The Amalfi Coast (1)

Friday and Saturday we spent along the Amalfi Coast.   Friday we stopped in the village of Amalfi, then moved to Sorrento (1) a few miles away in the afternoon and stayed the night.  This gave us two full  days to explore.

We dropped anchor by Amalfi in the morning.  After Sally’s hours and hours of riding boats and buses yesterday and not feeling very good, she took a look at the tender bouncing up and down along side the Silver Muse and decided to sit the morning out while the rest of us went into Amalfi to look around.  After the expected rough ride in on the tender, Zelda and Matteo went one way while most likely I went mine.  The day started out grey, and the ground was still wet from rain. 

Amalfi on the Amalfi Coast, April 2017

Amalfi is a picturesque town built into the side of the mountains. There’s one main street running perpendicular to the waterfront with the usual collection of lady’s clothing and tourist gift shops. 

Tourists and locals, April 2017

While most of the people on the streets were tourists, most were not from our ship (we were the only ship in port). Amalfi is also major local transportation hub, with coastal ferries and buses making stops here at the terminal area. I saw lots of people with luggage getting on or off, or waiting, for buses and ferries. Amalfi is also major stop for tours of the Amalfi Coast, and there were a dozen or more large groups following someone holding a flag or umbrella in the air, the universal sign of a tour guide. I myself was very happy to be exploring on my own.  There was a large group of hikers assembled in town.  I later learned that they were likely making the hike from Amalfi to Positano.

Climbing a street for a view, April 2017

Like many of the towns along the Amalfi Coast, Amalfi itself is vertical – it’s built into the side of the mountains and cliffs that make up the Coast.   In fact, Amalfi is unique in my experience in having stairs that are actually streets.  I climbed about 180 steps up one without reaching the top, passing about a dozen or more homes along the way – doors just coming off of the stairs (2).

Waiting while the women shop, April 2017

After taking an espresso break by the main church, I headed back to the tender and the ship as we were pulling anchor at 1:00 for our trip to Sorrento, where we arrived at 4:00.  In the interim I had lunch on the pool deck and relaxed a bit.   While the day had started a bit dreary in Amalfi, it was mostly sunny during the cruise over.   And in Sorrento, it was mostly overcast.  

Waving the the Silver Spirit, April 2017

During the trip along the coast, we encountered the Silver Spirit – the ship we cruised on with Rob and Laura two years ago.  The two captains made a little celebration of it, with the Silver Spirit circling the Silver Muse as we sat motionless (3), passengers waving and yelling, and horns blowing.  

Cloister; the long walk home, April 2017

Sorrento was not my idea of a pretty resort city.   It’s crowded, busy and noisy.  And the air smelled of auto exhaust fumes, although this may be just weather-induced.  There was a pretty park by the sea, and also a nice cloister which was setup for a show of some sort.  Nonetheless, I explored for about 2 hours, then walked down a long set of switchbacks to the port are to return to the ship.


(1) Sorrento is not actually on the Amalfi Coast, but is a popular hopping off point and is only a few miles across the peninsula.

(2) As I write this two days later, my quads are still sore from Amalfi and Sorrento.  

(3) We were told that the other ship circled us so they could get a good look at our new ship.  If you ask me, they look pretty much the same.  

Taormina Tantrum, or what happens when you violate the Prime Directive

This post is mostly about me being angry at myself for a bad decision which made for a less than satisfactory day. 

 After leaving Malta, we sailed overnight back to Sicily, this time to the northeast coast where we dropped anchor off Taormina. Their claim to fame is that they are in the shadow of Mt. Etna, the “second largest active volcano in the world (1)”. It definitely is big, at 10,900′. It definitely is active, as an explosion a couple of months ago sent a BBC crew running and injured one of them from debris. As we came into port we could see smoke and ash spewing from the summit. 

When planning our activity schedule for this week, we all pretty much agreed that we would go see Mt. Etna. After considering the options, We decided to take the cruise’s group excursion. All we wanted was a ride up the mountain and back, so there didn’t seem to be any value in hiring a private guide. So we booked a tour leaving at 9:15am. This violated Sally and my Prime Directive (1): never take a group bus tour. 

Extinct cinder cone, April 2017

We didn’t realize that the ship was anchoring out in the bay rather than at a dock. This meant that passengers needed to use the ship’s tender to transfer. This in turn meant we needed to be ready to leave at 8:30 to get ashore and meet the bus in time. 

My. Etna active at 11,000′, April 2017

The day started with difficulty.   There were big swells in the sea.  Because of the swells, the tender was rising and dropping against the side of the ship and the door we exited through; the crew had to wait until they thought the two would line up and then get each passanger across. This took quite a while for the 75 or more people on our tender. Then the ride into he dock was rough, and as a result Sally didn’t feel very good by the time we were on dry land. 

He climbed to see Mt. Etna, April 2017

We boarded the bus with about 20 people and our guide. We had been variously told the ride up was 30 or 45 minutes. It took an hour, and it was also pretty bouncy. The roads were not very smooth, there were lots of turns. By the time we got to our tour spot, Sally felt even worse. And here’s where group bus tours really annoy us. About 45 minutes into the ride, we stopped for a picture of the summit and the erupting smoke. All good, and there were ladies there selling souvenirs. The guide (2) and driver each got freebies. We spent way too much time there, and a couple of women were still shopping when even the guide was ready to leave.  

After driving to the end of the road, we proceeded a few hundred yards past our destination to another restaurant/gift shop. Where we spent 30 minutes hanging around. Finally we went back down the road to the spot we were supposed to see. When I read the tour description later, I realized it was accurate and we had just imagined what we were going to see: lava flows and actual eruptions. 

From here you can almost see the top, April 2017

Unfortunately, the road stops at about 6,500′, while all the action happens above 10,000′. What we saw were a series of extinct cinder cones from 20th and 21st century eruptions. Interesting, but not what we expected. One can hike the 3,500′ to the summit, which we clearly were not going to do. And there was a cable car going up another 1,000′ or so which had no time for.  Sally and Zelda were finished after 30 minutes.  Matteo and I walked around there for another 30 minutes, then we all got on the bus and headed back down. 

The Bassman climbeth (credit: Matteo), April 2017

By the time we got back to Taormina, we decided to tender back to the ship and have lunch there. We had originally thought that walking around Taormina after the tour would be fun, but (a) we were all tired and hungry; (b) the town was a 15 minute shuttle ride from the dock; and (c) there were no shuttles in sight. So we took another bumpy tender ride back, and the crew struggled but succeeded in getting us all back on the Silver Muse.          

The moral of this story is twofold.  First, always read the description of a tour for what it is, not what you wish it to say.  And second, never ever violate the Prime Directive.  My failure to follow these rules resulted in a most disappointing day.

(1) For those of you who are not Trekkies, the Prime Directive was to never interfere with an alien culture.  

(2) Actually I was glad to get off the bus.  Not to stretch, not because I needed the fresh air, but because the guide didn’t stop yammering for the entire hour it took us to drive up to the top.  Talk, talk, talk, talk.  And there really wasn’t that much worth saying.  

A new day, a new country

Actually, a completely new country to Sally and me (and Zelda and Matteo) – Malta.   Malta is a tiny little country just south of Sicily.  The country is only 122 square miles, and the total population is around 450,000.   Sitting in the strait only 60 miles from Sicily and 150 miles from Tunisia and Libya, it has been an important trading and military post since forever.   All the old timers were there: the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Moors, the Normans.   And finally, the British in the early 19th century until its independence in 1964.  

As has been our practice, we booked a private guide. Vince met us at the dock as promised at 9:30 and we started our tour of this mini country.  

Colorful harbor, April 2017

As you might guess from the stats above, the entire country is developed with very little open space.  The roads are pretty crummy and we bounced in the van all day despite going slowly.  As the two official languages are English and Malta, we had no problem understanding Vince’s British English.  

Market by the sea, April 2017

Our first stop was a harbor town, which had an unbelievably colorful marina of fishing boats along with an open air market.  I could have photographed the boats for hours, but that wouldn’t have been fair to the rest of our party, or consistent with our plan to get a view of the entire island.  As for the market, if you’ve seen one open-air market, you’ve seen them all.

Interestingly, while there is a lot of shipping and fishing in evidence, it is not the driver of the economy anymore – now it’s tourism.  

Almost the Blue Grotto, April 2017

From there we drove to see the Blue Grotto, some caves eaten into the rocky shore by wave action.  Sadly (1), the seas were a bit rough and the boats weren’t running.  But we admired a nice arch in the water. 

We made another stop to look at some cliffs, but then proceeded to Mdina (2), the former capital of Malta.   It’s an inland city, up on a hill (of course).  Today it seems to be mostly tourists, with large parking lots outside of the old walls.   Nonetheless, it was a very nice place to visit and walk around.   

Mdina (3), April 2017

We had Vince drop us off back in Valletta, which is the current capital.  We saw the Prime Minister rush out of his office and hop into a car to go to lunch somewhere, so we thanked Vince and went off to find some lunch.

Electric violin, April 2017


After lunch we went back to the ship and relaxed until our fancy dinner in the French restaurant, La Dame.  The evening’s entertainment was from the same violinist that we saw earlier, playing the same electric violin with the same three piece backup band.  The songs were different, but it was essentially the same show.  


(1) I’m not so sure we would have enjoyed a ride in the ocean in a tiny boat.

(2) “Mdina” is pronounced “Imdina” in Maltese, and we even saw it spelled that way.

(3) Despite periodic references to the Maltese Falcon around the island, the film had nothing to do with Malta.   Humphrey Bogart played a San Francisco detective looking for a statue.

Sometimes you get more

Tuesday we stopped in Trapani, Sicily.  This was the first time any of the four of our party had been to Sicily (1) and I was looking forward to getting a bit of a sense of what it was all about.   In American culture, Sicily is all about the Mafia and the Corleone family from “The Godfather”. I think I already knew that this was not really the full story, but didn’t know much else.   

We booked a private tour guide through a website called Tours By Locals that I found.  TBL acts as a broker, allowing individual guides to post their tour options, and taking a commission from them for each booking (I suspect 20-25%).   Mimmo responded to my inquiry, and after an exchange of messages, I booked him for a full day tour of some sights in and around Trapani.   Of particular interest to us was the town itself, a nearby medieval hilltop town of Erice, and something called the salt flats.  

Making salt, and visiting a ruin, April 2017

The day starts perfectly, with Mimmo meeting us as planned at the dock and loading us and our gear into his car.   We headed out of town and soon found ourself at the salt flats.   Salt is an old industry in this area, where Mediterrainian seawater is pumped into shallow pans and allowed to evaporate, leaving behind the sea salt.  The Mediterranean is a very salty sea, and the dry climate and prevailing breezes make this a good business.  The water was originally pumped by windmills, but almost all of these have fallen into disrepair.

From there we headed up into the hills, eventually coming to an archeological site called Segesta.  This was one of the major cities of the Elymian people, one of the indigenous peoples of Sicily (2).  The Greeks, who were not indigenous to the area, took over the culture, although not the DNA.  What we are left with today are ruins.   There is a partially reconstructed amphitheater and a reconstructed temple.   There are also all kinds of ruins of the original city, of buildings and roads of various sorts. 

All uninteresting.

Actually, we had no idea we were going to see these ruins.   And we were a bit disappointed in that viewing the site involved waiting for and then taking a bus up to the hilltop, walking a significant amount on ancient stone paths, and seeing what the four of us have seen many times before: the remains of an old stadium, the ruins of an old temple, the ruins of unidentified buildings. In fact, after making the trek to see the ampitheater, we rebelled and refused to make the 1/2 mile walk to and around the temple.   I actually find this stuff somewhat interesting in general, but only if the site has some particular significance or is in some other way special.   Segesta doesn’t pass this test.  And we’ve all seen ancient Greek ruins many times.

We had a frank talk with Mimmo about the situation, which was sad because we had all started out great, and he brought some delicious cannoli which everyone enjoyed.   The next ride, up to the hill town of Erice, was a bit quieter, as I believe he was embarrassed by the missed communication (3) about what we wanted to do, and what we didn’t want to do.  And we didn’t want to do a lot of walking on uneven surfaces.

Erice “mother church” and fort, April 2017

Erice, once we finally got there, was a delight.  It’s an old city, originally settled by the Phoenicians, at 2,500′ above the sea.   It was subsequently conquered by the Greeks, the Cathaginians, and Arabs.   The Normans took it in 1167 and created the town we see today.    Post WWII the town went into decline as its remote location and limited modern facilities caused a population loss to lower and more easily accessible communities nearby.   However, the structures survived and it has now been reborn as a tourist destination for local people as well visitors.   

Dining alfresco and Trapani from Erice, April 2017

We had an excellent lunch in a very small restaurant and wandered (4) through the old cobblestone streets.   From Erice, we headed back down the hill to Trapani and the Silver Muse. 

Fixing dinner and cocktails on deck, April 2017

Dinner Tuesday was in Atlantide, the same restaurant where we had the run-in over my lack of a tie last week.  But because I’m a go-along, get-along kind of guy, I bought a tie in Aix-en-Provence, and so we had no problem gaining admission to the restaurant.  While we were waiting, the ladies took the opportunity to work with Theresa – one of our favorite crew members – on dining plans for the upcoming days.  The show this evening was a violinist who plays well known songs on electric violin with the ship’s trio backing him up.  Enjoyable.  

Ready to party, April 2017


(1) But not the last time – we’ll be in Taormina, Sicily on Thursday.

(2) What does “indigenous” really mean?  It’s meant to imply that a group was in a place originally, before some interlopers arrived from elsewhere.  But all peoples in the world, except for some in Africa where humans arose first, came to where they are from somewhere else.   

(3) Apparently Mimmo didn’t get, or didn’t focus on, the email I sent him via TBL describing what we wanted on the tour.  We never did see anything in the town of Trapani, but it turns out that most of the monuments and public buildings there were closed for a holiday.

(4) I don’t know if you can actually be “wandering” when you have hired guide telling you when to turn left or right.

A day at sea

Cruises, as we know them, are decendents of the ships that used to be the principle form of transportation whenever navigable water was available.   Whether crossing an ocean or the Mediterranean Sea, or plying along a coast or up and down a river, ships offered either the only practical means of transportation (ocean crossing) or a very cost effective one (rivers and lakes).  With the growth of railroads and cars, and then aircraft, using ships for passenger travel has declined in importance.   Pretty much no one who needs to get from Europe to North America will travel by sea.

Hot tub, hot chess, cool officer, April 2017

However, clever entrepreneurs have found that people like to go to resorts, and that many people like resorts that don’t limit them to being stuck in one actual location with one (usually minimal) set of sights to see.  So the notion of a cruise ship was born – boarding a ship not to get somewhere, but to stay in one place at the same time that you get to visit many places.  Most cruises spend all or almost all days in one port or another, where the passengers can get off and see the sights.  If it’s a Caribbean cruise, my experience is the ports are little more than time fillers.  You would never fly to those towns or even islands to go sightseeing.  On our cruise in the Mediterranean it’s a bit more mixed – some of the stops could be quite interesting, if only you had more than a few hours to explore.   We docked in Barcelona for nine hours; two years ago we spent three days there.   The Rome stop is even worse: as Rome is not really near the sea, we have to drive an hour and a half each way to get there, only to see a few hours worth of stuff.

Pool deck and hallway, April 2017

On some routes the ship spends a full day transmitting between stops.   That is the case on this cruise, where Monday is a “Day at Sea”.   A Day at Sea gives you the opportunity to sleep in (no pesky tours to meet at 9:30), relax on the deck without seeing the typical commercial areas where cruise ships dock, play trivial pursuit with the cruise director, and engage in many other resort-like activities, depending on the ship.  We don’t have rock climbing, a rifle range, driving range, go-kart track, water park or some of the other features from the mammoth ships.

Trivial pursuit and adorable singers, April 2017

I’m not generally a big resort guy, which means that – mostly – the Day at Sea is not as exciting for me as it is for some other people.  I don’t use the pool, I don’t like games like trivial pursuit or putting in the hallways.  I do like finding a quiet lounge and watching the sea, watching the other passengers and watching the crew go about their jobs.   

On this particular cruise, the pleasant springtime weather – sunny and high in the low 60s – doesn’t work as well as I would like while at sea.  First you get a nice ocean breeze, and then the wind chill created by the ship cruising at about 15mph.   I find it a bit uncomfortable to sit outside. I did eat at the outdoor pizzeria, wearing my jacket and sitting under a heat lamp.  It was okay, although the pizza did cool off pretty quickly.

The evening show was similar to the Caribbean  ports – a 45 minute diversion, but not really anything you would pay to see.  Last night we had a violinist who played popular songs extremely well, with the ship’s trio backing him up.  But I don’t even remember his name.  And I didn’t even bother to take a picture of him.  But we also didn’t walk out.   

The one thing I really don’t like about being at sea is the lack of connectivity.  Both Matteo and I have the AT&T international roaming plan for $10/day.   With this, we not only get full cell service but can tether our other three devices.   And it works not only in port, but as long as we are reasonably close to any population center along the coast. While at sea we are limited to the ship wifi plan.  This gives us each one hour per day, with no rollover (1).   I find this barely adequate to check my email, do a quick scan of the news headlines, and upload a post.

(1) This is a big change from our last Silversea cruise, where we got two hours per day with rollover.  While the new rule was correctly described in the literature, the change was not highlighted.  

Bug list

Back when I used to work for a living, my group would regularly develop and release IT products to the users across our firm.   Before the first production release we would often do a “beta” release, which we knew contained bugs but which we also thought worked well enough for users to use effectively.  During the beta release period, we would collect reports of problems – bugs – and develop a plan to correct them, either during the beta release period or after we went into full production.

The Silver Muse is a late-stage beta release.  If you were to count the number of features and capabilities which exist on this ship, the number of problems is numerically small.  But they are problems nonetheless, many of which could easily been caught and corrected before we boarded.  So here is our bug list.

B001: Screws missing in some reading lamps by beds.  Risk: lamp detaching and injuring passenger or crew.  

B002: Incorrect information about dress code distributed to 600 passengers. Risk: passengers arriving without proper attire and being denied entry to reserved restaurant. Risk: conflict between passenger and crew. 

B003: “Do not disturb” door tags not ready on time.  Passengers required to use flimsy paper tags with no holes for hanging on door handle.  Risk: cabin staff could intrude on passenger at inopportune time.  Resolved: proper door tags distributed after several days at sea.

B004: Restaurant reservation requirements not understood or followed by passengers. Risk: passengers being unable to eat in intended location. Risk: unnecessary conflict between passengers and crew. 

B005: Water leaking on floor of bathroom. Risk: wet feet. Risk: passengers or crew slipping on wet floor, resulting in injury. 

B006: All toilets on several decks temporarily out of service due to failure of pressure flush system.  Risk: obvious. Resolution: all toilets now functioning.

B007: Inadequate process for dining room and table assignments on first night. Risk: passengers unable to dine with family and friends.  Risk: unnecessary conversations between passengers and crew on first day.  Resolution: no more first nights on maiden cruises for several years, at least. 

B008: Restaurant reservation requirements changed mid-cruise without adequate notice. Risk: passenger and crew confusion.  Resolution: this item determined to be the result of users not RTFM.

B009: Missing heaters in outdoor restaurant on pool deck. Risk: passengers being too cold to dine there.  

B010: Inadequate process for accommodating food allergies. Risk: unnecessarily denying dining options to passengers.  Risk: unnecessary conflict between passengers and crew. Risk: passengers needing to spend precious vacation time dealing with staff.  

B011: lids on at least two toilets in public lavatories broke off.  Risk: embarrassment.

B012: Wifi allowance is unclear and inadequate. Passengers required to take steps to explicitly logout of system; daily allowance of 1 hour doesn’t rollover if unused.  Risk: passengers unable to control usage and have access to network services.  

Doing nothing much in Palma

Mallorca is the principal island of the Balearic Islands, and home to Palma de Mallorca.  Mallorca itself is a huge vacation spot, as are the other islands in the group.  As you pull into Palma’s harbor, you see miles of seafront condominium buildings and an enourmous marina for private boats.  Last time we were here with Laura and Rob, we hired a driver who took us into the northeastern mountainous coast, and Valldemossa in the mountains.   This time, we took the ship’s shuttle bus into Palma and walked around for a few hours.  

Narrow streets, April 2017

Palma is a pleasant if hilly town.   Being Sunday, many of the shops were closed (no big deal) but the streets were crowded nonetheless.  We found live music and a huge book fair in one large plaza, and families out for a walk around town on narrow streets.  

Crowds, florists and a river, April 2017

The commercial district is bordered by a river with extensive landscaping along it’s banks. There is also a boulevard called La Rambla, which is a very scaled down version of the more famous and active street in Barcelona.  The only shops on it are florists.  

Cathedral, April 2017

Just before getting back on the shuttle, stopped for gelato.  As one must. 

We were back on the ship and finished with lunch by around 3:00pm.  The ship left at 5:00, and we were escorted for quite a while by some gulls. They would approach the ship from the rear, and then fly along side for a while, matching our speed.  It made it (relatively easy) to catch a good picture.

Bird in flight, April 2017

We will be at sea from our departure on Sunday at 5:00 until we arrive in Sicily around 8:00am on Tuesday.  

The big 4-0

Yesterday was Zelda and Matteo’s 40th anniversary.   To celebrate, we took them to a very fancy restaurant, complete with an expensive bottle of French champagne.  We finished the evening with a cabaret show (1).

Zelda and Matteo @ 40, April 23, 2017

It’s hard to believe that the 15 year old girl I first saw standing in her mother’s kitchen is all grown up.


(1) Actually, all of this was included in the price of the cruise, and of course, they paid their own way.  Except for the champagne, which was a gift to us from American Express for charging the cruise on their card.   Still, I thought it sounded nice.  

All Gaudi, all the time 

Saturday was Barcelona, so of course we did Gaudi things.  We went for a trifecta: the Segrada Familia, Park Guell, and Casa Mila.  His still-incomplete masterpiece, a failed high-end housing development, and a bankrupt luxury apartment building.

Still under construction, April 2017

Segrada Familia is a massive church whose construction first began in 1882, or 135 years ago.  It is stunning in scale and design, and looks unlike any other church or religious edifice in the world.   Gaudi was hired a year after it was begun, and he threw out the original design for a new concept. 

Listening and learning, April 2017

We met out guide, Marta, outside and she started our 4-hour Gaudi tour by taking us through the museum beneath the structure and explaining the design and construction concepts.  This may sound boring, and I was initially skeptical, but I found it pretty interesting.   His insightful use of geometry and mathematics to create insanely complex and pragmatic design elements that were also straightforward to construct was amazing.   

Interior colors, April 2017

There’s way too much to say about the Segrada Familia, so I’ll leave most of it for you to find elsewhere (see Wikipedia, for instance).  But I’ll leave you with this thought:  construction was creeping along until the Barcelona Olympics, which had the effect of increasing tourist interest in Barcelona generally and the Segrada.  The number of visitors had grown such that the funding has dramatically increased from entrance fees.  The church is so crowded that mass is only celebrated in the main sanctuary once a month.  A cynic might say that this allows for more paid admissions … .

Park Guell, April 2017

Our next stop was Park Guell.   While now a city park, it was originally planned as a high-end gated community in the outskirts of Barcelona.   Guell hired Gaudi to design the landscape and public elements of the project. There’s a grand entrance, a house for the concierge to greet visitors, etc.   An outdoor market area was built where food and other vendors could set up on market days.  Ultimately no one was interested in living that far from the city in the days before motorized transportation.  

Gaudi House (not by Gaudi), April 2017

Only two residences were built in the Park, neither designed by Gaudi.  After the project failed, Gaudi bought one of the houses and lived there for the last 20 years of his life.  

Casa Mila was commissioned in 1906 by a wealthy Barcelona businessman, Pere Mila, to be his residence and have a number of luxury apartments to provide income for the building.  Unfortunately for the later owner, a local bank, the original leases allowed rent-fixed renewals through the grandchildren of the original renters, which ultimately forced the building into bankruptcy.  It is currently owned by a foundation, which has turned several of the apartments into a museum.

We had seen the other famous Gaudi-designed private residence, Casa Batllo, when we were in Barcelona two years ago.   It was great to see another example of his work this time, but we felt that Batllo was more striking.   That being said, this building was extremely controversial when built as it has a number of wonderful and typically Gaudi-esque features.  

Mila facade and details, April 2017

The fanciful chimneys and air vents are a Gaudi trademark. And he spared no effort in this building.  

Chimneys, April 2017

When Casa Mila was originally built, the attic was subdivided into rooms for the tenants’ household staff to live in, and for laundry and other workrooms.   As it has been renovated into a showpiece and museum, the interior walls have been removed.  This reveals a set of supporting arches following the same geometry used in Segrada Familia.  While the picture doesn’t show it, the arches are quite beautiful.   

Arch supports, April 2017

We finished our time in Barcelona with a stroll on La Rambla and lunch.  Then, back to the Silver Muse. 

A quick look at Marseille and Aix-en-Provence

In typical cruise fashion, we pulled into Marseille in the morning and left in the late afternoon. This gave us enough time to take a quick look at two cities in southern France: Marseille itself, a bustling port and tourist attraction, and Aix, a smaller city about 20 miles inland.  Our plan here was to take a taxi from the dock to and from Aix, and then walk around some part of Marseille before boarding the ship.  As the ship was departing at 5pm, we decided to target returning no later than 4pm.  As it turned out, we needed to take a shuttle bus from the dock into Marseille to find a taxi.   All in all, the transportation options worked out as planned.  

Aix-en-Provence walking street, April 2017

Aix is a pleasant little city, with a large pedestrian avenue surrounded by quiet streets.   The car traffic seems pretty light in this central district.

Quiet streets in Aix, April 2017

 There’s a fair amount of real shopping in addition to tourist shops and restaurants.   I took advantage of this and bought a tie.  After the previous night’s excitement over the ship dress code, I decided I didn’t need any more drama.

Vieux-Port Marseille, April 2017

We found another taxi and headed back to Marseille, were we planned to visit the Old Port area and find some lunch.   The Old Port, or Vieux-Port, is a major tourist area.  It makes an enlongated U around the old port itself, with today is packed with small and not-so small pleasure crafts.  There’s a giant Ferris Wheel.

We walked up and down the street for a while trying to find a restaurant that would meet our diverse needs, and then decided to give up and head back to the ship for lunch.   We got to the appointed meeting place for the shuttle bus about 10 minutes early, and found a hefty line of other passengers.  Fortunately, we got on the bus, but a few people didn’t fit.  They had to either wait a half hour for the next bus or take a taxi.

Dinner this evening was stress-free as it was “informal”, which implies sport jackets and no ties.  I wore my jacket, while Matteo and many other men in our restaurant didn’t.  Go figure.  I also should mention I had a nice talk with the Hotel Director Paulo in the afternoon, where we discussed the issues of lamps falling on people (1), the dress code and the dining reservation system.  He took notes, but basically said he had no authority to change any of the company rules.  He did say that if he got lots of complaints – and I was not the first to complain – it certainly would be reviewed at corporate.  

Very cool, April 2017

After dinner, Sally and I spent a little bit listening to the jazz duo in one of the restaurants. They were very good.


(1) For the second time, this morning we noticed some water on the floor in our bathroom that was not caused by anything we did.   When we showed it to our butler (aka cabin attendant), he said it was happening in other cabins as well.   Go beta testing!

Beta testing

Thursday was our third day in Monaco, and our first full day on the Silver Muse.   One of the concerns we had when we booked this cruise was that this is the maiden voyage.  Many people are excited about something like that, being first and all.  And let’s not even start with the other meaning of being first with a maiden.  But as a long time IT guy, I translate “maiden voltage” as “beta testing”.  As in ” we haven’t quite finished debugging yet, but let’s get some customers already”.  

Making us safe from the beta test, April 2017

I may have already described the seating chart issue from the first night, but to recap: the ship didn’t allow anyone to make any dining reservations for the first night, which are actually required every other night for every restaurant.  When we inquired upon arrival with the head of the restaurants, we found that they simply assigned people across the ship by cabin number.  So we were sitting with the couple from room 746 (we are 747), while Zelda and  Matteo were with two couples from 654 and 655, as they are room 653.  While a good way to meet people, not what any of the guests traveling with friends or family had in mind.

Not just loose, but missing, April 2017

Matteo came down this morning to breakfast with a cut on his hand.  When we inquired about it, we found out that the bedside reading lamp came off the wall in the middle of the night and cut him.   And when the electrician came to repair the lamp, he said that the screws holding it to the wall were missing, and that was a common problem across the ship.  Seems like the holes in the underlying baseplate don’t always align with the holes in the lamp unit, so they were simply left off during assembly.  Zelda went over to check the lamp on her side of the bed, and it came off in her hand (no injury this time).  When I checked our lamps, one had the required two screws and one had only one.  This is clearly a design problem, but also reflects the lack of time to fix a (minor) safety problem before the beta test maiden voyage. 

I wrote a couple of days ago about all of the work that the ladies put into organizing our diner reservations.  The effort was compounded, in part, by confusion over which nights were “formal” (black tie suggested) at which restaurants.  We wanted to avoid them, so Matteo and I didn’t need to bring suits or ties.  Which I didn’t bring as a result of the careful planning. It took many emails and phone calls with the travel agent and the cruise line itself before Sally secured the information.  Once we were on board and started reading the cabin information, it turned out that two of the restaurants are to be formal every night.   And we have dining reservations at those for four nights.  It also became apparent Wednesday evening that the passengers were taking this formal thing formally.  Even though Wednesday was formally informal (jackets required for men, but no ties), a significant number of men were in tuxedos, and woman in gowns.  I haven’t seen this type of dress widespread on a cruise in 30 years.  It definitely wasn’t the case on our previous Silversea cruise two years ago.

Saving us from beta testing, April 2017

Anyway, Thursday night dinner was at one of the formal restaurants, and we had a lot of conversation during the day about how to deal with it.   My response was, since I didn’t even have a tie with me, I’ll deal with it if and when it’s actually a problem when we show up there.  And I didn’t expect a problem.   

Well, I was wrong again.  

We arrived at the host’s station, and he informed me that the restaurant was formal and I needed a tie to be seated.  I informed him that, per the information the cruise line gave us, I didn’t bring a tie.  He informed me that it was ship policy and needed to be adhered to.   I informed him I came for dinner and wanted to be seated.  He informed me that he would be happy to lend me one of the ties they kept in back for uncouth idiots(1) like me who came without one.  I informed him that I paid a lot of money for the cruise, I didn’t want his stupid (2) tie, and I was going to have dinner in his stinking (2) restaurant.  

At this point he mumbled something about just following company rules, and proceeded to seat us in a nice quiet table in the back of the restaurant, where the fewest possible other guests would need to be exposed to my depraved dress behavior.  I, in turn, made sure I sat facing so that the maximum number of people could see my defiance to immoral and probably illegal authority.

Dessert was yummy: lemon meringue pie, April 2017

We then proceeded to have a lovely dinner, served by a friendly and attentive wait staff.  Although I need to say that three of us had to send our main courses back to be redone, and one of them had to be changed altogether to another choice.   But the desserts were excellent.

Monte Carlo at night, April 2017

After dinner, we went to the show, which featured the “Silversea Singers” (love the alliteration; very clever).  They were very good as they went through a program of songs from the 30s and 40s, which may have matched the age demographic of the passengers (3).  Sally then had to make a quick stop to chat with one of the restaurant managers about ensuring a garlic-free menu choice for Friday night, while I took a last picture of Monte Carlo.  The Silver Muse left port around midnight, headed for Marseilles.

(1) He didn’t actually call me an “uncouth idiot”.  I’m using literary license to describe my inner feelings at this point.  

(2) I didn’t say either “stupid” or “stinking”.

(3) I jest.  If you were a teenager in the 1930s, you are in your 90s now.  While the passengers appear older than we’ve seen on other cruises, they are not predominantly in their 80s and 90s.   

All aboard!

Yesterday we boarded the cruise ship Silver Muse to begin our journey around the Mediterranean Sea.  The first stop will be Monte Carlo, where we boarded.  Yes, that’s right – we moved from our lovely hotel in the city to a lovely hotel floating at a dock in the city.  We spent last night on the ship, but remained at dock in Monte Carlo.  I’ll get to “why” in a bit.  

The check-in process seemed well organized, if a bit over-complicated.  We had to stop at three different desks to complete the process, and it’s not clear to me why the three stops were the plan.  It seems to me that whatever it was they did at each stop could have been accomplished in one stop.   As it was we waited on two short lines, and it moved along well.

After the third stop, when we were officially “checked in”, we made our own fourth stop to chat with the head of the restaurant, Mr. Gilbert Lanza, about food allergies and our reservation for this first night.   See, the first night was “special” on this cruise.   It was added to the schedule after we had booked the trip, and we understood that the ship planned a special celebration in honor of its maiden voyage – parties, music, dignitaries, etc.   But they also seemed to have no way to allow you to make dinner plans for that night(1).  

Chatting with Lanza, April 2017

So we stopped to chat with Mr. Lanza and found out a few things.

1. He was mystified by some of the decisions surrounding the festivities, like how they randomly assigned people to tables for this evening.

2. He and his assistant would move us to Zelda and Matteo’s table, and somehow notify the displaced people that they were sitting somewhere else (we if fact all did sit together, so this worked).

3. He would arrange for Sally to receive a menu each evening for the restaurants so she could select a meal which would be garlic-free and tasty (2).  

The cabin is nice, which is not a surprise since it’s pretty much the same as the one we had two years ago.  There are a few minor changes in the layout, none of which matter a bit. 

Cabin with a view, April 2017

After checking in and unpacking, we toured the ship, checking out all a bars, restaurants, the spa, the bars, another restaurant, the game room, a bar, the fitness center, etc.  Sally decided to do some more unpacking while I went to the gym.  While I was working out, they made an announcement about the evening’s events.  There was a talk about the cruise industry starting shortly, and a big-deal christening of the ship on the dock adjacent to the ship in an hour. 

The christening ceremony was setup with folding chairs for 400 people, a small classical orchestra and speeches by Silversea executives and Prince Albert II of Monaco.  Champagne, tv coverage, very posh.  Unfortunately, only 150 passengers actually went down as we watched from our balcony, then then the weather turned.  

Sparse, umbrellas and then inside, April 2017

First the blankets came out as the temperature dropped, then the umbrellas as it started to rain.   Finally, they gave up and moved the whole thing into the theater in the ship.  That’s Albert’s bald spot sitting in the chair in the middle of the aisle.   Finally, we watched the christening on the video screen in the theater as they broke a bottle of booze on the hall of the ship.

But dinner was nice, and we had a good time catching up with Zelda & Matteo.

(1) You’ll recall that, unlike our last cruise on a sister ship, is ship has no open seating restaurant – you need a reservation every evening.  

(2) We never got a menu last evening, but found Lanza at breakfast and got it all arranged for tonight.

Sometimes I’m wrong

I wrote the other day about packing. If you missed it, I was discussing two alternate approaches to packing for a trip, mine and Sally’s.  Mine is to bring only what’s necessary, while Sally tries to be ready for different circumstances and plan for contingencies.  

Sometimes my plan leads to a problem.

Falling apart at the seams, April 2017

Sally brought a favorite pair of comfortable shoes, and another pair of comfortable shoes to switch off with.    This afternoon – the second day of our two week trip – the one-piece heel and sole started to come unglued from the body of the shoe, making it unusable. Since she has the other shoes, this will merely be a mild inconvenience, rather than a crisis.  We are planning a lot of touring on this trip, and not having some comfortable shoes would be a problem.    She’ll try and get them repaired on the ship, but we don’t know about that yet.

I brought two pair of shoes: a pair of nice leather shoes for the evening, and a pair of sneakers.   If one of them had failed, I’d be shopping in Monte Carlo tomorrow and undoubtedly paying thousands of dollars for a pair of shoes.  

Monte Carlo

We landed in Nice yesterday a bit late as a result of hanging out on the runway at JFK for unknown reasons.  We will spend two nights in Monte Carlo.  Last night was in a hotel, and tonight will be on our ship, the Silver Muse.  So when we got here yesterday morning and finally got into our room after lunch, we found the Silver Muse waiting for us across the street, so to speak.   Sally, as only she can do, extended her run of free upgrades and we found ourselves in a large room with a view. 

A view of our room from our room, April 2017


Monte Carlo and Monaco are a little funny. It’s a tiny country, only a couple of square miles.  Yet the city feels like a big city.   It’s very crowded and has lots of big buildings.  It’s loaded with expensive stores, expensive cars, and expensive yachts.  It’s also built into the side of the hills which surround it, so the streets are all inclined. There are stairways everywhere.

Vertical Monte Carlo, April 2017

Monte Carlo is famous for its casino, of course.  They charge €10 just to get in, which we didn’t have to pay because of our hotel.  We went over last night and Sally blew through €15 in an hour at the slot machines (fortunately, I’m good for it).   I really don’t get slots.   At least in the old days, you pulled a mechanical lever and could kid yourself that the way you pulled it had something to do with winning or not.  Today’s electronic machines don’t even make you do that – you feed currency in, select the amount of your bet, then repeatedly press a button to make the bet.  Occasionally it pays off.   Of course, there is nothing random whatsoever about the spin; the machine is a computer carefully programmed to provide intermittent reinforcement to the customer so as the maximize how long they will stay and feed it money.   

The main gaming rooms are nothing special.  Ten tables for roulette, blackjack and baccarat. Several dozen slot machines.  There are so-call “private rooms” in the back for high rollers and James Bond types that we didn’t enter.  I can’t show you a picture of the gaming room.  I can’t even show you a picture of the sign saying “no pictures”.   So here’s a snippet of the outside.  It’s a nicely ornate building.  

Casino detail, April 2017

Heated nuts

I’ve eaten in many restaurants around the world.  In some of the restaurants, the food served was unrecognizable to my uncultured eyes, but I usually understood the point of the dish after it was explained.  That doesn’t mean I tried it, or liked it if I did.  I am an admittedly picky eater; this is well known to my family and friends.  

One type of food that exists in many countries is nuts.   I generally like nuts, especially salted, and especially peanuts (I know, they’re cheap and not the most nutritious).  Different countries emphasize different nuts, of course.  But there is a way of preparing nuts that I’ve only encountered in the front of airplanes: heated nuts. 

Why heat nuts?  It’s not as if they are cooked, they remain in their raw and crunchy state.  It’s not as if there is some storage reason (do they keep them near the jet engines?).  Nuts don’t spoil, and they aren’t served hot enough to kill any bacteria.  The heat doesn’t seem to enhance the flavor in any way.

But here they are, heated. And I don’t like it.  

Ready to go, but … 

A few years ago we went away for a month.   As always, we made a reservation with a car service to take us to the airport.  I always worried about these guys showing up; I had occasionally experienced no-shows or late arrivals.  So I was grew nervous as the pickup time approached.  

I grew very tense when the pickup time passed with no driver. 

Tedd of Uber, April 2017

I grew extremely tense when my call to the dispatcher went to voice mail. 

At 10 minutes past the pickup time, and with no answer at dispatch, we loaded our luggage into the car and drove to JFK long term parking.  The parking fee for the month was $16/day, or $480.  

Last year I started using Uber (like so many of you).  Mostly, it’s been a good experience, with lower costs, clean cars and pleasant drivers.   On our last trip I had trouble getting a ride; apparently none of the drivers in the area wanted to make the 1:30 trip to JFK.  

So this time I decided to try Lyft.  I had been told that many drivers were abandoning Uber for Lyft, so we gave a try.   I even used the scheduling feature to set the pickup for 4:00pm.  Sure enough, a few minutes before 4:00, I got an alert that a driver had picked up the call and would be there in 14 minutes.  Cool!

Except that I watched as he drove in the wrong direction, the arrival time stretched to 23 minutes, and then the car icon stopped moving.  After a text and voice call yielded nothing, I cancelled the call and switched over to Uber.  Tedd (pictured above) immediately grabbed the call and was at our house in 7 minutes.  

So now we’re on our way to the airport, with an ETA of 5:40 for our 8:07 departure.  Plenty of time.  

Almost ready

So we both spent some time yesterday packing, and I’m pretty much done.  The conversations we had about choices were illuminating and exposed two different (and equally valid) perspectives on how to make choices.

20170416 Suitcase _DSC1416

Bags ready to go, April 2017

On the one hand, there’s a school of thought that attempts to bring the minumum one can get away with on a trip.  Every item chosen must be versitile; clothing should mix-and-match across your selected wardrobe; items should be both durable and washable.  I know people who travel and never check luggage – their selections always fit into the allowable carry-on sized bags.  Indeed, I travelled for years for business and never checked a bag, although the carry-on restrictions were a bit looser then.

The advantages to this approach are

  • No chance of loosing checked luggage
  • No waiting for checked luggage at the carousel (obviously more important for trips with multiple flights or connecting flights)
  • Less stuff to deal with in your room, especially when packing and unpacking

The major disadvantage is that you might discover you need something you didn’t bring.  At best, this will be an inconvenience, where you either do without or need to go buy the item.  At worst, you have a serious problem.  For me, not bringing enough of my meds (or ruining some of what I brought), or missing a piece of photo gear (which is not replaceable in most locations we’ll be) would be pretty bad.  Not having the perfect shirt for some occassion would be much less of a problem to me; I’m happy to compromise here.  I’d be somewhat more unhappy if the weather turned very cold and I didn’t have stuff to keep me comfortable while we’re doing whatever we do.

The other school says that a trip is a special occassion, and one should bring as much stuff as you can manage to maximize your enjoyment of the trip.  “As much as you can manage” could be defined by what fits in your suitcase(s).  The biggest advantage of this approach is that you will almost always have what you want to wear or otherwise use.  You’ll always have warm clothing, and clothing for warm weather.  You’ll have a selection of shoes, pants and tops to wear each day.  If something gets ruined or too soiled to wear, simply select another.

The disadvangages of this are

  • You will never be able to avoid checking luggage
  • At the extreme, you’ll have multiple pieces of checked luggage to deal with – increasing the risk of loss or delay
  • Your luggage may be heavy and hard to manage
  • You need to pack and unpack stuff at each stop
  • You need to find a place to store all of your stuff at each stop (a surprising number of expensive hotels have minimal space to unpack into)

As you might guess, Sally and I approach the challange of packing from these two ends of the spectrum.  What you might not guess is that we usually wind up with almost identical amounts of stuff as measured by the luggage we bring along.  We use the same main suitcase as our checked bag.  I usually have a backpack as a carryon, while she might have a small roll-aboard or bag.

Sally usually brings more items, but my items tend to be larger (think shoes or pants).

Sally might have an extra carry on bag, but my total luggage will usually be heavier (my clothes are denser, and my camera gear weighs a lot).

On any trip longer than a weekend, I assume I’ll need to do laundry.  Sally’s threshhold for laundry is much longer – perhaps a week.

Sally likes to have a variety of looks to wear, while I don’t care so much about that.  I’m happy to wear the same shirt or pants multiple times (subject to laundering, of course).

My rule is always: bring what you want, but it has to fit (whatever that means) and you need to be able to live with your decision.  Other than that, I’m happy for us to make different choices.

Whiplash, Conspiracy Theories and Damn Lies

Last night the US Navy responded to the atrocities committed by the Syrian government and it’s leader, Bashar Assad, by bombing a Syrian air base.  The reaction from around the country and around the world has been highly varied, as you might expect.

Our two most senior foreign affairs officials – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley – are probably visiting their chiropractors today, after having their heads spun around in the last week.  On Thursday March 30, she said “Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out”.  On the same day, Tillerson added “I think the status and the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people”.  We can’t be sure what they meant, and there was no confirmation from anyone in the government that the policy towards Assad and Syria had or hadn’t changed.  But this retoric certainly made the point that the US was not looking to take actions against the Assad regime.  And this comes against the backdrop of years of tweets and (actual) statements by our fearless leader that the US had no business being engaged in any way, shape or form in the Syrian conflict.

Today’s a new day, I guess.

Actually, this highlights an issue that has been on my mind since Drump first rode down the gilded elevator to launch his assault on democracy in the United States: anyone who votes for him because they think they agree with his position on any issue is letting themselves be conned.  Drump doesn’t have any positions; or more to the point, he is at various times in every side of every issue.  Planned Parenthood?  Support and then not.  Medical coverage for everyone? Support and then not.  Stay out of Syria? Support and then not.  If you believe any given thing that comes out of his mouth (or across his Twitter feed), you are the sucker born today.

In the meantime, the Alt-Right goons who have been having fainting spells from being so excited that they have a nutcase of their own in the White House are up in arms over Drump’s Syrian Adventure.  Mike Chernovich, an alt-right blogger who was recommended for a Pulitzer Price by Beevis, went on a livestream last night.  According to Politico, “Cernovich also expressed his belief that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad had been framed for the chemical attack, though he had not decided by whom. “It was probably ISIS did it to themselves,” he said on the livestream, while also tweeting, “Did McCain give ‘moderate rebels’ (ISIS) in Syria poison gas and Hollywood style film equipment?”


Which brings us to the question of what happens next.  CNN was reporting earlier today that Pentagon briefers were suggesting that, although they didn’t have all the facts yet, Russia may have been actively involved in the barbaric chemical attack – not just a background supporter and defender of Assad.  If this is true, it would be shocking and disheartening and scary, all at the same time.  So let’s play a mind game: imagine that Sean Spicer announces at his next briefing that he has evidence that the Russians were involved.  Or, that he announces they’ve looked carefully at the evidence and determined that the Russians weren’t involved.

Can we believe him?

Trip planning: we’re not on the ship anymore, Toto

People like cruises for a number of reasons.  Some enjoy the nightlife.  Some enjoy the on-board activities, like limbo contests on the pool deck or trivia games in the lounge.  Some enjoy the all-inclusive nature of the vacation (1).  Some enjoy being able to see many different places without ever having to pack and change hotels.

This voyage makes stops in 11 ports, including the first and last nights where we overnight on the ship.  That means planning (or not) what to do on each day.  Now, the cruise line, as always, tries to make it easy.  They offer excursions which you can book directly online at their website, and usually have choices for each port.

Screenshot 2017-04-04 17.02.45

Make your choice, April 2017

These are not cheap.  The prices shown are per person, so the third one, for instance, is $69 for a 3.5 hour bus ride.  There is a stop for pictures included.  The second one, at $99, is a four hour bus ride where you get to go shopping at two large markets in Barcelona.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve been there, and the markets are actually quite enjoyable.  But paying that much money for a bus tour is just beyond what we consider a bad value.

So our approach has been to find our own guides and book them ourselves.  As they usually charge by the tour and not by the number of people in your group (2), this can actually be quite economical and much more enjoyable when you’re traveling with another couple.

20150506-Cruise with Metz-_SGA0068

A private guide explains, May 2015

So, much like our dining plan, we set about identifying what we intended to do at each stop.  This is much easier these days than in the past; we start by checking travel forums like TripAdvisor to see if there are any local guides or tour companies which have worked well.  Using this technique, we discovered a website – Tours By Locals – which intermediates between independent guides in many locations and potential clients.  This ultimately gave us three tours.  We found another two independent guides in two other ports. We decided to take the cruise bus in one location where it was reasonably priced and all we wanted was transportation to the site.  At one stop we’ll rent a car, which I’ve arranged, and in the remaining four we plan to just wander around, or perhaps take taxis to get to where we want to go.



(1) If they are looking forward to this, they are likely to be disappointed.  Every cruise I’ve been on has lots of ways to spend extra money after you board, starting with drinks.  On our ship, some of the restaurants have a nominal upcharge which is more than Sally and I usually spend for dinner when we go out.

(2) There is an appropriate charge if the guide needs a larger car or van for a larger group, of course.  But four people plus the guide will fit in pretty much any car that any guide we’ve used has driven.

While we’re talking about dining on the ship

When you go on a cruise, you spend a lot of time eating on the ship.  Breakfast pretty much every day (although some people skip breakfast), lunch some days, and dinner every evening.  And somehow, somewhere, someone got the great idea that it would be great fun to drag all kinds of formal wear on your vacation so you could play dress up for dinner.  At least sometimes.

Years ago, when Sally and I first took the occassional cruise, you dressed for dinner each night.  Men in a suit and tie, woman in fancy dresses.  One or two nights on each cruise would be “formal”, meaning black tie – tuxedos or the equivalent for men, and ball gowns or other formal dresses with scads of jewelry for woman.  Now, I suppose for some people, this was a dramatic change from their daily lives and therefore welcome.  But I worked at a bank – I got to wear a suit and tie to work every day, and “dressing up” while on vacation was, well, no vacation.  Until 1999, anyway, when the dot-com revolution swept away dress codes at any company that wanted some of that sky-high market valuation (1).

Not to mention that dragging a tuxedo and all of the accoutrements along as well was a pain.  At least we were not luggage-constrained while flying back then.  Ah, the good old days.


Dining at sea, June 1972

But casual attire eventually invaded cruising as it did most parts of society, and so the need to bring black-tie attire or even a suit faded.

Then Sally and I discovered this fancy cruise line that would really like you to dress every night, in at least a sport coat, and go “formal” – meaning a full monkey suit – twice on this long cruise.  They do offer an escape hatch for the latter; on the formal nights, you can choose to eat in one of the restaurants that won’t be formal.

Being eager to get along with Zelda and Matteo, whom we assumed wanted to observe the formal dress code, we made plans to bring the requisite gear.  Little did we suspect that Zelda and Matteo, being eager to get along with us, were doing exactly the same.  This double dose of niceness came to light last week, when we all had a good laugh and promptly agreed to boycott the formal nights.


(1)   As if the worse your employees dressed, the higher your stock price would be.

Trip planning – so far

We leave for the trip in not too many weeks now.  We spent a good part of a day last week with Zelda and Matteo planning.

We are on the ship for 12 nights.  We need to make 12 dinner reservations.  There are seven restaurants.  Two of the restaurants have upcharges, the other five don’t.  On our last cruise, with the same cruise line, there was a “Restaurant” which didn’t take reservations, and was large enough to accomodate enough of the passangers without too much of a wait.  On this brand new ship they decided that there doesn’t need to be any no-reservation, open seating restaurant.  That means that you need to plan a meal for each night, or risk having to hang around waiting for a seat to open.

Or maybe they have some magic, and they just know that the natural and immutable patterns of passenger dining behavior is such that there will be no conflict, no line, no waiting.

20150508-Cruise with Metz-_SGA0188

“Sorry madam, you will have to sit with the crew this evening …”, May 2015


Needless to say, but this would not stand.  So Sally and Zelda began strategizing about which nights to eat at which of the seven restaurants.  This involved:

  • analyzing each restaurant and it’s menu
  • checking to see what time we needed to return to the ship each day
  • choosing a time to eat each evening
  • determining which restaurants were worthy of eating at more than once, despite never having eaten at any of them (1)
  • making reservations at the annointed time, using the cruise line’s handy online booking system

Except for a few problems, this worked out okay.  The problems included the system not accepting reservations at one restaurant that the ladies deemed especially desirable, and also not accepting reservations for any restaurant on the first night on the ship.  So 600 people will board that afternoon and immediately run around trying to get a reservation in the restaurant they like.

Or maybe they’re just not as OCD as we are, and are planning to relax on their vacation and take it as it comes.



(1) Actually, no one has ever eaten at any of these restaurants.  It’s a brand new ship, and we are on the first official sailing.