Anniversary!

We are in our “wedding shirts”! and seated at the counter all but in the kitchen at Sorghum & Salt ready for the Chef’s tasting menu to celebrate our 4th (and 28th year).

Don’t know what we are having but sure it will be tasty! Here is our view:

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St. Louis

We had an uneventful trip to St. Louis and arrived about 3 pm CST and checked into the Hampton Inn about three blocks from the Gateway Arch, the reason we wanted to come to St. Louis.

The arch is built between the river and downtown. This part of town was the original settlement but during a fire that started on a river boat and spread to the riverside buildings, the area was destroyed-some of it as a fire block to the rest of town.

The arch was designed by Eero Saarinen as a monument to the western expansion of the United States and was completed in 1968. It is the world’s tallest arch. At 630 feet high (and wide) and made of shiny stainless steel it is visible from far away-we first saw it when we were 10 or 12 miles away.

The National Park around the arch is beautiful and appears to be well used by St. Louisians(?) even on a cold day like today. We enjoyed our walk through the new plaza that crosses over the now buried interstate to reach the below grade entrance to the arch. After checking out the sample cart that one rides to the top, we decided that they weren’t built for big boys. The idea of the two of us sharing it with three others did make us laugh though!

Mike who doesn’t like heights was happy with this decision and after being cooped up in the car the last two days, we enjoyed our walk around the beautiful park and along the mighty Mississippi. Of course the arch remained the focus.

The shapes of the arch make for some interesting abstract photos.

We left the park at the north and walked through the older part of St. Louis which was brick warehouses now lofts and an entertainment district. I had originally identified a Trip Advisor recommended BBQ restaurant but after our big lunch we decided we wouldn’t enjoy it. So instead we stopped in a brewery and had a beer apiece and split two appetizers-pretzels with incredible beer cheese and a delicious crab cake. We didn’t have high hopes for it but was really tasty. Best of all everything was half price for happy hour!

Tomorrow we are headed to Eureka Springs but as it’s only 5 hours away and we don’t have any plans there until Thursday morning we are looking forward to having s lazy day and being able to stop along the way as we want.

Our afternoonā€™s work.

Making Christmas cookies is much more fun than shoveling snow. šŸ˜‚ Especially with a glass of wine!

Mike made these cookies several years ago after finding a handwritten card in our recipe folder.

It was titled “Grandma J’s” so he tried to surprise me by making my grandmother’s cookies. But it was him who was surprised when I reminded him that both my Grandmothers were named Margaret!

So while we don’t know who she is/was or how her recipe got in our stuff, we do know she makes/made a really good cookie. The cookie is basically a shortbread dough rolled in cinnamon sugar and baked in a slow oven. They only spread a little and are crumbly and delicious. They have become tradition for us and for several friends who also bake.

Next up some new cookies George introduced us to….Forgotten Cookies. You mix them, put in the oven and cut it off. The next morning they are done!

Anyone want to bet that they are so forgotten that we preheat the oven tomorrow morning and burn them?šŸ˜‚

CuraƧao.

We had a great day in CuraƧao on Saturday. We had never visited this island before and joined Peggy & Lowell (who had been there before) on a day tour aboard a school bus that took us to the western part of the island.

This is the more rural part of the island and is rocky and still mostly natural and undeveloped. It is quite a contrast to the area near the pier and especially to Aruba.

Our first stop was at a volcanic formation of caves. The surf was rough and while I would have loved to go in, we were warned it wasn’t safe.

We also tasted iguana soup at the snack shack here. It tasted like really good chicken stock. Eddie our guide promised it would make us look 20 years younger. He said it would take a day or two to do so…it’s now day three and no difference. Think I can get my $2 back?

CuraƧao is relatively arid so the island is covered with cactus which is strange to see on a tropical island.

Our next stop was a beach beside a fisherman’s pier. The fish remnants draw sea turtles and the turtles draw tourists. It was great swimming with them. The ones we saw were all pre-adult-under 25 years or so. Apparently they become vegetarian as adults and go elsewhere to find sea grasses. They ranged in size from 18″ Long to over three feet. Sorry I don’t have an underwater camera but the picture below is of the pier taken from our next stop. You’ll have to trust me that the turtles were incredible. Mike hadn’t been excited about this mostly beach trip (he burns so easily and hated sunscreen) but after our 30 minutes with the turtles he said any sunburn (there wasn’t any thankgoodness) would be worth it.

The next stop was for folks to jump from a 40′ high cliff into the beautiful water below. Given my unfortunate cliff diving incident in Cozumel several years ago, I declined the offer! LOL. The two (out of 23 on our bus) who did it said it was great.

Our next stop was at the #8 beach in the world as ranked by someone. It was beautiful. The title picture was from there as are these:

We stopped for a late lunch at another beach. The seven of us who were on the ship really only had time for a quick dip and lunch while the other guests from hotels got an extra hour of beach time. We loaded up and headed back towards town.

On the way we made a picture stop at the salt ponds to see the flamingos. These birds fly over everyday from their nests in Venezuela (42 miles) to eat the more tasty shrimp in CuraƧao. Talk about foodies!

We arrived back to town with plenty of time to spare so Mike and I walked the 5 minute into the old part of town. To get there, you go through the old fort which had now become the home of restaurants and shops. Our goal was to see the floating Queen Emma bridge. This pedestrian only bridge crosses the bay and joins the two parts of the original town. Because all the industry is upriver, it has to move. We luckily got there just as a barge was coming in so it opened up (it becomes shorter by moving the floats closer together and swings parallel to the water flow) to let it go by. It is apparently the oldest and longest floating bridge in the world. It was originally built in 1888.

We then headed back to the ship. Viking was docked in front of us today (she had been behind us yesterday). It’s always fun to see ships we’ve sailed before. This morning (after a sea day on Sunday) we awoke to have Celebrity Summit sharing our pier in St Maarten. We sailed her in 2003 for Mike’s 40th Birthday cruise to Alaska. That was the trip that made us realize how much we enjoy cruising.

We are staying aboard the ship today enjoying having it almost all go ourselves. Tonight we celebrate Peggy’s birthday in LeBistro. Tomorrow we are in St. Thomas and are likely to stay aboard there too. Then two sea days before we disembark in Miami on Friday morning and fly to Raleigh that evening. Hard to believe this first adventure of our retired life is coming to an end…really doesn’t seem like it was 10 months ago that we were packing up that U-box in Houston starting out on it!

Sagrada Familia.

Mike and I visited Barcelona in the 1990s as part of a whirlwind 10 day trip that included Madrid. At that time, Sagrada Familia only had Nativity and Passion entrances, and the towers associated with them. There was no roof over and hardly any columns in the nave. We had intended to visit the interior when we were in Barcelona last May with Mike’s brother and his family. However, I apparently failed to hit the purchase button to buy the tickets so we wandered the outside while they toured inside.

Thankfully we had a second chance and we really enjoyed our morning inside the basilica. I rarely get emotional over architecture but that wasn’t the case here. It is an incredible building. On a macro scale it is powerful but the details are really striking. No matter where you look, you see something new, innovative and inspiring. Unfortunately the pictures can’t give you the full impression. If you have the opportunity, please go. I know we hope to be around to make it back after they complete it (only 10 more towers to go!) in 2026…of course I think when we visited 25-30 years ago they hoped to have it done by 2010 or something…so we will see how it goes.

Below are pictures of the altar, the nave including the incredible effect of the stained glass windows.

We also visited the sacristy, the space used to store the priests supplies and vestments and where they prepare for mass. As a former altar boy, where we used a closet for a similar purpose, I hope you will trust me when I say Gaudi created the most beautiful space I’ve ever seen-he also designed the storage units.

As some readers may recall, when we were in Barcelona previously we had a wonder tapas experience at a little restaurant near our hotel and the Triumphal Arc, Elsa y Fred. Six other couples from the larger Cruise Critic that rode the metro together from the port to the church joined us to walk to the restaurant for lunch. While delicious, Mike and I agreed we wished we had of just ordered tapas rather than the meal of the day. Each of the three courses had two offerings so we had all six dishes and just halfed and halfed then between us. Of course we had to have their delicious octopus..and it was just as good as we remembered!

Appetizers were a delicious pea soup and a salad.

The main dishes were risotto with seafood and a really tasty sausage plate. Unfortunately no pictures of dessert.

After lunch we headed through the Gothic Quarter towards La Rambla, the pedestrian street that runs for many blocks. Along the way we happened upon a beautiful performance palace. I would like to go back and tour it’s interior. We also happened upon an ancient church which was the polar opposite (by just as impressive in its simplicity) to Sagrada Familia.

After getting to La Rambla, we wandered it back towards the port. All in all a wonderful day and a good walk-5.9 miles!

While I used the port terminals WiFi to post some overdue blogs, Mike went aboard and learned we wouldn’t be leaving as scheduled due to the weather predictions at Funchal. I’m writing this a week later in the middle of the Atlantic and the ship is still full of rumors as to whether it was the weather or the repairs that delayed us. Who knows and frankly I don’t really care.

We discussed using the extra day in Barcelona to explore some more of the city but that long walk the day before took it out of us and after not waking until almost 10 am, we elected to treat it as a sea day and do what we now do best. Nada!

Tuscany.

I had always thought that those glorious views of Tuscany you see in travel magazines were all taken from only one or two spots. Well after our three days of driving to, through and from Tuscany, let me tell you the whole place looks likes those pictures (well except for a few industrial areas). It was just beautiful even though we were in and out of sprinkling rain for most of the time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We left Modena on Saturday morning (boy driving in a city in daylight and on a weekend is MUCH easier than at night at weekday rush hour!) headed for Lucca. The non toll routing provided by the car’s navigation system took us up and down and up and around some teeny tiny roads through the mountains. While beautiful, it was a hoot when we hit some tiny village and had to do a 12 point turn to make a right turn in the middle of the town. We stopped at one place along the way and bought some 40 month old Parmesan-omg, so good and only 7 bucks or so a pound. Wish we could fit a wheel in the suitcase!

At the top of the mountains we stopped at a ski resort for a break and a hot chocolate and saw snow!

In the drive down the other side we came across the medieval footbridge, Pont de Magdalena. I’m still trying to figure out what was being brought down the river from the mountains that needed such a high arch.

From there we arrived shortly in Lucca to find some sort of Comic-Con or Halloween festival going on. We drive around this walled city but the nearest parking was a mile away so we decided it wasn’t going to be possible to do a quick stop for lunch and elected to head on.

While being in Italy on a long holiday weekend had its advantages (chocolate festival!), it also impacted our trip. Places that typically wouldn’t have been crowded on a Thursday or Friday were (Sirmione) and I think the crowds were bigger at the villages in Tuscany over the weekend that they would have been otherwise.

We stopped for a quick sandwich in a suburb of Lucca and then continued to San Gimignano. This walled town is a wonderful memory from my time in graduate school in Genova. After spending a rushed two days in Florence trying to see everything an architectural student should see, our group of 9 spent a night in this village of towers in 1981. Rather than having to see things, we were able to just “be”. When we exited the only really nice Hotel we stayed in that semester on that Sunday morning, we walked onto the Piazza Cisterna (water well) to find a very blonde (Finnish?) brass quartet sitting around the well playing. Other than the four of them and the nine of us, it was like we had the whole town to ourselves. Over his objections, we all told our professor we weren’t leaving quite yet and pulled out our sketchbooks so he wouldn’t keep complaining and enjoyed an extra hour in what was then a magical place.

Unfortunately like all places, tourists are now all over town and we arrived to find a market taking place everywhere because of the holiday weekend. Needless to say it wasn’t peaceful but it was picturesque. We had a jarra (pitcher) of the local white wine and shared a cheese plate while people watching in the piazza before leaving for Staggia our home for the final two nights in Italy.

Our Airbnb in Staggia was in a renovated fortress and in addition to a wonderful loggia was at the ground floor so no toting of bags up stairs! Our only complaint was the bed was really really low-it was like they had taken the typical low IKEA bed we have had in a number of places and cut the legs off!

None of us were overly hungry so Mike and I ate the salad we had bought in Milan and been carrying around with us. After dinner Mike and I went exploring around our place and came across a bakery with the biggest croissants I’ve ever seen. We should have bought one to share for breakfast but didn’t so I can say whether it’s taste was as grand as it’s size.

On Saturday morning we headed to Sienna. It was a raining on and off so we elected to only do a quick walk through the Campo, Sienna’s major piazza and have a cup of coffee under an almost rainproof awning before heading back to the parking lot outside the walls (and down five escalators!).

This grand space is the location of the Palio horse race. While it would be incredible to see this 90 second race (3 times around) I don’t think I could deal with the claustrophobia of being one of the 50,000 spectators!

The square is dominated by the tower on the City Hall. Across from it, is the fountain where running water was first brought into the city. I was amazed that the drain at the bottom of the plaza wasn’t larger given how much water it must handle.

From Sienna we headed towards Montalcino, one of many wine villages. This walled town was the location today if some sort of scavenger hunt so there were lots and lots of runners climbing up and down the steps and hills getting their cards stamped. We enjoyed walking through the town and had a light lunch of a shared wine, meat and cheese tasting.

Afterwards we headed off to Montepulciano another wine town. It was the first town in days without a festival! Like the others the interior and exterior views were great. Mike and I agreed that next time we are in Tuscany, we want to spend two or three weeks in one of these small towns and really get to know them.

We returned to the apartment and finished up the two bottles of wine we had purchased in San Gimignano before heading half a block down the street for our final Italian dinner.

We had a great time with Roberto our host, waiter and son of the chef and chefess. We were the only non Italians in the 24 seat restaurant and were made to feel right at home. Before long the place was full and it was obvious that both the staff and the guests believed in having s good time.

Peggy had chicken liver pate with onions and anchovies as her starter along with her bottle of white wine. The pate was good even for this non liver lover.

Lowell had pici (a local pasta that is like a twisted spaghetti-each piece is made by hand – with tomato and LOTS of garlic. Very tasty!

Mike and I split a bowl of pappardelle in Mom’s meat sauce. Delicious!

For her dinner, Peggy had pici with anchovies and breadcrumbs. She loves her anchovies. It was great though we don’t have a picture.

Lowell, Mike and I split a Steak Florentine-1.3 kilos (46 ounces) of deliciousness.

Along with the steak we had a salad and a platter of the best potatoes ever. The were thinly (but obviously hand done) sliced and fried with garlic, sage and lots of salt. The picture below is after we had all eaten a handful. So so good!

Peggy is celebrating her 39th birthday (we don’t ask what anniversary of her 39th!) later in the cruise and after much wine (we were intrigued with how Roberto left the cork attached to the bottle) Lowell told Roberto about it and he brought out a birthday dessert and the whole restaurant sang Happy Birthday in Italian to Peggy.

As you can see in the picture above, guests sign the restaurant’s wall which we did and Lowell gave Roberto a $2 bill to paste on the wall with his.

Roberto brought us all grappa to end our dinner. None of us needed it and given we had to wake P&L up the next morning (they typically are very early risers) methinks they may have been overserved!

Our trip to Cittivechia the next day was uneventful and we boarded the ship by 1 pm.