Questions for Reflection

More questions for reflection 
Hello dear blog readers! I am home, safe and sound. The world around me has changed a little.  
My last trip was fabulous. What made it so? What were the highlights? Any learning opportunities that I embraced? Any unexpected that I treasure and never could have planned for? Any sights, sounds, tastes, textures, conversations that I hold dear from my trip?  
What did I learn in the experience to assist me with the next trip?  
These are not only questions for me to reflect on, however you might want to craft some questions or answers of your own, related to your previous time away. What does that even mean? Time away? Is it always a vacation?  
Do you enjoy stepping in to the culture and time of another destination or do you prefer to cuddle up with a great book and snuggle in to a soft comfy couch at home or in a near by resort for a local getaway from daily routine? Or are you an adventurer? And what do you love about adventure? What does it mean to you? Where do you go and what do you anticipate?
How do you define a great holiday experience? Are you surrounded by family and loved ones? Do you crave routine and tradition? Or step out of the ordinary and invest in once-in-a-lifetime memories? Is there a magic of combining both these ideas?
How can I assist? Do you prefer to do research on your own and be proud of what you found? Are you able to share your findings and solicit valuable help with an assistant planner, an agent for travel?
I have questions circling around in my head almost always, when back home and in planning mode for my next holiday.  
This January I am embarking on a new experience, India! With 18 women from the Women’s Travel Club Meetup group that I host. There is room for a few more on our private hosted tour to this most exotic of locations.
Way out of my comfort zone and yet, being planned and enjoyed by each participant as they do their own research and sharing of ideas.  
We all contribute to the benefit of everyone travelling together as well as those who stay at home and read our blogs!  
This blog is an invitation for you to join me, however you like to, either on vacations or in planning or self reflection ….  

Pamela MacDonald,

Your “travelling” Cruise, Flight & Land Vacation Specialist
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Coming home

LEG ONE of the TREK homeward.
It is about 420 am on November 10 2015. No idea what day of the week, maybe Tuesday? I am at the airport in Barcelona getting ready for my flights home to Victoria.
I left the cruise port at 230 am thinking this process would take so much longer. No traffic at that time of the morning – lol. The taxi driver was a bit sketchy but the port security fellow gave me the thumbs up indicating the taxi driver was “good”. I expect he was woken up as his blinks were very long, as I watched from the back seat. Nevertheless, I used all my self soothing techniques and ho’oponopono phrases and we got here to the airport in record time and under $30 Euro. I gave him a tip and am so grateful I am safe.
430 am the lights came on in the wing where I am sitting beside the expected gate for my first leg of the flight.  
I have tried to log in to supposedly free wifi. Pronounced weefee here in Europe. I am unable to log in without divulging every detail about my life so …. will wait until I get back in Canada to log in.  
I fly first to Amsterdam and then Toronto. So I have upgraded the long flight to the emergency exit row for a little more money. It is worth it for sure. Or at least I expect it to be worth it !
The airport is all but deserted at the time I arrived this morning. About 20 or so – what looks like military men in civilian clothes sleeping on the floor with mounds and carts full of army green canvas back packs and cargo luggage. They were sleeping all over the floors …. I assume they will be on my flight but I don’t really know that yet. I was able to get through to drop off my luggage by doing my on line check in at the kiosk and then having boarding passes ready when the drop off area was opened at 4 am. About 20 some families budged in line pushing and carrying on – with huge luggage and some foreign language. However it turned out they had not done their check in and did not have boarding passes so were forced out of line again. I was next.
I had a broken carry on bag coming to France and yesterday purchased a mid size piece of luggage to check in – to replace my carry on and small check in bag. I have given my smaller check in blue suitcase to Jane so she can take home the purchases she made for her grandchildren.
I had one luggage to check and my Azamara bag and purse to carry on. Very civilized and lightweight. I am relieved it is done.
I am tired, although I rested about six hours last evening before I got up about 130 this morning. I was not able to sleep much if at all – thoughts and anticipation of the trip keeping me awake.
I am very hopeful I will sleep today on the flight. I see I have gluten free meals and I now have leg room for the long flight. I am satisfied it is the best I can do – for little cost. I am not yet ready to consider first class prices, especially for the amount I travel.  
I am ready to go home and will try to write along the way. My good friend Janie has generously offered to pick me up at 1135 pm tonight local time when I arrive in Victoria. Almost 24 hours travel time I expect.
Just now a few soldiers have walked through the airport with machine guns … it looks like they are escorting a woman to a gate? She looks lost and they look like they are assisting her. Lots of security people around for such a quiet airport, and I think about my new job waiting for me when I get home.
In about 20 minutes the flight will depart for Amsterdam. I will go use the loo …. and prepare to board. There is a queue already!!
Bye for now, leg one was getting to the airport! onward ….


Barcelona and Spectre too

Barcelona, a day and Spectre too
Hello there and welcome to Barcelona. My second time here this year and I was also here for about 3 – 4 days in 2010 before my first Oceania cruise to Rio de Janeiro Brazil from this very port, this very spot where the Azamara Journey is sitting. We are ported at the end of La Rambla.
Off for a start of the day for a walk up La Rambla in search of a suitcase to replace my broken carry on from the trip to France in early October. I find one, and walk it back to the ship. Lunch in the buffet and a sweet glass of white wine. It is hot already in Barcelona today, likely 25 degrees with very blue cloudless sky and hot sun shining down.
The walk way in the center of La Rambla is lined on both sides with my new favourite plane trees – sycamore I believe! Wow! I have missed the trees since leaving the villa. I take a few pictures and feel I am among friends. I do remember that there are warnings for pick pockets in this area so I am alert and have taken precautions. I can now enjoy the day.
Out to stroll and wanting to see the whole street, Jane and I walk to the end. On the way we stop in Desigual store – my friend Debbie’s favourite and Jane had never heard of it. Happy to introduce her to the happiness and joy of the bright coloured and fun clothes and bags, scarves and accessories for adults and children.  
I spy the full size poster of Daniel Craig advertising the release of the new James Bond 007 movie, Spectre in Barcelona cinema’s on 6 November. Jane has indicated an interest in seeing this film since I first saw the poster with her in Nice before the cruise. In France it was not out until after 11 November, we were told at the hotel Goldstar. Spain apparently is not the same.  
Deciding this is a sign to find a theatre in the downtown area where we are, we take a moment, stop and pause and look around. Standing at the end, or the beginning of the La Rambla, in the large circle that exists … we pause to look for any clue as to where to start looking. I see at least 4 Desigual stores within one block! And we see what looks like a shopping mall – so we head in that direction. I search out a list of stores in the mall and find on second floor a “Cinema” sign. Ah- ha! We take the escalator and find ourselves in a store called Cinema … a kind of high tech store selling iphones and technical stuff. Although no free weefee, as it is called here in this part of the world, we find some imac computers that give us quick limited access to google and the search begins.
We end up asking for assistance and get directions to the nearest theatre. The gal who assists us apologizes that the movie will be in English with Spanish subtitles. Ha ha … perfect!
With photo picture of the map we find the theatre in time to get the first seats, some bland popcorn with salt only and a few bottles of water. We watch the film.
And it was dark when the film was out and we walked very briskly enjoying the sights and lights of La Rambla at night. Fenomenal, as the subtitles said many times in the movie! It was a delightful day and evening in Barcelona. I look forward to my next adventure there.
Back on board the Azamara Journey I do some last minute preparations for early departure to the airport. I am on my way home.
Completely satisfied with the fabulous villa stay and cruise that I enjoyed for the past six weeks or so.

Travel buddies

Your travel life has the essence of a dream. It is something outside the normal, yet you are in it. It is peopled with characters you have never seen before and in all probability will never see again. It brings occasional homesickness, and loneliness, and pangs of longing…. But you are like the Vikings or the master mariners of the Elizabethan age, who have gone into a world of adventure, and home is not home until you return. —Agatha Christie  

Hola, Valencia

Hola, Valencia 
The four of us gals took the Azamara shuttle bus to the Centro of the old city of Valencia. Very clean and well kept city. Huge beautiful preserved old buildings including a major cathedral. We wandered the cobblestone type streets and took lots of photos. On the way to the Central Mercado, we passed through several piazzas.  
We stopped to do quick shopping and found several fun things to purchase. At the mercado we selected paella spices unique to the area. We found hand made shawls to marvel at. Many quilt stores and needlework, as well as wool shops. Handcrafts seem to be popular here, needlework on linen as well.
One of the central piazza areas has artistic tall metal bulrushes arranged in a bit of a maze, so we took pictures and then the pics of the decorative rooftops of the old buildings. So lovely.
Early afternoon we decided to take the hop on bus of the historic area of the city. It was the warm part of the day. Two of the gals needed to return to the ship for spa appointments and they have excursions arranged for tomorrow. We, Jane and I, will take the blue Mediterranean route through the maritime region of the city and get some beach time tomorrow morning.  
26 degrees at 2 pm. Hop on bus. 29 now at 240 pm on bus. Nuevo Centro is big shopping mall. We see ads for the new James Bond movie and want to fit it in, maybe not.  

Tree and park lined main road through city. It is an old over bed even with bridges crossing over. Under the bridges and along the length of the park are Tennis courts, parks for walking and sitting, and lots of soccer fields.  
Back to ship now, to prepare for white night. Will write more tomorrow and head to beach 🙂
Tomorrow night on to Barcelona for my last port and begin my flight home.

Valencia Spain, anticipation

DAY ONE in Valencia
A new day and a brand new port for me. A few thoughts about today 
– shuttle in to market this Saturday morning, in old down

– get on wifi to check email and post blogs

– check out the amazing science museum that we can see right out our balcony

– find a beach, sandy and lovely for early this afternoon swim in the Med. It sounds like another hot sunny day, maybe 22 degrees today says the Captain

– White Night tonight on deck for dining and dancing with entertainment

– we stay in port overnight

– may purchase hop on bus ticket for 24 hours to ride around and see the city sights from the top of a bus 🙂  
I don’t know much about this city, so am open to what we find..

Ancient winding streets. Roman and Arabic history. Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque architecture. Silk Exchange building. IMAX cinema / planetarium, oceanographic park. Paella is the regional cuisine ….

Palma de Mallorca Spain

DAY TWO in Palma de Mallorca
Palma awaits year round, the tourists and cruise ships … as well as local European travellers. With lovely temperatures averaging almost 18 degrees, this island offers exceptional climate. The port and marina is huge and filled with fabulous yachts and countless sailboats as well as thousands of smaller motor boats.  
Many civilizations have contributed to the culture here, Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Muslims and Christians. Unique architecture can be seen as one walks through the lovely cared for and clean capital city.  
 Although a hop on style bus is offered by the city, we likely won’t make that choice today. There are apparently fabulous beaches and interesting things to see on the island and a hired taxi split for the four of us might be the best offering for a few hours this afternoon.  
The guests of Azamara Journey have been offered a shopping experience at an outlet fair. El Pueblo Espanol de Palma de Mallorca. More than 100 participating companies from various fields will be selling surplus products at bargain prices.  
Guests will be shuttled from the ship pier to the outlet market, and we follow a specific route with discounts and offers made to entice us to leave some Euros here 🙂  
For two hours this will take place and then at 1230 we will be shuttled back to the drop off point.  
Depending what I find, I might go back to pick up something from the Mallorca Pearl shops in town. Shopping in a city is like exploring its culture – what do people offer and what do people purchase? I found the prices of pearls yesterday to be somewhat less than I had expected to pay.  

The shuttle to the market was interesting. An old structure converted for a few days only to a market selling cars, ski doos, clothes, shoes and boots, high end leather coats, furniture including antiques and very modern lovely sectional couches. Eclectic mix of just about everything imaginable. Some of the gals picked up a few items. I took pictures and was amazed at the whole experience.
We came back to the ship around 130 pm for lunch and then to hang out by the pool in the heat of the day … around 24 degrees I think – maybe warmer.  
I did not end up with any new pearls this trip, yet …..
tomorrow Valencia and some markets, science and art museum and sunny Spanish beaches! wooo hooo. Then white night in the evening on the pool deck, and an overnight in Valencia followed by another full day. Fantastic cruise itinerary!
good night all

Azamazing Evening in Spain

Azamazing Evening 5 November 2015, Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Classical concert at La Seu Cathedral. The guests on board Azamara Journey who signed up in advance, revelled in the splendid musical culture of this location. The venue is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and it is Gothic style Roman Catholic cathedral built over an Arab Mosque. Choral singers performed gospel numbers, accompanied by the pipe organ.
The singers lined the sides of the cathedral, next to the guests seated … and they began their song. Fantastic acoustic music surrounded the guests and filled every square inch of the space. Rich musical tones from the huge pipe organ fill the air. The seats, benches, pews are filled with guests of the Azamara Journey.  
Gaudi influence was one of the surprises of the evening. He designed and created the alter area in the cathedral. It is almost Disney-like … little lights resting in what appears to be little boats with umbrellas up top, hanging from strings. Hundreds of wheat grasses are placed along the alter as well as bunches of grapes – depicting the blood and body of Christ. A large magic carpet …. and of course a crucifix, stylized and out of glass and colour. This alter hangs huge from the ceiling. It fills the space and is certainly unique in any Cathedral I have ever seen.
A more recent artist has also created a separate area to the right of the alter area, separate but still part of the large church. It was an underwater sea collage, almost like a cave … made of clay and colour – fish, and all manner of sea creatures. Three dimensional showing colours and textures of what an underwater cave might be like. Very modern, and a bit abstract like. I have some pictures.  
On the left side of the main alter is a Baroque area, dark wood, gold leaf, painted murals. It looked like what one would expect to find in a Cathedral on the walls.  
Our guide explained that during each time when these additions were made, some people embraced the new changes – some don’t. Not so different about any art contribution, I suppose.  

Sensing and Writing

2. Senses: a practice
What do the sounds, smells, textures, tastes and sights remind me of? What is the weight and temperature? What is the movement or song that begs to be noticed? Even silence is a sense that begs to be ‘felt’. Patterns or chaos? What is the familiar as a way to describe the unfamiliar? If I can see the people, and animals … and describe them, it provides evidence of a sense of place. To ‘drift’ is a description of place, at least, if not always temporarily. 
 Fill the pages with authentic overheard “shoplifted” dialogue – their story is now my story. What is the wisdom, insight, humour? What matters to them, now matters to me – the author of their story told through my senses. It matters not if the stories are the same, or truthful, only that I witnessed and share the story as it comes to my life. 🙂
I hear a distant neee nar neee nar of an emergency vehicle off to his next call, unsure of what is in store for him or her. 
The bell indicating the Captain or cruise director is speaking to all guests – muffled and can only be heard in the hallways and common areas of the ship – our staterooms are sacred and private. Announcing, no doubt, that all passengers are on board and we are preparing to set sail as scheduled. Well done!
I can hear work men outside my balcony, down several flights to the ground. They are working hard and removing the barriers, metal guidelines and temporary walls constructed earlier today for our ship passengers to walk to the pier and back again to the ship. I hear the large metal pieces rubbing together. I can hear orders being called one to the other as the men work together as a team to release the huge rope tethers that keep us tight up to the pier.  
I can isolate the distant rumble of vehicle tires on the streets. I can hear the sail boat and larger yacht motors used for maneuvering the crafts through the marina waters. Large trucks, the cabs for semi trucks, shifting gears. Some birds squawking to be heard above the other non-natural sounds. Our ship has started to move now … the vibration of our engine rising above some others. Not too far away the back up warning, beep beep beep, of a large vehicle announcing its intentions to be driving with limited visibility.
I can now feel the rumble – my stateroom located at the aft of the ship, on the port side today – I look out and see the sun sparkling off vehicle glass and mirrors giving a glow of sunset approaching in a very few hours.
** try writing as if witnessed by any object, other than me. I scribe.
“BEAUTIFUL! Wish you were here” … write as if sharing what I experience with someone not present with me.
How about a drawing? illustration? rubbing of an object? quick map? coin or shell ….
“What do these people talk about? What do they think about? Where are they going? What’s their average day? What do they pray for? What do they dream about? What are they afraid of? What’s important to them? Are they happy? What do they know that I don’t?” Excerpt from book, Writing Away, by Lavinia Spaulding
Train self to notice details. One way is to select one subject that arises from the travel experience and then make a list, or delve into a story including the concept. For example, Palma de Majorca, PEARLS!
-my curiosity about ‘person made’ science that creates art

-large Majorca pearls more affordable than same size natural pearls

-I love the shapes of pearls and subtle colour shades

-Pearls are classy accessories, glamorous, uncomplicated

-pearls are warm to the skin when worn around the neck or wrist

-Majorca is famous for creating this magic process for creating pearls

-I search for objects specific to a sense of place, pearls from Majorca

Toulon France and more

1. Toulon, in comparison is like everyday France in the big city. Of course there are cathedrals and old cobblestone streets, like most places I have enjoyed over the past 4 plus weeks in south of France.
Huge industrial port city, with very high end yachts – huge and lazing about in the marina, next to hundreds, maybe more – privately owned sail boats and other water craft belonging to ?? Hundreds of masts are seen to be moving ever so slightly with the gentle breeze here today. Mostly white hulls can be seen, with splashes of dark and bright blue and red contrast colours. Also in view must be twenty or more large military vehicles sharing the port space.
As we sailed in this morning we noticed an NCL ship coming too. On the hull painted a mermaid …. so I can check to see which ship that was. I can’t see it now so perhaps it will come in to view again as we set sail within the next half hour for Spain.  
After a wonderful room service breakfast, Jane and I sauntered toward town. We were on search for internet wifi to start. In the info booth and cruise terminal building we found right away the free Weefee we were seeking and were able to catch up and delete some emails from the last few days. We posted on Facebook knowing our family and friends can catch up that way and know we are OK. I post 7 blog posts that I had been writing … this one will be posted tomorrow from Spain.
And then we followed the cobblestone pathways through the huge outdoor market selling variety of clothing for men, women and children … as well as fresh produce, knock off bags and purses, shoes, boots, cheeses and meats, and of course beautiful bouquets of bright flowers. Jewelry, hats and scarves also are seen to be hanging about the booths. No vehicles in this roadway at market time.
We found window shopping delightful and a full on market, up and down the streets. It was well after lunch time, maybe 1 pm when the market started to fold up. Tables put away, items stored in bins and carried away to the vehicle loading areas.  
They flushed out the streets after the market closed. Several large trucks and hoses being operated by working men. We had to get out of the way as we were trying to return to the ship for a late lunch snack. We missed the buffet however there was food at the Waves Cafe grill area around the pool.  
Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo seem to be more “up market” if you get my drift. More top end shops and certainly stores selling higher priced items, and or charging more for the same items we found today in Toulon. Note to self, if shopping in France is the desire, it is worthwhile checking towns such as Toulon (likely less touristy than the others, certainly less known) would offer better value for the tourist dollar. The locals looked more ordinarily dressed.  
In Paris, Nice, Cannes etc as mentioned above, the locals walked about in high heeled designer shoes and boots, donning colourful silk scarves about their necks, and dressed like Canadians would for a wedding and or special night about town, or alternatively a very important job interview at a high end designer store 🙂 Not so in Toulon, that we saw.  
I realize we did not go far into town at Toulon and we did not do the mall shopping experience at Galleries Lafayette …. we wandered market streets and small locally owned boutique shops along the same streets. This town may not be memorable in the long term, however it is the last wander through the alleys of France for this year for me. 
I have been in France since 5 October 2015 and today is 4 November. I have been in France every day in that time, and most if not all days at least was at the grocery store, or many other walks through towns in Sud de France.
Palm trees still line the streets in this large city of Toulon and there are major touristy vendors offering their services to passersby. Is it always like this? or just when cruise ships are in town? Do cruise ships visit this port year round?  
Relaxing for a few hours now before we set sail and enjoy another fun evening on the ship with our friends. I think I will do some reading.
Au revoir France! See you again another time …. I would love to do this villa and cruise combination in years to come. Maybe Jane and Michael, could join Steve and I and perhaps mom and Jim …maybe John and Cindy? and or my lovely daughters might enjoy spending time with their significant others 🙂 Maybe …….
ciao for now, on to Spain!
Pamela, formerly of France