Brugge, Belguim: Canals, Chocolate, Waffles and Beer

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Brugge, Belgium:  Canals, Chocolate, Waffles, and Beer

April 28, 2016

Mary Alice and I were up early for breakfast in the dining room. Afterward we grabbed our bags and warm clothing and headed to the gathering place for our day tour to Bruges, Belgium. We were on the same tour with our new friends from California, Wes and Irene. As we stepped outside we were met with a cold rain.  I had hopes for better weather day. Thankfully as the day progressed the weather did improve a bit and the rain stopped about noon.

The bus ride was only thirty minutes and we soon arrived at a park near one of the main canals that feed Bruges. First thing I noticed was a large number of police officers and after seeing all the tourists buses arrive I figured out they were watching all of us and watching out for all of us.

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Our guide walked us as a group through the south part of the town.  The light rain continued as we made our way to one of the canals where we boarded a 20 passenger open boat for a 30-minute canal ride. The skipper was a guy from England. He kept us busy listening to his version of some of the history about the place. I was more interested in trying to keep dry and warm and to his credit, he provided everybody with umbrellas.

After the boat ride, our guide led us to the main market square and then to another square where we would meet at 4:30pm for the walk back to the bus.  If you’re thinking we did a lot of walking, you’re right.  Both of us logged over 11,000 steps on our Fitbits.

After our guide turned us loose Mary Alice and I decided to get some lunch.  We walked back to the main square and found really a nice restaurant.  It was warm and dry and had a great gas fireplace.  We parked ourselves and had one of our favorites, a Margaretta pizza. After lunch I wanted to walk around and take some photos, and also to go into the cathedral and see Michelangelo’s “Madonna & Child” sculpture.  M.A. stayed out in the weak sunshine in the park.

Got my photos and we decided to have a Belgium hot chocolate.  I had spotted just the right place about a block away.  It was a small chocolate shop, The Old Chocolate House, with an upstairs sit-down tea room. The small spiral staircase up there was as challenging as some of those 900 steps at Mont Saint-Michel yesterday.

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We got a table by the window and ordered hot chocolate and a cappuccino. The hot chocolate was very Belgium.  The owner-waiter brought me a large hot cup of milk with a smaller cup made from chocolate and filled with chocolate bits.  I dumped the entire thing into the hot milk and stirred it up.  Everything melted and it made the best tasting hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

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It was by now about time to make our way back to the square where we would meet our guide and others from our group for the walk the half mile back to the bus.  The guides get very nervous when folks are late.  It’s a big no-no to bring a busload of tourists back late to the ship. We were thankful the drive was only thirty minutes to the ship. We arrived on time, happily worn out.

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Mont Saint-Michel

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A Visit to the Abbey in the Sky:  Mont Saint-Michel

Port:  Cherbourg, France….April 27, 2016

We docked early this morning in the port of Cherbourg, France.  The weather was cold, windy and partly cloudy. We found our group and before long Mary Alice and I were off the ship on our way to Mont Saint-Michel, one of the highlights of this cruise.

Mont Saint-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage site located on a small rocky island just off the coast of Lower Normandy in northern France. It is best known for the famous Mont St. Michel Abbey, built atop a 247 feet peak overlooking the winding streets of a medieval town below.

According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, in 708 and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel’s instruction, until Michael burned a hole in the bishop’s skull with his finger. So the abbey and church is the result of a hole in the head of a bishop. The bishop’s skull can be seen in the church in Avranches. I passed on the skull viewing.  I wanted to photograph the abbey and cathedral.

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Our group guide was a lady from Cherbourg who spoke English with quite a French accent and I couldn’t always understand her well. Nevertheless, our 2 ½ hour bus journey to Mont Saint-Michel was very picturesque taking us through such famous villages as Saint Mere Eglise and Caen and the road to Utah Beach.

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Our first glimpse of Mont Saint-Michel was from 15km away.  It is spectacular.  The bus parked about 3km away. From there you have to take a shuttle bus to the abbey.  The shuttles have no place to turn around so they are operated from both ends. The driver just gets out and goes to the other end of the bus, starts it up and heads back for more visitors.

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The abbey and cathedral sit on an island that is connected to the mainland by a bus-pedestrian causeway.  Mary Alice and I met up with two new friends from California, Wes and Irene. They are our table-mates at night. Both are experienced cruisers.  We had a great time sharing the adventure and Wes also shared his arm for Mary Alice on the semi-treacherous and uneven concrete steps down.

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Ponta Delgada, The Azores, Portugal

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SO WHERE ARE THE AZORES?

These nine volcanic islands are scattered across the mid-Atlantic, about 1,500km west of Portugal and 4,000km east of New York. They form part of Macronesia, a geographical region which includes the Canary Islands, although the Azores are greener than the more southerly Spanish isles. Politically they are part of Portugal – the Azoreans speak Portuguese, have adopted the euro, send deputies to the Portuguese parliament and are represented in Brussels by their own MEP. Where they differ from the rest of Europe is in the pace of life, which feels rather like stepping back to the 1950s.

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The Crown Princes in Ponta Delgada

The islands divide naturally into three groups: the eastern islands of Sao Miguel, the largest of the nine, and Santa Maria; the central group consisting of Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico and Faial; and the western islands of Flores and Corvo, the smallest and most remote. There were no inhabitants at all until the 15th century, when the Portuguese explorers happened upon Santa Maria and Sao Miguel.

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The harbor is full of whale watching and fishing boats

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The island of Sao Miguel is the largest of the Azorean Islands and is home to the harbor of Ponta Delgada. The island is known for its rich volcanic soil that produces a multitude of crops; tobacco, tea, tropical fruit such as pineapple and bananas.  It was a little foggy but the weather forecast calls for a pleasant day. We have until 1:30pm here so I’ll say goodbye for now and pick up once we get back to the ship.

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M.A. and I got off the ship at 9:30am with no real plans for the day and no plans to see anything in the city.  We walked up on a guy hawking an open air bus ride around the town for 10 euros.  We jumped at it.  It is called the “Fun Bus” and it’s like a “hop-on, hop-off” bus without the getting off. It made one circle around the city.

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What we learned about the Azores was the climate is pretty much the same all year. This morning it was really pleasant and I did not take a jacket.  The islands were formed from volcanoes umpteen years ago and that fact is very evident in the homes, beaches and countryside.  Many of the houses are made from volcanic rock.  All of the fences dividing pastures are made from volcanic rocks. The black paint you see on the trim of the houses is made from volcanic soil.  Our journey around the town was an attraction for many of the residents of Ponta Delgado. They waved at the tourists and shouted “spend more money!”….just kidding.  They were very friendly though.  The journey around the town ended so we got off and walked into a café where M.A. had a snack and coffee.  We walked back to the ship and waited to get back aboard.  I took some photos and hope you enjoy them.

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The Statue is a Portuguese Explorer who discovered the islands

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Volcanic Rock fences divide pastures on the island

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We off to Cherbourg, France.  If you like the blog leave us a comment!

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Days at Sea

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Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

After five days of “at sea” we have an established routine that both of us like.  My day usually begins around 6:00 am.  I can get up and pull a curtain across the room and not awake Mary Alice if I turn on the TV. I get caught up on the latest on Fox News and BBC.  MSNBC is also available but my stomach does not want to listen to it that early.  The night before we order coffee and some fruit to be delivered to the room between 7:30-8:00 am.  Room service is usually right on time.  MA is normally awake by then and we enjoy coffee together.  It is also a time for MA to catch up on her games and crossword puzzle.  I usually check email and Facebook but don’t spend too much time.  I’ve already used more than half my “free” 250 internet minutes and I need to keep some time to upload our travel blog.

We typically have breakfast between 8:00 to 9:00 am in the dining room.  We also eat breakfast on the 16th floor buffet. Yesterday we went to a gathering of veterans in one of the dining rooms.  There were many Korean War vets and only one WW2-veteran in attendance.  Most are Vietnam and Cold War Vets.  There were two Navy vets in attendance who both served on the USS Forrestal aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War in the South China Sea. They were in the same squadron but didn’t know each other.  Both of them survived a terrible accident and fire that killed many of their shipmates.

There are many Texans aboard the Regal on this voyage.  Someone organized a get-together of Texans for those interested in one of the unused lounges.  We had about 20 in attendance at the first meeting and 24 for the second.  Everyone introduced themselves and got to know each other. It was like meeting your next door neighbor.  Texans are very warm and approachable.  Funny thing, I didn’t notice any other such “state” gathering on the ship.  There were no Californians, no New Yorkers, not any other state except Texas, where people like to get together and say “howdy”.  God bless Texas.

Mary Alice has been faithful in going to the gym and exercising on the treadmill and both of us have restrained our appetites. There is no 7th floor “Promenade” deck that goes around the ship as in other Princess cruise ships.  This new one does not have one.  I have found that I can walk the decks and get enough exercise to stay up with MA on her treadmill.  By that time, its lunch time and we head to the Concerto Dining Room for what else, “lunch.”  We both like lunch and dinner in a dining room with two waiters around a large table with three other couples. We’ve met some really nice people during these meals.

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We’ve found a variety of things to do at night.  We’ve been to three live shows in the Princess Theater at night; one comedian and two by a piano playing singer by the name of Tom Franek.  Tom’s act is a combination of Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Joel and Frank Sinatra all rolled up into one guy.  He is an explosion of piano and voice that has you clapping and singing along.  You can find him on YouTube.

On another night Mary Alice and I found ourselves at the pool to see the ship’s dancing fountains.  The Theater Under the Stars was just beginning the movie, “Jurassic World.”  She has never seen any of the Jurassic series so we sat down and enjoyed the movie “under the stars.”

All in all our cruise across the Atlantic has been fantastic.  We learned to relax and enjoy all the ship has to offer.  We arrive in the Azores tomorrow.  I’ll write about our stop at Punta Delgada in a couple of days.  Until then, think about joining us on one of these cruises.  You’ll love it.  Bon voyage.1083245-Clipart-Seagulls-And-A-Cruise-Ship-Royalty-Free-Vector-Illustration

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At (rough) Sea…1st Day

Our first day at sea we ran into some winds which are tossing this huge ship around. You know it’s going to be a rocky day when you see all the white bags everywhere. We are safe and enjoying ourselves. We are praying for all after the flood, God speed. Wayne

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Departing Ft. Lauderdale on a Very Big Cruise Ship

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We boarded our transfer bus from the Best Western Hotel to the ship at 11am and after about a 30 minute ride arrived at the Port Everglades Cruise Terminal. Our ship, the Regal Princess was waiting for us.  The traffic line to get up to the baggage drop off area was about a 30 minute wait but we finally stopped and departed the bus.  I made sure the stevedores put our bags on the transfer cage.

We got in line with a bunch of other folks going through security and finally to the check in counter.  We got our cruise cards and made our way aboard ship. We are on the 10th floor, Caribe Deck.  Of course, our first task was to have lunch in one of the dining rooms.  We shared a table with two couples, one from Reno, NV and the other Providence, RI.  After lunch our luggage arrived and before we knew it the gong sounded for the mandatory safety drill where every one is told the rules. With that done, we relaxed in our room and got things stored away.

We are used to sailing on the jewel-named Princess ships; Emerald, Ruby, etc. The Regal is a relatively new experience for us and we have to learn the new layout all over. Although there are over 4000 passengers on board, you would never know it.  We are looking forward to exploring this newest of the Princess ships.

We’ll stay in touch.  I want to thank everyone for the prayers for safe travel and all the well wishes.  It’s nice to know you care.  We are looking forward to a relaxing cruise.  By the way, I heard from Kim, who is taking care of Tanner, he is doing fine.  Later, Wayne and MA

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Packed & Ready to Sail

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Mary Alice and I are packed and ready to sail. We leave in the morning on United flying to Ft. Lauderdale. We overnight and board the Regal Princess Sunday.  This is a Trans-Atlantic cruise and it will take two weeks. We are looking forward to the relaxing days at sea. I have books to read and music to listen to.  I am taking Tanner to his rescue Mom’s house in about an hour. He will stay with his Irish wolfhound friends.  They play with him like a puppy.

So stay tuned for more. I’ll try and write often. Bon voyage….Wayne & MA

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