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We left Los Angeles around 6 p.m. Saturday and arrived in London at Noon on Sunday. The flight was uneventful (the best kind) and all our luggage arrived with us. Spent the night at the Sheraton Heathrow (Internet Special of 48.5 pounds) and it is a perfectly decent place to spend a night. The next day we took the Hotel Hoppa back to Heathrow and picked up the NCL coach to Dover. Check-in had an issue in that there were so many Latitude Members that check-in in that line was actually longer (we went over to the regular check-in; however, we boarded early with the Latitude group). They should have redirected some personnel to address the issue or directed the Latitude members to use the regular check-in lines. Once aboard ship we were able to store our carry-on luggage in our room and began to explore the ship, it's big and beautiful in a rather gaudy way (lots of bright colors and some funky furnishings such as bright yellow velvet lounges for two in the Spinnaker Lounge). The tennis/basketball court is full size with bleachers! The bowling alley is four lanes in the midst of the Bliss Lounge (a nightclub atmosphere) We had lunch at the Garden Cafe. DH had fruit and I had a taste of their Indian Vegetarian offerings (Dal, Baigan Bharta, Rice, Papadum and some Cilantro Yogurt), which were quite good. The Garden Cafe is set up for many things to be prepared to order and there are a couple of coffee stations with machines to make regular and decaf Lattes, Espressos and cappuccinos (there is also one of these machines in the Outdoor Grill). Another nice touch is the Soft-Serve machine in the Garden Cafe and Outdoor Grill; however, they either broke down or they ran out of ingredients as they were both "out of order" about halfway through the 11 day cruise. Our inside cabin is small, but adequate for two. I don't think I'd want to have someone using that third bed. The bathroom has a real shower with a sliding door and the closet had enough hangers for all our stuff (perhaps we have finally learned to pack light). We ate dinner at the smaller Main Dining room called Magenta (rather bright in daylight hours; however, quite attractive in the softer evening lighting). The two main dining rooms share a menu and the other included restaurants are the Garden Cafe, the Italian restaurant (La Cucina), the Tex- Mex Restaurant (Tequilas), the 24-7 restaurant (Blue Lagoon), the Tapas Bar and all the outdoor facilities (open as weather permits). For extra you can eat French (Le Bistro), Steakhouse (Cagney's), and Asian, which includes Fusion, Teppanyaki & Sushi facilities. Anyway, we split a bottle of Spanish Cava (the Spanish answer to Champagne) and I had a Mushroom Caramelized Onion Crostada (outstanding), a Mixed Green Salad, Skirt Steak, Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bavarian Cream cake and a cappuccino. DH had a Smoked Salmon appetizer, Caesar Salad, Grilled Mahi Mahi with polenta and 3 scoops of ice cream. Parts of the meal were outstanding (the appetizers) and nothing was bad, however, the skirt steak was a trifle chewy. Of course, this is the very first "long" cruise of the Gem, so some kinks are expected. We had some free Champagne at the Art Auction (bought nothing) and went to the evening's entertainment (introduced one of the Lounge Acts, a guitar playing singer, and the magician who will have a longer show later in the cruise. Generally we had breakfast in the Grand Pacific. The menu is the same every day and while there are a variety of choices, we missed the Cooking Light breakfast selections that used to be available on NCL. We also had breakfast on a few occasions at the Garden Cafe and enjoyed their made to order omelets. On our first sea day I went to the Cruise Critic meeting where I had a long conversation with the Cruise Director and put faces to the names of several people from the message boards. I had another lunch of the Indian Vegetarian dishes (Garbanzo Stew and a Cauliflower dish) from the buffet and DH waited for the appetizers from the Latitudes party. This one had more than the usual free champagne and rum punch as they added wine and beer to the offerings. However, it was still too early to drink for us (we are officially middle-aged!). We are having the good fortune of calm seas in the Bay of Biscayne (rather unusual, even the Captain commented on our luck). We had a lovely dinner at La Cucina (one of the included specialty restaurants). It started with selections from the antipasto trolley and was followed by sharing a California pizza (goat cheese, artichokes, peppers, sausage, pinenuts and other yummies) and pasta pesto. DH had salmon and I had manicotti. We could not eat everything and had to skip dessert! Shocking, shocking, shocking. In Vigo we took the excursion to Pazo de Oca and Santiago de Compostela: Up early for a quick breakfast and then it was hurry up and wait as we had to dock very slowly due to low water. This caused a 40 minute delay in setting out for Pazo de Oca and Santiago de Compostela. The Pazo comes from the same root word as "palace". However, it is a Country Manor house of the Galician nobility. This one has a lovely Garden that the "oversell" by calling it the Galician Versailles. We drove from Vigo (Europe's largest fishing port, but not a lot of sights) through some lovely green countryside (Galicia is the part of the country known as "Green Spain") to get to the Pazo and take our garden stroll. From there we went to Santiago de Compostela. This is the third holiest pilgrimage in Christendom after Jerusalem and Rome as tradition states this is where St. James is buried. In any case, it has a beautiful cathedral and many pilgrims still walk, bike or ride a horse a sufficient distance to become official pilgrims. We saw lots of pilgrims at the cathedral as we arrived during noon Mass and the place was packed even if this is a Wednesday. This was followed by a traditional Galician lunch. Tapas of grilled peppers, fried cheese with ham, the Galician sandwich (onions & chicken), followed by salad with tuna and eggs, roasted beef, potatoes and veggies all served with both red & white wine and ending with coffee and their traditional almond cake plus the traditional spirit (similar to Italian Grappa; however, steeped with coffee beans and fruit) It is known for the "burning" and it is said to drive away the bad spirits and witches. In any case, it is strong stuff. We actually would have preferred to have them take a few dollars off the price of the excursion and to make it on "on your own" lunch or roam around the city period. Oh well. We were not that hungry for dinner after that big lunch so we decided to go to the Blue Lagoon for a "light snack". Of course, that snack turned into a dinner of some very yummy Chili and a plate of fish & chips (tasty; however, the fish had clearly sat on a steam table as it had lost its crispness. To be fair they offered to make up some new fish fillets for us). In Lisbon, we took the excursion to Evora as we have toured Lisbon before. Evora is a UNESCO world heritage site as most of the Medieval City has been preserved. This is the place where the St. Francis Church has one chapel completely decorated with Human Bones. It is supposed to be a place of meditation and states at the front "Our bones lie here in wait for yours". There is also a Roman Temple, a Cathedral that goes from Gothic to Romanesque, lots of other churches, palaces and forts and remains of the city walls. Plus the maze of streets (thank goodness, we had a guide to orient us). After we saw the main sites, we were on our own and we tried the local specialty for lunch. It is a Fish Soup that is also full of garlic, coriander and olive oil. Back on the ship we had dinner in Tequilas. We both had Tortilla Soup (absolutely delicious) and Vegetarian Enchiladas (made with flour tortillas, so really more of a Burrito or a Flauta). DH also had a Caesar Salad (extra anchovies, of course). We had some Dos Equis with this meal. I had the yummy Berry Tostada for dessert (almond wafer cookie filled with mixed fresh berries that at our waiter's suggestion was topped with vanilla ice cream. FYI: Thomas our waiter was someone we first met on the Spirit and he is just terrific). DH just had some Coffee ice cream. Dinner was followed by the evening's entertainment, a juggler who is an 8th generation performer going back to the very early Circuses. He was very good and very funny (a bit politically incorrect in his banter). DH thought he was not as good as the juggler who performed on our very first NCL cruise several years ago (this is our 5th NCL cruise). Gibraltar: This was a short port day (11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). Therefore, even though we have been here before, I signed us up for a Gibraltar in Depth Tour. We had a great guide, 10 years in the British Army and the mother of 5 boys, so she knows how to keep a group in line! She also really knows her history. We took the cable car up to the Top of the Rock and there were lots of monkeys hanging around including a family group with a 7-week old infant. One member of the group apparently did not hear the guide when she said to eat your food in the Cafeteria and not walk out to the deck with it. She came out eating a Mars Bar and it was a scene from "When Monkeys Attack". The Monkey won and just gobbled down that Mars Bar. DH referred to the event as "the Monkey Mugging." We also went into St. Michael's Cave and The Great Siege Tunnels with lots of walking between the Top of the Rock, the Caves and the Tunnels, so I got my exercise in. Anyway, either I forgot a lot from a trip in the early 90s or this Guide was just so good that much of what we saw seemed new. We went back to the Italian venue tonight as the Main Dining Room menu just didn't strike our fancy. Once again the meal was quite delicious and the soup (Pasta e Fagioli) was outstanding. The comedian who performed tonight was rather funny (at least to Americans, I understand that many of the Brits on board were not amused). At Sea: I had another nice light Indian vegetarian lunch at the Garden Cafe. Today there was a Dal (Lentil) and a vegetable dumpling in gravy along with Lemon Rice. Of course, one of the outdoor grills (the weather has been great, knock wood, so all the outdoor venues have been operating) has a German/Austrian buffet today with an Oompah Band playing. So if I wanted something really heavy, there is all this goulash, wursts and kuchen available. They also have a Soft Serve ice cream machine (one in the Buffet and one outside that run pretty much 24-7 and regular ice cream will be scooped for you from lunch through the evening). I found a book that I wanted to read in the Ship's Library. The day continued with relaxation and fun, Bingo, reading, playing games and eating. We had dinner at one of the main Dining Rooms. We both had French Onion Soup and Caesar Salad. Bob had the vegetarian main dish (an eggplant, lentil thing) and I had Corvina (a white fish) with roasted fennel and crushed potatoes. We both had Chocolate Cheesecake. I think DH is finally getting the hang of vacation as he also decided we need to head up to the buffet and taste a few more desserts (bread pudding, carrot cake and ice cream). Tonight was one of the production revue shows. This one had a 70s theme, which will be followed by a Disco party later tonight. However, we were sleeping by the time of the Disco party. Earlier in the day, I went to the comedian's "lecture" that was about the healing nature of laughter and the things that are funny in real life. Day 8 -At Sea: It was another day of reading, relaxation and eating. Tonight we went back to the Tex-Mex Restaurant where our waiter from the Spirit (last year's cruise ship) is now working. We shared an order of Mexican Spring Rolls and we both had the Tortilla Soup. We then had a dinner for two called El Popo. It's basically a fancy presentation of Fajitas. The norm is made with Chicken & Beef; however, for us, it was made with Chicken and Shrimp. We also had a bottle of Cava (Thomas remembered from last year that we liked Cava). I had another Berry Tostada with vanilla ice cream. DH held out for tonight's Chocoholic Buffet; however, he was disappointed in the offerings. We went to the show and ended up leaving early. We really enjoyed The Second City last year; however, the troupe on this ship is very lame. We had a lovely day in Naples. We took the Corsa Italia from Naples to Sorrento, past the beautiful views of the Bay of Naples and the picturesque villages hugging either the coast or the cliffs. Glad someone else was driving. Although that road was never really made for a tourist motorcoach. We spent some time walking in Sorrento, which is quaint and almost a movie version of an Italian village. We went to a farm in the cliff area to see the Lemon and Olive Trees and learn about the making of both olive oil and cheese. They fed us lunch at the farm (3 kinds of cheese representing different levels of aging, some cured meats, crostini, tomatoes and pasta with tomato/ricotta sauce, followed by Lemon cake). They also included their wine and tastes of the liquors made on the farm, which included Limoncello and Cream of Melon (you can really taste the cantaloupe flavor). From there we went to Pompeii. It is quite amazing and certainly was incredibly preserved by the volcanic eruption. We've now completed the "three great preserved Roman cities" as we've been to Ephesus in Turkey and Jerash in Jordan. Pompeii is definitely the most complete of these cities. I know we only touched on the edges of all there is to see in Pompeii. Then again the excavation began before the USA was even a country and it is still not finished. Because we had such a substantial farm lunch, we just had some beers and Tapas in the Ship's Tapa's Bar for our dinner before going to the show. We enjoyed tonight's entertainment, it was a salute/recreation of a Nat King Cole show. The singer was very talented. Civitavecchia (Port of Rome): We had a "do it yourself" day. We got off the boat around 8:30 a.m., walked to the train station and caught the 9:02 train from Civitavecchia to Rome. It took about an hour and ½ to reach Rome's main train station. The trains from Civitavecchia use the last few tracks that we could not figure out how they connect through the main station, so we ended up walking outside the station. In any case, we got to the front and began our walk around Rome. We found the Trevi Fountain (it was in scaffolding the last time we were here), the Spanish Steps (only had a "drive-by" sighting on our prior visit), the Pantheon, the Victor Emmanuel/Unknown Soldier Monument and other sites of interest. We also got a real feel for the city just walking around its very busy streets. I don't think I ever heard so many sirens (DH says there were more in NY). However, given the way people drive and walk (both ignore the traffic signals), I'm amazed there are not more accidents. I played "travel guide" in Spanish! I don't know why this woman thought I spoke Spanish; however, she came up to me and asked "El Pantheon, es cerca?" Anyway, I told her how to walk there. We had our favorite European ice cream bars (Magnum) for "lunch", a Double Chocolate and a Vanilla with very dark chocolate. We hopped the train back and were back on board around 5:30 (all aboard was 7:30; however, we were not going to "risk" a later train, so we had about 5 hours in Rome). We were supposed to leave port at 8:00 p.m.; however, 6 people were still missing (we saw 4 of them arrive in a speeding taxi when we went outside to walk on the deck, not sure if the other two ever made it, they might have needed to take an overnight train to Livorno to meet the ship the next day). We had a really delicious dinner in the Magenta Main Dining Room, we both had Spinach Salad with Candied Walnuts, grapes & pears, Bob had them make an appetizer serving of the goat cheese ravioli and I had a really wonderful Mushroom Bisque. I followed my soup with Chicken Stew and Bob had Braised Cod. We both had the Chocolate Lava Cake and vanilla ice cream. YUM! Day 11 - (Livorno for Pisa and/or Florence) Excursion to Pisa & Lucca: We got up early and left for our tour of Lucca and Pisa right after breakfast (this time I had the healthy oatmeal and DH had an omelet). Lucca is where Puccini was born and lived. It still has these huge city walls (with a park and a street on top of the wall as a result of changes made by Napoleon's sister who he put in as the ruler of this city). She also opened up several squares by removing buildings and such, including removing the houses that had been built in the middle of the old Roman Amphitheater (she left the houses that were built into the walls (using the walls of the amphitheater as one of the walls of the house). It is another one of those medieval cities of tiny, winding streets that create quite a maze. Lucca was a very rich city due to silk and there are 99 churches in a very small area (some are right across from each other; they were not needed, it is just a status thing). We visited the Cathedral, it seems Pope Alexander II was from Lucca so when he became Pope they began really making a fancy cathedral with a different facade. However, it did not get completed as the Plague hit Lucca and 3/4s of the city died as a result. There is a crucifix in the cathedral that was said to be made from the wood of the original cross. After it was sent for carbon dating, it was found to be only 1200 years old (as opposed to 2000 years), so now it is just a legend. One of the other signs of status in Lucca was building tall towers on your house. A law was passed that no house tower could be higher than the tower of city hall or the cathedral. This led the family that was the richest to build a tower as high as allowed and then to plant trees on top to make it taller! From Lucca we went to Pisa. Our "lunch" was some incredibly delicious Gelato. Mine was Bacio (chocolate & hazelnut), Bob had "plain" chocolate. So rich and wonderful. Of course, what can one say about Miracle Square with the Baptistery, Cathedral, Leaning Tower and Monumental Cemetery other than to say that it is truly a beautiful collection of buildings. The road from Pisa goes by an American base on the way to Livorno. Sitting on Plastic chairs between the road and the fields are various "professional" women waiting to "greet" the troops. One had a trailer, the others must just get in the car with the soldiers driving by and head for somewhere in the fields. They were waving to the bus as we drove by. Dinner tonight was outstanding. We ate at La Cucina, the Italian venue, which very nicely does not have an additional charge. We started with our selections from the Antipasto Trolley. I had marinated mushrooms, mozzarella & tomato with basil, Parmesan with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. DH had the same plus sardines (poor baby, no anchovies). We both had the Pasta e Fagioli soup (the soups on this ship have been excellent). We shared an order of Linquini Putanesca (about the best we have ever eaten) and also a Pizza Sierra Nevada (pesto sauce, olives, arugula and other stuff although we replaced the air-dried beef with pepperoni). We shared a bottle of Cabernet and also had some yummy desserts. I had Tiramisu and Bob had cheesecake. We also split some Macadamia nut ice cream We really got decadent tonight. The crew did their "Norwegian Family" song tonight and we caught it at the end of the first show as one of our Room Stewards was performing it at the first show. We caught the rest of the production show at the second performance. In Nice we took the city tour and Excursion to Eze Village. We tendered into Nice. Fortunately the seas are calm and the sky is sunny so no problems in the tender process. We began with an orientation drive of Nice, driving by the seaside Promenade (the English Promenade, named for the first tourists), the Negresso Hotel, the two casinos, the war memorial and the beautiful villas. We visited the Russian Orthodox Church which was built by Russia's last Czar for all the Russian immigrants living in Nice. It is quite a beautiful structure. We stopped at the Flower Market in Old Nice. It is really an open air market where they sell everything. Although I have to say that the flowers are beautiful and the blooms are quite large. We also walked along the promenade and checked out the Nice's first theater and some of the other nice buildings as well as the fountain in Messena Square. This Square was recently redone because they had to rip it up to put in a tram. It was a good thing we arranged a tour today as the trains are on strike. We even got to experience a demonstration of the strikers. It looks like they are against privatization and want to be paid more. From Nice we drove up the mountains to the Village of Eze. There are two hotels in this village. You have to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up. One hotel uses donkeys to bring up your luggage and the other uses porters. What surprised me was that until 1930 or so when an American paid for the building of a public fountain, the only water in the village was brought up by donkeys and there was no running water in the houses or shops until 1952, a year after I was born! (guess, that makes me officially "older"). While it could be quite charming, some of the effect was diluted by the shops. They also did something odd, they put in bricks in the middle of the cobblestone "roads" as those are less slippery, except that if you used the handrails (where those existed), those were on the sides forcing you to walk on the slippery cobblestones! Anyway, I would not have included Eze in my list of the 1,000 places to see before you die; however, it is in the book and now we have seen it. I cannot imagine living in Eze and walking those winding, mountain, cobblestone, medieval streets on a daily basis. I would probably fall at least once a week (no, I didn't fall today). We were going to have another ice cream lunch in Eze; however, the proprietor never came out to scoop the ice cream and the small grocery called Mini-Casino was closed at lunch. We had a lovely dinner in Tequila's, the Tex-Mex venue where our favorite waiter is working on this ship. We split the Latin Spring Rolls (sort of an extra big chicken taquito or a small fried burrito) and we both had the really yummy Tortilla soup (the soup maker on this ship is outstanding). DH had Cesar Salad and the Seafood Kabob and I had a salad tostada (without the chicken) and shrimp fajitas. We had a bottle of Prosecco (Italian Sparkling Wine) to toast our final night aboard ship. We both had the Berry Tostada (fresh berries, creme anglaise in an almond cookie shell) with vanilla ice cream. DH and an espresso and I had a cappuccino. Back in the room we split the small bottle of cream of melon liquor that I bought DH back in Sorrento. I went to the Passenger Talent Show and then met DH for the last night's entertainment (a piano player). Then I packed up and put the main luggage outside our room before we went to bed. Barcelona: After disembarkation, which went very smoothly, we caught a cab (and were probably overcharged about 10 Euros for the trip) to our hotel, which is a converted convent on a side street off of Las Ramblas. It has a beautiful courtyard/atrium. The rooms are quite Spartan (perhaps as originally designed for the nuns); however, it's a great location and the price is right (75 Euros per night). We oriented ourselves to the city by taking both routes of the Bus Touristic. We also walked Las Ramblas, spent some time in Placa Catalunya as well as a visit to Barri Gothic and the Gothic Cathedral. We also spent time in La Bogueria yesterday. What an amazing marketplace. Although I think that I would end up a vegetarian if I tried to purchase meat where whole dead pigs, chickens and rabbits are on display. Dinner was Sangria and Tapas (DH also had a Beer). Barcelona Day 2: Today was devoted to Gaudi. We had breakfast of Churros & Chocolate at Cafe de Opera. Tomorrow before catching our plane we'll just eat the continental breakfast that is included at our hotel. However, we thought we should not leave without having some Churros and Chocolate. We spent the morning at The Sagrada Familia. That Gaudi masterpiece will not be finished in my life time. The midday was spent at Parc Guell and the afternoon at La Pedrera, that apartment building of curves, wrought iron and a most interesting roof. Tonight we had another Tapas dinner although this time we split a bottle of Spanish white wine. Later we had some Gelato (not as rich as the Gelato in Italy, more like American ice cream. Earlier in the day, when I was in the room, DH tried to arrange for a taxi to the airport; however, the clerk on duty did not speak English and DH does not speak Spanish. When I got there, it was clear there was a communication problem. DH stated that he was having trouble arranging for the taxi. I turned to the Clerk and said "Buenos Dias" to which he responded by asking "Habla espanol?" I said "algunas" and was then told the following: "Por favor, habla con su esposo en ingles y habla conmigo en espanol, porque su esposo no entiende nada." So I now have proof that DH "understands nothing." Barcelona, return to Los Angeles: After breakfast at the hotel (an included Continental breakfast of muffin, two rolls, juice & coffee) we took a cab to the airport and caught our flights (Barcelona to London, London to LA). One piece of our luggage did not arrive with us (it was delivered two days later). Anyway, it was a great trip. We enjoyed the Gem, all the ports and our few days in Barcelona. Now we just have to pay the bills (really bad because the dollar is weak and the Euro and Pound are strong) and plan for next year's trip.

Norwegian Gem - Western Mediterranean

Norwegian Gem Cruise Review by slms

Trip Details
We left Los Angeles around 6 p.m. Saturday and arrived in London at Noon on Sunday. The flight was uneventful (the best kind) and all our luggage arrived with us. Spent the night at the Sheraton Heathrow (Internet Special of 48.5 pounds) and it is a perfectly decent place to spend a night. The next day we took the Hotel Hoppa back to Heathrow and picked up the NCL coach to Dover. Check-in had an issue in that there were so many Latitude Members that check-in in that line was actually longer (we went over to the regular check-in; however, we boarded early with the Latitude group). They should have redirected some personnel to address the issue or directed the Latitude members to use the regular check-in lines. Once aboard ship we were able to store our carry-on luggage in our room and began to explore the ship, it's big and beautiful in a rather gaudy way (lots of bright colors and some funky furnishings such as bright yellow velvet lounges for two in the Spinnaker Lounge). The tennis/basketball court is full size with bleachers! The bowling alley is four lanes in the midst of the Bliss Lounge (a nightclub atmosphere) We had lunch at the Garden Cafe. DH had fruit and I had a taste of their Indian Vegetarian offerings (Dal, Baigan Bharta, Rice, Papadum and some Cilantro Yogurt), which were quite good. The Garden Cafe is set up for many things to be prepared to order and there are a couple of coffee stations with machines to make regular and decaf Lattes, Espressos and cappuccinos (there is also one of these machines in the Outdoor Grill). Another nice touch is the Soft-Serve machine in the Garden Cafe and Outdoor Grill; however, they either broke down or they ran out of ingredients as they were both "out of order" about halfway through the 11 day cruise. Our inside cabin is small, but adequate for two. I don't think I'd want to have someone using that third bed. The bathroom has a real shower with a sliding door and the closet had enough hangers for all our stuff (perhaps we have finally learned to pack light). We ate dinner at the smaller Main Dining room called Magenta (rather bright in daylight hours; however, quite attractive in the softer evening lighting).
The two main dining rooms share a menu and the other included restaurants are the Garden Cafe, the Italian restaurant (La Cucina), the Tex- Mex Restaurant (Tequilas), the 24-7 restaurant (Blue Lagoon), the Tapas Bar and all the outdoor facilities (open as weather permits). For extra you can eat French (Le Bistro), Steakhouse (Cagney's), and Asian, which includes Fusion, Teppanyaki & Sushi facilities. Anyway, we split a bottle of Spanish Cava (the Spanish answer to Champagne) and I had a Mushroom Caramelized Onion Crostada (outstanding), a Mixed Green Salad, Skirt Steak, Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bavarian Cream cake and a cappuccino. DH had a Smoked Salmon appetizer, Caesar Salad, Grilled Mahi Mahi with polenta and 3 scoops of ice cream. Parts of the meal were outstanding (the appetizers) and nothing was bad, however, the skirt steak was a trifle chewy. Of course, this is the very first "long" cruise of the Gem, so some kinks are expected. We had some free Champagne at the Art Auction (bought nothing) and went to the evening's entertainment (introduced one of the Lounge Acts, a guitar playing singer, and the magician who will have a longer show later in the cruise.
Generally we had breakfast in the Grand Pacific. The menu is the same every day and while there are a variety of choices, we missed the Cooking Light breakfast selections that used to be available on NCL. We also had breakfast on a few occasions at the Garden Cafe and enjoyed their made to order omelets. On our first sea day I went to the Cruise Critic meeting where I had a long conversation with the Cruise Director and put faces to the names of several people from the message boards. I had another lunch of the Indian Vegetarian dishes (Garbanzo Stew and a Cauliflower dish) from the buffet and DH waited for the appetizers from the Latitudes party. This one had more than the usual free champagne and rum punch as they added wine and beer to the offerings. However, it was still too early to drink for us (we are officially middle-aged!). We are having the good fortune of calm seas in the Bay of Biscayne (rather unusual, even the Captain commented on our luck). We had a lovely dinner at La Cucina (one of the included specialty restaurants). It started with selections from the antipasto trolley and was followed by sharing a California pizza (goat cheese, artichokes, peppers, sausage, pinenuts and other yummies) and pasta pesto. DH had salmon and I had manicotti. We could not eat everything and had to skip dessert! Shocking, shocking, shocking.
In Vigo we took the excursion to Pazo de Oca and Santiago de Compostela: Up early for a quick breakfast and then it was hurry up and wait as we had to dock very slowly due to low water. This caused a 40 minute delay in setting out for Pazo de Oca and Santiago de Compostela. The Pazo comes from the same root word as "palace". However, it is a Country Manor house of the Galician nobility. This one has a lovely Garden that the "oversell" by calling it the Galician Versailles. We drove from Vigo (Europe's largest fishing port, but not a lot of sights) through some lovely green countryside (Galicia is the part of the country known as "Green Spain") to get to the Pazo and take our garden stroll. From there we went to Santiago de Compostela. This is the third holiest pilgrimage in Christendom after Jerusalem and Rome as tradition states this is where St. James is buried. In any case, it has a beautiful cathedral and many pilgrims still walk, bike or ride a horse a sufficient distance to become official pilgrims. We saw lots of pilgrims at the cathedral as we arrived during noon Mass and the place was packed even if this is a Wednesday. This was followed by a traditional Galician lunch. Tapas of grilled peppers, fried cheese with ham, the Galician sandwich (onions & chicken), followed by salad with tuna and eggs, roasted beef, potatoes and veggies all served with both red & white wine and ending with coffee and their traditional almond cake plus the traditional spirit (similar to Italian Grappa; however, steeped with coffee beans and fruit) It is known for the "burning" and it is said to drive away the bad spirits and witches. In any case, it is strong stuff. We actually would have preferred to have them take a few dollars off the price of the excursion and to make it on "on your own" lunch or roam around the city period. Oh well. We were not that hungry for dinner after that big lunch so we decided to go to the Blue Lagoon for a "light snack". Of course, that snack turned into a dinner of some very yummy Chili and a plate of fish & chips (tasty; however, the fish had clearly sat on a steam table as it had lost its crispness. To be fair they offered to make up some new fish fillets for us).
In Lisbon, we took the excursion to Evora as we have toured Lisbon before. Evora is a UNESCO world heritage site as most of the Medieval City has been preserved. This is the place where the St. Francis Church has one chapel completely decorated with Human Bones. It is supposed to be a place of meditation and states at the front "Our bones lie here in wait for yours". There is also a Roman Temple, a Cathedral that goes from Gothic to Romanesque, lots of other churches, palaces and forts and remains of the city walls. Plus the maze of streets (thank goodness, we had a guide to orient us). After we saw the main sites, we were on our own and we tried the local specialty for lunch. It is a Fish Soup that is also full of garlic, coriander and olive oil. Back on the ship we had dinner in Tequilas. We both had Tortilla Soup (absolutely delicious) and Vegetarian Enchiladas (made with flour tortillas, so really more of a Burrito or a Flauta). DH also had a Caesar Salad (extra anchovies, of course). We had some Dos Equis with this meal. I had the yummy Berry Tostada for dessert (almond wafer cookie filled with mixed fresh berries that at our waiter's suggestion was topped with vanilla ice cream. FYI: Thomas our waiter was someone we first met on the Spirit and he is just terrific). DH just had some Coffee ice cream. Dinner was followed by the evening's entertainment, a juggler who is an 8th generation performer going back to the very early Circuses. He was very good and very funny (a bit politically incorrect in his banter). DH thought he was not as good as the juggler who performed on our very first NCL cruise several years ago (this is our 5th NCL cruise).
Gibraltar: This was a short port day (11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). Therefore, even though we have been here before, I signed us up for a Gibraltar in Depth Tour. We had a great guide, 10 years in the British Army and the mother of 5 boys, so she knows how to keep a group in line! She also really knows her history. We took the cable car up to the Top of the Rock and there were lots of monkeys hanging around including a family group with a 7-week old infant. One member of the group apparently did not hear the guide when she said to eat your food in the Cafeteria and not walk out to the deck with it. She came out eating a Mars Bar and it was a scene from "When Monkeys Attack". The Monkey won and just gobbled down that Mars Bar. DH referred to the event as "the Monkey Mugging." We also went into St. Michael's Cave and The Great Siege Tunnels with lots of walking between the Top of the Rock, the Caves and the Tunnels, so I got my exercise in. Anyway, either I forgot a lot from a trip in the early 90s or this Guide was just so good that much of what we saw seemed new. We went back to the Italian venue tonight as the Main Dining Room menu just didn't strike our fancy. Once again the meal was quite delicious and the soup (Pasta e Fagioli) was outstanding. The comedian who performed tonight was rather funny (at least to Americans, I understand that many of the Brits on board were not amused).
At Sea: I had another nice light Indian vegetarian lunch at the Garden Cafe. Today there was a Dal (Lentil) and a vegetable dumpling in gravy along with Lemon Rice. Of course, one of the outdoor grills (the weather has been great, knock wood, so all the outdoor venues have been operating) has a German/Austrian buffet today with an Oompah Band playing. So if I wanted something really heavy, there is all this goulash, wursts and kuchen available. They also have a Soft Serve ice cream machine (one in the Buffet and one outside that run pretty much 24-7 and regular ice cream will be scooped for you from lunch through the evening). I found a book that I wanted to read in the Ship's Library. The day continued with relaxation and fun, Bingo, reading, playing games and eating. We had dinner at one of the main Dining Rooms. We both had French Onion Soup and Caesar Salad. Bob had the vegetarian main dish (an eggplant, lentil thing) and I had Corvina (a white fish) with roasted fennel and crushed potatoes. We both had Chocolate Cheesecake. I think DH is finally getting the hang of vacation as he also decided we need to head up to the buffet and taste a few more desserts (bread pudding, carrot cake and ice cream). Tonight was one of the production revue shows. This one had a 70s theme, which will be followed by a Disco party later tonight. However, we were sleeping by the time of the Disco party. Earlier in the day, I went to the comedian's "lecture" that was about the healing nature of laughter and the things that are funny in real life.
Day 8 -At Sea: It was another day of reading, relaxation and eating. Tonight we went back to the Tex-Mex Restaurant where our waiter from the Spirit (last year's cruise ship) is now working. We shared an order of Mexican Spring Rolls and we both had the Tortilla Soup. We then had a dinner for two called El Popo. It's basically a fancy presentation of Fajitas. The norm is made with Chicken & Beef; however, for us, it was made with Chicken and Shrimp. We also had a bottle of Cava (Thomas remembered from last year that we liked Cava). I had another Berry Tostada with vanilla ice cream. DH held out for tonight's Chocoholic Buffet; however, he was disappointed in the offerings. We went to the show and ended up leaving early. We really enjoyed The Second City last year; however, the troupe on this ship is very lame.
We had a lovely day in Naples. We took the Corsa Italia from Naples to Sorrento, past the beautiful views of the Bay of Naples and the picturesque villages hugging either the coast or the cliffs. Glad someone else was driving. Although that road was never really made for a tourist motorcoach. We spent some time walking in Sorrento, which is quaint and almost a movie version of an Italian village. We went to a farm in the cliff area to see the Lemon and Olive Trees and learn about the making of both olive oil and cheese. They fed us lunch at the farm (3 kinds of cheese representing different levels of aging, some cured meats, crostini, tomatoes and pasta with tomato/ricotta sauce, followed by Lemon cake). They also included their wine and tastes of the liquors made on the farm, which included Limoncello and Cream of Melon (you can really taste the cantaloupe flavor). From there we went to Pompeii. It is quite amazing and certainly was incredibly preserved by the volcanic eruption. We've now completed the "three great preserved Roman cities" as we've been to Ephesus in Turkey and Jerash in Jordan. Pompeii is definitely the most complete of these cities. I know we only touched on the edges of all there is to see in Pompeii. Then again the excavation began before the USA was even a country and it is still not finished. Because we had such a substantial farm lunch, we just had some beers and Tapas in the Ship's Tapa's Bar for our dinner before going to the show. We enjoyed tonight's entertainment, it was a salute/recreation of a Nat King Cole show. The singer was very talented.
Civitavecchia (Port of Rome): We had a "do it yourself" day. We got off the boat around 8:30 a.m., walked to the train station and caught the 9:02 train from Civitavecchia to Rome. It took about an hour and ½ to reach Rome's main train station. The trains from Civitavecchia use the last few tracks that we could not figure out how they connect through the main station, so we ended up walking outside the station. In any case, we got to the front and began our walk around Rome. We found the Trevi Fountain (it was in scaffolding the last time we were here), the Spanish Steps (only had a "drive-by" sighting on our prior visit), the Pantheon, the Victor Emmanuel/Unknown Soldier Monument and other sites of interest. We also got a real feel for the city just walking around its very busy streets. I don't think I ever heard so many sirens (DH says there were more in NY). However, given the way people drive and walk (both ignore the traffic signals), I'm amazed there are not more accidents. I played "travel guide" in Spanish! I don't know why this woman thought I spoke Spanish; however, she came up to me and asked "El Pantheon, es cerca?" Anyway, I told her how to walk there. We had our favorite European ice cream bars (Magnum) for "lunch", a Double Chocolate and a Vanilla with very dark chocolate. We hopped the train back and were back on board around 5:30 (all aboard was 7:30; however, we were not going to "risk" a later train, so we had about 5 hours in Rome). We were supposed to leave port at 8:00 p.m.; however, 6 people were still missing (we saw 4 of them arrive in a speeding taxi when we went outside to walk on the deck, not sure if the other two ever made it, they might have needed to take an overnight train to Livorno to meet the ship the next day). We had a really delicious dinner in the Magenta Main Dining Room, we both had Spinach Salad with Candied Walnuts, grapes & pears, Bob had them make an appetizer serving of the goat cheese ravioli and I had a really wonderful Mushroom Bisque. I followed my soup with Chicken Stew and Bob had Braised Cod. We both had the Chocolate Lava Cake and vanilla ice cream. YUM!
Day 11 - (Livorno for Pisa and/or Florence) Excursion to Pisa & Lucca: We got up early and left for our tour of Lucca and Pisa right after breakfast (this time I had the healthy oatmeal and DH had an omelet). Lucca is where Puccini was born and lived. It still has these huge city walls (with a park and a street on top of the wall as a result of changes made by Napoleon's sister who he put in as the ruler of this city). She also opened up several squares by removing buildings and such, including removing the houses that had been built in the middle of the old Roman Amphitheater (she left the houses that were built into the walls (using the walls of the amphitheater as one of the walls of the house). It is another one of those medieval cities of tiny, winding streets that create quite a maze. Lucca was a very rich city due to silk and there are 99 churches in a very small area (some are right across from each other; they were not needed, it is just a status thing). We visited the Cathedral, it seems Pope Alexander II was from Lucca so when he became Pope they began really making a fancy cathedral with a different facade. However, it did not get completed as the Plague hit Lucca and 3/4s of the city died as a result. There is a crucifix in the cathedral that was said to be made from the wood of the original cross. After it was sent for carbon dating, it was found to be only 1200 years old (as opposed to 2000 years), so now it is just a legend. One of the other signs of status in Lucca was building tall towers on your house. A law was passed that no house tower could be higher than the tower of city hall or the cathedral. This led the family that was the richest to build a tower as high as allowed and then to plant trees on top to make it taller! From Lucca we went to Pisa. Our "lunch" was some incredibly delicious Gelato. Mine was Bacio (chocolate & hazelnut), Bob had "plain" chocolate. So rich and wonderful. Of course, what can one say about Miracle Square with the Baptistery, Cathedral, Leaning Tower and Monumental Cemetery other than to say that it is truly a beautiful collection of buildings. The road from Pisa goes by an American base on the way to Livorno. Sitting on Plastic chairs between the road and the fields are various "professional" women waiting to "greet" the troops. One had a trailer, the others must just get in the car with the soldiers driving by and head for somewhere in the fields. They were waving to the bus as we drove by. Dinner tonight was outstanding. We ate at La Cucina, the Italian venue, which very nicely does not have an additional charge. We started with our selections from the Antipasto Trolley. I had marinated mushrooms, mozzarella & tomato with basil, Parmesan with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. DH had the same plus sardines (poor baby, no anchovies). We both had the Pasta e Fagioli soup (the soups on this ship have been excellent). We shared an order of Linquini Putanesca (about the best we have ever eaten) and also a Pizza Sierra Nevada (pesto sauce, olives, arugula and other stuff although we replaced the air-dried beef with pepperoni). We shared a bottle of Cabernet and also had some yummy desserts. I had Tiramisu and Bob had cheesecake. We also split some Macadamia nut ice cream We really got decadent tonight. The crew did their "Norwegian Family" song tonight and we caught it at the end of the first show as one of our Room Stewards was performing it at the first show. We caught the rest of the production show at the second performance.
In Nice we took the city tour and Excursion to Eze Village. We tendered into Nice. Fortunately the seas are calm and the sky is sunny so no problems in the tender process. We began with an orientation drive of Nice, driving by the seaside Promenade (the English Promenade, named for the first tourists), the Negresso Hotel, the two casinos, the war memorial and the beautiful villas. We visited the Russian Orthodox Church which was built by Russia's last Czar for all the Russian immigrants living in Nice. It is quite a beautiful structure. We stopped at the Flower Market in Old Nice. It is really an open air market where they sell everything. Although I have to say that the flowers are beautiful and the blooms are quite large. We also walked along the promenade and checked out the Nice's first theater and some of the other nice buildings as well as the fountain in Messena Square. This Square was recently redone because they had to rip it up to put in a tram. It was a good thing we arranged a tour today as the trains are on strike. We even got to experience a demonstration of the strikers. It looks like they are against privatization and want to be paid more. From Nice we drove up the mountains to the Village of Eze. There are two hotels in this village. You have to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up. One hotel uses donkeys to bring up your luggage and the other uses porters. What surprised me was that until 1930 or so when an American paid for the building of a public fountain, the only water in the village was brought up by donkeys and there was no running water in the houses or shops until 1952, a year after I was born! (guess, that makes me officially "older"). While it could be quite charming, some of the effect was diluted by the shops. They also did something odd, they put in bricks in the middle of the cobblestone "roads" as those are less slippery, except that if you used the handrails (where those existed), those were on the sides forcing you to walk on the slippery cobblestones! Anyway, I would not have included Eze in my list of the 1,000 places to see before you die; however, it is in the book and now we have seen it. I cannot imagine living in Eze and walking those winding, mountain, cobblestone, medieval streets on a daily basis. I would probably fall at least once a week (no, I didn't fall today). We were going to have another ice cream lunch in Eze; however, the proprietor never came out to scoop the ice cream and the small grocery called Mini-Casino was closed at lunch. We had a lovely dinner in Tequila's, the Tex-Mex venue where our favorite waiter is working on this ship. We split the Latin Spring Rolls (sort of an extra big chicken taquito or a small fried burrito) and we both had the really yummy Tortilla soup (the soup maker on this ship is outstanding). DH had Cesar Salad and the Seafood Kabob and I had a salad tostada (without the chicken) and shrimp fajitas. We had a bottle of Prosecco (Italian Sparkling Wine) to toast our final night aboard ship. We both had the Berry Tostada (fresh berries, creme anglaise in an almond cookie shell) with vanilla ice cream. DH and an espresso and I had a cappuccino. Back in the room we split the small bottle of cream of melon liquor that I bought DH back in Sorrento. I went to the Passenger Talent Show and then met DH for the last night's entertainment (a piano player). Then I packed up and put the main luggage outside our room before we went to bed.
Barcelona: After disembarkation, which went very smoothly, we caught a cab (and were probably overcharged about 10 Euros for the trip) to our hotel, which is a converted convent on a side street off of Las Ramblas. It has a beautiful courtyard/atrium. The rooms are quite Spartan (perhaps as originally designed for the nuns); however, it's a great location and the price is right (75 Euros per night). We oriented ourselves to the city by taking both routes of the Bus Touristic. We also walked Las Ramblas, spent some time in Placa Catalunya as well as a visit to Barri Gothic and the Gothic Cathedral. We also spent time in La Bogueria yesterday. What an amazing marketplace. Although I think that I would end up a vegetarian if I tried to purchase meat where whole dead pigs, chickens and rabbits are on display. Dinner was Sangria and Tapas (DH also had a Beer).
Barcelona Day 2: Today was devoted to Gaudi. We had breakfast of Churros & Chocolate at Cafe de Opera. Tomorrow before catching our plane we'll just eat the continental breakfast that is included at our hotel. However, we thought we should not leave without having some Churros and Chocolate. We spent the morning at The Sagrada Familia. That Gaudi masterpiece will not be finished in my life time. The midday was spent at Parc Guell and the afternoon at La Pedrera, that apartment building of curves, wrought iron and a most interesting roof. Tonight we had another Tapas dinner although this time we split a bottle of Spanish white wine. Later we had some Gelato (not as rich as the Gelato in Italy, more like American ice cream. Earlier in the day, when I was in the room, DH tried to arrange for a taxi to the airport; however, the clerk on duty did not speak English and DH does not speak Spanish. When I got there, it was clear there was a communication problem. DH stated that he was having trouble arranging for the taxi. I turned to the Clerk and said "Buenos Dias" to which he responded by asking "Habla espanol?" I said "algunas" and was then told the following: "Por favor, habla con su esposo en ingles y habla conmigo en espanol, porque su esposo no entiende nada." So I now have proof that DH "understands nothing."
Barcelona, return to Los Angeles: After breakfast at the hotel (an included Continental breakfast of muffin, two rolls, juice & coffee) we took a cab to the airport and caught our flights (Barcelona to London, London to LA). One piece of our luggage did not arrive with us (it was delivered two days later). Anyway, it was a great trip. We enjoyed the Gem, all the ports and our few days in Barcelona. Now we just have to pay the bills (really bad because the dollar is weak and the Euro and Pound are strong) and plan for next year's trip.
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