we walked to the Civitavecchia train station. It took about an hour by train to get into Rome. Unfortunately, we wasted some precious time by getting off at Roma San Pietro with all of the others going to the Vatican instead of waiting to get off at Roma Ostiense/Porta San Paolo. The man behind the ticket window helped us get back on track, but we had to wait for the next train to come. Once we got to Roma Ostiense, we had to buy metro tickets and walked quite a ways to the smaller trains going to Ostia Antica, about another 30 minutes away. Finally, we made it to our destination around 11:00.
Located at (and named for) the mouth (ostium) of the Tiber, Ostia was founded in the fourth century B.C. Gobbled up early by Rome, its main industry was the salt gleaned from nearby salt blats, which was a precious preserver of meat in ancient times. Ostia—often called Rome’s first colony—served as a naval base, protecting Rome from any invasion by river. By 150 B.C., when Rome controlled the Mediterranean, Ostia’s importance became commercial rather than military. Rome eventually outgrew the port of Ostia, and a vast new port was dug nearby (where Rome’s airport now stands). But Ostia remained a key administrative and warehousing center, busy with the big business of keeping more than a million Romans fed and in sandals. Eventually things really soured for Ostia. Rome fell. The river changed course. The port was abandoned, silted up, became a malaria-infested swamp, and was eventually forgotten. The mud that buried Ostia actually protected it from the ravages of time—and stone-scavenging medieval peasants.
Although the temperature was a little chilly (high of about 50°F), it was a beautiful, sunny day and there were few people at the sight. We wandered among the ruins listening to the audio guide and trying to imagine what this city had looked like back in its prime. Below are pictures of the Theater (outside & inside), Forum, Mill, Latrine and the Grand Temple.
We took lots of photos at Ostia Antica and Brandon has labeled them all, so you might want to take a look here if you are interested. Before leaving Ostia, we stopped at the little cafeteria for lunch, bought a few postcards at the gift shop, and visited the small museum. Then it was time to make the trip in reverse back to Civitavecchia (without the extra stop at Roma San Pietro!). We made it back to the boat about two hours before the “All Aboard” time, but I didn’t want to cut it close on our first port stop!
After the rather long day of traveling to and from Ostia Antica, we were not in the mood to do a lot that evening. We tried to eat in one of the main dining rooms, but both had a wait of about 30 minutes or more and we were already hungry, so we ended up eating at the Garden Café Buffet. We did attend the Spotlight Showtime in the Stardust Theater; a musical tribute to the Beatles entitled “Beatles Celebration.” However, it wasn’t the greatest show. I think most of the audience was tired, like us, and the group had a hard time keeping our attention. Needless to say, we called it a night after the performance.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Our first full day on the cruise wasn’t too eventful. We ended up sleeping in really late, which was very nice after the last couple of early mornings to sightsee in Barcelona. Of course, it didn’t help that the room steward had pulled the light blocking shades the night before. (Eventually, I remembered to open these so the sun could wake us up naturally on the sea days!) In fact, we slept so long that first day that it didn’t make any sense to eat breakfast, so we simply ate lunch! We ate at the Blue Lagoon Café, which was open 24 hours and served comfort food. That was really our only option because the other restaurants opened at noon for lunch and Brandon wanted to enter the Texas Hold’em Tournament at noon.
He made the poker tournament, but almost missed it due to a supposed issue with our credit card. I tried to sign up for the Behind the Scenes Tour of the Norwegian Jade at the Guest Service Desk and was told that our credit card had been denied the night before. We never have problems with USAA, so this sounded absurd, but it needed to be straightened up right away. We ended up calling USAA and they confirmed that they hadn’t denied anything, but they did add the travel notice to our account. Norwegian reopened our account and, thankfully, we never had a problem again.
While Brandon played poker, I did some reading for my class. (Unfortunately, I had a paper and a quiz due on Wednesday.) Brandon was finished shortly after 13:00 and we attended the Art Basics 101 Art Talk at 14:00. We always enjoy going to art museums when we travel and were somewhat surprised to find a Park West art gallery on board. Our friendly art auctioneer was Coleman from Chicago and he gave us lots of information about Park West’s featured artists: Picasso, Rembrandt, Miro, Chagall, Peter Max, and others. After the Art Talk we stopped for coffee/chai at the Aloha Bar in the Atrium.
We decided to eat at the specialty restaurants on the sea days, so we went to the Japanese hibachi grill, Teppanyaki, tonight. The food was delicious and we had good conversation with the couple next to us, Barry and Malka Altman. It really is a small world because Barry is a professor at Stetson University where I am getting my online Masters in Accountancy. (We are glad that we ate at this restaurant early in the cruise because we noticed that it was always full towards the end!)
The spotlight show at the Stardust Theater tonight was SHOUT! The West End Hit Musical featuring the smashing sounds that made England swing in the 1960s performed by the production cast and the Jade Orchestra. This was another fun and entertaining show! When we returned back to our room, our stewards had left us a pleasant surprise after turning down our bed.