Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Final Day on Regent Seven Seas Explorer

Our last day on the ship was spent at sea.  After our usual breakfast in the suite, Haynes and I hit the gym for a workout.  It wasn't particularly crowded in the gym, which is unusual for a day at sea.  When we got back to the suite, we found out why.  Our bags were in the suite waiting to be packed.  I guess they've had enough of us.  

Must be time to leave.

Think they are trying to tell us something???
Not quite ready to pack it in yet, we went upstairs to the pool deck for lunch with our friends from The Vintage Club.  It was fun talking about highlights of the trip and saying our goodbyes to new and old friends.

Farewell lunch at the pool deck.
After lunch, we finally decided to go pack our stuff.  An easy task, as I know exactly what I'm going to take ... all of the crap I brought.  Seems simple, right?  The only thing we bought abroad was the argon oil and cream products.  They didn't take up much room in my suit case.  But we discovered several unopened bottles of booze at the bar and I believe in the theory of "waste not, want not."  So we started loading our bags with Vodka, Tequila, wine and champagne bottles.  I finally got everything loaded and then couldn't move the suitcase.  Thank God for "Mr. Muscle," aka Haynes!  I don't know how United Airlines will react when we throw these suitcases on the belt at check in.  Thank God, they are on wheels.  

Our packed bags had to be outside our door by 8:00 tonight.  I showered before dinner so that all of my toiletries and work out clothes could be packed.  I was well organized, getting clothes out for the trip home tomorrow morning.   I finally finished with the packing project and put my bags outside the door when I realized, I had nothing to wear for dinner tonight.  Two choices, either drag the heavy bag back inside and unpack the booze, argon oils and dirty laundry to find something to wear for dinner, which by the way, was in suite tonight.  More on that later.  Or, I could just continue to wear my bathrobe.  I opted for the robe and died laughing when Haynes appeared from his room in the same attire!  He did exactly the same thing, packing everything except for clothes to wear home.  So, we just enjoyed our dinner in the plush Regent Seven Seas Explorer robes.  

Hors d'oeuvres on the terrace.
More caviar from Fernando!!  Awesome!!
Now, about dinner.  Fernando is from India.  During the cruise, we were talking about his country and I told him about my visit last November to Agra.  I also mentioned that I love Indian food.  So Fernando came to our suite while we were at lunch and prepared a beautiful table on the veranda for our dinner tonight.  He and some of his Indian mates, prepared a fabulous Indian meal for us.  It was the sweetest thing EVER! 
Fernando prepared the table for dinner on the veranda.
Haynes and I with Fernando ... worlds greatest Butler!!

Fernando prepared fabulous Indian cuisine for dinner tonight.
Fernando served each dish, describing each course and explaining the traditional importance of each.  The meal was delicious.  Perhaps the best Indian food I've ever had and certainly the most meaningful.  Fernando was so proud to be able to prepare this dinner for us.  I wish I could pack Fernando.  I'd gladly ditch the booze and argon oil to tuck him in my bag and smuggle him back to the U.S.  What an amazing butler, who became a friend.  

About half way through the meal, Gail was peeking over the rail of her suite and we insisted they come down to join us.  Gail said they had McDonald's in their suite and couldn't believe that Fernando had prepared this incredible meal for us.  We had cocktails as Fernando continued to dish out fabulous food while the sun was setting on our last day at sea. 
Bruce and Gail join us for our sunset dinner on the veranda.

Final sunset.  What a lovely sent off.
This meal prepared by Fernando had to be the highlight of the trip for me.  Yes, we went to some interesting places.  But for me, the personal experience of sharing Fernando's culture and ... I have to admit ... being pampered and treated so nicely, was pretty special.  Fernando will never read this, so he'll never know how much I appreciated him.  We did tell him and I'm sure Haynes showed our appreciation with a generous tip.  But Fernando was an incredible butler who made this cruise extra special for us.  Thank you Fernando.

We had an early call the next morning as our flight departed Barcelona at 10:40.  Fernando brought us one more tasty breakfast on the veranda of our suite, we said our goodbyes and were off the ship.  

Breakfast on the veranda.  One could get used to this!!
The transfer to the airport went seamlessly, even though I heard several grunts and moans as porters were lifting our bags.  We arrived in plenty of time to relax in the United Lounge before time to depart.  The flight to Newark from Barcelona was 8 hours, but went by pretty quickly after a couple of movies, lunch and a nap.  

On United flight to Newark.
All settled in for the ride to Newark.
When we arrived in Newark, I continued on to Aspen and Haynes left for Tampa.  It's been a great trip with a dear friend and I'll miss him terribly.  

I just landed in Aspen and I'm soooooo happy to be here.  I had a wonderful trip, but Aspen is where my heart is.  I've always loved being here.  I missed half of the summer in Aspen this year and it seemed I only just arrived when it was time to leave for this cruise.  Don't misconstrue my point.  I'm glad we went!  I wouldn't change a thing, but I'm just saying ... It's good to be back!!

Don't even mind the unpacking mess.

Another reason I'm glad to be back.  Golf with good friends on a Chamber of Commerce, perfect weather day!!

  It's not quite this cool in Tampa today. Sorry folks.

Gibraltar, UK

The Rock of Gibraltar
Our final stop on the cruise, Gibraltar, United Kingdom, has just appeared on the horizon.  There seems to be a rather menacing looking cloud lingering over the top of The Rock of Gibraltar.  But Tom has arranged a private tour for our group to visit - rain or shine.  

We had a large group, so two tour buses, which arrived almost one hour late, were used to get us around Gibraltar. 

The tour bus with guide, Bill, was comfortable.  Bill was hilarious  as he explained the local sites and discussed political history of Gibraltar.  In the 1960's, the people voted whether to switch to Spanish rule.  All but 44 Gibraltarians voted to stay with the UK.  The next day, there were 44 suitcases sitting on the dock to ship this folks back to Spain.  I don't know if this is factual, but very funny.  We should do that in the U.S.!!
The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark in the region.  The densely populated city at the base of Gibraltar is home to 30,000 Gilbraltarians.   

Gibraltar was a hugely important base to the Royal Navy during World War II as it controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean, which is only eight miles wide at this point.

Gibraltar's economy is based largely on tourism, on line gambling, financial services and shipping.   What the heck is "on line gambling?" 

Spain would like to claim Gibraltar, but Gibraltarians have overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty, so the United Kingdom is still in charge here.  However, I'd like to point out who really rules Gibraltar ... the damn monkeys!!  

These furry little creatures look harmless, right??  Who'd have thought they could be so rude.
They live at the top of the Rock and there is no question who truly runs things.  They sit on their little furry butts waiting for an unsuspecting tourist to walk by with a bag.  
These innocent looking little creatures are anything but innocent.  They keep themselves well fed and entertained by stealing from tourists.

This little thief is enjoying MY Snickers Bar.  I did not ask for it back.  But I did consider dropping him over that rail behind me.
The monkeys slowly wander up to an unsuspecting tourist and then quickly makes a pass, snatching bags then darts away with them, tearing into the bag as they run.  They are looking for food, so when they steal a bag with  cute little souvenirs, like stuffed monkeys, or Gibraltar hats, they simply toss those down the mountain and go back to attack another tourist.   Needless to say, the gift shop at the top of the Rock does quite well.  And so do the monkeys. 
This monkey is going for Trent's hat.

Yeah, you look all coy.

You belong behind bars!!

Going up.

Going down.

Transportation to the top of the Rock was via cable car.  In spite of the thieving monkeys, the view from the top was spectacular.  We could see our ship docked below in the port, then across the Straights of Gibraltar all the way to Spain, and the densely populated and expensive city below,  as well as the airport runway, which was built from reclaimed marsh area.

The Regent Seven Seas Explorer is the smaller ship in the front.

But one of the most interesting phenomena was the fierce easterly wind blowing that cloud I mentioned earlier against the Rock, and becoming trapped at the top of the mountain.  The view was fabulous on one side of the Rock, but we could see nothing but the cloud on the other side ripping in a powerful upward motion against the mountain.  It's kind of hard to explain, but perhaps you can get this idea from this photo.

The easterly winds blast the cloud against the rock and the cloud shoots over the top.

Haynes enjoying the view with the cloud blast behind.
Haynes, Monte and Bruce enjoying Tapas at the Top of the Rock Cafe.  Actually, we're hiding from the monkeys who were lingering outside waiting to attack.

Our tour took us through many tunnels on Gibraltar.  The guide told us there were more tunnels through the mountain than regular roads here. 

Tunnels were built throughout the Rock.
They were everywhere.  We also visited a light house at EuroPoint which allowed for a beautiful view of the Rock.  It also shows how the cloud gets trapped at the top.

View of the Rock from the Lighthouse shows how the cloud gets trapped at the top of the mountain.

Lighthouse at Euro Point.
When the tour of the city, which was not particularly well organized, went to the glass blowing factory to see the glass blower at work ... and he wasn't at work ... a small group of us mutinied and left the guide behind to find a lunch spot.  We didn't have to walk far as the glass blowing factory was located in a lovely square filled with outdoor restaurants, shops, children playing and people enjoying the beautiful afternoon.  

These kids were having a blast making giant bubbles.
We quickly found a table to accommodate our group of eight and ordered a typical UK dish of fish and chips, while enjoying the people watching.  

Our lunch spot.

My first cappuccino with fish and chips.  Yum!
"Clean up on table five.  Thank you."
After lunch, we stopped at the glass blowing factory to find the glass blower at work.  The blower was not a particularly jovial guy, but he did know his way around a glass blowing tube.  It was quite interesting to watch a piece of molten glass turn into a beautiful vase.  

"Mr. Personality" hard at work.
Haynes making friends.

Melody and Tom offer a few tips to the blower.
Next, we found our way back to the ship and took up residence at the pool bar for cocktails until time for our evening hors d'oeuvres in our suite.  

Wooley DayCare Cups at the pool bar.  They hold so much more than the tiny bar glasses.  Everybody wanted one.  But they are quite rare and a collectible for sure!!

Although caviar is only offered as an appetizer once on the cruise, Fernando knows I love it.  I'm not sure how he does it, but he's been bringing caviar to our suite every night.  I'm not complaining!!  Fernando is the best!! 
Evening caviar delight.

  Gotta love Fernando!
We enjoyed our caviar snack while sailing away and enjoying the views of Gibraltar.  

Sailing away from Gibraltar.

Bruce and Gail are in the suite right above ours.

We joined Bruce, Gail, Karen, Monte, Tom and Melody for dinner tonight at Chartreuse to celebrate Tom and Melody's 49th wedding anniversary. Tom wanted French Fries with dinner.  Well, French Fries were not on the fancy French menu, and the waiter was aghast at the request.  However, some of the pool bartenders who recognized Haynes as the man who "made it rain" with generous tips all week, had a quiet chat with the waiter and the next thing you know, two large bowls of French Fries arrived at our table.  Thanks Haynes.  

Dinner was good.  The company was better.  And even though we had a day at sea coming up the next day, we decided to call it a night.  Tomorrow, our last day on the ship would be spent at sea sailing to Barcelona.  Nite nite.

Monday, September 5, 2016

More Canary Islands, Arrecife, Lanzarote, Spain.

Our agenda today takes us to another Canary Island, Arrecife.  We had tickets to do the Moon Trek, but decided to pass.  The winds are blowing so hard that all of our terrace furniture has been tied down.   So we had a casual morning with breakfast in the suite, watching the news to see that a hurricane is bearing down on Florida, specifically, Tampa.  Normally, that would strike fear in my heart while trying to "batten down the hatches" so to speak, at the house, while being thousands of miles away.  However, I know Sylwia is on top of things, so there is nothing to worry about.  

After lunch at La Veranda, we hit the gym for a heavy workout.  The place was empty.  I guess everyone else went on the moon trekking tour.  It was actually quite nice.  I was singing and skipping away on the treadmill.  Burning calories so I can start all over again tonight at dinner with friends at Prime 7.  

Get ya some Haynes!!  

After lunch, we ran into our party animal friends and remained at the pool deck for cocktails.  Resisting temptation, Haynes opted for soaking up a few rays instead of sipping cocktails.  Gail snapped this photo of Haynes and somehow, it got mysteriously air dropped to all of the ladies on board.  Now each time they see me, I get the thumbs up sign with a huge "at a girl" smile!  Come on people!  Really??  Get your minds out of the gutter!!

Well, ok.  I totally get it girls!!

We had dinner tonight with Bruce, Gail, Monte and Karen at Prime 7 Restaurant.  One of the signature restaurants on board, Prime 7 is known for their steaks.  We ordered from Prime 7's menu last night in Le Chambre, so we were already familiar with the killer desserts.  So I ordered a light dinner to reserve room for the Popcorn Sundae.  It didn't disappoint. 

Monte, Karen, Haynes and Julie.  Dinner at Prime 7.

We finished dinner quite late and didn't extend the evening with Karaoke, nor martini-off's.  Rather called it quits for the evening as the 30 mile an hour winds were making for a rough night at sea.   However, the suite in the back of the ship was very comfortable.  I slept like a baby with the gentle rocking of the ship while underway to  Agadir, Morocco.    

Casablanca, Morocco

We have finally arrived at the much anticipated Casablanca.  

Coal and Phosphate dust linger in the air at the port of Casablanca, and containers are strategically moved like pawns on a chess board.

There are six huge piers like this one and more being built to accommodate the largest shipping port in Morocco.
The busiest port in North Africa, cargo ships were being loaded with coal and phosphorus which filled the air with black coal dust and white phosphorus, covering cars AND our deck.  I can't imagine what that would do to our lungs!  So we watched from the safety of INSIDE the suite.  No morning tea time on the deck for us today!  The port was abuzz with activity.  Containers were being strategically moved around like chess pieces, lifted from one stack of containers to a waiting ship.  I think it would be fun to run one of those machines for about 2 minutes, until I did a "Jenga" move, toppling the whole stack into the water.  Oops!!  I hate when that happens.

Our tour of Casablanca Highlights departed the ship at 1:50.  Since we had plenty of time, Haynes and I hit the gym again.  While on the treadmill, I saw our group leaving the ship.  Somehow, we missed the memo about leaving earlier to have lunch at Rick's Cafe in Casablanca ... which is frankly, the ONLY reason to be in Casablanca.   Oh well, we finished our workout, had a nice free lunch on board the ship and disembarked the ship to find out if our tour of Casablanca Highlights would take us to Rick's Cafe.  Turned out, the tour was 4 hours on a bus and it didn't even go by Rick's.  What the heck??!!  Can someone explain to me why we would want to sit on a bus for four hours??  We turned in our tour tickets and hopped in a taxi.  Off to Rick's Cafe.

Our taxi driver, Ochmed, wanted to keep us in the taxi as long as possible, so he took the long way to Rick's pointing out the sights.  Both of them.  The first was the largest Mosque in the Arabic countries, which coincidentally, is the only Mosque that allows non-muslims to visit. 
Largest Mosque in the Arabic countries.
Ochmed explained how the Koran doesn't tell Muslim people to kill infidels, rather to simply eradicate  anyone who doesn't believe in the Koran.  WTF.  Sounds startling similar to me.  But he had an interesting way of explaining the plan.  Luckily, he didn't ask about our beliefs.  

I'm anxious to leave these predominately Muslim countries.  It's very disconcerting, constantly wary of anyone whom might want to cash it in for his ticket to "72 virgin land" at our expense.  Morocco ... check.  Don't need to come back. 

Rick's Cafe, Casablanca
The second place of interest in Casablanca, Rick's Cafe.  
Rick's Cafe in Casablanca
Ochmed dropped us at the entrance and said he'd wait for us.  It was a pretty sure bet he'd be waiting as we hadn't paid him anything yet.  He may be Muslim, but he appreciates good ole capitalism and US cash.

Welcome to Rick's.
As we walked through the huge doors to Rick's Cafe, it was like taking a step back in time.  I honestly expected to see Humphrey Bogart puffing away on a cigarette waiting for Sam to "play it again."

Like a step back in time, Rick's Cafe felt like Casablanca.

The bar is snuggly tucked away along the far wall of Rick's.
Haynes and I made our way straight to the bar, passing the grande piano tucked into a small nook, admiring the mahogany carved palm trees surrounding the mirrored bar with the bartenders wearing cute little red Fez hats, just like the ones from the movie.

Cocktails at Rick's Cafe Bar in Casablanca complete with all the trimmings one might expect. 

We were soaking in the traditional Moroccan architecture's courtyard-style mansion with it's curved arches, sculpted bar, balconies, balustrades as well as beaded and stenciled brass lighting.  We were really getting into the ambiance of the place when Haynes commented on how small Rick's appeared compared to the movie.  
Where's Sam?
That's about the time a loud mouth at the other end of the bar shattered our image of Rick's Cafe.  He very arrogantly laughed at us and said this restaurant, Rick's Cafe, was built in 2004  by an American Woman, Kathy Kriger, a former diplomate in Morocco and was simply reminiscent of the film.  WHAT!!  We've been duped!  No wonder the piano was not quite right.  Sam played an upright piano in the movie.  And I remember something important being hidden in that piano, right?  Oh well, the cocktails succeeded in taking some of the sting out of the deception of fake Rick's Cafe.

Phony Rick's closed at 3:00 to set up for dinner, so we headed back to the ship, where we settled in at the pool bar for our afternoon cocktails.  We watched a gorgeous sunset from the bow while sailing away for our run up to Gibraltar, the final stop on our cruise before reaching Barcelona.

Sunset as we leave the Casablanca Port.
Fernando arranged dinner for us this evening at Pacific Rim, our favorite pan-Asian spot on the ship.  Such a lovely civilized evening after our afternoon at Rick's.

Dinner back on the ship at Pacific Rim.
Tomorrow ... Gibraltar, UK.