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:

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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.

 

 

Bargain Shoppers.

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For those who are keeping up, our original plan had been to be in Europe from March 2017 until Fall 2018 exploring potential locations for our next place to live, come back to the US late in the fall and spend the holiday with family, visit Cuenca Ecuador and San Miquel de Allende Mexico and then figure out where we are going to plant ourselves for the next piece of our (non-working) life. However, the vagaries of the Schengen Zone meant we couldn’t stay as long as we hoped in the EU.  So, we figured we would go to the United Kingdom since Mike has never been and I have only visited London (and Leicester to meet my Dad’s WWII sweetheart and almost fiancée) but given the high summer season prices, we were worried about the impact to our budget.

As we were trying to figure out the UK possibilities, I happened to see a great business class fare sale from TAP, the Portuguese airline from Europe to the US and after some consideration, we booked it. Some of you may recall that after enduring 14 hours in economy on an overnight flight from Valparaiso Chile to Toronto after our “round the horn” cruise, that I swore (in my best Scarlett, “as God as my witness” voice) I would never do long haul in economy again and I have said for a while that after we stop work I hope never to have to fly long haul again…why not cruise in comfort instead?  Well, there weren’t any affordable summertime transatlantics (trust me, even looked at going to South America) so when we saw we could fly roundtrip on lie flat seats for $1,300 roundtrip (and it is refundable) why not???

TAP

The downside is that to get this great deal we have to fly from Portugal to Copenhagen to catch a flight back to Portugal to change to a plane winging its way to Miami. So, we are planning a cheap Ryan Air flight from Porto to Copenhagen late in the day on June 27, 2018, hanging out in the airport before boarding our flight back to Lisbon early on the morning of June 28th arriving in Miami later that day.  We are booked to return to Copenhagen on September 9th (maybe a Baltic cruise in our future???) so we have two full months to satisfy all our family members who keep saying, “we will never see you again”  and  work in the trips to Ecuador and Mexico so that by the time we finally come back in November we will have visited all the places we think we might want to retir…ahem, live after we cease work!

Speaking of returning in November, we are booked on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Star departing Rome on November 5th.  This was one of the cruises I had been watching as our potential ride home but as Star is one of Norwegian’s few ships that doesn’t have a good outdoor non-pool area (where Mike and I tend to hang out when we don’t have our own balcony) it wasn’t my first choice BUT I was lurking on the rollcalls on Cruise Critic (the internet forum where I am very active) and discovered that two couples we met on our Panama Canal cruise were already booked on this cruise so decided to push the button on that too! So we booked an inside cabin, used points from our Norwegian credit card and upgraded ourselves to a balcony!

Norwegian Star

With most of the major travel planning done, we now can’t postpone figuring out any longer the two big issues of retir…ahem, ceasing work – what to do with all our crap and how we gonna get healthcare insurance.  Please try to maintain your composure while waiting for that exciting upcoming blog post!

Transatlantic.

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When we decided that we were going to spend a year or so figuring out where we to live after we retir…ahem, stop working ….and since healthcare costs here in the good old USA are such a drain on our budget, we knew that Europe was one of the places we wanted to consider- at least until we are old enough for Medicare. Ecuador and Mexico are also on the list and will be visited in 2018 but since we had to be in Santorini in May for my big birthday, it makes sense to head to Europe first.

I have wanted to take a transatlantic voyage on a ship for as long as I can remember…even before we started cruising. I remember Elise (my Dad’s cousin but she lived with his family after her father died when she was 14 or 15 so she was more like Dad’s older sister) and her husband Jim talking about sailing the Queen Elizabeth to and from New York and when QE was going to be retired and replaced they took one last trip on her and then on the “new” QE2 also I think. The idea of endless (almost) days at sea with time to read and chat with new friends is very appealing to me. And of course the generally cheap price compared to flying from the US to Europe is very appealing also as is the significantly increased comfort.

I have watched prices on inside cabins over the years go as low as $399 per person for a 12 or 13 day crossing….which when compared to even Norwegian or WOW airlines is a good price and you get three meals a day…not the ability to buy a cold sandwich in a box for eight or ten dollars. Plus, ever since our return flight from Chile after the ‘round the horn cruise in Air Canada Economy (when I wasn’t able to find award seats in biz) I swore if I had to ride long haul n the back of the bus, then I just wouldn’t be going. At my height and overall size, it is just too miserable for more than an hour or two.

So we initially budgeted $500 a piece for the cruise to Europe and I started looking. Well, it turns out you can’t get prices that cheap until after final payment when the cruise lines start lowering prices to fill up the ship. Since we didn’t think we wanted to wait until January 2018 to know how and when we were going to be getting to Europe I had to revise our budget and set aside $1000 per person instead. I started researching possible ships and looking at the cabin options.

At about this time our good friends, Robert and Scott from Durham, NC surprised everyone and got married (after being together for 25 or more years) and headed to the Baltics for a honeymoon cruise. We got a text from the Air France lounge and presumed they were flying business class…..but no, they had splurged on La Premiere, Air France’s really fabulous first class. Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 6.01.24 PM

We were very envious…I mean look at how much room they each had! Mike started doing some research and discovered that the price difference on a few flights between business and La Premiere was only an additional $500…on others it can be many, many thousands more. This got us talking about the difference in our attitude about plane and cruise costs. I don’t even pay attention to economy fares on most mainstream airlines (Jetblue and Southwest are the exceptions since they still have reasonable legroom). For United, Delta, AA, etc, I compare prices using their comfort+, or whatever they call their rows of seats that offer additional legroom and that is what we end up buying…. and eight times out of ten, the cost to go from that to First is only $50 or so and therefore we end up in first. Using the same logic, we both agreed that if we were already paying $2,000 or $2,500 for biz class, we would certainly pay another $500 to be in La Premiere for 8-10 hours….so we wondered, why were we so opposed to paying similar prices on a ship for 12-14 days? We realized that it was all about the misery index and we weren’t miserable in an inside cabin….but boy were we in an economy seat!

Anyway, that conversation made me look at suites on the Norwegian Cruise Line ships we were considering. Generally speaking it was going to cost at least $3900 per person. We were hemming and hawing about going over budget that much, when Mike said, wonder how much Viking Ocean’s transatlantics are?

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 6.05.16 PM Viking Sky

Viking Oceans is a relatively new venture by the Viking River Cruises of Downton Abbey advertising fame. We sailed on their line for our river cruise on the Danube and were impressed with many things about them. Viking Oceans ships are small, very cleanly designed and all about luxurious service….and no kids! Turns out their least expensive cabin was bigger than the “suite” we were considering on Norwegian and while way more than our initial budget, it cost much less than what we were considering paying for the suite.

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After much conversation, we booked Viking Sky sailing from San Juan on March 4th arriving in Barcelona on March 17th. (Yes I know, between Maria and a declaration of independence are the gods trying to tell us something??) We ended up with a guarantee fare which means we don’t yet know what cabin we have but given all of them are pretty great it shouldn’t make any difference (the picture above is of the smallest and what we are “guaranteed” to have at a minimum…and who knows, maybe whoever has the Owner’s Suite booked will cancel and we will just HAVE to make do with it! Our cost ended up being $4999 for both of us. The only real difference there than the cost between our fare on Viking and on Norwegian was that we got a free drink package on Norwegian and on Viking we only got free sodas, beer and wine at meals…but we decided that we could swing whatever a pre dinner cocktail cost and get to try seeing how the other half lives.

But wait, there’s more! Shortly after we booked, a fellow poster on CruiseCritic mentioned that her travel agent offered great on board credits when booking on Viking. After a couple of emails, we moved our booking to Pavlus Travel and we got a $600 on-board credit. This is enough money to buy tViking’s drink package! (since then it looks like we might end up with even more money to spend through their referral program. For details, drop me an email or leave a comment and I will fill you in.)

Viking Sky Wintergarden where they serve tea every afternoonScreen Shot 2017-10-22 at 5.46.07 PM

The spa which is included in our fare…unlike on Norwegian where it is extra

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We are both excited and looking forward to trying out a new cruiseline as well as a small ship (900 passengers) and a more upscale one than we have sailed previously. Here’s to hoping we don’t like it so much we can’t go back since at this point the budget for our return trip is set up for one of those inside cabins I mentioned at the beginning of this post!

ps.  ….and there is even an infinity pool!

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