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July 29, 2009 > Travels with Margaret - Part 2

Travels with Margaret - Part 2

Photos By Tessa Thornberry

I'd left my cell phone home - $1.72 per minute not being on our 'taking a bargain cruise' budget--but our host generously allowed us to use his internet connection. Off went an e-mail to California, asking someone to call Pam on her cell phone the answer came winging back... the original reservation had been cancelled but was re-booked under Jackie's name; they were in Barcelona, and wondering where we were! Much relieved, we connected with each other for a tour of the Picasso Museum, sightseeing, shopping, and a wonderful birthday celebration dinner at El Cangrejo Loco (the crazy crab) on the beach. The next day, well stocked with 'cava', the local version of champagne, we boarded our cruise.

Oh, my... 3004 passengers and 1600 crew on a gorgeous 18-story wedding cake palace of a ship capable of 22.5 knots. The logistics of running such a grand vessel are stunning. Later in the cruise we were treated to a tour of one of the eight kitchens (galleys in ship-speak) that serve something on the order of 20,000 meals each and every day... and during the whole trip, not one bad meal! I will admit that I skipped the squid ball soup served at breakfast the first day, instead opting for the Eggs Benedict, and by the time I got my nerve up, the soup had been taken off the menu. An opportunity lost.

We had been warned that a cruise of that length was guaranteed to put 10 pounds on each of us, so we were startled to weigh in when we got home and find that, while we didn't lose an ounce, we hadn't gained, either! What's our secret? I have a theory... the ship is so large that just going from our cabin on the 11th floor to the 5th floor, where our pals were nicely located near the atrium, was a bit of a workout, and our shore excursions? Climbing Vesuvius, up the path to the Parthenon, hiking across Rome and climbing untold stairways in Istanbul surely helped. But surprisingly, while we enjoyed the food on board, we didn't eat as much as you might think. All the food on a cruise is included, so there's less urgency to pile one's plate high at each buffet. More often than not, we weren't really hungry, and would split an entrˇe in the elegant dining room and then turn down dessert. Of course this usually happened after enjoying an English cream tea in the afternoon so I really don't know why we didn't pack on the pounds!

Our first stop, Monte Carlo! We didn't see Daniel Craig, aka 'Bond, James Bond', but we did inadvertently walk into the exclusive municipal swimming pool area while trying to get around the barriers and bleachers being erected for the upcoming Grand Prix. We were chased off by a security guard - possibly our open-mouthed staring at all the impossibly beautiful people gave us away as tourists. Instead of paying 10 Euros each for the privilege of entering the gambling casino, we elected to toast my birthday with sodas and a giant ice cream concoction at the nearby open air Cafˇ de Paris, under the theory that we can always lose money in Nevada, while good French ice cream is hard to find.

On to Pisa! Tessa and I elected to stay on the ship, while Pam and Jackie made a hurried trip to Florence, an hour away, for a visit to the Ufizzi Gallery. We had both spent some time in Florence and Pisa on prior visits, and very much enjoyed our 'downtime' on board in preparation for Rome. We did a great deal of walking in Rome, which wasn't too smart, since the next day we docked in Naples and our tour included a walk up Vesuvius. It's still steaming, and the guide, a geologist, sounded a bit nervous when he talked about 'early warning' and 'evacuating', as there are over 3 million people in the shadow of what remains of the mountain from the 79AD eruption. I was the last one off the volcano back to the bus, but made it just in time to continue with a very entertaining tour of the ruins of Pompeii. I was particularly taken with the open fronted fast food shops, complete with steam tables. Using my imagination and squinting my eyes a bit, I could well imagine the throngs of tourists, dressed in tunics and togas, queuing for the theater, or drawing water at the corner fountain. We saw it all--even the naughty bits!

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