Curaçao.

We had a great day in Curaçao 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?

Curaçao 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 Curaçao. 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!

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Miami.

After a lovely 14 days (including yesterday morning when we passed by the ship and boat above) we docked this morning around 4am in Miami.

We have to get off the ship and go through immigration at 10:30 (but the luggage doesn’t) and then will be able to reboard after the coast guard finishes some sort of Welcome to the USA ship inspection.

Hopefully it will go smoothly but the ship is setting our expectations very low. They say it will be 1 pm at the earliest.

There’s a hole in our ship!

Two weeks or so ago we relieved an email from Norwegian Cruise Lines informing us of an itenerary change. Rather than arriving in Barcelona at 5 am on Wednesday and departing at 5 pm, we would arrive at 6 pm Tuesday night (today) and not leave until 8 pm. This change was required “in order to complete some technical repairs not impacting the safety of the ship”. No skin off our backs, extra time in Barcelona sounded fine by us. But wondered what was going to be repaired.

After we docked, Clay was sitting in the room at the desk with the balcony door open and was startled by the window washing apparatus going by with its driver who laughed and waved when Clay screamed like a girl. Turns out the apparatus was being moved to help out with this repair but we didn’t realize it until after dinner when we returned to the room to find the side of the ship bathed in work lights, two cranes and a hoard of hard hats lifting a crankshalf into a newly cut hole in the ship (above the waterline thank goodness) and two other hardhats grinding away on the removed hull portion presumably preparing it for reinstallation.

You can’t tell from the pictures but there a section of deck inside the hole has been removed so that the new crankshaft can be delicately maneuvered to the lower deck. Clay took the pictures below, some from our balcony but most from the pier. While ashore he got to talking to a retired nuclear plant engineer who had pictures of the old crankshaft sitting (in five pieces) on the pier in Civittivechia before he boarded. Apparently it had been cut into chunks aboard and then removed through already existing openings. According to this guy, the ship has five generators, three for the engine (need two for full speed), one to run the ship, and one spare. So I guess they were right when it said it wouldn’t affect safety.

Fingers crossed that they don’t drop the crankshalf before they get it fully aboard…or drop the hull portion overboard before they get it rewelded onto the ship!

But at the rate they are going-the crankshaft is now inside the ship (it is 11:10 pm) it looks like Norwegian had done great planning and logistics.Though I’m sure some folks will be complaining about that noise and lights. I hope the grinding is about done so I won’t be one of the complainers.

Views from the pier:

The view from our balcony:

Helsinki

Our stay in Helsinki was relatively short-8 am arrival and all aboard at 3:30 pm. We elected to do the HoHo bus for ease of seeing as much of the city as possible in the time available.

We rode to the center of the city to the esplanade and the daily market where we had a hot chocolate as it was windy and chilly. Even though we thought it was cold, there were a number of people swimming in the floating pools-even the unheated one!

We then climbed up the hill to the Russian church because why not!

We then reboarded the HoHo and rode back around (past the ship) to the Rock Church. This relatively new space was drilled and blasted into solid rock. Its roof is a combination of metal and glass.

The time to get back to the ship was getting close so all the HoHo buses were quite full. I ended up riding back sitting on the stairs!

Helsinki was a beautiful city and I was most impressed by the variety of architecture-historic and contemporary. I hope we can get back sometime to really explore it.

St. Petersburg

We had a great two days here in the royal capital of Russia. It is a huge city and has much to see, too much for just two days.

We had joined one of the two private tours arranged by one of the folks on our Cruise Critic roll call. Ours was with “Hey Russia” and I was very pleased with value received.

Our guide Daria and driver Guinea (not right but that is how it was pronounced) were both friendly, very helpful and accommodating. The van was new and more than large enough for our group of 15.

The only problem with the tour is that everything is rushed in order to get even a glimpse. Imagine going to Paris and trying to see the Louvre, Notre Dame, another Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, a boat ride down the Seine, riding the metro and going to Versailles and another Versailles all in two days. Oh and at the sane time as a zillion other folks are all trying to do the same. Anyway, glad we did what we did but hope I get back someday in Winter when all the sights are free and supposedly empty!

Below are some of the many many pictures we took. It is a beautiful city and has beautiful structures most of which have been restored after destruction during wars and revolutions. Peter and Paul Church at their fortress.

The Hermatage, formerly a palace, now a huge museum. I did like that each room was decorated to reflect the art within it.

Church of the Spilt Blood

Boat ride on the Neva River

Metro

Peterhof Summer Palace

Catherine’s Palace including a very quick walk through the Amber Room. The palace interiors are a replica as in addition to war and revolutions, a fire destroyed much of the building. It is still impressive!

Tomorrow Helsinki….I need a sea day!

Headed Back

So after a month in the USA it’s time to head back to Europe. Posting this from The Raleigh airport waiting for our flight to Miami where we will overnight tonight before flying to Lisbon and on to Copenhagen tomorrow where we will board Norwegian Breakaway next Friday. That’s Mike’s Mom on the phone beside Mike in the picture above and below.

After much effort, she got everything she “needed” into a rollaboard and a backpack. While it took awhile, she was determined not to pack in the medium sized suitcase that we kept suggesting. She said she wanted to travel the way we were. The sad thing is she has no room for any souvenirs. Not sure how that is going to go for a shopoholic!

We had great visits with friends and family (and the doctor and dentist) over the month at home.

It started with Claudigras, our friend’s Claudia birthday celebration at Seabrook Island,SC. We had a great long weekend with too much food and drink. Claudia even got a tiara to wear though it got cattywhompus after a few of the drinks!

During Claudigras we got to see my brother and his family who live in Charleston. Hard to believe the kids are so old…..especially since I’m not!

We had a short visit with Sam and Yost in Williamsburg mostly to discuss plans for their visit to Porto to see us in October.

We visited with our cruise buddies, Peggy & Lowell in Lynchburg overnight to finalize our plans for our week in Italy before we all board Norwegian Star in Rome in November for the transatlantic trip home.

The next weekend our friends from Durham, Scott and Robert came up to Mike’s mom’s lake house at Smith Mountain Lake. It was very relaxing to sit and have coffee in the morning and cocktails in the evening with the mountain as our view….or floating in the lake.

Labor Day weekend, our friends from Raleigh, George & Doug joined us at the lake for another nice weekend.

We drove to Salisbury to visit Cousin Martha for lunch earlier this week. Had some good western NC BBQ. Yum!

While we have had a wonderful time at home, I think we are both excited about our first visit to the Baltic region (well except that overnight in the airport for Mike’s birthday 😂) and showing Lois around Lisbon after our cruise.

Happy New Year!

LJS

 

Hope everyone had a great Christmas, Kwanza, Chanukah, Festivus or whatever winter solstice celebration you celebrate!  We had a great time with Mike’s family here in Houston including their traditional Christmas Eve dinner (we actually did it on Christmas Eve’s Eve) at Long John Silver’s…long story but suffice it to say its what we do every year!

Once Mike’s Mom left on the day after Christmas, we felt like our countdown to retir…ahem…ceasing work clock really started ticking louder!  We spent most of the week between Christmas and New Years taking pictures of furniture and getting it listed on local sales apps (NextDoor and LetGo).  So far we have gotten rid of the huge armoire, the recumbent bike/clothes hanger, the big orange chair, the coffee table and have folks interested in a number of other pieces.  We believe we have decided we will be able to use a UHaul container to have the few things we want to keep moved without us having to drive a truck and are hopeful we will be able to sell or give way the rest. So the whole “what do we do with our crap” conundrum seems to be moving towards resolution – it better, less than a month to make it happen!.

The healthcare question is still very much up in the air.  The company I work for was purchased in late October and therefore at this juncture I can’t get a good answer on how much COBRA is going to cost…hopefully that will be known in the next week or two.  Once we know that, we can determine whether we will go with it or if we will purchase a private plan.  More to come on that.

Now for the big news!

Mike’s Mom Lois is going to fly back with us to Copenhagen in September and after a few days in Copenhagen, we are all are going to set sail on Norwegian Breakaway for a nine night Baltic Cruise including Talin, Estonia, St. Petersburg, Russia, Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden.  (No Jane, I too was upset that Riga isn’t on the itinerary – I had so wanted to see the places you and Visi talked about so lovingly).  After we return to Copenhagen, we will fly immediately to Lisbon and spend four days there before Lois flys home and we head to wherever we have decided deserves more research as our potential new home.

So another chuck of our travel year is planned (and mostly booked!).  Now we just have to figure out when we are going to go to Ecuador and Mexico between June 28th and September 9th.

Oh yeah and healthcare too – ugh.