Dec 7 and 8 2010 at sea and Gibralter

Dec 7 2010 a discovery day at sea.

A little too cold to lay in the sun, however, cruising the mediterranean is a lovely sight. Seeing land off in the distance. A breakfast at the buffet where we enjoy a specialty made omelet (egg white, shrimp, swiss cheese and onions, red pepper), with fresh berries, gluten free toast and sugar free jams and jellies to chose from.

Lunch was a Mexican buffet so we enjoyed quacamole and the salsa is always fresh cut with great fresh flavor. Corn chips, and a variety of meats, salads and desserts are offered and accepted – in moderation of course. Sugar free ice cream comes out with new flavors each day. Brilliant.

Supper was very special indeed. We dressed up in our finest country club casual clothes and enjoyed whole lobster, filet mignon … so many choices. Lovely and sweet fruit jellies, variety of specialty desserts. We eat and we eat. Every meal stating we won’t eat so much next time. A new habit is formed and we eat and we enjoy the offerings.

We attended a few lectures today, one on history of cruising and one on Gibralter’s history as we will be there tomorrow.

Dec 8 2010 rock of Gibralter

Up early and grab breakfast. We wait for the call to tell us the gangplank is ready for our departure to go into town. We walked a ways and talked to information booth folk, who advised we can take a city bus to the landing of the cable car. The cable car, for just a few Gibralter pounds (money currency of their own). We take the cable car to the top, enjoy close encounters with the barbery apes that live wild and amoung tourists at the top.

They were sweet and we took lots of pics of them grooming each other as well as wandering around on railings and posing for our cameras.

The sights from the top – breathtaking views. So far down- our little cruise ship the only one in the harbour. It is so interesting how small Gibralter is and its airport run way crosses a main street. Just pass that crossing is Spain. Gibralter enjoys its own government and currency and is very independent from Spain. Very interesting and busy place.

After disembarkation of the cable car back to the ground, we took a walk through the busy down town area. Although we did not purchase anything, we investigated shoes, clothes, jewelery and many other shiny things. We kept walking and walking until we reached thee cruise ship dock shortly after 1 pm. The ship was to sail at 2, however, some passengers were late so we waited a bit. I went up to enjoy some sun after we grabbed a quick bite to eat from the buffet.

Loved Gibralter spectacular views but not the fortresses, stone walls, cannons pointed out to sea, and the denseness of the population. It screams antagonism. The condo’s have no green space, land is at a premium in this city, no where to grow but out to sea.

Onward to the next few days out to sea. Time to relax.

Dec 6 2010 The feast has begun

Dec 6 2010, The feast begins, Oceania experience

How does a cruise ship company live up to the claim of the “best food at sea”? Simply, carefully and with attention to detail.

Every morsel must be prepared from fresh ingredients. Presentation must be interesting and alluring. People must be satisfied and not “filled up”. Food tastes must be unique and memorable. Recipes must be selected and coordinated, combining comfort foods, exotic spice and yet familiar and that sense of “special”. Several choices, not to overwhelm, but to offer something for everyone and several somethings of interest for the adventuresome.

Food specialists, as every ordinary person is, must be impressed with understated perfection. Words used to describe a taste, must entice from the menu. Presentation in a buffet must promise flavors and freshness, to inspire confidence. One bite must satisfy every palate. Not one item can be substandard or ordinary. All must be appealing to the senses.

We are directed firmly yet with open invitation to the Terrace Cafe for the prepared luncheon on embarkation day. We enter, this first impression is one that will forever capture our memory for Oceania. This one flash in time, a photograph of the mind, will hold power over our impression of this day, this cruise, this choice for our carefully saved dollars. This is the moment of truth and the love is in the details.

Pass / fail is the deciding factor yet critical to the success of any art form. Pass.

We select a range of fresh vegetables and fruits, prepared meats and cheeses, carved roast beef and turkey, selection of condiments and colors to fill the senses and add to the experience. Oh and a quick walk by the dessert area, with promise of sweetness and flavor to punctuate the nutrition.

Beverages including bottled water, Perrier, sodas, coffees, teas and cappucinos are offered to all by the ample staff ratio. Wine and other offerings are described in the menu on each table. We have been to our room and know the champagne is on ice, complimentary red wine is on the table …. we will be well looked after.

Gluten free breads are brought to my table in generous quantity. I feel my needs and wants are being anticipated and met. How simple yet how detail has been organized in preparation for my arrival.

We enjoy the tastes, smells, textures, and time. We look out on the harbor view of the city of Barcelona spread out before us as part of the buffet. We watch as new arrivals spill in to the cafe and have the quick but critical evaluation of pass? Fail? looks come over their expressions.

The feast has begun and we are satisfied that our anticipation has been greeted with equal measure of planning and preparation. That Oceania has accepted the challenge or our expectation and performed the task with satisfying results. We came, we ate and we smiled.

Off to explore the ship, to check out all the possibilities for the other experiences … entertainment, shopping, reading, sight seeings, exercising, lounging, self care and spa adventures, investigations and of course, future meals and gastronomical delights that are yet to come.

A feast indeed has been laid out in front of us and we have agreed to indulge. Yuummmmm!

Dec 6 2010 Intro to Oceania

Dec 6, 2010 Embarkation Day, Introduction to Oceania

This is my first actual personal experience with Oceania other than to sell it as part of my consultation work with Expedia CruiseShipCenters. I have known the relative value of this cruise line from training and from hearing about it from others who have sailed with her ships. This is where the real learning begins.

As I have accepted a remarkable upgrade from inside guarantee stateroom to Concierge Veranda, I get all kinds of extra perks for a relatively low price. This is how to experience luxury. I highly recommend accepting the wonderful opportunities as they come along. This is the “gravy” or “icing on the cake” of life. When the offer comes, and it is possible, it is always worth accepting with gratitude for the opportunity. I am in that space now.

I arrive at 10:30 am in the pier at Barcelona after a very short taxi ride, saying good bye to our temporary home at Raco Del Pi in the gothic quarter and very boutique shopping district just off Los Ramblas. I can see the ms. Insignia off in the distance, next to a few other European cruise ships similar in size. Insignia is white on white. Classy, many balcony staterooms and more than that – it is the physical embodiment of the promise of what is to come. The anticipation from the past 18 months since I made the booking. All the excitement is pounding through my body and my mind races to try to capture the picture as a photo, a moment in time and space. Oh the beauty and the promise.

We have priority embarkation. The words and realization fall over me. We are priorized on this ship as a reward for our investment and gratitude and as well as acceptance of worthiness to experience luxury. We are invited to arrive hours before the other guests. To board the ship that has been refurbished in dry dock for almost 2 weeks. We are the first guests to enter the hallways and walk that gangplank to experience her offerings. Ms Insignia opens her arms to us and we accept her invitation.

Relative ease of embarkation never before experienced on a cruise ship. A few couples speak of the ordeals of travel to get there to this moment …. delays in London due to weather, extreme cold and a dump of snow, or the 24 hour air strike in Barcelona. Now we are together, as was the plan. We are here all having accepted the offer to luxury and upgrade.

The decision of what to wear has been made lightly by some who have not yet received their luggage, while others have carefully selected an appropriate Country Club Casual match of dress slacks, jacket and in many cases tied together with contrasting scarf. Hair done and make up carefully applied, even though there are no pictures taken on embarkation. No photographers jostling for attention and opportunity to sell their particular skill and talent at capturing the anticipation and preparation for years to come on a piece of photographers film. All photos are taken by the mind, some captured in time, some, no doubt, fleeting and ordinary and not to be remembered hardly at all.

A arrives out of the blue to assist my mother with her carry on luggage. We are directed by a staff person every 10 to 20 feet or so. Directed in to the ship, into a welcoming area of the lounge on the 5th deck. Carpeted reception lead to a podium where more staff are eager to welcome us on board and take our passports, invite us to have our picture taken for identification purposes for future embarkation, and of course to take our credit card imprint for future purchases while on the cruise.

We let the realization of cruising the Mediterranean on this beautiful little ship sink in. We allow the ambiance to wash over us like rain on the thirsty garden. It is all perfect and we have arrived.

Dec 6, 2010 Embarkation on Oceania

Dec 6, 2010 Embarkation Day, Introduction to Oceania

This is my first actual personal experience with Oceania other than to sell it as part of my consultation work with Expedia CruiseShipCenters. I have known the relative value of this cruise line from training and from hearing about it from others who have sailed with her ships. This is where the real learning begins.

As I have accepted a remarkable upgrade from inside guarantee stateroom to Concierge Veranda, I get all kinds of extra perks for a relatively low price. This is how to experience luxury. I highly recommend accepting the wonderful opportunities as they come along. This is the “gravy” or “icing on the cake” of life. When the offer comes, and it is possible, it is always worth accepting with gratitude for the opportunity. I am in that space now.

I arrive at 10:30 am in the pier at Barcelona after a very short taxi ride, saying good bye to our temporary home at Raco Del Pi in the gothic quarter and very boutique shopping district just off Los Ramblas. I can see the ms. Insignia off in the distance, next to a few other European cruise ships similar in size. Insignia is white on white. Classy, many balcony staterooms and more than that – it is the physical embodiment of the promise of what is to come. The anticipation from the past 18 months since I made the booking. All the excitement is pounding through my body and my mind races to try to capture the picture as a photo, a moment in time and space. Oh the beauty and the promise.

We have priority embarkation. The words and realization fall over me. We are priorized on this ship as a reward for our investment and gratitude and as well as acceptance of worthiness to experience luxury. We are invited to arrive hours before the other guests. To board the ship that has been refurbished in dry dock for almost 2 weeks. We are the first guests to enter the hallways and walk that gangplank to experience her offerings. Ms Insignia opens her arms to us and we accept her invitation.

Relative ease of embarkation never before experienced on a cruise ship. A few couples speak of the ordeals of travel to get there to this moment …. delays in London due to weather, extreme cold and a dump of snow, or the 24 hour air strike in Barcelona. Now we are together, as was the plan. We are here all having accepted the offer to luxury and upgrade.

The decision of what to wear has been made lightly by some who have not yet received their luggage, while others have carefully selected an appropriate Country Club Casual match of dress slacks, jacket and in many cases tied together with contrasting scarf. Hair done and make up carefully applied, even though there are no pictures taken on embarkation. No photographers jostling for attention and opportunity to sell their particular skill and talent at capturing the anticipation and preparation for years to come on a piece of photographers film. All photos are taken by the mind, some captured in time, some, no doubt, fleeting and ordinary and not to be remembered hardly at all.

A arrives out of the blue to assist my mother with her carry on luggage. We are directed by a staff person every 10 to 20 feet or so. Directed in to the ship, into a welcoming area of the lounge on the 5th deck. Carpeted reception lead to a podium where more staff are eager to welcome us on board and take our passports, invite us to have our picture taken for identification purposes for future embarkation, and of course to take our credit card imprint for future purchases while on the cruise.

We let the realization of cruising the Mediterranean on this beautiful little ship sink in. We allow the ambiance to wash over us like rain on the thirsty garden. It is all perfect and we have arrived.

Dec 5, 2010 Still in Barcelona, Still eating!

 

Still 5 Dec 2010. Still in Barcelona. Still eating.

Had a lovely afternoon walking about the city, resting in our hotel and listening to church bells. Had some dark chocolate gelato and you can’t imagine how good it was. The flavor of the chocolate, so dark and almost bitter filled the mouth and set off taste buds that I did not know my mouth possessed.. Chocolate “receptors” sang with delight as tiny mouth full after mouth full was placed by tiny plastic palate type spoon. Just the anticipation caused my mouth to water. My eyes almost filled up with pleasure tears, how amazing.

We walked around Del Pi square, looked in to a few shops and boutiques that were open for the 7th day in a row this week. Maybe one out of every 5 to 10 doors were open and welcoming. I did not notice much else until the gelato was gone.

After that we investigated some great jewelery and scarves …. store windows reaching out to the passers by. Sensory overload again and again as the moments turned to a few hours of walking about and enjoying the air, artists, and artistic display of wares for sale.

Back to the warm room for a wee siesta mid afternoon. How indulgent. Why does not every culture incorporate this ritual? Deep sleep found me before my head hit the pillow. I had kicked off my boots, pulled on a blanket and next thing I knew a knock at the door and I was pulled from a deep and restful slumber. Steve in his new dark blue (‘azul’ is the blue word in Spanish) hat had come calling for lunch / dinner…. a late afternoon meal.

Previous night we had entered the wonderful hat store that previously we had only pressed our faces up against the glass of. The store window was a buffet of fabulous hats, some dressy, casual, classy, fancy and plain. Inside all hats are away in cupboards. When we entered Steve had a hat in mind to try – the male clerk measured his head and disappeared into the back of the shop. I was not too impressed with how the unique hat looked atop his round head. I inquired as to the “azul” hat in the window and they knew right away the one I referred to. Very similar in shape to the one he wears daily, this deep blue was an instant success as soon as the perfectly sized item was placed carefully on his head. Little more thought or reflection was necessary. The hat belongs to Steve and Steve to the hat. What a team.

Steve showed up at the door today wearing said hat, and asking if mom and I are ready to join the rest for afternoon wine and tapas. How did my life become so complete? How have such pleasures been tucked away or not even imagined yet? How was I to know this extra layer of satisfaction was just a continent away. Tucked into a famous port on the Mediterranean Sea is this fabulous city that knows truly how to indulge. It knows that siesta is followed by deep red wine or milder pink rosee and more and more rich and satisfying foods dripping in olive oil and balsamic vinegars. That the flavors of deep green almost crisp asparagus laid out on a plate could bring such joy. “Potatoes Bravas” topped with spicy red sauce and a garlic mayonnaise. Chicken so tender and cooked almost crunchy on the outside is provided skewered through the center and atop some whole small tasty green peppers grilled to perfection. Delight after delight arrived at the table. Rocket salad made of deep leafy greens, thin sliced goat cheese, quince jelly and pine nuts, drizzled with oil and vineger. Lagostino (cross between lobster and a large shrimp in flavor and texture) also skewered and drizzled on top with some amazing dressing that brings out the subtle seafood flavor. Steak slices sizzling in the pan, more peppers and more potatoes provide garnish to this very large dish of protein. We had no room for dessert!!! What?? A decision was made to walk back to our lovely hotel, another siesta- and dessert and a late night beverage will greet us long after dark and some time before morning hours arrive. This the life style of a very happy traveler. This pace, the sustenance, the patience, the consuming … all lead to bliss.

Dec 3 2010 We arrive in sunshine to Barcelona

 

Dec 3, 2010 Barcelona is all worth the wait

Hi loved ones. I am pleased to report we have arrived and have eaten, checked into our fabulous room at the Raco Del Pi in a fabulous area of Barcelona.

We were back at the airport this early morning, got boarding passes, did some shopping, ate an interesting breakfast in a bar / restaurant after the security portion at the airport at Heathrow. There is much to say about our short and eventful and exasperating adventure in London, however, I choose to focus on the positives.

Arriving into Barcelona by air … stunning scenery, brilliant blue sky and bright bright sunshine. It took my breath away … Mediterranean Sea, fabulous snow topped mountains, buildings on steep slopes (just like in the art work depicting this part of the world), vineyards and other lushness. Stunning. Spectacular. Arriving at high noon was certainly the way to see the area and be inspired by the brilliance and beauty that is Barcelona.

Sarah was there to greet us – downside, only one of my mother’s bags arrived. . We took the shuttle bus down town and gawked at the architecture the whole way. Wow! We walked about 10 minutes pulling our luggage down a small but beautiful street, and nestled next door to a lovely shop is Raco Del Pi. Quaint and clean, this hotel is not a disappointment. We sorted out sleeping arrangements and headed out for a walk about. A quick bottle of rosee was passed around and off we went to explore cathedrals and stone walk ways. Little shops and large boutiques, peppered with small cafe type restaurants. Folks on bicycles zipped by and up alleys that look so intriguing. If I was there alone I would be lost for sure. Amazing history and stories held within the high and decorative walls. Balconies overhang.

We had tapas and sangria for dinner including the most amazing flavors of lemon and chocolate gelato with whipped cream and rich dark chocolate sauce. I would not have ordered it but also could not stop eating it. Flavors filled my mouth. My tongue tingled with sensations of flavor maybe never so titillated before. I can close my eyes and taste again and again the fabulous richness and sensory overload.

Home to our room, exhausted from 3 days of travel, not great gastronomical experiences, up to tonight – time to fall into deep slumber and dream of what tomorrow brings. If the food experiences continue, I will be very glad for my LuLu stretchy pants for comfort. Amazing that the delights in food were here all the time. Now this is a vacation!!

love to all – Oh and ran into Sian at the airport in London this morning and she flew to Barcelona with us, in fact sat right behind us. So I know she is here – her baggage lost somewhere in New York perhaps?? I guess that is the real meaning of lost …. who knows where the bags will surface.

Time to dream of church bells and gelato. “Beautiful, Wish you were here!”

Dec 2, 2010 NOT in Barcelona

Dec 2 2010 Day two of our adventure : NOT in Barcelona

My first trip to London England. Although scheduled to be at Heathrow for a brief few hours while we changed planes, many hours have passed and we are still in this location. Due to weather, I assume – very cold temperatures and snow, our flight to Barcelona was not only delayed but eventually canceled.

After standing in every line up we were sent to …. we finally went back through security and out into the dark of evening and ended up in a line that lead us to a real person who, it said on his name tag, worked for British Airways, had a computer terminal and was able and willing to find flight arrangements for 5 Canadian travelers. He booked us on flights (yet to be confirmed) for Dec 3 (we think) for Barcelona. He graciously provided us with what we asked for (flight info and hotel and meal coupons, transportation passes and some relief for our struggles and hours of line standing). He was personable and even threw in some life saving packages with toothbrush, toothpaste, white t-shirts (to sleep in, says he), comb and shampoo.

While grateful for the assistance, the free hotel room, free meals and transport to and from the hotel ….. sometimes you get what you pay for! This is one of those times. This is such a bare bones hotel. The phone is ridiculous and we tried every imaginable way to communicate to Steve’s daughter and son-in-law who are waiting for us, we assume in Barcelona. We also could not reach our hotel in Barcelona where we have 3 lovely rooms waiting for us 5 guests, booked through Expedia many months ago.

Premier Inn Hotel staff were very hard to talk to, not quite rude but certainly not helpful. Do they get a cut in wages to help people who are stranded ?? Totally different answers to simple questions like “how do I get a wake up call?” and “what time is it?”. Where do we catch the shuttle in the morning back to the airport? Is there a mug here at all that I can have hot water in? When I say basic, I am not exaggerating. This hotel is providing a room with a door and a bed inside. Two small instant coffee packets and two tea bags. “England must always have its tea” in the room. That is all.

Still trying to reach Sarah and hopefully they are well and assured of our safety as the flights were canceled. Hopefully she is snuggled in our unused hotel room anticipating our arrival at just after noon, Barcelona time on 3 December. It may in fact be the 3rd now??? I purposely left behind a watch. I have my phone set to airplane mode so as to not incur any roaming charges. Steve did not change his watch and there is no evidence this hotel has any idea what time it is. Not a clock on a wall or in any of the guest rooms. How do people show up on time in London? Is it an issue?

I had fleeting thoughts last evening of taking a small tour of London to satisfy my curiosity about the famed Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and London Bridge. I was assured by the un-helpful hotel guest clerks that in fact there is no such tour available in London … EVER! Really? Looks like a future flight and trip to London are required to see these places. Perhaps with Luke, for one of the books in the series I am writing, “Luke’s Travels”.

It will be wonderful to see him here, to enjoy the newness of this city to my eyes and his wonder. I anticipate great traveling moments with my grandson. Hopefully his mother will be with us and we will have a unique life journey together as we travel the world.

I have realized I don’t have a “universal” adapter plug in for my computer so must write more another time. Sending love to family and friends and gratitude I don’t live in London, England. I am prepared and committed to enjoy London on some other adventure. It is not the top of my bucket list, however.

Vancouver Airport, eh Dec 1 2010

Blog entry 1 Dec, 2010. Vancouver Airport

My mother, my husband and I. Sitting in Starbucks plugged in to the wall with my lap top. Seems they have a shortage of plugs here, so the Christmas tree decorations will stay unlit till I move on.

The plane is late due to weather. Darlene and Joan are also traveling with us on the great adventure starting in Vancouver, then British Airways flight to Barcelona via London Heathrow airport. (Apparently London is having a snow storm, which is why we are not yet on our plane on the way there ). We will arrive there and pray to the luggage gods for safe transport on to the next flight direct to Barcelona. Ahhhhhh. Just the sound of Barcelona is inspiring.

I love the sound of exotic words – and exotic places. Everyone I have talked to loves Barcelona but that is not why I love it. I love how the syllables roll off the tongue. The way the “r” rolls around the roof of my mouth. And the extra “a” that all Canadians like at the end. Eh!!

Surrounded by foreign speaking folk, at the International departure area of the Vancouver airport …. Why don’t we have a fancy name for our airport?? I did a small survey with my mother and she suggested an appropriate name might be “Vancouver” or alternatively “large”. Hmmm she might have been on the committee that settled on “Vancouver International Airport”.

Interesting lighting here. Very high ceilings and long narrow light fixtures give the illusion of light but it is very subtle and soft … almost like being in the corner of an intimate living room with low lighting. Although strangely enough, every person has a spot light affect above them, allowing reading of novels and bloggers like me on computer. Perhaps if I unplug my lap top and plug back in the Christmas tree decoration and wreath that is above my station, I might enjoy yet more lighting and the festive feeling that comes with Christmas season generally.

I plan to do some writing about what makes this journey and this time of year, this particular year so noteworthy for me. For my family and very close friends the reasons will be more obvious. Ahhhhhhhh, yes. An important year indeed and important to reflect on the past 12 months and 52 years of my life. The significant changes and one very substantial loss.