Tag Archives: Travel

Miami…what’s my vice?

4th & 5th October 2015
Miami

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Boy it’s warm…no make that hot, hot, hot.
Right from the first time you set eyes on the Miami skyline you know you’re somewhere special. First impressions are they started to build this city about six months ago, because everything looks new and modern. The sun glints off acres of glass, steel and marble to light up the rows and rows of almost brilliant white yachts in the marina.
I almost felt like I should dress up smartly to even dare to walk its streets…but I didn’t. Anyway off we go and with two days here we will definitely be looking at staying in the city and enjoying the nightlife.
But first the daytime and the shuttle bus drops us at Bayside, a large indoor/outdoor shopping/eating/drinking/tour booking/hop on hop off bus catching/everything kind of a place. But more on that later as we’re off for a walk along the waterfront, hopefully to find a bit of shade and a place to sit and watch the world go by. After about an hour we’d ambled into a residential area and as we found nothing particular to do there we headed back the way we’d come. We didn’t stop anywhere as most of the shady sitting areas were occupied by a collection of strangely pungent individuals who appeared to have set up home. Shame.
Back at Bayside we had a wander around the stalls and shops but unfortunately there was rain in the air. So GUESS WHAT? We went for a beer.
And there in the middle of Bayside was Forrest Gump’s bench…complete with a box of chocolates. Of course it’s not the real one, but it was located outside Bubba Gump’s Shrimp House. We sat at the bar, ordered two Buds and a shrimp feast, which we ate greedily whilst watching NFL on the considerable number of TV screens. Great way to spend a Sunday afternoon in my opinion.
After a few more libations we noticed the rain had finally stopped and we headed back to the ship for a shower and a lie down…boy oh boy does this heat drain the energy.
Back in the city later that evening we popped into Los Ranchos for a snack.

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This was arguably the best food we’d had this trip…an incredibly tender rib-eye steak with a lobster tail, all washed down with lashings of sangria. The service was good and the view over the marina, with all the boats lit up, was great. In fact the whole evening was perfect…except for one small issue, and it is a very small issue I agree, but it irritates me. Once again I’m referring to tips/gratuities, call them what you want.
I’ve stated many times that I have no problem with tipping excellent service, but I do object to being told what the amount of that tip should be. Here in the US there is often a calculation at the bottom of the check to show a suggested level of gratuity. On this occasion the suggestions were 15%, 18% and 20% with our server taking the time to highlight the highest figure. Yes, the service was good but no better than I would have expected from an establishment of this nature.
In the UK I will always leave a tip in a restaurant, but it’s value is never based on the amount of money we’ve spent on the food and drink, rather it’s just a reward to the server based on how he/she has facilitated a good experience.
So why in America do they insist the value of gratuity is based on the money being spent? If I order a $10 burger or a $60 lobster the service I receive (i.e. taking my order, informing the kitchen and finally delivering it to the table) is the same. But the difference in suggested gratuity is $2 for the burger and $12 for the lobster…WHY?
Worryingly, when I’ve asked this question, the only answer I’ve been given is that if you can afford the expensive meals you can afford the increased gratuity.
Honest certainly but not necessarily right.
On this occasion the suggested gratuity would have taken me three hours to earn in my last job…so I feel like I was being asked to pay the servers wages rather than just a personal acknowledgement that he’d done his job well.
OK, rant over. But because I wouldn’t like to be considered rude I felt obliged to pay what was suggested…so I did.
A stroll around the tranquil harbour somewhat calmed my irritated mood and then we got the shuttle bus back to the ship.
Hang on a cotton picking moment…I feel another rant coming on.
We’re the only ones on the shuttle and the driver informs us that there hasn’t been anyone leaving or returning to the ship for over an hour. I really struggle to understand why out of over a thousand folk there are very few who get out and enjoy the nightlife of the city. We are constantly trying to encourage the cruise companies to offer more overnight or late night stays, which in most cities is the time they start livening up. But we’re onto a loser because when we’re offered the chance few people participate. Such a shame.
Second rant over…and so to bed, perchance to dream of exotic places and never ending jugs of sangria.

Day Two.
We weren’t quite sure what to do today so we ambled aimlessly round the streets of Miami until we discovered a smoothie bar…took all of one street and five minutes.
‘Let’s make a Daiquiri’ was our choice and we sat at the bar in the shade and drank tropical smoothies for quite a while. Then we walked to the ‘Hard Rock Cafe’ and had lunch. Sorry but it was just too hot for us to stay out and explore, however we did sit for a while watching the fish jumping in the harbour.
All in all a very good day, despite the fact it probably wouldn’t have mattered where in the world we were…but we were in Miami. It didn’t matter to us that we hadn’t been to a museum or ridden a fast boat across the everglades, and we certainly weren’t bothered about a ‘hop on hop off’ to South Beach on this occasion.
It was just nice to have been relaxing here, together. The sun shone and the skies were blue and sometimes (and these ‘sometimes’ are happening more often) it’s just nice to sit and let the world rush by and think ourselves lucky. We don’t always need to tick boxes of the places we’ve been and the things we’ve done, we can just be grateful we ‘are’.
Miami was hot, but the places we drank and ate delicious fare were cool, the people were warm and friendly. All in all just about as good as it could have been for us at this time in this place

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Which Witch is Which.

24th September 2015
Salem

Salem

Question: how many witches were executed following the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693?
Answer: none….because of the twenty people hung or crushed to death none of them were actually witches (so I was told)

We had another bright and sunny day to explore ashore, but with only a few hours before we head off for the next stop we have to get a wiggle on as there appears to be a lot to do.
Salem is a fairly new location for the cruise industry, although many thousands of tourists flock here every year on the ferry from Boston, so maybe we need to be on our best behaviour if we want to be invited back.
First impressions are this is a very pretty town and, but for the history of the appalling and harrowing events of over 300 years ago, it would probably be a very sleepy place too.
But it isn’t, far from it.
First of all, as you leave the port, there is a house with all kinds of junk in the garden and around the house. It’s the same stuff we’ve just spent the last eight months getting rid of back home, but the owner has used his/her imagination to create works of art….or just things of interest. It would be possible to spend some time looking through the bars of the fence at all the immerging artefacts, but like I said….wiggle, wiggle.
Once outside the port there is a red line to follow, a tourist trail which takes you to or past every point of interest in this vibrant town. The House of Seven Gables is first followed by the court house and the historical maritime area. There are waxworks, museums, houses of interest, a cemetery, a pirate house and more ghost walks than you could rattle Jacob Marley’s chains at. And it’s all good and overall not too demanding on the pocket book (wallet for us English)
Now the most interesting place for me was the memorial area for the victims of those heinous accusations. I’ll not go into much detail but I found the walk past each marker dedicated to a prematurely despatched, ordinary human, quite emotional. I’m sure their only ambition in life was probably to be happy, healthy and allowed to live as long as possible, in peace.
But then there’s always someone with an axe to grind, a point to make or just wants to be a spoiler for no other reason than they can.
Hey Ho.
Anyway, back to Salem, and we’ll certainly be back if given the chance, although maybe the witch theme is just a little OTT. I suppose this is definitely a case of ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’. I’m sure Salem has more to offer than that but on this occasion we didn’t have the time to find it.

My joints are stiff and rusty
Old paint’s already peeled
I’m looking fairly shabby
With all my faults revealed.
And my undercarriage droops a bit
Well, a lot to be quite fair
My fallen arches need a lift
And success in love is rare.

But at least I’ve had the chance to live
A full and active life,
Free from persecution
Safe and happy, little strife.
It doesn’t matter who I am
Or what my interests be.
Criticise me all you want,
You can’t stop me being me.

(A grateful tribute for life, inspired by the innocents of Salem)

Azores…..

3rd December 2014

Ponta Degarda…Azores…we made it!

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We made it, despite the rumours!!

Having said that we only had a few hours here so just time enough to stretch our legs and visit the market. Not much else to say really.

There’s lots to do and see here but we either don’t get much time to do anything or the weather is not very good. It would be great to visit in the evening (which has never happened) because the town is all decked out for Christmas and I imagine it would be very pretty…..Ah well……maybe next time

 

4th December 2014

Sea Day & Last of the Rays

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The weather has been very mixed today and the captain has suggested that things may get a little rough over the next couple of days (let the rumours of impending doom continue)

It’s been really funny watching the sun worshippers trying to catch the last vestige of the big yellow ball in the sky on the odd few occasions it’s poked it’s head out from behind the clouds. They race for the loungers, stripping off to reveal as much skin as they dare, then collapsing in a heap….arms spread wide to maximise their exposure, only to be disappointed by an immediate appearance of a dark cloud which promptly sends them scurrying for cover.

But the weathers just playing ‘peek a boo’ and the fine rain stops as soon as they make it through the door and once again the sun comes out. So they attempt a return….but they’ve been spotted and once again the devious precipitation waits just long enough for them to bare all and relax…….such fun it has with them.

Anyway, enough sillyness.

This is probably my last post for this trip, which has been on the whole very good. Thank you for dropping by and if you’re off on your own adventure soon I wish you a very merry ‘Bon Vogage’….have a great time.

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Hey..have you heard this one?

1st December 2014

 

Another Sea Day…or just a rumour?

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Cruise ships are one of the greatest places in the whole of the civilised world for rumours, which range from the simply obvious to the incredibly and unbelievably ridiculous.

They’re going on all the time, but there’s always a crescendo of some of the more bizarre ideas as the trip draws near to its conclusion.

Early on there were the stories about certain individuals and their status or occupation, and apparently we had a world famous and well respected fashion designer on board as well as a very well known comedienne and even a Nolan sister. Turns out the designer was just an eccentric with strange hair and very little fashion sense, the comedienne was the least funniest person you could ever meet and the Nolan sister hasn’t been seen again as she’s gone into hiding (or maybe she never existed in the first place)

At one point the ship had a crack in the hull, the crew were working to rule and a whole gang of passengers had been arrested for nicking stuff from the shops (now that one I could believe) The weather was going to stop us getting into Cuba, someone was suing because of a splinter and rum had actually been discovered in the free punch served during the sail away party (that’s just silly)

With reference to an earlier post there is now even one tale being distributed about some members of the crew receiving in excess of $2k in gratuities each month. But I can categorically state that from all the whispering and scheming I’ve heard on this subject it’s more likely that they’ll get much less than that from this bunch to share between everyone.

Maybe I should start a rumour that folk who don’t pay their gratuities are going to be put on an international ‘tight wads’ register and are likely to be banned admission into any of the bars or restaurants on any cruise ship.

Anyway the latest rumours are that we won’t get into Ponta Delgado and we’re due to get hit by a force 10 storm as we make a run for home. And when we reach the UK we’ll be greeted with three foot of snow and Christmas (like all Christian festivals) will be cancelled in favour of a more politically correct celebration. But there’s nothing left in the shops anyway because of the black Friday lootings and all the turkeys have had to be destroyed because of deadly bacteria lurking in the skin.

Well I just don’t have enough space to list any more of them as there are so many.

Let’s just wait and see…..this could get even more stupid!!!!!

Gratuities……here’s a tip :)

30th November 2014

Another Sea Day

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The sea has started to cut up a bit rough over the past 24 hours and those who haven’t taken to their beds yet are looking for things to keep themselves occupied and entertained. There are still a few who are lamely wandering around with their latest batch of t-shirts, bags and coats announcing where they’ve been recently….trouble is everybody else went there as well, so the game is now to prove you paid less for your goodies than anyone else did.

I feel slightly cheated because I didn’t buy anything with the name of a location on it, so I’m not allowed to play because…..well because I’m just a cheapskate (and proud of it)

Others are now scheming on how to get out of paying their gratuities to the well deserving crew members who’ve looked after us all so well (and they call me a cheapskate?) It ranges from cancelling the automatic additions to their cabin account with the intention of feigning illness on the last day and therefore avoiding any contact with the staff, to outright deviousness by claiming they’re unhappy with the service they’ve received over the past 34 days. That has wider ranging consequences that they either haven’t considered or just don’t care about.

One couple stated that as they’d seen their waiter ashore at one of the ports and he was in possession of the latest iphone, was wearing designer clothes and shopping for jewellery then he was obviously paid far too much and didn’t need their hard earned cash.

I am truly amazed by some of the excuses…but somehow I’m not surprised…and you wonder why I hate people!!

Yes, for us Brits, tipping is always a bit of a hot topic because it’s not a culture we’ve been used to, but come on meanies you know the situation and you should factor the cost in with the holiday. I’m so disappointed to hear you criticise the efforts of the guys and gals who work 10 to 12 hours a day/7 days a week and yet you’re too tight to reward their genuine attention to your needs…yet you’ll spend $10 on a tatty t-shirt in every port…shame on you.

Next I’ll hear some poor soul claiming that they’ve had to cancel their gratuities owing to the heavy loses they’ve suffered at the gaming tables, or that they need to be careful with the pennies because they’ve just booked another two cruises.. ….oh too late…I heard those two tales last night.

Look folks if you can’t afford it then just say so, it’s not a crime you know. But please don’t rubbish the hard working staff just to save a few bob.

TWIT.

 

 

Weirdo….

29th November 2014

A Sea Day

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For us, this cruise has been one of the strangest. Don’t get me wrong we’ve been to some really interesting places and had a very enjoyable time away….the foods been ok, the weather great and the ship and the crew are good as usual. But some of the folk we’ve shared this holiday with are seriously strange. I can’t quite put my finger on any one particular reason for thinking this because there are many. There has been an excess of moaning, far more than the average cruise, and we’ve seen an unprecedented amount of ignorance and bad manners, mainly aimed in the direction of the lovely staff. And if you ever thought I was opinionated…well compared to some of these I’m a rank amateur.

Because of this I’ve been wandering around the ship singing the following which I’d like to share with you all……

“Weirdo” (to the tune Hero-Maria Carey)

There are weirdoes
When you look around this ship
You won’t have to search too far
To find another.
They’re all over
If you wander to the bar
In the restaurant or on tour
They will be there.

And when the weirdo comes along
You’ll lose the will to carry on,
As you cast your eyes on high
And you know you can’t deny,
Now you feel like hope is gone
Look around you and be strong.
But you’ll finally see the truth
As a weirdo stands by you.

It’s a long cruise
When you take this trip alone
Someone reaches out a hand
For you to hold.
Then you face them
And you realise with fear
That a morons sitting near
With scary eyes.

And when the weirdo comes along
You’ll lose the will to carry on,
As you cast your eyes on high
And you know you can’t deny,
Now you feel like hope is gone
Look around you and be strong.
But you’ll finally see the truth
As a weirdo stands by you

Lord knows
Escape is quite unlikely
But don’t let anyone
Talk you to death.
Hold on
There may be tomorrow,
In time
You’ll find the way,

But then the weirdo comes along
You’ll lose the will to carry on,
As you cast your eyes on high
And you know you can’t deny,
Now you feel like hope is gone
Look around you and be strong.
But you’ll finally see the truth
As a weirdo stands by you.

Nice Flowers :)

Pretty Flowers

Just thought I might pretty my blog up today 🙂

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We seemed to spend a lot more time in gardens this trip….and very good it was too 🙂

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Bermuda..just lovely

27th November 2014

Hamilton, Bermuda

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Last stop on this side of the Atlantic before we head home.

First impressions are that Hamilton is nowhere near as commercial as Nassau, and considering the people who live here it probably doesn’t need to be. This is most definitely the playground of the rich and famous, and when they’ve finished playing they head back to their multi-million pound houses which cover the island. The rich and famous live side by side with the rich and not so famous in properties that dominate the skyline or beachfront, and you can get on a boat which will take you to gawp with envy.

Not for us though as we’re heading off towards the Botanical Gardens to see what’s on offer in the flora and fauna department, and as it’s a warm (but not overly hot) day the walk is very pleasant.

P1030902We pass a life sized bronze statue of ‘Johnny Barnes’ which is supposed to depict the spirit of Bermuda, it is very good. It was designed by a sculptor named Fountain, who incidentally designed several other pieces around the island including…yes you guessed it…a fountain.

The walking up the hill we enter the ‘Medical’ district. What a great idea to have all the different clinics and speciality healthcare services centred around the main hospital, there’s even the local branches of Red Cross ad St John Ambulance here as well. This would be a great place for any medical student to do their ‘elective’ placement…not that we know anybody like that!!!

The Botanical Gardens are really pleasant to stroll around with lots of singing birds and ‘spooky’ shaped trees to photograph….just brilliant.

P1030920Then we head off to the fort, which is a bit of a climb but well worth the effort. You can see the amount of effort that was put into digging out the underground tunnels here, and the guns are enormous. Oh and the views are just the best.

The cathedral is pretty and the town gardens are fascinating (or the other way round if you prefer) but the one major downside to this peaceful haven is it’s very expensive. To be fair a lot of the people who live here aren’t short of a bob or two, but when you compare the prices we’ve been used to at previous stops it’s very different. But then it costs nothing to browse and no one hassles you for a sale, it’s all good, and the locals just love to chat.

P1030909So Hamilton is a really great place to visit and we really enjoyed it so thanks for having us, but we didn’t spend much this time….sorry.…but I’m fairly sure you won’t miss it.

Busy Busy Bahamas

24th November 2014

Nassau Bahamas

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Hmm…not sure what to say…so maybe I won’t say too much.

This port is exceptionally popular with the cruise ships and today we’re the smallest of five floating hotels which are jostling for position along the harbour. So this is a very busy commercial town and most people seem to head off across the bridge to Paradise Island to spend the day on the incredible beaches that are available on the far side of the island.

I’m not saying it’s not a nice place…it’s just not my cup of tea…sorry.

At least the weather was good so we had the chance of a nice long stroll, and I hear the Ardastra Gardens and Zoo are well worth a visit (catch the number 10 bus)

We enjoyed a nice snack lunch at the Conch n Kalik (great conch fritters and chicken wings) followed by some shop browsing before returning to the ship.

P1030818It was nice to see the police in their white uniforms and pith helmets, very smart.

We had a nice day here but sooooooo many people around (including us of course)

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Club Tropicana drinks aren’t free, but they are good

21st – 22nd November 2014

Havana – Cuba

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It would be wrong of me to say I’m totally relaxed and looking forward to today’s visit to the city of Havana in Cuba, but I have no rational reason for feeling the way I do, so I intend trying to keep an open mind.

First impressions are, once again, a little mixed as the place we’re berthed at is quite dirty and dishevelled. I must remind myself of my previous comments about not expecting things to be the same here as in other places.

This is a country which is growing and improving, yes the revolution was some time ago but rebuilding takes time…and many boatloads of money.

We have to wait a while for immigration clearance and there’s a huge queue to change money into Cuban Convertible Pesos, but once that’s done we’re off. It’s a hot and sticky day and like many places there is the gauntlet of horse-drawn carriage owners and taxi drivers to negotiate. But to be fair they’re not as pushy as some of the ones we’re encountered on previous trips, so the first good point of the day is awarded.

We walked along the harbour front but a lot of care is needed here. The pavements are quite bad and are very uneven with huge holes here and there. But the people appear genuinely pleased to welcome us to their city with many an ‘Ola’ handed out along with big smiles. All seems friendly so far.

Some of the streets and buildings are seriously depressing though and there is a lot of construction and renovation happening. Unfortunately our first wanderings led us into a less salubrious area of the city and within a short time we quickly get lost in all the backstreet alleyways. I wouldn’t say we felt in any danger but elderly men urinating against the wall is never a good sign.

P1030769Much is made of the old American cars which dominate this city, and it’s true there are so many of them around the average car enthusiast could spend hours here and look at nothing else.

 

But be careful if you decide to ride….be absolutely clear in your negotiations as we heard many a story of a price being agreed but the passengers not realising the price quoted to them was per hour and/or per passenger and not a total for a tour. We heard one couple saying that as they’d had insufficient money when the time came to pay, the driver had demanded the man go off in search of cash while his terrified wife remained in the sweltering confines of the back of his car.

There are a lot of ‘dead’ railway engines around the streets as well, not all are accessible to look around but seeing the scatterings of ‘open air’ museums was interesting.

Anyway, by the evening of the first day I’m still not totally convinced, but the highlight of this tour was about to happen….we’d booked to go to ‘Club Tropicana’ to see this world famous show.

Well what can I say? It was very spectacular and with half a litre of Havana Club rum between the two of us it got better by the minute. Then to be fair we were quite lucky as we were directed to seats which gave us a decent view of the stage. Others were not quite so fortunate. The members of the audience are packed around oblong tables and this poses a big problem, a lot of folk are facing the wrong way….and it’s nigh on impossible to rotate your chair for a better look as the person behind is so close.

Overall we were both quite pleasantly surprised by the entertainment on offer although I would say that some parts became quite repetitive. This is a high-energy dance show with lots of fast salsa drum beats, so don’t expect too much variety. But it was very lively and colourful, what more can you wish from a show?

And so closed our first day here….dare I say with a smile….but was Havana or Havana Club responsible?

Day two was just as hot and sticky and there’s a load more to see and do, so off we go again. The one inescapable fact about this place is it’s cheap…very cheap.

We bought a number of presents to take home and food and drink is very reasonable…for example lobster for two with several mojitos to wash it down will cost around £20, and we bought two litres of Cubans finest rum for around £8!

We visit the the usual tourist haunts such as the Cathedral, the government buildings, revolution square, the armoury museum, etc and it was all very interesting. There is an awful lot of renovation going on so the future potential of this city appears to be a really good place to visit.

P1030807We end up having lunch in some back street café, which turns out to be the owner’s front yard with chickens and children running around, and a pile of colourful laundry drying on the washing line overhead. This for me was one of the highlight of this trip so far and demonstrated how friendly the people are here, as well as how desperate they are to earn a living, however they can. Needless to say the food was as good as the hospitality…..

And that was Havana. Much better than we’d expected and certainly different but I’m not sure we’ll come back….why?….probably because I wonder if the major renovation of this city which is happening at the moment will have a huge impact on the people and spoil the atmosphere and attitude that you feel in these somewhat chaotic streets. And as for those fantastic American cars….we all know what happened to the old buses in Malta once outside agencies put money into the local economy. Losing them would just be disastrous….oh well, I suppose we should come back in a few years time to find out what’s happened.

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