Cartagena, Colombia

January 18, 2019

Cartagena is on the northern coast of Colombia aand has a population of 1.2 million people. There is a colonial walled city and a very modern downtown. Many old mansions are in the older part of town and a lot of them are only used a few weeks a year as vacation sites. The fortress and walled city were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today we did a private tour with Marilyn and Charlie and Ginny and Joe. Our guide was Jhon and we were in a very comfortable large van which could have accomodated 6 more people. It was hot so it was nice to return to the air conditioned van in between stops.

The walk out to meet Jhon was beautiful – lots of flowers, flamingos, peacocks and parrots of all colors. We even saw a turtle and an aardvark!

Our first stop was at the Convento de la Popa. It is the highest point in the city . Build in 1607, this former convent has a beautiful courtyard with flowers everywhere. The best part is the view of the entire city.

Look at our baby ship next to the Coral Princess!

.The next stop was the Castillo Dan Felipe de Barajas, the fort of St. Philip. We had all visited here on previous trips, so we just had a quick photo stop.

We then went on to Old Town where we did some shopping and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city.

Ice cream vendor, old and new!

We then visited Museo Naval del Caribe. This historic building served as a school, hospital and military quarters. It contains ship models and other nautical displays that tell the history of Cartagena as an important port city.

We walked through the Old City, visiting a church, shops and a chocolate factory, yum!

The history of slaves coming from Africa, the Spanish Inquisition and the drug trade were all part of the discussion with Jhon in the van – fascinating history here, and their economy is still pretty good even with many Venezuelan refugees coming in. There is a part of town that is very poor and unsafe – we didn’t go there but Jhon pointed it out from up on the hill.

There are, of course, many beaches here and it is high tourist season, so they seemed very crowded. The windy side was very rough ocean but the protected bay had many swimmers.

There is a lot of interesting art here. This shot was taken by Joe – generously shared via air drop!

Because we are headed for the Panama Canal and all transit has a scheduled time to pass through the locks, our departure time today was 2 PM. We had to be on the ship by 1:30, so we had lunch on the ship and had a relaxing afternoon!

Posted in Excursions, January, South America, World Cruise 3 | Leave a comment

At Sea

January 16, 2019

It is our second day at sea after leaving Havana on our way to Cartagena. Yesterday there was a mimosa gathering at 9:30 AM for the Around the World (ATW) guests. We found out that there are 340 going around the world. On our first world cruise, there were 88 of us, so it has really grown. Some people have told me that my blog helped them make the decision to do it! The ship holds about 650 so more than half will be going around the world. The rest do segments. Some are getting off in Los Angeles when other ATW guests board, and others are doing segments along the way. We are looking forward to greeting Alice and Tom in Singapore.

We had delicious bagel delights – and mimosas. The chefs here never fail to disappoint! And lots of greetings to friends we have met on other trips. Nice reunion.

Here are pics of some of the goodies.

In the evening we had the Captain’s cocktail party. I didn’t realize how tall the Captain and the General Manager were till I saw this picture!

We had a wonderful time with friends from 2015, Rodney and Candace and Marilyn and Charlie.
The first of many adventures we will share on this trip.

There was the usual introduction of the senior staff and at these parties the drinks flow freely for several hours. Candace became famous on our last trip together by trying a different free cocktail at every party!

There are 404 crew members from 43 nations on board. And, they are all wonderful. A great start to our adventure.

Posted in At Sea, Caribbean, January, World Cruise 3 | Leave a comment

Havana, Cuba

January 15, 2019

For so many years, Americans could not visit Cuba, so we were really looking forward to exploring as much as we could in the one day we have here.  Maybe it will join the list of places we want to come back to.

Havana is the capital and largest city of Cuba which is located just 90 miles from Key West, Florida.  It was founded by the Spanish explorer, Diego de Velazquez on the southern coast but was relocated in 1519. It grew as one of the busiest and wealthiest commercial center in the Western  Hemisphere until the 1959 revolution. 

Today the city is home to about 2.5 million residents and remains much the way it was at the time of the revolution but now tourism is allowing some upgrades.

As we came into the port in the morning, on one side of the ship we could see a massive fort and on the other side, the city landscape.

Our tour was a walking tour of Old Havana. There is an interesting mix of architectural styles here and many of the buildings in the main squares have been or are in the process of being renovated. I took so many pictures and I will only include a few highlights since it takes so long to upload pictures here on the ship.

We started the tour with our guide, Vladimir. Yes, that’s right! He said when he was born in the 60’s it was common for people in Cuba to name their children Russian names.

The terminal building is right next to the first plaza we visited, the historic Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, created in the 16th century when the Spanish ships stopped on their passage to the Indies. It underwent full restoration in the late 1990s.

We walked through Old Havana to three more historic squares. The Plaza Nueva was originally used for military exercises but is now an open air marketplace where there are many bars, restaurants and cafes. One side of the square has an elementary school and many classes were having their phys ed classes in the square.

The city of Havana was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982 and a lot of the restoration was done since that time. Here are a few more shots of the city and its sites.

Of course, you know that we love statues and signs. Here are a few that we spotted during our wonderful walking tour.

Pat and Norm with Chopin. The statue was a gift from Poland.

It is supposed to be good luck to rub the hand and the beard!

The last one is a fake – one of the people that poses as a statue!

Our guide took us to a shop where we bought some rum – it is a must here!

We also visited a large craft market – many artists and a lot of booths selling everything from t-shirts to leather goods.

Havana is known for the old cars. You see all kinds in really great condition. There are also horse drawn carts here. In the afternoon we hired one of the drivers in an old 1955 Ford Fairlane. He took us outside of the historic area and really explained a lot of Cuban history. BC and AC, as they call it – before Castro and after Castro. The revolution in 1959 changed everything for the country. In face we passed under the overhead gate to Chinatown, where our guide, Homero, told us there are no Chinese people and no Chinese restaurants. When they knew the revolution was coming, they already understood Communism so they all left the country and never came back.

Our driver, Homero

Here are some of the other cars and carriages.

Havana is celebrating its 500 year anniversary this year and there will be many celebrations.

There are travel restrictions here and we were told that we needed their currency, but we found that many vendors gladly accepted American money. We booked this trip before June of 2017 when more restrictions were imposed, so we didn’t have to be concerned but they gave us many papers on the ship which explained what you could and could not do. There are no US products here – no Starbucks, McDonalds, etc. They do not sell guns here and crime is rare. All of the people we encountered were really friendly and helpful.

You can see that the building adjoining the terminal is in first stages of renovation.

Another sight is the 65 foot tall El Cristo de La Habana, only forty years old. It is made of white marble and stands 65 feet tall. It was inaugurated on December 25, 1958, just days before the revolution.

 We saw the bar that was the favorite of Hemingway when he lived here. There was also quite a mob presence, including Lansky. One of the Godfather movies was filmed in his hotel. Our driver also took us through the botanical garden, a kind of rain forest area and the Revolution Square.

Wonderful day – would really like to plan to come back and see more of the country.

Posted in Caribbean, Excursions, January, World Cruise 3 | 2 Comments

Miami, FL

January 14, 2019

Here’s the lovely sunrise we see from the ship. 

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We had two relaxing sea days on our way from New York to Miami.  We encountered slightly rolling seas and some rain, but the weather gradually got warmer on our way.

Today in Miami, we booked an Art Deco tour in Miami Beach.  Our tour guide was James and to our surprise we were the only people on the tour! James was really terrific.  We met him on the front porch of the Essex Hotel and he first shared the very interesting history of Miami Beach (which is not part of Miami, but a totally separate city). James is an author and very well informed about the city.

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From the early days of the wealthy people coming to Miami Beach to the evolution to today’s restored historic district, there were many times when the city was in disrepair and also during the war, many of the buildings were used for barracks for soldiers.

The first 20th-century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District is made up of 800+ buildings and structures built between 1923 and 1943.

When decades of neglect nearly caused Miami’s Art Deco scene to be demolished, a named Barbara Baer Capitman founded a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting and promoting the appearance and integrity of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District.

It was through her hard work and perseverance that Art Deco in Miami gained national protection, motivating designers and developers to bring out the area’s Art Deco elements and restore its pastel-hued boutique hotels to their original style.

We really didn’t know anything about the elements of Art Deco style.  What we learned was that there are several elements that define the style.  Sleek geometric forms, metallic objects, groups of 3, decorative glass blocks, geometric shapes such as chevrons and ziggurats, and “eyebrows” that protrude out over the external windows.

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The Whopper Bar is one of only 6 Burger Kings that serve alcohol!

We walked down Ocean Drive which has the Atlantic Ocean on one side and many beautiful buildings on the other.  Marble was too expensive to use in most of these buildings (except the Mafia owned ones!) so they used coral which they colored with paints to make it look like marble.  Fascinating.

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The floors are beautiful, and whenever you see a diamond in the floor design, it is an indication that one of the illegal casinos was operating in that building. They are all gone now but the diamond designs remain.

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We also had the chance to see the Versace mansion.  It is now an exclusive hotel so only guests can go in, but even from the outside it was impressive.  He was shot right outside the mansion.

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It was a great day, and now we know to look for the art deco design in other cities that we will visit.  Shanghai has a lot of architecture for us to explore, for example.

Oh, and we found out that those beautiful flowers were a birthday gift from our friends, Pam and Tom, who boarded today and will travel with us to Los Angeles.  We never did get the card.  Thank you, Pam and Tom!

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Posted in World Cruise 3 | 1 Comment

On our way

January 11, 2019

We had a nice birthday breakfast with Adam and Mark. Saw them off at Grand Central where the have this awesome Apple store in the terminal.

And of course the rest of the place is beautiful

We then had brunch at the Plaza Hotel and were transported to the ship terminal. With all of us arriving at once, it was a bit of a zoo, but we made it on board and all our pre shipped luggage did too.

The new decor is beautiful.

These flowers were delivered with no card. We think we found out they are from the cruise line!

We had a great reunion with our friends Rodney and Candace from Australia. We had dinner together in Toscana.

Sailed under the Verrazano bridge and we are now on our way to Miami.

Posted in World Cruise 3 | 6 Comments

The adventure begins

January 11, 2019

We have spent the last 2 days at the Plaza Hotel in NYC enjoying the city before we leave on our next 6 month adventure. Let me start with the best part. Last night we went to see the play The Band’s Visit.

When we came out of the theater, we were so surprised to see our sons, who live in Massachusetts, waiting for us! They pulled off a total surprise as a bon voyage and a happy birthday.

We will have breakfast together before we leave for the ship. What a perfect sendoff!

Speaking of the ship, it has been delayed on its way to NY so Oceania is providing a brunch and a NY tour before they transport us us to the ship. Estimated time of arrival is 3 PM.

We have already met many people that will be sailing with us and many that we know from previous trips. It will be quite a reunion.

We always love New York. On Wednesday we saw the play Come From Away.

It is the true story of the 9/11 flights that were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland when the airspace was closed. Great story and wonderful acting.

Of course, we walked over 7 miles each day and took in many sights in the city, it never disappoints!

First, the Plaza Hotel. Visions of Home Alone haunt the halls and rooms here!. Gorgeous in every way.

We visited St Patrick’s where I lit candles in memory of mom and dad.

Here are some of the other city sights.

My next post will be from the ship. Here is the map of our amazing trip.

Now on to a birthday breakfast with our two wonderful sons!

Posted in World Cruise 3 | 7 Comments

December 15, 2018

Well, hard to believe we are 4 weeks away from our third world cruise on the Oceania Insignia. She has just had a head to toe refurbishment and is doing 2 short cruises to Cuba before we join in New York on January 11.

We will stay for 2 nights at the Plaza before we board for 6 months. We will see the Broadway show “The Band’s Visit” while there.

Let the packing begin! And stay tuned for our adventures around the world.

Posted in World Cruise 3 | 8 Comments

Back in the USA. Miami, FL

April 23, 2018

Well, another adventure comes to an end!. We had a nice time at cocktail hour last night with friends from other cruises and new friends too. Some will be joining us on all or part of our next world cruise in January.

And of course, we went to the final show the night before, always ending with the ship’s crew on stage cheering and doing the YMCA with us. Then they line up at the exits to wish us goodbye and see you again soon.

We reached Miami and found out that there were 7 ships in port. Amazing!

We will stay a couple of days in West Palm Beach then take the auto train home on Thursday.

Terrific trip, can’t wait till the next one. Thanks to all the blog followers who traveled with us!

Posted in April, North America | 7 Comments

Gustavia, St. Barts

April 20, 2018

St. Barts is often considered to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean – and one of the most exclusive. It is a small French island and is officially named St. Barthelemy.  The population of the island is about 7000. We took the tender into town and walked to explore the area. The island has been a duty free port since the Swedes took over control in the late 1700s.  When it reverted to France in the late 1800s the duty free status was maintained. The street signs are in Swedish and French.

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The island is distinctly French, though.  And it is exclusive. We wandered through the shops – prices are in euros here – and for the most part, very expensive.  Norm did buy a shirt and I bought a necklace.

It has more than 300 sunny days a year – and today we had bouts of “liquid sunshine” as showers popped up a few times.  We went to town with the intent of getting a car to drive us around and changed our minds once we talked to some of the shopkeepers who said that it is much like the other islands we have been to. Lots of celebrities either own homes or vacation here, but we didn’t spot any.  We decided to wander through Gustavia and have lunch there at one of the many restaurants.  The scenery is stunning.

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We walked to Shell Beach and on our way we saw a lot of police and didn’t know why.  It turned out that a whole group of adorable children were going to their school.  We were strictly warned not to take any photographs.  I never do that without permission anyway but we hope others listened so as not to invade their privacy.

Shell beach is just what the name sounds like – there is no visible sand, just millions of tiny shells.

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Here’s their ashtrays – to keep butts off the beach.

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Other sights around town:

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The hurricane did some damage here too but it is mostly cleaned up.  One of the shopkeepers told us that a lot of shops are still closed, he felt lucky that they only had about 5 inches of water in his shop.

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We went into a small church and I lit a candle for my mom – and Alice’s mom too.

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We went to a recommended pizza place for lunch.  Yes, pizza!  The best in St. Barts. they say. That is one thing the ship does not do well.  We enjoyed it so much. Alice and Tom have been on the ship for 70 days and they really missed pizza.  A relaxing time with wine and friends.  Oh yes, Italian beer for Tom. Delicious.

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Back to the ship as we leave at 4 PM.  Tonight there is a deck party or a movie – I have already seen the movie so it will be dancing for us – under the stars.  Our last port on this trip, we have 2 sea days now and then it is back to Miami on Monday.

Posted in April, Caribbean, Food | 1 Comment

St. John’s Antigua

April 19, 2018

Antigua is the larger of two main islands which make up the Caribbean nation known as Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua has between 90 and 100,000 people and Barbuda is much smaller and 20 miles away. Their location is the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. Barbuda was almost flattened by two hurricanes, Irma and Maria, and almost the whole population had to come to Antigua.  Now many of them are back on Barbuda, but not the school children because the schools have not yet been rebuilt.  There is a real affinity the people have for each other and it is heartwarming.

We visited Antigua many years ago and went to the beaches then.  The island is said to have 365 beaches, one for each day of the year! Beautiful.

This visit we signed up to do something I have wanted to do for a long time and something always happened to prevent it.  Swim with the stingrays! These are Antigua’s Southern Stingrays.

We boarded a small van to go to the Atlantic Ocean side of the island, about a 30 minute drive. Our guide on the van was Daria, and the driver was Romeo. He was careful to tell us that it is name only!  Daria filled us in on lots of facts about Antigua.

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Most of the population  is Anglican with Catholic a close second. There are levies that the people pay which cover education, health care and taking care of the retired people.  Once retired, even your medications are free.  And it seems that if you buy a property for $250,000 US, you get citizenship in Antigua! Some people wanted to move immediately!

She talked about “pocket houses”.  This is the term for the houses that people build in stages once they have the actual money in their “pockets”. They add rooms as they get the means to do so. They don’t have a mortgage obligation to a bank that way.

Here are some of the sights we saw on the way to Stingray City.

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The next picture was a holding pond for water before they had the facilities for running water.  The entrepreneurs made it into a car wash! They have many solor paneled light posts!

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Cricket is big here and they have a nice stadium built about 10 years ago for the world cup.

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When we arrived at “Stingray City”, we got an orientation to these wonderful fish. We learned that their mouths are underneath them and they have a powerful suction “that rivals a Hoover”!  We will get to hold them and we learned how – and that they can detect stress so the calmer you  are the longer they will allow you to hold them.

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We boarded small boats that took us out to a reef in the Atlantic, the water was just about chest high, and they provided us with masks and snorkels. This is the natural habitat of the stingrays, they are not in an enclosed pool somewhere.

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Once we got into the water, the stingrays were all around us, swimming with us, brushing up against us and we were able to get photos, hold them and feed them squid. I have a video too and will try to add it. It was so amazing, we can’t wait to do it again. They are so soft and friendly. They now have a very special place in our hearts.

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After about an hour with the stingrays we took the boat back to shore and had rum punch made with the local rum from Old Antigua Rum Distillery, the only remaining distillery on the island.

They had lots of birds there and we enjoyed relaxing before the ride back to the ship.

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We walked around the town a bit and then returned to the ship for dinner with Alice and Tom in Tuscan Steak restaurant.

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Posted in April, Caribbean, Excursions | 2 Comments