Welcome, Croeso, Benvenuto,
Dobrodošli, καλως ΗΡΘΑΤΕ!

Our adventure begins with a week in Britain, followed by 2 nights in Venice,
then a 12-night cruise of the Adriatic and Greece, calling at
Split, Kotor, Santorini, Rhodes, Mytilene, Athens, Dubrovnik and Rijeka aboard

Princess Cruises’ Pacific Princess

For Holly & I, this is our 27th cruise together, and the 4th with Princess Cruises.

“I’ve traveled the world.  I’ve been helped by a lot of great people, and I’ve been blessed to have touched a lot of lives myself. I’m thankful for that, and oh so grateful”
~Gavin MacLeod, ‘This Is Your Captain Speaking’, 2013

San Diego & Seattle  (Day 1)
Wednesday, November 1, 2017

We headed to the airport at 5.00 (all times local).  After check-in, we relaxed at the Delta Sky Club, then headed for the gate.

VS (Virgin Atlantic), a great airline on whom we’ve travelled many times, were offering paid upgrades.  It pays (er, we paid them…) to arrive early, something which NEVER bothers me.  There were 3 Upper Class (Virgin’s label for First/Business), and several Premium Economy seats available.  Since we had purchased Premium Economy, our 1-class upgrade was to Upper Class.  We considered the cost, and took it.

About half the time across The Pond, we’ve been in UC, and half PE (twice, Economy in those early days), so we knew the product we were buying.  VS are unlikely to disappoint this time either.  Our flight, VS106, departs at 18.30.

Tomorrow, we are in London, England.

Please make comments at the bottom of this blog for all to enjoy.

London  (Day 2)
Thursday, November 2, 2017

We arrived at London Heathrow at 10.30, and took 2 mins, literally, to clear UK Customs.  It was great.  After a fast 15-min trip on the Heathrow Express, we arrived at Paddington Station, then changed to a black cab for the trip to our flat, just 5 blocks south of Victoria Station.

We were met at our flat by the owner, Sarah, who was very courteous- taking us on a little tour of the flat before departing.  After a quick change of clothes, we headed out to Fortnum & Mason for tea, biscuits, and on the way back to the flat, stopped at Sainsbury’s for more food to cook… aghast!.. only milk chocolate Hobnobs stocked.  Will continue our search for the red packs (Dark Chocolate).

Tomorrow, we are off to Birmingham, then to Yorkshire.

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Birmingham & Leeds  (Day 3)
Friday, November 3, 2017

Our day started out rather early.  We left our flat at 5.30, and went to Euston Station for a 7.03 train to Birmingham.  At Euston, prior to boarding, we made time to stop in for a coffee at Caffè Nero, my favorite coffee shop anywhere.

The trip to Birmingham took about 85 minutes.  Upon arrival, we set out for the Gas Basin, a shopping and restaurant area lining a river on which many houseboats operate.

Next, we went to the Pen Museum, the origin for fine fountain pens for 90% of the Western world from the middle 19th century.  It was very small, but gave a detailed history of the manufacturing craftsmanship.

Next, our train from Birmingham took 115 minutes as scheduled, and arrived into Leeds at 15.05.  We did a walking tour of the city which lasted a bit over 2 hours, and included a Victorian shopping arcade as well as the former Corn Exchange.  Dinner was amazing, in that the location, The Bingley Arms, is the oldest Pub in Britain.  Founded in 953, this placed exuded a strong knights/medieval vibe; one could just imagine the nearly 11 centuries’ worth of travelers coming through here.

One of the waitresses gave us a guided private tour of the Pub, showing us the Priest Holes and telling stories of the ghosts said to visit.

Tomorrow, we are in Leeds.

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Leeds  (Day 4)
Saturday, November 4, 2017

We went to York and walked around the Coppergate area, a section of town with strong Viking-era influence.  We then visited the Jorvik Center, documenting the history of the area, in part- via a type of People Mover that went though multiple dioramas.

We continued to The Shambles, an area (adjacent to Coppergate) that dates from the 14th Century, and can be described as very similar to Diagon Alley.  It would be amazing to walk this area around Christmas time.

Prior to departing, we had a snack at Betty’s, a Yorkshire tearoom and cafe known for the Fat Rascal- a type of scone exclusive to the Betty’s cafes.  They were a little dryer than I would have liked, but very good otherwise- especially with a bit of butter (it would be sacrilegious to place creme (we were told) on these- they aren’t that type of scone, if at all.

Next, we went to Knaresborough Castle, in Harrogate.  Built in the 12th Century, it was purposefully demolished, save for the Kings’s Tower during the English Civil War.  The view of the river and adjacent foliage was excellent, and very similar Fall Foliage in Maine- if the latter had crows in residence.  While 2 of 3 were well-behaved, one was a cheeky little bugger that liked to nip at one’s pant legs.

Our final place to visit, also in Harrogate (rather famously), was The Old Swan Hotel, in which Agatha Christie, for 10 days in December 1926- hid from the world, with reporters and police on a hunt for this famous writer who had suddenly vanished.

We departed for the trip back to London, and arrived back at our flat, via train and Tube, just after 22.00.

Tomorrow, Guy Fawkes Night, we are in Chelsea.

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Chelsea  (Day 5)
Sunday, November 5, 2017

Are you ready for some Fútbol?  I was, though Holly far less enthused (would have, by some inexplicable reason, rather been shopping).  At least, we entered the stadium that way*.

After coffee at our flat, we walked about 1/2mi west to the Sloane Square Underground station, then via the District line, made the 5-stop journey to Fulham Broadway Station, just about 3 blocks from Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea Football Club.

Our Museum Matchday tickets included a tour of the pitch (‘field’ for those of you speaking only American), which was a really neat experience.  After the tour, we returned to the Museum for pregame munchies amidst a lot of Chelsea FC memorabilia.

We entered the stadium about 15.00 (kickoff was 16.30), and just took in the environment which included players’ warm-ups.  Interesting to see was the separate queue for away fans’ entrance (heavily lined with security, including dogs).

The match was very exciting (Chelsea won, 1-0) and being in the Museum seats, frankly anywhere other than specific visitor sections, one cannot cheer for the visitors or wear their team colors.  So, I was there to quietly wish my team (Manchester United) on, wearing a joint ‘game day’ scarf.  Just before half time, when the cheering became fun, Holly joined the crowd, and stunned, I looked over at her.  She said ‘it’s more fun to cheer for the home team”.  Yep, that just happened… she ‘left me’ for Chelsea.  She had been going to this match just so I didn’t have to go alone.  Now, there is an actual ‘I’m not completely bored with soccer anymore’ Chelsea FC fan in my family  😦

We made our way back to the flat, and, a bit too chilly to go out for Guy Fawkes Night, just relaxed for a while watching tele.

Tomorrow, we are in Canterbury.

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Canterbury  (Day 6)
Monday, November 6, 2017

We’re off on another journey this morning, having left Victoria Station at 6.52 on a Southeastern 🚂 to Canterbury to visit the Cathedral and the city.

Southeastern Trains are a bit like the U.S.’ Southwest Airlines, in that there there is no reserved seating or in-seat power.  Also, no snack car or wifi.  If this sounds a bit pretentious, it certainly isn’t meant to be- just I feel it a reasonable expectation given that this is not a Victorian steam train 🤨, and this route exceeds 2 hours (our journey is 1:45, and an onboard coffee would be very welcome).  We arrived at Canterbury East Station at 8.37, and walked about 1mi to the Cathedral.

The Cathedral, founded in 597, is the seat for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the center of the Anglican Church of England.  It was here in 1170 that Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered.  There are many nooks, corner, and dark crypt area to explore.  We were fortunate to be adopted by a Cathedral Docent who took us on a guided tour.  Just prior to leaving, several on-duty clergy performed a remembrance ceremony for British veterans.

The city of Canterbury is great place to meander cobbled streets and take in the the many Tudor style historic buildings, including the quirky 17th century Sir John Boys House.

We returned to Victoria Station at 13.45, and after shopping for a London (Starbucks’ “You Are Here series”) coffee mug for friends, returned to our flat for a late lunch before heading out tonight to attend Mamma Mia.

Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Beauty & the Beast, Movin’ Out, Misery, The Importance of Being Earnest, Mark Twain Tonight (I’ve seen them all) can and do take a very distant place behind after tonight….

Mamma Mia was the greatest thing I’ve seen on stage ever.  It was THAT good.

Each performer was on cue and flawless.  The energy tonight didn’t seem to have a limit- simply an amazing event.  Held at the Novello Theater in London, it lasted 2:35.

A few of the standout performances:
Donne Sheridan:  Sara Poyzer
Sophie Sheridan:  Georgina Castle
Rosie:  Jacqueline Braun
Sam Carmichael:  Richard Trinder
Tanya:  Kate Graham

If I were in London on a regular basis, I’d see this performance every month at a minimum.

Tomorrow, we are in Cardiff, Wales.

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Cardiff, Wales  (Day 7)
Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Another early day today –  off to Cardiff, Wales from Paddington Station.

We arrived at 8.50 and after a brief stop to add to our Starbucks mug collection, made our way to Cardiff castle.

The Castle was built in the late 11th Century, and while unsurprisingly changing hands through various wars, was restored to its current state in the early 20th Century.  Our first stop was the ground’s focal point – the Castle Keep.  Climbing to the top provided a sweeping view of the city center.

We then made our way to the Castle Arcade to locate Madame Fromage.  Shorty before beginning this trip, the Travel Channel did an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations (S 5.14), showcasing Cardiff, including this restaurant.  After seeing a segment on Welsh Rarebit, we decided we needed to try it while we were here, and we are glad we did.

Basically, it’s a thick slice of grainy, yet soft bread spread generously with a concoction of bechamel sauce, aged cheddar and grainy mustard.  It is toasted until gooey and golden and is served with fig chutney that sends it over the top.

Next on the list was to see the Millennium Center.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy and drizzly day which didn’t make the best conditions for capturing photos of the iconic writing on the facade of the center.

After our return to London, we went to view the new version of Murder on the Orient Express, a film starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot.  It was OK, and while we feel we went with open minds, always knew we would compare it with THE Belgian Detective as played for 25 years by Mr. David Suchet.   The Branagh version, and perhaps the story, while famous, could have been better by fleshing out more suspect backstories- so the viewer could develop a reasonable ‘whodunnit’ guess, rather than just having several surprises revealed at the end.

Tomorrow, we are in London.

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London  (Day 8)
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Today was about staying local on what is our last day of sightseeing in Britain during this Holiday.

We began with a trip to Leadenhall Market, which sold meat & poultry when it was founded in the 14th Century.  It was redesigned in 1881 to its current style, a late Victorian-era very decorative mix of glass and iron.

Next, we walked to the Millennium Bridge, when near it, we discovered a memorial to the firefighters who lost their lives during WWII’s Blitz of London.

We closed our visit with my favorite place in all of London, and just about anywhere- St. James Park.  Each visit to London includes a trip here to feed the ducks and any other creature that wanders up to the same lakefront feeding spot I’ve used for over 20 years.  Today, two surprises were encountered prior to reaching this point….

First- just prior to entering the park, the Queen’s Guards were returning to their barracks from duties at Buckingham Palace.  We were standing outside their barracks entrance when by sheer luck of timing, we were right there to capture outstanding still and video memories.  It was very very cool to be so close.

Second- after entering St. James Park with bread (we always come prepared for our feathered friends), we stopped to feed a few Geese, when Holly was greeted by a few hungry pigeons, then more-  a lot more.  She was swarmed with them.  I laughed while filming and taking stills.  Holly looked a bit nervous at first (courteously, they did not leave any gifts for her), but quickly warmed to her newfound friends, while also continuing to feed the Geese.  It was a hilarious event.

We had to leave after about half the bread was gone in order to save some for our final stop at the lake’s edge.

We returned to the flat and finished packing, then made our way to Victoria Station for our quick train trip to a Hilton at London Gatwick airport (LGW) in preparation for a morning departure.

Tomorrow, we are flying to Venice.

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Venice  (Day 9)
Thursday, November 9, 2017

After a very brief walk from the Hilton Gatwick to the airport’s South Terminal, we checked in very quickly then went to British Airways’ Lounge until our flight was ready to board.

London to Venice in less than 2 hours- ridiculous.  Our friends Paul & Gail can pop off here or Tenerife or hell- Casablanca on a whim by living in the U.K.  From San Diego in two hours, we wouldn’t even be to Kansas (nor would we plan a trip there, but of course that isn’t the point).

Upon arrival in Venice (VCE), we hired a private Water Taxi for the trip into the waterways of Venice enroute to our hotel, the Hilton Molino Stucky Venice, located on Giudecca Island, adjacent to the main part of Venice.

After settling in, we took the hotel’s water taxi into town for a walkthrough of the city, on a hunt for real pizza and good wine, finding them both.

Back in our room, we sat to watch the cruise ship MSC Musica depart.  She’s on a 3-nt little cruise, then 21- repositioning to Rio.  The ship passed right in front of us- it was a great view, and should provide a great view and picture/film opportunity of our ship arriving on Saturday without me ever having to leave the room.

Tomorrow, we are in Venice.

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Venice  (Day 10)
Friday, November 10, 2017

We began our day with breakfast in the Hotel lounge, which provided a great water level view of the harbor.  Next, we took the hotel Water Taxi to begin our touring with a visit to the Doge’s Palace, located in the heart of the St. Mark’s Square.

The Doge of Venice was the Chief Magistrate and leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice for 1,100 years (697-1797).  Doges (Commonly, the man selected as Doge was the shrewdest elder in the city) were elected for life by the local aristocracy, until very late in the 18th Century- when Napoleon took over.

The Palace is comprised of many sections including the Doge’s apartments, an armory, prison, senate chambers and several courtyards.  Touring the prison was especially cool, as most cells within audible distance of a body of water or walkway- so one can easily imagine, as Rick Steves said in one of his televised visits, how much extra punishment (beyond outright imprisonment) it must have been for prisoners to have been so close to hear everyday life- without being able to see it.

Next, we just meandered through the city in search of Burger King.  Oh, not the chain store directly, but a sign for it.  Two of our friends had recently told of us being near the Accademia Bridge on a visit to Venice 15 years earlier, where they saw a sign for Burger King (Editor’s note, as it were- There is a sense of realism for us, occasionally, to search for a place a fellow traveller has gone; a bit like when we visit the same exotic location where James Bond dispatched Scaramanga, or Leadenhall Market for a scene from Harry Potter, etc.).  We were unable to find it.  What we found however, was an awesome vantage point for the Grand Canal from the bridge.

We then returned to our hotel to conclude our last day in Venice as ground-based tourists.

Tomorrow, we board Pacific Princess for our 12-nt cruise.

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All Aboard  (Day 11)
Saturday, November 11, 2017

This is that day, the favorite of any cruise- boarding day.  The giddy schoolboy in me comes out (or rather, is enhanced), and while Holly & I differ on when to arrive at a cruise terminal (with my better half favoring ‘whenever, we’ll get there’ and I- never early enough), the fun once aboard is shared equally.

The approach to Venice (for viewing and filming) for Pacific Princess was dampened due to heavy fog.  Fog, that as of this writing (15.55), it still thicker than pea soup.  I got up at 3.15 to ensure I didn’t miss her arrival, and when she finally went past our hotel at 5.17, the fog made the experience not so great. Still, with a GoPro 5 firmly mounted to the balcony railing, I shot video of her transit through the Giudecca Canal, in view of the Grand Canal.  That video is up on my YouTube channel in a newly created folder ‘Pacific Princess’.

We arrived at the cruise terminal at 9.45, at boarded at 11.30.  Our cabin was ready, so we went to check it out before heading to the buffet lunch.

The cabin.  Well, what had happened was…. back in early Summer this year, I booked a Club Class mini-suite as a treat for our ‘celebrating both Holly’s 54th Birthday, and also for being back together as a proper family.  For those that are not aware, on October 30, I ended a period of 12 of the previous 14 years away from home on a regular basis (I missed appx. 4,160 nights away from home since 2003).  As you may come to the same conclusion- a blowout vacation was in order, and one which we had planned.  About that….

Princess Cruises, about 3 weeks ago, notified me of an offer to upgrade to a full suite for what amounted (literally) to 55% of what it would have been originally-  I jumped at it.  I held onto the surprise from Holly for all of 2-3 days.  This time, she didn’t get too much of a vacation surprise (If you know me, you know I try to be creative once in a while for Holly in vacation twists).

The suite is about 930 sq’, named for Captain Cook, and in a corner aft location (hells, yes).  A silly amount of room, but worth it by which to treat my Princess (she does not ask for it… I just like doing it).  Our Cabin Steward, Salvador, is from the Philippines, and seems awesome so far.  He has a wife and two children, aged 21 and 12.

We just returned form the lifeboat drill, which of course means that the cruise has truly started.  We then went to the sail away. Oh, it’s not a Mates or Silhouetters one- by a long shot (Man, we wish you guys were here with us!) but wth… it’s still time to enjoy.

Prior to dinner, we walked around to check out a few areas of Pacific Princess.  The Library is beautiful!  The Club Bar (Had a couple Mochas) is also quite nice.

Dinner tonight in the specialty Italian Restaurant (it’s included in our fare the first night) was nice.  There was no rush- we took nearly 2 hours to finish.  We took a walk around the deck afterwards, just to prove we could still walk whilst full.  Success, there.  The gym opens at 7.00.

Tomorrow, we are in Split, Croatia.

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Split, Croatia  (Day 12)
Sunday, November 12, 2017

No need for the gym today.  While we were on an organized tour…. a majority of it was walking- today, over 11,000 steps.

Our tour guide, Ante, was great.  He is fluent in Croatian and Australian.  Ante’s dad left Croatia in the early 1960s, met a girl in Oz, and stayed.  Ante, in college, left Sydney in the early 1990s to study in Croatia, and stayed.  If you are visiting Split, I highly recommend him:  https://www.croatiatraveller.com/Ante-Batarelo.html

We began by visiting Roman ruins in nearby Salorna, then we were off to Trogir, about 25 minutes north of Split.  Trogir is a very small island, and a Unesco Heritage Site, where today, within the walls of its 4th century walls- 600 people still call it home.

Next, we went on a fairly long walking tour of Split and Diocletian’s Palace (another Unesco Heritage Site).  Diocletian was a Roman Emperor in about 300, and was instrumental in construction of a highly organized sewage system- blocks of limestone cut into blocks that could be joined together…an engineering marvel 1700 years past.  The Palace includes a cellar/catacombs that was used as an area in which Danerys kept her dragons in Game of Thrones.

Split and Trogir are two wonderful examples of Dalmatian coast cities where city life of the 300-1500s is well preserved.

That past, though, is what makes something special for today’s visitors and residents.  Low crime, fairly clean streets- just an all-around visual treat (like multiple banners of children’s drawings hung between two 4th century buildings- just incredible).

Tomorrow, we are in Kotor, Montenegro.

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Bay of Kotor, Montenegro  (Day 13)
Monday, November 13, 2017

You will notice the location at which today’s entry begins does not state Kotor.  The Captain determined the sea state, due to 40-50kt winds, made it unsafe in which to operate tenders, though local car ferries were seen in operation.  The Captain is unsurprisingly erring on the side of safety, so Kotor, and it follows- Montenegro (what was to be our first visit), are cancelled in favor of a day at sea.

While the majority of today will have been at sea headed straight for Santorini, the header for today is listed as Bay of Kotor due what could have been.  We missed interacting with the Monentregan people, including a tour to Perast and what was to be a highlight, the Our Lady of the Rocks, a 15th Century church built out of rock dumped purposefully into the bay for the foundation.  To quote a few memorable lines from 1982’s Star Trek II, ‘There are always possibilities’, so we ‘must return to this place again’.

One of those possibilities is property investment.  The bayfront region, particularly the Northwest side of the bay inlet, is seeing new condos under construction.  Hard to say now whether I’d like to spend a few weeks here each year without ever having visited- but the country does look beautiful from our research.  Could be worth a week or two as a base from which to explore the region.  As we left Kotor Bay, we saw a rather old Naval ship, the Krk, a Silba Class Landing Ship built in the late 1980s and now decommissioned.  She’s certainly seen better days.

So, what else to do…. set out to document stuff.  With tomorrow’s scheduled day at sea still a day away, I am getting a head start on what tomorrow was going to be documenting Pacific Princess on film.  While media sources such as YouTube have a wee bit of information on her, it is very wee- and 90% garbage.

They are 1-6 years old, and poorly filmed, via either portrait-angle mobile phones, fingers protruding across a lens, and/or my particular annoyance…expediency over quality- uploaded at what appears to be very nearly VGA 🤨.  If you asked me (and you haven’t), people should take care to document travel with a bit of thought, for future folk’s reference and trip planning, not just to put any content online quickly.

While I blog real-time, I don’t do post trip reviews insofar as getting from point D to E, but instead try to document culture (and along the way, have a bit of fun), and the people whose work, in part, contributes positively to a vacation.  That’s why I write, and why on the video end of things, I’m focusing on modernizing what is available to people that will showcase a particular region, culture, or ship in high quality (at least 1080P if not 4K).  Mr. Spielberg won’t hire me anytime soon, but the effort for quality is there.  Look for that on YouTube in the very near future.

We played our first game of trivia today, and tied (20/25) for 1st place.  Woo hoo, a Princess Notebook!  Who knew the longest river in Britain is the Severn, anyhow?

We played trivia this afternoon, and stunk, only 10 of 20 (the winner had 13).  ‘There’s always tomorrow’, but enough movie quotes for one day (Clarice, ‘Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer’, 1964, if you were wondering).

Dinner was nice, I had one of Princess Cruises’ signature deserts- the ‘Love Boat Dream’, still yummy from what I’d remembered.  It was nice for us, but not all crew.

There was to be a mini crew turnover in Kotor, with nearly 30 going home/boarding.  While is was not a scheduled tender port, the seas, as you may have read, were too rough to dock.  They were also too rough to use tenders, so the crew due to go home were understandably disappointed when they learned they’d likely be on almost a week longer, and not disembark until Athens.  Our Assistant Waiter for dinner, Djinn, from the Philippines, is among those 30.

Tomorrow, we are at sea.

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At Sea   (Day 14)
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

We moved an hour ahead today, but whatever, it’s a sea day, and no one is in a hurry.

We are eating breakfast in Sabatini’s each morning, a perk of being in a suite.  It’s a bit like ‘Blu’ insofar as a dedicated place in which to eat breakfast, but it is very quiet in here- no more than 6 of us at a time, but not quite as fun as that wonderful Celebrity product.  Our waiter is Sashko, from Macedonia.  He is married and returns to his wife in mid February when his contract ends.

After breakfast, Holly went to read in the Library while I continued to film the ship.

It does not take long to traverse the length of Pacific Princess- she’s less than 32,000 tons, but the wind and rain kept things a bit slowed down, so I erred on the side of avoiding slippery decks.

We played trivia this morning (17.5/23), and lost by 1 (The Liver is the weightiest internal organ, not the Brain).  This afternoon, 14/20, and 2nd place.  Will someone PLEASE ask about Star Trek, 1980s TV, or Nylon? 🙉

We tried to play Shuffleboard, but it was too windy.  Upon weather improving, we are due for a few games this sailing- a cruise tradition.

Tonight was our first Formal Night.  Dinner was great, including the Surf & Turf, and dessert.  Princess Cruises have recently introduced ‘Chocolate Journeys’, a program of culinary experiences centered around deserts.  Just slap me sideways if you ever see me turn this down.  As to the ambiance, the dining room really is great.  The staff are very good.

The passengers tonight- well, most folks actually dressed beyond jeans for the occasion, which was a nice surprise.  Sure, it is Princess, but even here, some folks seem to think Smart Casual includes t-shirts, including political ones (it really doesn’t).  Most gentlemen had dark suits, while a few had tuxedos.  While we are in essentially ‘Anytime Dining’, we have ended up the last 3 nights at the same table seated adjacent to the same folks, a wonderful couple from Niagara Falls, Canada.  This is not at ALL the first time we’ve met just lovely people from our neighbor country to the North.

After dinner, we went to see a Princess signature event- the Champagne Waterfall.  It was ok, and we could have done without it, but it was a good segue between dinner and the Casino Bar, a lounge to which we seem to be gravitating to listen to live music.  The main band is ‘The Cruisetones’, whose style (entertaining, mellow standards) may be adequately described as perfect for the expected Princess passenger.

Tomorrow, we are in Santorini.  REALLY looking forward to this port!

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Santorini   (Day 15)
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A WOW day.  After breakfast (Holly had a cool-designed French Toast), we took a tender to the AWESOME Santorini.

Formed approximately 3,600 years ago by a volcanic eruption, Santorini is home to just about 16,000 residents, not including donkeys.  A local legend for the homes awash in blue and white is that an occupier did not want the residents to display their flag, so in a bit of organized peaceful resistance, the residents opted to paint their homes the same colors.  It’s a good story at least.

Our tour first took us to Oia (pronounced ee-uh), the area of the island of Santorini with the most concentration of these brightly-colored homes.  The people are amazingly friendly…makes it very easy to forget about the no-so-good parts of our own country for a while.

In Santorini, donkeys are a major way of transporting goods about very hilly and narrow paths.  Regrettably, these creatures are also used to transport people (tourists) for pleasure.  To be sure, it is no pleasure on the part of the donkeys.

Next, we went to taste local wines, which were ok.  There were a red, white and a dark, almost amber one for us to have.  The latter was definitely engineered as a dessert wine, as it was a bit sweet.

Finally, it was on to Fira, near the middle of the island.  Fira is the commercial center of Santorini, and sits atop a vantage point used profusely by area restaurants.  It provides one hell of a view, and a meal here is worth the visit.

After lunch, we took the cable car straight down to the pier for our return to the ship via tender.  ’Straight down’ really isn’t too far off the mark.  Other than via donkey, this is the only way down the hill on this side of the island (our tender inbound had let us off at another point where busses were waiting).

As we returned to the ship, there was already a warm feeling about this place (no, it’s not caused by the Ouzo)- one we must include on future visits to the area.  Mr. Gavin MacLeod, of Love Boat fame, considers this one of his favorites of the Greek islands, and I can easily say why.

Tomorrow, we are in Rhodes.

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Rhodes  (Day 16)
Thursday, November 16, 2017

A total flashback day.

After breakfast on our balcony as we entered Rhodes (Rodos, more correctly) Harbor, we set off for the Knights of St. John Castle.  The castle was founded in 1309 by the Knights, serving as their home and fortress against the Ottoman Empire.

We knew we were just going to walk around the castle, shop, take pictures, and walk at least part of the castle perimeter in search of a moat our friend Mike had mentioned.  We found a moat (I’ve no recollection of it all those years ago), which is now a functioning garden or at least, a collection of well manicured weeds.  This was just a ‘our friend mentioned it, go look for the same spot moment’, which is always fun, but paled in comparison to the surprise we had today.  Oh, the little things you find when just walking around.

A major flashback for me is perhaps best engendered when it is not expected.  I knew to look for a certain staircase on which our son, then 11, played with tiny kittens that were lounging on them.  We found a set of very similar steps along a castle wall- not the same ones, but it was not a requirement to locate it- just a fond memory.  We remembered also that we’d had lunch that day (this is Oct 30, 1999), but didn’t set out to purposely locate it.  This is where the surprise came in….

We both stopped in our tracks when, along a well-travelled corridor just inside the castle, we recognized not only the same restaurant, but the same waitress we’d had 18 years earlier.  We had a chat between the two of us before approaching her, just to be sure we were remembering this scene correctly.  We were.

Tsampika has been at the Nikolas Bistrot for 22 years, and while her hair was a good deal darker then (as was ours), we knew we’d not only found the same restaurant, but the same waitress, on shift, right there in front of us.  We had a bit of a chat over coffee, then said our goodbyes (temporarily) while we went about the rest of our sightseeing.

We walked the castle grounds, then went out to an area of the castle wall that sits very near the edge of the water, in fact, bordering much of the area waterfront.  This was a great spot from which to film and take pictures.  Holly even climbed the wall with me- I was impressed.

After our personal Olympic tryouts in vendor avoiding (Silver Medal), we returned to have lunch at the Nikolas Bistrot and spend more time with Tsampika over lunch.  REALLY good, cold beer here.  I’ve promised her a clip of the film from today, as well as that of the archaic 1999 video, kittens included (when I pull it off of my home iMAC).

This was a fun day.  While there is a good deal more of Rhodes to see than just the Castle area, and we had been here before, it just seemed perfect to mix a bit of sightseeing/shopping with reacquainting a familiarity 18 years distant.

Our waiter for dinners, Liviu (from Romania) made us laugh when commenting on food tonight.  During this voyage, he manages to maintain a high degree of professionalism while not being shy about steering us away from galley offerings he really doesn’t think are great.  Somehow this evening, we got on the subject of hamburgers as a proper entrée, which Liviu essentially poo-pooed, stating “It’s like a steak to go, already chewed”.

Tomorrow, we are in Mytilene, Greece.

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Mytilene  (Day 17)
Friday, November 17, 2017

We had an especially fun time at breakfast, since our Canadian friends Dave & Nancy joined us.  This is their first time in Sabatini’s for breakfast, and their first experience with Sashko (from Macedonia).  Sashko’s sense of humor is dry, yet entertaining.  We were given ‘a demerit’ for not showing to have breakfast with him yesterday.  ‘3 demerits and you’re overboard’, he said.  Well, we are leaving early tomorrow for a tour, so I guess it’s down to 1 after that.  Seriously, while he, or any other crew do not have to be funny or entertaining (except of course, the actual onboard entertainers) , Sashko’s daily commentary (Ostrich eggs vs chicken eggs, etc.), is contributing to a fun start to our mornings.

Mytilene is on the Eastern coast of the island of Lesvos, and has been a city for about 2,100 years.  The island is known for Ouzo production (about half of Greece’s output) and Olive Wood products.  We did not venture out the 40-50km for the island’s main sights, but opted to walk around this port city (our first visit to this island) and discover things on our own, including HMS Valiant, a UK Border Force ship here in port.

There is a stark contrast here between the first row of buildings and businesses ringing the waterfront and those behind.  The former is very modern looking, and much like any other commercially zoned harbor we’ve seen.  Step back just a block (we did), and one really gets a feel for the masses’ daily routine- bakeries, a plethora of butchers and fishmongers, all with very fresh goods.  This was neat to discover.

A friend we’ve not seen in 18 years (same trip, different person than described in yesterday’s Rhodes entry) is due to meet us tomorrow and join us for a tour.  Today, I sent her the picture of the baked good we tried (we went in completely blind with our selection), and her translation: ‘Wonderful Cheese Turkey’.  When we tasted it, a few hours before obtaining a translation, it tasted like a cheese pastry with a little bland paste in it…I know now that was turkey.  Anyhow, it was interesting, though not something I’d buy again.

Back aboard, we played our first game of Shuffleboard.  I won, 3-0 (best of 5), after a tiebreaker to decide game 3.  This tradition of shuffleboard or bocce ball is always fun- we will try to play one more before the cruise ends.

Didn’t win at trivia (only once so far).  Usually, the same #$% team of 6 does (they bring their own pencil sharpener).  They are good, but would likely be outmatched by The Mates (wish you guys were here for more than just trivia).  After dinner, which included another Chocolate Journey (w/Toasted Coconut),  we went to listen The Cruisetones perform (good as always), and bought thier CD (which they signed).

Tomorrow, we are in Athens, Greece.

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Athens  (Day 18)
Saturday, November 18, 2017

Today we did a private tour of Corinth, about 40 min by car west of Piraeus (the port city for Athens- Spiros Taxi Tours, http://www.athenstaxi.net (Thanks, Mike Preisman for the referral).  Having visited the Athens area previously, we opted to venture out to Corinth to see the Canal.  We left it in Spiros’ capable hands for recommended additional sites in the area.  Today did not include the person that lives in the area we thought would be joining us (she told us this morning about 15 minutes after she was due to meet us that she was unable to make it.  Not cool).

After a rainy drive, we arrived at the Corinth canal.  The canal is 76 ft wide and 26 ft deep, and was carved from solid rock in the late 19th century (a Greek and French engineering collaboration).  The canal allows passage between Peloponnesus and mainland Greece while shaving off several days of sailing time.  There are bridges that suspend the canal providing a stunning birds-eye view.  We could also see a platform for bungee jumping (I was game, Holly-😳 was not).

Spiros’ recommendations included two archeological sites.  The first, the Museum of Isthmia, included a museum with artifacts dating back to the 7th c BC.  Behind the museum, we could actually walk around and, in some areas, on the archeological site.  There was a fabulous mosaic floor that was once part of a Roman bath.  Two very friendly dogs belonging to the museum followed us around dutifully, acting as ambassadors of the area (the video is hilarious).

We had the grounds to ourselves, so Holly and I (and the dogs) really got a look around without bother of other tourists (you know- the folks who obliviously wander into your shot you’ve dutifully set up).  This was the site originating, in very basic form, what would become the Olympic games.  Two pieces on site, one inside and out, were a remnant of a chariot wheel and a faint starting line on the grounds (preservation work still continuing).  This was a good start to the day.

The second site was Ancient Corinth, which features the Temple of Apollo and the Bema (essentially, a stand) where, according to myth, the Apostle Paul preached to the Corinthians.  Again flanked (though less enthusiastically than the previous four-legged friends from Isthmia) by a few dogs, we walked the grounds in amazement at this 2,600 year old archeological site, still active with digs.

Finally, we went to the Acrocorinth, comparatively young at only 800 years old.  A visit to the Temple of Aphrodite atop this former fortress against the Turks will have to wait for another day- as I climbed only to the 2nd lookout fortress about half way up.

We said goodbye to Spiros, as he returned us to our ship just before 14.00, and promised him a good review on Tripadvisor (one is due this very professional tour guide).

Oh…those dogs mentioned a few times- warm & fuzzy bit purposely saved for near last.  During the 2004 Olympic games, dogs that had been rounded up off streets (for benefit of the world stage), were saved from euthanasia in part by adoption, specifically by a core of archeological site managers- the first two sites we went to today are example of this.  Their offspring, and/or elsewhere acquired dogs, are in use by many archeological sites as companions, in order to give many of them a home, if not keep any other animals away.  Man, do they have great playgrounds in which to roam.

Prior to dinner, as has been our routine on most nights, we had drinks in the Club Bar, located adjacent to the main restaurant.  Olga (from Ukraine) was there, with a smile as usual.  Olga is 4 months into her current contract and goes home in January.  After dinner, we went to listen to The Cruisetones again (a habit of ours this sailing).  Dan (vocals, guitar) and Eliott (keyboards), while mellow standards are their norm- can actually jam.  Tonight was a little Beatles with Simon & Garfunkel.

Tomorrow, we are in Mykonos, Greece.

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Mykonos  (Day 19)
Sunday, November 19, 2017

Mykonos…now this is what Greek Island is supposed to look like.  We had a picture perfect day- brilliant blue sky with the sun reflecting off of the white washed houses clinging to the hillside.

We only had a couple of items on our to do list today.  Find the one and only Starbucks on the island (in order to get a cup to add to our ‘You Are Here’ collection), and to photograph the iconic windmills.

After breakfast (Sigit, our Breakfast Asst. Waiter from Indonesia, always gives us great tasty choices), we took a water bus from the cruise port over to the main Old Town marina area, at which point, we determined that it was “only” .9 miles to Starbucks.  Yeah, .9 miles straight up twisty hillsides.

Of course about half way up, we came to the realization that it may not be open- due to the fact it is a Sunday, and a lot of local businesses are closed for the season.  Much to our relief, when we reached the summit of the hill, the doors were open and we were cheerfully met by Χαρηζ and a big display of cups.

We then went to check out the 4 windmills back near the old marina area.  The windmills were originally used in the 16th century to refine grain.

As a matter of comfortable routine into which we’ve settled, we are off to play trivia again tonight, then dinner via the Club Bar for wine from Olga, chat with our Canadian friends, then probably back for live music in the Casino Bar.

Tomorrow, we are at sea.

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At Sea  (Day 20)
Monday, November 20, 2017

A sea day to rest from our vacation.  Sounds silly, and yet- while ‘decompression’ won’t come out of my pie hole (because this is a cruise after all), it gives me time to do an incremental backup of the media captured.  It also gives us an opportunity to review our plans for the last 2 ports, as well as organize a bit for our inevitable departure.

Tonight is a Formal Night, and so I went to the Salon for a haircut (do NOT care to squeeze it in on Sunday, our only full day home prior to work next week).  My stylist was Katie (from Scotland).  She is 3 months into a 10-month (yikes) contract.

Holly waited for me in the Library, which is adjacent to Sabatini’s.  We had another nice breakfast with Sashko, who promised to run today’s shore excursion (a swim call).  Uh huh.

This ship is pitching close to 2 degrees I’d say.  On a small ship, it’s rather noticeable.  On Deck 10, in the Pacific Lounge, there are people feeling a little queasy.  A few real Sailors are out on the Promenade Deck (5), leaning on the rail in order to get as close to the action as they can.

After our first of 2 trivias (we got 11 of 20; winning team got 15), Holly, not feeling 100%, went to lay down, while I went to a GoPro class held by one of the ship’s photographers, Tukudzwa (TK for short, from Zimbabwe).

Throughout this cruise, TK and I have been talking about photography and video.  He prefers to shoot at 1080 for the ship so he can edit on the fly with his laptop or mobile phone’s GoPro software.  I have to hand it to him- he knows what he’s doing with still and video photography.  He showed me a fantastic time-lapse short film of Star Princess on a Vancouver-Ketchikan run, captured with just a single GoPro (with an external power source), mount, and mini-SD chip.

We had our second of 2 trivias today at 16.00 (we got 16 of 20; winning team got 18).  We got a few questions about our shirts, which we were happy to explain (the Mates are a great group of friends).  Prior to losing (again), we watched The Cruisetones perform in the Pacific Lounge.

Dinner, by the way, was very good.  On the first Formal Night, we had lobster.  We had mentioned, off the cuff, if they wanted to make this perfect, they should combine it with Mac N Cheese.  Now then, for those of you readers who are presently poo-pooing this, whatever- it wasn’t for you to consume.  Seriously, this New England dish is perfection.  Well, tonight, the Head Waiter had remembered, and had the Exec Chef (who came to our table to see if the dish was good) prepare this just for Holly, Nancy & I.  That’s right- Lobster Mac & Cheese (by choice) for a Formal Night entrée- It was very good, though it could have used a bit more lobster.

After dinner, back in their normal gig- the Casino Lounge, we watched The Cruisetones.  They are off tomorrow, so it is down to the last night to see them before departing.

Tomorrow, we are in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia  (Day 21)
Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Another WOW day.

The sail in this morning to Dubrovnik was beautiful- just perfect with the sunrise almost up over the distant hillside.  It was also very cool, about 48F at 6.15.

We went out straight at 7.15 to the Pile Gate (another Unesco Heritage Site…man, there have been several on this trip), the main entrance to Old Town Dubrovnik, an area enclosed by a 14th Century fortress.

The streets of Old Town are a bit of a wonder, and will be difficult in interest to top.  Technically speaking, it’s just very cool.  Perhaps that is because unlike other fortresses, this one has a complex of very narrow streets going up 80-90’ at a steep incline, but move to the perimeter, and it’s rather wide, enough for a proper pedestrian and single small-vehicle thoroughfare.  This ‘Old Town’, while replete with tourist shops, also has homes, cafes, restaurants, churches, and the oldest working apothecary in the world.  We stopped at of the local vendors’ farmer’s market, and picked up candied almonds and orange slices.  Not that we needed more sugar (we do not), but it was more about patronizing an independent seller’s locally produced goods.

It also, as many fans will know, a major working set for the television series Game of Thrones (Holly did a Walk of Shame, though G-Rated).  It is also a location for the soon-to-be-released Star Wars: Return of the Jedi film, standing in for part of a casino city.

After a walk though the complex, we exited through one of the fortress walls to the Buza Bar, a beverage-only establishment built onto the side of the fortress, and directly over the sea.  The views are AMAZING from here.  We were having tasty beverages (I had Croatian Ožujsko Beer, and Holly had a Coke Zero) on this fantastic lookout at 9.10- lasting for an hour, with no one save for a single bartender around.  Again, awesome and very quiet.

Next, we went outside the complex for a few photos and video of the exterior Old Harbor, looking back at the castle… More amazing views.  We returned to the fortress area for a last few minutes of window shopping before having lunch at a little cafe right inside Pile Gate.

There may be more stories about shipboard life tonight, but heck, today’s experience so far may be hard to append with anything worthwhile.

Tomorrow, we are in Rijeka, Croatia.

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